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Dress like you're a dulcet-toned dance god crushing the stage
Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor comes through talking physics-warping confidence, King Lear Fool swag, vibrant home décor, and more unbeatable topics
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Limited pieces remain in the hallucinatory SpyMerch Sale, happening now. You can score some L.A.-made cotton tees hand-screened in Oakland and U.S.A. union-made caps embroidered in Berkeley at preposterous prices.
Secure a cool talisman or 2 HERE — Jonah & Erin
Alexis Taylor — this man has given us kilotons of musical joy as the charming, dulcet-voiced frontman of Hot Chip, UK dance-pop goats whose music we’ve been grooving upon ever since I (Jonah) saw them play way back in 2005 on a wild SXSW bill with M.I.A., LCD Soundsystem, and Ratatat — mamma mia whatta show.
Any given day you are likely to hear some Hot Chip slapper or other playing on the SpySpeakers here, and as I write this paragraph their phenomenal 2015 track “Huarache Lights” is playing on repeat … If you’ve never heard that, or “Boy From School,” or “Need You Now,” or “Look Where We Are,” you are in for ‘nuff treats, and more where that came from !!
On Aug. 19, Hot Chip are putting out their 8th album, Freakout/Release. The lead single is “Down,” built around a sample of the obscure late ‘70s Chicago funk act Universal Togetherness Band, whose name is sick and whose chunes and general vibe are extremely tight…
The follow-up single, “Eleanor,” just dropped last week and is BRIGHT and VERY FUNKY, too.
On top of all that?? Alexis is a delightful fit-assembler, so the other day we hopped on the SpyPhone with him, dialing in from the cribbo in London, to talk about how confidence warps physics, getting spicy with yr garments from the “stage” to the “streets,” keeping the home décor harmoniously cacophonous, and much more.
Blackbird Spyplane: I’ve been a Hot Chip fan for ages, but in addition to crafting monster chunes with yr mates you also know how to wear a lively jawn with panache … The other day on IG you posted a pic with Trinidadian steel-drum king Fimber Bravo where you’re wearing a great felted-wool hat (above). Where’d you get that?
Alexis Taylor: “I bought that hat for Bravo about 10 years ago, at Glastonbury. It’s quite different from other music festivals because you have all these stalls selling home-made, home-crafted items — not just official merchandise. It has a hippie background, so people making and selling their own things is encouraged… But we just played a gig in Paris, and Bravo brought the hat with him. It was too hot to wear on stage, so I just put it on for a photo. You might think those kinds of hats are for, you know, older ladies, or the kind of thing you might see at a charity shop, but he’s a really interesting person stylistically and he wears outlandish hats and pulls them off.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Hats can involve a higher degree of difficulty than other garments, because they relate to, and change, the appearance of your face … but the payoffs can be enormous.
Alexis Taylor: “Yes, it really depends on things like what your face looks like, what glasses you have on — and sometimes it just depends on what mood you’re in that day. Whether you’re willing to look outlandish and willing to be called out, or whether you’re feeling shy.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Confidence warps physics and makes the light hit you in different ways. It makes no concrete scientific sense but it is demonstrably true. The other piece I wanted to I.D. is the vest you’re wearing in this pic with the soundsystem speakers…
Alexis Taylor: “That’s Junya Watanabe x Seil Marschall — it’s a German utility brand, and I think this would traditionally be a hunting vest. I’m vegan so I’m not in line with its origins, but Junya does a continuing collaboration with them, and this is one of three pieces of theirs I have. It’s all about those pockets and hidden details and fasteners — it’s utilitarian rather than a really busy, needlessly over-the-top thing.”
Blackbird Spyplane: I’ve gone in and out of feeling self-conscious about wearing very bold and colorful s**t, especially as I get older, but I’m inspired by yr example … You keep yr outfits very vibrant, whether it’s a hand-drawn cowboy shirt, or a Palace referee jersey — the sense I get is that you have fun when you get dressed, and that you like trying things you haven’t tried before …
Alexis Taylor: “I wasn’t always a bold dresser in terms of colors or shapes, but years ago I went to see Will Oldham play a Bonnie “Prince” Billy show at Barbican, and he was wearing tie-dye pajama trousers and Crocs. At that time no one was wearing that kind of thing on stage, and I remember thinking, ‘He has a seriousness and earnestness about his performance of the songs, but it’s in contrast with this psychedelic outfit.’ It reminded me of the Fool in King Lear — where someone’s role is to be a jester and entertainer but they have a hidden serious message they’re getting across, too. I’m sure Will Oldham wasn’t thinking anything of the sort, but I came away from it thinking I’d quite like to play the Fool, saying something serious, in terms of the lyrics, but drawing people’s attention to something more theatrical, too.”
