Art

His Name is Baby Tap, and He Doesn’t Know Why

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“Um. My name is Baby Tap. I don’t know why, but, my name is Baby Tap. It’s nice to meet you,” he says in a video message posted to his YouTube account in July.

A more important question might be who is Baby Tap?

But, it’s unfair to the essence of the human behind the art to ask such a question.

After all, it’s not like Avess Arshad isn’t a person in the first place.

With a steady job, full-time hours at a café, and a quaint London apartment he shares with his boyfriend, he’s most humanly human. It’s just that his musical endeavors are unlike anything the patrons he serves within a commercialized London could easily warm up to.

Beats of otherworldy flair. Electronic murmurs. Lyrics some might call crass—the package is chaotic yet calculated; There’s a science to Arshad’s craft. It just takes some getting used to.

Even he struggles a bit to define himself in “normal” terms.

“I feel music, I become music. I don’t sell that shit or ever intend to. It’s far too precious to me,” he says, like a rebel (revolutionary?) defending a countercultural identity as an independent artist. What a dead-on-arrival term in today’s music industry, huh? Independence. For some, it’s synonymous with a lack of grandeur. Of meager means heralded only when recognized by the masses. Is it possible to be an independent artist in today’s world without automatically shoving oneself into a niche with potential for fluke success? We see artists who were once firmly-planted atop the charts of yesteryear (Eve, Radiohead, Bjork) now releasing music independently—free of constraint—to satisfy their artistic craving seemingly stifled years prior.

Indie is synonymous with freedom. With uprising.

How does Arshad explore this freedom?

“I fit into the equation of music as a whole as an enjoyable catharsis through energy and expression, spirituality and dance,” Arshad says of his art. “It’s fire, you know. Music is like fire.”

It’s an elemental likeness that illuminates all the things which make Baby Tap an undeniably radiant spectacle. For Arshad, having conviction in songs like “Gay for the Hip-G Girly Girls,” “Fuck Me With No Rubber,” and “Kill Yourself” transcends mere shock value.

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“I know there are people out there with the same sense of humor as me,” he says of the tracks on his first full-length release, Gem Pop, released earlier this month. “I work hard. I say what I want to say. I am destined to find the most hyphy, insane beats. I am destined to give people the opportunity to release their craziness. Whether that works on a big scale or not, I don’t give a shit. As long as I’m enjoying my own journey I invite others to enjoy theirs.”

For Arshad, it’s a journey nearly ten years in the making. In 2003, a 14-year old Arshad began dabbling in electronic production. Never losing sight of what was once just a fun way to pass the time when nothing else could, he’s amassed hundreds of tracks, ten full-length demos, and a decade of experience. That’s more than most major-label pop stars. For Arshad, however, success has been defined by time spent perfecting his passion after 12-hour shifts at work. Of hours clocked cutting tracks and laying down vocals (with no pay) in a cramped apartment while the rest of the world (or his corner of London) toiled away just outside his window.

“I had to work so long and so hard to manipulate feelings into sounds the way I wanted to. I spend at least an hour on it almost every day,” he says of his process, which still includes balancing a “real” job aside from crafting videos to accompany the tracks in addition to writing and producing music. “I will never appreciate having to work to live under these rules from the government. I would rather just do what I want and take life slower and more freely but I just make sure I kick my own ass into gear and work on that music as much as I can.”

He pauses.

“But, sometimes I am so tired. I don’t know what the outcome is. I will let it be what it turns out to be. I do not know.”

If the amalgamation of pop-culture collage, candy-coated colors, and graphics inspired by the 90s digital era are any indication: does anyone know, really? Do we know how to define art? How to define ourselves? Or do we let a cyber-footprint fill in the empty spaces we’re too lazy to show in waking life? Is there vision in independent expression like the uninhibited beauty which flows forth from artists like Baby Tap? We see a portion of ourselves in this type of art. Perhaps this uninhibited display is what makes independent artists such as Arshad such clear points of interest in this mess of a society where slaving to unseen masters can inspire alternative output.

