Dean Blunt is one half ever-evolving art and music project Hype Williams. Working across media, the east-London native has been creating sounds and works informed by and in opposition to the post-modern sensibility since his debut with other half Inga Copeland in 2009. Since then, the duo have released a handful of EPs and albums, developing a substantial cult following around their own self-created and spectral non-image.
Eclectic in the real sense of the word, there’s been a distinct lack of an aesthetic to Hype Williams’ work and their disregard for that modern affliction ‘branding’ has been consciously deconstructed by rarely telling the truth in interviews, repeatedly changing project names (all of which are fabricated) and never engaging with social media. Instead they’ve been letting their work speak for itself, and even then it’s an output mired in ambiguity.
Hence, Blunt’s first solo music offering The Narcissist II –actually released for the second time, since dropping as a free-to-download mix tape earlier this year –on famously progressive US label Hippos in Tanks. Remixed and remastered, it’s a typically frayed collage of media; cut up and reconnected to the noisy analogue tape of Blunt’s reckoning. There’s a recurrent sketch of an abusive relationship across the album, a field recording of rain clouds in ‘DIRECT LINE’ and a dial tone with phone interference in ‘DIRECT LINE 2’. Then it’s audience applause to end the smoky RnB standout ‘The Narcissist’, featuring the distinctly sultry, yet vulnerable, vocals of Copeland, stock suspense sound effects to heighten the anxiety of ‘GALICE’. There’s a sense of anger and betrayal in ‘XXX’ as Blunt sings, “I can see the shame. I can see you’re sorry. Everybody knows it,” over madcap instrumentals, while the sense of loss and heartbreak, at vainly grasping for a relationship beyond repair, is reflected in Copeland’s dejected words, “it’s takes a lot of guts for you to go.” Blunt’s heart-wrenching call echoes along with the ebb of melancholy ambience.
There’s always been a powerful, though ambiguous thread of social critique to the sounds of Blunt, Copeland and Hype Williams. There were the the racial connotations of this year’s release Black is Beautiful, out on Hyperdub in April, Blunt’s recent play Lord Knows in Switzerland, featuring “Blunt, and 2 black female models and an actress from Germany”, as well as his White Flight exhibition at LA’s OHWOW Gallery a month ago. Coupled with his Watch the Throne performance, alongside James Ferraro at Soho House in West Hollywood that very night, his was a social critique drawing attention to the fact not everyone would have the opportunity to watch them play, and those who did, didn’t pay attention anyway.
In The Narcissist II it is also a queerly personal work concerned with the public domain. Another vox pop of a violent outburst is overlayed with the doowop harmonies of Blunt’s layered, fragile voice saying, “let’s not start a war”, where he could just as easily be talking about global politics, as this dangerous and destructive relationship. Hence, the poignant sense of melancholy permeating the torn fabric and frayed edges of the album, while pointing to wider social issues. The story goes that Blunt, from Hackney, and Copeland, from Russia, met in Berlin. They now live far apart, in Estonia and Portugal respectively, while still creating and performing together everywhere from, London to Brazil, and sharing a Soundcloud and a YouTube account. Regardless of whether they do in fact reside at opposite ends of the EU, it’s as if Inga Copeland and Dean Blunt’s relationship and output embodies digital culture: where people are so far, yet so close; together, yet separate. It’s a modern affliction that makes something like The Narcissist II a statement as profound as it is beautiful.
Header photo by: Flavia.