Blackbird Spyplane: D*mn, he got you on your King Lear Fool swag… Does dressing for the stage give you a pretext to be more adventurous with what you wear in your everyday life?
Alexis Taylor: “Yes — I got into the habit of thinking, ‘Oh I’ll buy that as stage wear’ but then I stuck with it, and got used to dressing that way, so now my sense of what’s a normal way to dress might be different from other people’s, and that’s fine.”
Blackbird Spyplane: If anyone reading this wants to take a gamble on a bold piece a bit outside their comfort zone, they can just pretend they’re playing a show that night. Call it “Gig Mindset”…
Alexis Taylor: “Absolutely. And you can just say the gig got canceled at soundcheck.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You sent over a picture of two cherished possessions at your house in London — one is a “mural” by the artist John Booth, and in front of it is a Roly Poly chair from Faye Toogood. What’s the story with these pieces?
Alexis Taylor: “During the lockdown in 2020, my friend Ben asked me to play a live set online, and he said, Why not do something with John Booth, too? I’ve known John for a while, he works in a few different mediums, my wife bought ceramics from him years ago, and since then I’ve made jumpsuits with him, and he made the cover for my album Beautiful Thing. So the idea was, What if he does a painting live, during my set? He painted while I played, and at the end we rolled up his paintings and I wanted to keep them, so they’re on the wall at home now.
“You can actually see them from the window, and the other day someone knocked on our door and said, ‘I walk by every day and see that painting — it’s so bright and graphic — what is it?’”
Blackbird Spyplane: Maybe we should all put art in our windows for our neighbors to enjoy… Meanwhile, the Toogood chair is very fun. She makes some cool Birkenstocks, too. Is this one of the $15,000 Roly Poly chairs or one of the $1,000 ones??
Alexis Taylor: “This is not the $15,000 version. I first saw the chair in the Toogood showroom in Shoreditch. I went in to look at a shirt they had, the ‘toothpaste-pattern’ shirt (above), which I ended up buying, and I saw the chair. At that point they were only selling the more expensive versions, made from different materials, but a few years later they made a cheaper version. I thought about it for a long time, and 3 months ago I found one on sale. We love it.
“For me it relates to the Pastille Chair, by Eero Aarnio. I have a couple of those in the garden, and the Roly Poly looked like it was in the same world — kind of like a U.F.O., it’s amusing, with this playful, childlike shape. I like things like that.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You also sent over a few artworks by Oliver Payne, including some collages, a Palace skateboard deck, and a piece he did with the sheet music for John Cage’s “In a Landscape,” which is a very beautiful, dreamy, proto-ambient composition that I have been known to play on repeat for hours (embedded below)…
Alexis Taylor: “Oh yeah, I’ve had that Swatch clock for 18 years — my wife used to have a stall selling vintage collectibles in Camden Market. One of the neighboring stalls had two of these, and I bought one. My uncle, who’s not alive anymore, was quite obsessed with watches, and he got me a Swatch when I was a kid. He was also a collector of quite fancy watches, like Rolexes, and he gave me a Tudor Submariner when I was 18 that I’ve worn every day since. The oversize Swatch reminded me of my uncle when I found it.”
“The Oliver Payne pieces — he used to make art with someone called Nick Relph, and I’ve known them since maybe 2005. They make art separately now, and I own one of Nick’s pieces, but I liked their work immediately. When Oliver moved from video to paintings and pieces on walls and sculptures I started to think about whether I could afford it. The first thing I bought of his was the Palace deck, where they put one of his collages on a skateboard, because I said, ‘Maybe the only way I can buy Oliver’s artwork is on a deck for £40.’ I gradually started to buy a few more pieces, and some he sent to me as gifts, because he knew I was a big fan, and maybe he felt that he wasn’t selling to people who really cared. It was very generous of him.
“The John Cage piece is a screenprint Oliver did of the sheet music for ‘In a Landscape’ — it’s a few layers of color on top of each other, and it’s either the opening of the piece or maybe the entire piece because it’s so cyclical. He made it to accompany a bigger, dual-video screen piece.”
Blackbird Spyplane: A lot of people are afraid of clutter when it comes to decorating their houses, so they try to pretend they’re Donald Judd — but they’re not, and the results are TORCHED and INERT. So it’s nice to see a home where there’s a ton going on. Lots of colors, lots of shapes, squiggly mirrors behind plants next to colored-lucite sculptures with tubes coming out of them… Do you and yr wife have rules for what goes well together, or is it just, “We get what we like?”
Alexis Taylor: “They are some unwritten rules, but it’s kind of ever-evolving. New objects come in fairly often, and we make a place for them. There’s a lot we’re living with in terms of objects. Sometimes it’s problematic because I don’t have storage for everything I own, so it can kind of get on top of me, but it’s in my and my wife’s nature to look out for things and collect them. We’re not very minimal — we’re into having all that stuff around us.”
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