“At the end of the day we die alone and nobody will really understand us as we understand ourselves, so I’m just following my desires and needs,” he says. “Baby Tap represents the acceptance of confusion and the ability to ride on the flow of life.”

Whether it’s recording into the wee morning hours, filming a video like a pop icon on a London park bench, or merely toying with new sounds—boyfriend and day job tucked at his hip as a reminder that life exists outside of art—we’ll indulge in the flow of life Baby Tap wants us to see, and realize that a separation of the two is mere child’s play.

Download Gem Pop for free (payment optional) here:

Baby Tap will be playing from 10PM-4AM on Sunday, August 25 at:

Star of Bethnal Green
359 Bethnal Green Road
E2 6LG

Directions:

Tube: Bethnal Green
Overground: Shoreditch High Street

Bus: 8, 106, 388, 254, D3
Nightbus: N8, N253

No Doubt Looking Cowardly for Pulling “Hot” Video

Touchy subjects are meant to be poked and prodded. It’s then that you get the most genuine response from people. Gut reaction is pure, unfiltered, and often the most “right” response a person can have. If you call someone a racially insensitive word, they might scream at you or punch you in the face; an appropriate reaction to the hate-filled word slung their way. The nonexistent consideration for their being might provoke violence, but it’s a fleeting moment. Art isn’t afforded the same luxury of escaping beyond the scene of the crime, as it endures far beyond the momentary instance of a passing conversation or verbal jab.

That’s why we need artists to latch on to such subjects and make them topics of conversation. It’s my gut reaction that someone else’s gut reaction is often wrongfully violent. Take, for example, the release of No Doubt’s music video for their latest single “Looking Hot,” which has sparked outrage from Native American groups for being “insensitive” towards an entire culture of people, and was quickly taken down off the band’s official YouTube page.

Let’s start with the song, which is about finding something uniquely attractive, with Stefani’s lyrics at once welcoming objectification (“stare on my ragamuffin”) but at the same time consciously playing into the role of said alluring entity. It’s a stagnant message of “female empowerment,” but a message nonetheless. The song takes on a satirical air, poking fun at the “male gaze” and its obsession with things like ragamuffins and demeaning the entity of woman by labeling her simply “hot.” The male cages the female, the female breaks free and harnesses control. The music video merely compliments that idea—if you think about it, that is.

Let’s take a trip back to early America, not unlike the one depicted in No Doubt’s music video (if we want to get really philosophical—they don’t explicitly say this is America, or Native Americans, or—you get my point). It’s a time not a single person alive today experienced. But it is a time we’ve come to accept as being ruthlessly unpleasant for women. While the Industrial Revolution afforded women meager jobs, they were given just that in return; a meager way of life. Housewives, cooks, and family caretakers were still the most common roles for women to play. A woman’s say in politics, culture, and society was largely silent until suffrage movements reared their courageous heads in the early 1900s. Women and Native Americans were minority beings in every sense of the word.

So, we have a time period that valued male brutality, conquest, and strength over dark skin and vaginas. Do we see how it’s appropriate, purely in an artistic sense, for Stefani to take on the role of an imprisoned female Native who’s delicate frame is poked, prodded, and held captive (physically and ideologically) by the upper male hand? The clues are all there. In the lyrics and in the quick-draw between the attractive woman and Adrian Young as a “Cowboy,” Tony Kanal as an imprisoned Native, Stefani leading a tribal ceremony in dance around a fire…the list goes on; repressed versus the repressor, caging the “other,” and finally showing us the beauty of the uniquely mysterious “minority.” A battle rages towards the end, signifying an important clash of the underdog and the iron fist of dominant ideals keeping them down, an important message that, by all means, should not be stifled in today’s volcanic arena of social injustice.

