Das Racist, Blood Orange – XOYO, London, 01/12/11

Das Racist

In an effort to draw a distinct line between what came before and Blood Orange’s debut album Coastal Grooves, Devonte Hynes (The Artist Formerly Known As Lightspeed Champion, or one-third of defunct electro metal brats Test Icicles) has ditched his cardigans and gone Stars In Their Eyes to reinvent himself as a 1980s R&B star.  A 1980s R&B star who likes guitar soloing like Rivers Cuomo that is.


With a live setup more reminiscent of the pre-programmed beats of the Icicles than the homely organic twee of Lightspeed, Dev stands alone on stage with his Mac, his guitar, a mic stand and some toys.  Dev no longer lives in London, Dev lives in New York now and to prove he’s a bonefide R&B star, he even throws in some awkward Michael Jackson reminiscent dance moves.  However as is usual with Dev, it’s hard to tell if their poor execution is a commentary on the state of nostalgic revivalists and pop eating itself, or just that he’s a bad dancer.


The songs themselves are undeniably catchy, though you can’t help feeling that they’re just another shallow experiment for the man who’s produced and written for artists like The Chemical Brothers, Florence & The Machine or Solange Knowles.  It’s difficult to derive sincerity from this man who seems more hung up on trying his hand at new genres than striving to create his own Magnum Opus.  It’s undeniable that the man is talented, but it still comes as a surprise that he’s embarked upon this project that puts the sole focus upon himself when in his own words “I rarely write a song thinking it would be good if I performed it.”.


Despite all these misgivings, he’s still more able than the majority of his contemporaries, and there’s no denying he’s having fun out there.  A man who moves his mic stand into the middle of the crowd to be surrounded by a murder of mobile phone cameras is not a man going through the motions.


In contrast to this, musically, I can’t imagine any member of Das Racist doing anything other than what they’re doing right now.  They’re often unfairly dismissed by many as a novelty act merely because their shrewd cultural commentary eschews many hip-hop tropes.  On the contrary, they utilise multi-levelled wit to allow the listener to enjoy their music on whatever level they choose to.  It might sound contrived, but part of what they do best is to make all of this sound effortless, as though the result of a few stoner giggles.  If you don’t know about their comic off with The New Yorker, I advise you to rectify that right now, right here.  No question, they won.


Not knowing much about their live setup, I had mistakenly assumed that their live show would be a sedate affair, with three red-eyed men mumbling their lines over a predefined Abelton set on their Macbook.  What I hadn’t expected was an incredibly energetic and intense show involving Kool A.D. stage diving, Heems attempting to shake the hand of every member of the audience, and lines of bottles of vodka, champagne and more consumed on stage at inhuman rates.  Lakutis whose trigger finger on the airhorn effect on the Macbook flipped so many times it went from funny, to boring, back to funny again, looked positively out of it for most of the set, only coming alive when he was given a mic to join in.


The live show is a shamoblic celebration of anything goes, and is everything you could possibly want it to be.  Heems seemed determined to improve his English accent and was helpfully able to improve upon it with the addition of the portmanteau “innit” to the end of each sentence courtesy of a cockney crowd chump.  There’s a fine selection of tracks played (no hahahaha, jk? though) taken from their two mix-tapes and debut album Relax though the biggest reactions seem to be reserved for songs from their debut mixtape Shut Up, Dude such as You Outta Know and Rainbow In The Dark.  The reaction is relatively muted for recent single Michael Jackson which closes the set before a snide pizza reference from Heems in reference to their obligatory encore.


They successfully create such an inclusive environment and during the encore Devonte Hynes joins them onstage with guitar in hand.  Not long after, they bring up an old school friend from the crowd to join them for a few runs of “I say Das, you say Racist, Das!” and verses.  Hilariously, another crowd member mistakes the guest vocalist’s ascent for a stage invasion and is swiftly body checked by Heems as his desire to get involved overwhelms him.


Once it’s all over, a few of the crowd lament the lack of Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell, but you can’t blame the band for the omission.  Das Racist are so much more than one novelty single that happened to propel them to fame far greater than they could have predicted, but unfortunately, many people will never know that.  In their own words, “White people, play this for your black friends.  Black people: smack them”.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.