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The Weirdest Art at Art Basel Was By Night Slugs' L-Vis 1990

It was a "hybrid opera" with costumes from Hood By Air.

by Jessica Gentile
Dec 18 2013, 8:00pm

Last week, I wrote about my art-less experience at Art Basel, and probably lost a few art cred points. But I was just being honest. Sorry. Music first. One thing I didn't mention was "Love Focused Like A Laser," the "hybrid opera" that London label Night Slugs put on in collaboration with the artist Matthew Stone. That's because it was so fucking crazy that it needed its own post. 

Involving Southern Baptist sermons, Surrealist poems, videos, rapping, and lots of weird dancing, the performance was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Plus, it boasted a cast of everyone from Kelela to Boy Child. 

L-Vis1990 is usually out and about in New York City at least four times a week, but the month before this event, you couldn't catch him anywhere. He was holed up in his studio working on the soundtrack to this special night, and he poured himself into it until the big day.

He was nice enough to give us the opening track, and also tell us all about this wonderfully bizarre carnival of the senses. 

THUMP: Why did you call "Love Focused Like A Laser" a "hybrid opera"? What does that even mean? 
L-Vis 1990: We didn't want to just call it an "opera" because that word has so many connotations that don't really relate to what we're doing. We wanted to create an opera that spoke to our generation. Something that incorporated singing, dancing, music, spoken word, video and performance art in a dramatic composition.

How did this idea even come about?

Matthew (Stone) contacted me in late October as he had an event in collaboration with The Hole gallery at Art Basel. We basically had just over a month to put it together, which is crazy in itself!  When we first started talking about it, Matthew casually mentioned the word "opera," a concept that has been around for centuries but I had never really thought about in a contemporary way. 

How did you meet Matthew Stone?

We both used to make Baltimore club edits but our lives took totally different paths until we met in New York just under a year ago at Vogue Knights, the weekly ballroom party that Mike Q DJs at. He reminded me that night we used to contribute to this one forum called Low Bee [a Hollertronix message board otherwise known as "The Hollerboard"] back in the day!  

Who else was involved in the opera and what was their part?

The opera starts with performance artist Boy Child being carried out seemingly dead through the crowd and laid on the stage.  The music starts and the fabulous New York icon Andre J steps onto the clear runway that leads out to the center of the pool. Andre gives an incredible speech in the style of a Southern Baptist preacher, setting the spiritual tone of the performance. He is then joined by Zebra Katz and Kelela who rap and sing over an edit I made of Jam City's "Nite Life," while dancers contort in this crazy freeform way.

After an almost demented jittering reading from Matthew Stone, Kelela awakes Boy Child while singing over an epic new version of "Bank Head," which I composed for the opera with ADR. Boy Child then does what only Boy Child can do. 

A performance by Boy Child for MOCA in 2012. 

The whole thing climaxes with all the dancers on stage and Boy Child out on the water moving to this crazy track that I wrote with Helix and Matthew. Just when you think it's all over, the incredible Michele Lamy, Rick Owens' wife, emerges from the smoke and finishes the opera with a reading of this Surrealist poem comprised of excerpts from her own text messages to Matthew. Words can't describe how amazingly fucked up, weird and beautiful the performance was.

The costumes were designed by Hood By Air, Madeline Hollander was our talented choreographer and Alex Gvoijc of Thunder Horse did the spacial design.

What is the story behind the track you have given us?

This track is the introduction to the whole performance and is the same track Andre J preaches over early on. When Matthew first planted the idea of of an opera into my head, I went to the studio immediately and the first thing I wrote were the chords in this song. Those chords totally set the tone and direction of how we wanted the opera to sound. Later on I brought in Girl Unit and ADR to help add some more drama and ecstasy to the track.

Had you ever composed a soundtrack for anything before this?

I feel like when I'm writing music I'm always writing a soundtrack. I always visualize a scenario or a location in which the music will live. I think that was super evident in my last EP Ballads. With my album I was also creating the soundtrack to a movie of my life that year, so i feel like working on an actual soundtrack is something that comes really natural to me. It's definitely a path I want to pursue more in the future.

You have also directed some of your own videos, right?

Before I took music on full-time I worked at a video production company in London and was beginning to make moves into the video direction. I made videos for Erol Alkan and Boys Noize's project, Dance Area, Riton and Primary 1, as well as videos for all my early releases and remixes. Working closely on the production of "Love Focussed Like A Laser"  felt very much like directing a music video, only the whole thing was live. 

You live in Brooklyn right now but it seems like everyone thinks you are still in London. How long have you been there?

I've been living in Brooklyn for around 15 months now. Time has really flown by but now this city really feels like home.

What made you move to New York?

I had been living in London for over seven years when I decided to move. London will always be my first love, but I wasn't feeling inspired there anymore. When we were first developing Night Slugs as a club night and later as a label, it was a really exciting place to be. It was a a melting pot for all of these amazing, emerging, and underground club sounds. 

Fast forward four or five years and it felt like most producers, DJs and promoters were just stepping into one line, going with the flow of the most boring trends—deep house or Euro techno. So I thought it would be a good time to make a move, not just stay and become bitter about a city that I loved. 

How do you spend your days here?

I'm either at my studio, a party or at the corner bodega! What else is there to do in #life?