I can understand backlash against things that are mindlessly provocative. Incoherence in art makes it easy to target those merely using something like race at face value to make a fleeting headline on Perez Hilton. Art with intent beyond making a momentary splash, however, is different. Think of the episode of “The Sarah Silverman Program” where Sarah mistakenly dons blackface to experience what it’s “really like” to be black. She believes she’s starting a racial dialogue, but merely brings criticism upon herself for her careless decision and strayed focus from the task at hand. The act becomes about her, not about the issue. It’s a brilliant episode. The same logic can be applied here. Trying to empathize with the struggles of another group of people is pointless and irrelevant to the progression of society. You can’t understand struggle unless it happens to you. Sympathy turned into action, however, is where change is made. No Doubt’s “Looking Hot” music video may be part gorgeous aesthetic and part social commentary, but the thread of coherence runs throughout the entire piece, which deserves a fighting chance to be heard versus quick dismissal like its subjects and real-life counterparts years ago.

Shower me with accusations of premature vitriol, but they’re cowards for taking it down.

Just a Glimpse…

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…into the future of film, as realized by an extremely talented (and amazing friend of mine) rising filmmaking at Edinboro Univeristy–Alice G. Beck. Her latest film, The Most Naive of Questions, features some of my other friends (Candace Davis, Derek Boucher, and Nick “babygirl” Bennett) and truly deserves some attention in the midst of all this Oscar hooplah I’ve been spewing lately. The future of film is just as important as the history being made in the industry right now, and viewing inspiring work from young filmmakers today often takes a backseat to the media-driven frenzy surrounding whatever’s playing at the local cineplex. Take a look at things through Alice’s lens. You might as well do it now, because I have a feeling it’s going to be happening a lot more in the very near future. Bravo, Alice.

Click here to view The Most Naive of Questions

Photo-Forward; Seeing the World Through Jenn Hoffman’s Eyes

An Interview by Joey Nolfi

Jenn Hoffman – Photographer

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To put it simply, through a photographer’s eyes the world becomes a different place. It is their visionary, imaginative, and creative point of view that enables the rest of us to see things from (literally) an entirely different angle. And judging from the looks of the extensive images in the portfolio of photographer Jenn Hoffman, that world is an artistically-chic and edgy playground inhabited by some of the fiercest people on the planet.

From visionary conceptuals, stunning fashion pieces, classic wedding photos with a contemporary twist, to celebrity portraits (we’ll get to that in a minute) of some of the hottest names in fashion, Hoffman’s portfolio is as diverse as the people she shoots. From models of all skin colors, backgrounds, and roles in the fashion world to actors, actresses, and ordinary people that don’t fall into any specific category, Jenn Hoffman has shot them all. “I love to shoot all kinds of people, but my personal favorite are fashion models! Tall, skinny, interesting faces…so fun!” says Hoffman, and that’s definitely apparent in her work; some of her clients include top outlets for models such as the LA Models agency in California, magazines such as Fiasco, and even international publications such as Popcorn Magazine in Germany.

Celebrity clients are also nothing new to Jenn Hoffman. Hoffman has shot Hollywood actors and actresses, notably Danielle Harris, one of the stars of the recent Halloween remake. Hoffman has even worked with modeling royalty like Janice Dickinson, for whom she shot a promo for Season 4 of The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency. Hoffman says that Dickinson “…was just AMAZING! She knew her modeling, so when I was shooting her I barely had to say anything!” and that she enjoyed working with some of the male models from Dickinson’s agency as well, most notably Brian Kehoe and Paul Vandervort.

Photobucket(above: Supermodel Janice Dickinson by Jenn Hoffman)


You’d think that working with such high-profile subjects would drive anyone absolutely insane from anxiety, but Hoffman says that with her, that isn’t the case. “It doesn’t bother me anymore” Hoffman says about her nerves, “I used to get nervous before agency model shoots, but now it’s a breeze because it’s part of me. It’s a privilege!”

