It’s a horrible day in New Orleans. It won’t stop raining. And because of where the city sits – surrounded by lakes, with a historically shitty drainage system – even 20 minutes of rain can cause the place to flood. Post-Hurricane Katrina, the whole area was reportedly fortified with more than 350 miles of levees, walls, flood gates and pumps, but it’s not enough, according to experts. The only reason I’m thinking about any of this today is because I’m speaking to a band who live there – the oddly named five-piece Sexy Dex and the Fresh (SDTF) – and their singer Dexter Gilmore is telling me, from his living room over Skype, how they’re “basically underwater right now.”
SDTF aren’t necessarily the "typical" sort of band you might imagine would come out of New Orleans. The city is obviously also known as the birthplace of American Jazz, the hometown of Lil Wayne and Big Freedia, with strong associations with rap, bounce and house music among everything else (if you have time, you should read this brilliant longread on the city’s more current, underground sounds from VICE and Noisey’s 2017 Music Issue). But SDTF are from their own world, too. On the one hand, they sound like all the most palatable, pure pop-funk sounds from the 80s (think Prince, Rick Astley etc). But on the other, they’re almost... nightmarish. Theirs is a warped, chaotic, DIY nostalgia, brought to life by a series of freaky homemade videos. Maybe it’s horrid. Maybe it’s amazing. Maybe it’s both at once.
The story of how they got together is probably one you’ve heard before. Musicians naturally gravitate towards each other, and the five of them were friends, roommates and rotating collaborators long before SDTF became a thing. Then in 2014, they decided to bring some of the weird, 80s-leaning tracks Dexter had been making alone in his room to life, with plans to play them live, “and it kind of just spiralled from there.” This was a few years after Ariel Pink released Before the Day, and the whole sound of that record kicked them into gear. “After [Ariel’s album] came out, we were like, ‘this would be sweet.’ And we were listening to a lot of Rick James, DeBarge, stuff like that, which had a heavy influence on us. Evan [the drummer] introduced us to a bunch of J-Pop and J-Funk as well, which found its way into our hearts.”
Their latest track and video, “Play Me Birdie,” which we’re premiering below, is exactly the kind of thing SDTF have become known for in the four years since. It’s vibrant, hooky and full of bright colours, but it’s also strange and off-kilter, the synth and drum pads clattering through like a particularly spirited basement rehearsal. And that's largely part of their appeal. “DIY or die, bro,” says Dexter, the others laughing and nodding on the sofa beside him. “Each member of the band is a creative driving force and has a lot to bring, so we try our best to do things ourselves because we have the ideas. We’re also not a super paid band or anything, so we make do with what we have – but it works for us.”
As for the video itself, it’s a mixture of offbeat handheld camera footage and glitchy neon graphics that pay homage to retro video games. “We’re all really into video games,” Dexter says, when I ask about that. “That plays a huge influence on the sonic quality of our music too – some of those sounds are taken from, or inspired by, things like Mega Man or Sonic the Hedgehog. But really, this video just suggests that life is nothing but a game, and the silly things we do to exist through life.”
Like most artists who remain super DIY and make their art on a shoestring budget, the band still have day jobs which they do on the side. Dexter works at a local sandwich joint called Jimmy Johns, and after our Skype convo, he tells me he’s going to have to go deliver a bunch of sandwiches to people, which will admittedly be hard during today's flood. After that though, they’ll come back together and make more shit. “Gabrielle’s got to babysit. Andrew’s got to try sell some carpets. And then later we’re all going to get together and work on another music video. Gabrielle kills me in the video. We’re going to do the limbo, of me being in between life and death. A total horror show.”
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