Deadmau5 puts on an oversized mouse head, stands behind an LED podium and thinks he’s cutting edge. What. Ever. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, AKA Oxford, England’s Orlando Higginbottom, might sound like a character from The Hobbit, but he knows how to throwdown. Standing center-stage, decked out in a huge headdress and brightly patterned suit with Stegosaurus-inspired ruffs, the former choir boy and electro whiz TEED, is always flanked by his hype girls, Nina R. and Zara. These girls have been beamed down from Planet Let's-Get-The-Party-Started. Nina’s not only responsible for amping up the crowd, but she also creats the majority of TEED’s colorful stagewear. Back when they first met in 2009, Nina specialized in jumpsuits—or onesies as the Brits call them—under the name All In One. Since then she’s started Bombe Surprise, creating clean cut separates in eye-catching African fabrics and a range of t-shirts decorated with the faces of George Michael, Prince and Luther Vandross. We talked with Nina about her collaboration with TEED, her clothing label, and life on the road.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs in Bombe Surprise
Noisey: How much of a collaboration is it between you and Orlando in terms of the costumes?
Nina: To be honest, I just say, "That looks cool, wear that." He trusts me. He liked the African prints I started doing which came from experimenting with my new label. He wanted to change his look from the onesies to being a bit more flamboyant, but serious too. He's getting a bit more fashion.
Also onesies are problematic. If you're a girl you basically have to get undressed to pee.
That's the annoying thing. That's actually why I started making separates!
Has there ever been anything you've made that Orlando’s turned down?
There hasn't been anything from me that he's said no to. He came up with this idea with loads of fringing and I didn't have time to make it for him, so someone else did it. He wanted fringe everything! He unveiled it at a festival in Berlin in September and it looked ridiculous! He looked like one of the guys in that Australian movie Strictly Ballroom. He had to wear it on stage and afterwards he was like, "I'm never going to wear that again." It's just a black shirt and black trousers, but both of his arms were covered in black fringing. He just didn’t look like a super cool producer on stage!
You can wear Bombe Surprise everywhere. Even when you're buying cat food down your local bodega.
You use a lot of bold prints. What are your visual inspirations?
I had a studio in Dalston [East London] and I'd go to the market and find these African prints. Then I started looking into them and found out they were cheap knock-offs of the proper expensive ones by a company called Vlisco. All of the ones you see in the markets are knock-offs. The history behind it is quite interesting because these prints—which you associate with Africa—actually originated from Indonesia. They weren't popular there and then the Dutch trading ships shipped them over to their market posts in east Africa. They went crazy over them and that's how it started. All those prints have been brought from outside Africa, but now they're very iconically African. The biggest manufacturers of this fabric were from Holland and Manchester. I found that side to it really interesting. A lot of people were kind of scared of wearing them, they didn't really feel comfortable. So I liked finding out the multicultural history and associating it with London, making it more accessible, especially since I find London multicultural and I've got a mixed race background.
What's your mix?
My grandma is from Trinidad. I connected with the idea of it. I had all of these grand plans for exhibitions and photography projects, but because I'm dancing so much I haven't had time.
Are you and Zara trained dancers?
Zara and I did ballet when we were teenagers. She was more into it than me. I just like dancing and this is kind of my dream job. We made up our own moves for a little bit, but when we started doing gigs every single weekend we realized it was too much and we used a choreographer. It's still really tiring because I'm quite unfit. [Laughs] When we go on tours for a week, by the fourth day it doesn't hurt as much. But when you have another week off, by the time you do another gig you're out of breath and you want to die! Also we can't get drunk before going on stage anymore. I just lose all knowledge of how to dance!
Backstage: Zara, Orlando and Nina (far right).
You guys have been round the world so many times in recent years…
We played in Mexico recently at this big party on top of a huge temple, but it was sort of like a Mayan temple theme park. I think people have parties there quite a lot. It wouldn't really make sense for the Mexican government to let people have parties on ancient ruins. We also played this festival called kaZantip in the Ukraine. We got there and stayed in someone’s house in a tiny dusty town with nothing there and when we got to the site and it was a huge festival. It looked cool. It was on this beach and you needed a passport to get in. One of the things was, if you turned up naked, you could get in for free, but you had to carry around this yellow briefcase with you all the time. That was part of the deal.
So people were naked, but carrying a yellow briefcase?
Exactly. The whole thing was a month long and everyone was drunk or naked. We were there for four days. Orlando's manager was like, "Yeah! It's going to be great. We should have holiday here!" And when we got there we all wanted to leave ASAP.
What was inside the briefcase?
I don't know. It was just a kaZantip briefcase. It was just a prop. They were weird. They just played hard house music. Oh and Zara and I got went on a helicopter and flew across the sea which was really cool and scary. The pilot was playing euphoric trance in the headphones. Amazing!
A video of Nina and Zara dancing! Video via i-D. Check out i-D's back and forth between Orlando and Nina here.
Are people dressed as dinosaurs a common occurrence?
Yeah and they get really hot. The only dinosaur costumes you can find online are those Kigu ones and they're fleece. You see them at the front with these dinosaur outfits on just sweating. They love it, but I wouldn't want to be them! Also it's not really about the whole dinosaur thing anymore.
Do you prefer working with musicians?
I've always been heavily into music. My dad actually started [legendary West London record store] Honest Jon's with his mate Jon and then he sold it to Jon. Then he started Rhythm Records in Camden and Maroons' Tunes. He had like five record shops during the 80s and 90s. Then when the whole downloading thing started happening there was no money in vinyl, so like many others, he had to close down. I like musicians that aren't just focused on the music but who understand that to perform you have to have a different dimension to make yourself visually interesting. The amount of times I've been to gigs of people I've really loved and I've been standing there being like, "I really like the music, but this is boring! I might as well be at home listening to your CD." I find the lack of imagination in live shows these days a bit annoying. Because why should I pay to stand there and watch you look at your laptop? What's the point?
Singer Lianne La Havas wearing Bombe Surprise.
Do the costumes help with the overall atmosphere at the shows, as well as helping you guys lose your inhibitions?
Yeah. It's the fact that everyone's dressed up and not just some guys in a hoodie. It's a party vibe. And we're not these scary professional dancers who have all these amazing moves. We mess up. We're kind of like hype girls rather than slick routine dancers.
Nina's latest creation for the stage.
It must be more fun to dance with a tail.
Yeah it's fun! Especially the part in the show where we turn around and do that booty-shaking thing. It makes it a lot easier if you have a tail.
You’re like the Fly Girls in In Living Color.
Oh yeah I've see the Fly Girls! I love them. They're wicked! That's the sort of thing that I take influence from. And like the New York ball scene and Paris is Burning. That's just how it should be. It shouldn't be, "Oh I'm so sexy, watch me do this." It should just be fun! The reason why I wanted to do this was because I'd go to gigs and see dancers onstage and they'd be amazing because they'd get you involved. Like Santigold's dancers. They've got really good moves and they're just cool. And I like M.I.A.'s shows and also Basement Jaxx, which is a similar vibe to what we do. The whole dressing up thing makes the show a bit more colorful. It's a massive part of it. Also, I think we're quite important: it'd be a different show if we weren't there!
Kim Taylor Bennett wants that keyboard catsuit. With the tail. Follow her on Twitter - @theKTB
Style Stage is an ongoing partnership between Noisey & Garnier Fructis celebrating music, hair, and style.