But, putting together these shoots isn’t easy. Each of Hoffman’s shoots usually take at least 3 hours to complete, and even more prep work before anyone sets foot in the studio; “Honestly, there is a lot of computer work, loads of e-mails, and constant networking” says Hoffman, but the creative process behind her work is more than worth the hassle; “All of [my concepts] I have thought of. I do believe a great team can make a huge impact on the final shots as well. My red phone picture [shown below] was a spur of the moment shot!”. It’s refreshing to see someone still so passionate about this craft to be truly devoted to it, even in free time, to constantly come up with the brilliant and striking concepts that Hoffman produces. She even incorporates very powerful religious imagery into some of her more artistic pieces, most notably one in which she used a male model to represent Jesus dying on the cross; “I chose the perfect model for that, Jesse Holland. He got into character beyond belief” she says of her careful process of selecting models for projects like this. But what’s more interesting about art like this withinin contemporary photography is that the religious theme is so overt. “I think other art inspires me to create my own,” Hoffman says, “the fact that I can make my own lifestyle and create art with many different people is rewarding…I do have a Christianity [sic] about me, and this shoot just depicts an icon in life. Jesus is an icon.”

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It’s clear that Hoffman is as dedicated to her craft as any true artist is, but her ideal way of life that she lives every day almost didn’t happen at all. Hoffman’s early life in Raleigh, North Carolina almost steered her on a completely different path, one that didn’t include the art of photography at all. “My original major was graphic design” she says, “but I realized that wasn’t my forte.” After a random occurrence at the age of 17  in which she witnessed a friend transform a common shoe on the side of the road into a piece of envisioned photographic art, she realized photography was her true passion; after taking a photography course in Raleigh, Hoffman began a new course which would take her to the successful place in which she’s comfortably sitting right now. “I was fascinated by the way photographing something was so fun and adventurous. I then started shooting models, kept going and going, then decided to move to LA to pursue the dream!” Now residing just outside of Los Angeles, it seems as if the dream is already being lived.

But the road to success wasn’t always easy. Hoffman, at one point a struggling photographer like so many others, says she’s felt like giving up; “Sometimes in this field of freelancing, you feel like giving up either due to finances or the slowness of business, but I keep telling myself to go and go! I really could not imagine doing any other job!” Thankfully, Hoffman’s stuck with the craft, because the images this photographer produces are some of the most stunning shots this side of Vogue.

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Art is ever-present in today’s society, and that presence is growing day by day. “I think other art inspires me to create my own. Other photographers are an inspiration to me as well…[photography] is an addiction you cannot explain,” Hoffman says, “It really is about the way you connect with your subject and the way you put passion into your work that will make it ‘good’ or ‘successful’.” But as far as labeling goes, within the art world it’s easy to become pigeonholed into a generalized category in which you specialize, and Hoffman feels very strongly about her place in the industry; “I consider myself to be an artist, not a photographer” she says with a smile. And trust me, the rest of the world sees you that way too, Jenn.

Jenn Hoffman Photography – Official Site

(below: Brian Kehoe and Paul Vandervort, photo by Jenn Hoffman)

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Lauren Utter: When Art Itself Becomes the Artist

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Lauren Utter, one of the most complex and interesting individuals to appear on Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model, often finds herself as the subject of an artist’s vision; she is a model, therefore, becoming the art itself. However, Lauren’s interests extend beyond just posing to create provocative images; she is an artist herself, creating fabulously avant garde pieces that speak volumes within themselves. I’ve had the great pleasure of talking to Lauren on a few occasions and she’s really a blast and great fun to shoot the shit with, and her artwork definitely reflects the mind (and raw talent) of a true artist.

Lauren is currently selling older pieces from her collection, and it would definitely be in your best interest to pick one up. You can click here to view more of her extensive repertoire. Contact info and pricing are all available at the top of the page. This girl is really passionate about what she does, so please help her out and buy some of her amazing artwork!

Look for a PopSmut interview with Lauren in the coming weeks.

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