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Yasi Salek

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The Past, the Present, and the Odd Future

Posted: 01/11/11 09:31 PM ET

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(All photos: Rick Rodney)

I don't exactly pride myself on being on the absolute cutting edge of new music. Left to my own devices, I would listen to some combination of Pavement, the Replacements, and Talking Heads all day, with occasional tracks from Taylor Swift or Gucci Mane mixed in (don't judge me). But I do try to keep abreast of what the kiddies are listening to these days, which is how I found myself at a crowded, sweaty all-ages show at the Roxy a few weeks ago. The headlining (and apparently only) act was a group by the name of Odd Future, and the show was entirely sold out, the venue filled to the brim with eager, anxious, and palpably excited teenagers. When the group finally took the stage, the crowd's energy solidified, as if every member of the audience merged into one giant pumping fist, chanting the words "Wolf Gang" over and over in unison like so many little street wear clad monks in a whole different kind of monastery.

"I think people here are witnessing history," said a roguishly handsome young man I later learned goes by the name Hodgy Beats. And by the end of the show, I have to say he was right. The evening was nothing short of spectacle. There was a lynched Santa and a midget elf (it was close to Christmas). There was much stage-diving, spraying of water, and dollar bills thrown into the crowd. There were celebrity sightings (Martin Starr and Donald Glover, to be specific). But moreover, there was a heightened, frenetic energy felt throughout the space. Every single person in that room was into it. They hurled themselves into mosh pits with reckless abandon. They nearly lost limbs trying to grab at the t-shirts being flung off the stage. And they knew every single word, and they sang along. Words about murder, drugs, and raping pregnant women to "call it a threesome," amongst other things.

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Use of the subversive and the shocking are not exactly brand new tactics in music. Ever since Screamin' Jay Hawkins made a name for himself in the fifties by emerging from coffins and singing into skull-shaped microphones, artists across genres have been known as much for the buttons they push as the music they make. Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off a bat, King Diamond plays with human bones on stage, Sid Vicious wore swastika t-shirts, and Marilyn Manson pissed so many people off they even tried to blame Columbine on him. Let's not even get into the blood, feces, and misogyny that made up GG Allin's entire career. In fact, Jane's Addiction pretty much called it in 1988: at this point, nothing's shocking. Until it is again.

Enter Odd Future, a music journalist's dream come true. The Los Angeles based hip-hop collective has been called "polarizing" by the Village Voice, and has to date been written up by large-scale publications like Spin, the Guardian, and even the New Yorker (by Sasha Frere-Jones, no less). Is their music good? Much of it is. Some of it, mostly the stuff by the group's fearless leader Tyler the Creator and the now absent Earl Sweatshirt, is better than good. It's great, with sparse, deft production, haunting melodies, and compelling delivery. But press is not often wooed by talent alone (not these days anyway). What Odd Future (full working name: Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) has that draws in the writers, like so many magpies to a shiny bauble, is controversy. They rap about rape (mostly the rape of white girls, sometimes the rape of corpses) and other various acts of violence, they brandish the swastika and call themselves Black Nazis, and there's no lack of homophobia in their songs. Oh, and they're teenagers. Of the ten members, nine are eighteen or under (including Taco, who is sixteen, and his sister Sydney, the only female in the crew). Tyler just recently hit the ripe old age of nineteen.

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(Via oddfuture.com)

But what is most interesting about Odd Future is not their lyrical content or their burgeoning musical prowess or their youth or their coveted controversy. What is most interesting about this group of teenagers is the way they have harnessed the power of the internet to create a movement. OFWGKTA has thus far released all their music for free through their Tumblr, which is itself a disjointed stream of images and information that build up the Odd Future mythology. They make their own album art, film their own music videos, design their own fliers, and appropriate so much that has come before them (from Gravediggaz to GWAR to GG "Jesus Christ" Allin himself) that they may not even be aware of all of their myriad influences. But all of it has come through the filter of OFWGKTA, and has formed an incredibly strong ethos. The movement has its own lexicon (good things are "swag"), its own enemies (Steve Harvey is particularly hated), and its own dress code (the brands Supreme and Freshjive are regularly mentioned in their songs). They even have their own cause: "Free Earl." The collective is notoriously tight-lipped about Earl's whereabouts (various accounts put him in boarding school, juvenile hall, or a mental health facility), which only adds to the mythology of Odd Future.

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And Tyler is not called The Creator for nothing. He is responsible for cultivating Odd Future's distinct persona, and for fighting to maintain it in the face of what is probably a very different reality. It's doubtful that any of these kids have ever committed a hate crime or sexually assaulted a woman. I sat near Tyler's mother and aunt during the show, and they were cheering their hearts out, in spite of the not-so-family-friendly lyrics. These ten kids are prophets, pontificating from their various Twitter accounts (each member has his or her own), and growing their following every day. This is the church of not giving a fuck. This is dada art in its newest form. These are suburban skate kids with talent and access to the internet, and with it they have created one of the most interesting and exciting cultural movements we've seen in a long time. These are the children, and they are our odd future.

 

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