There you have it. My first official oldskool chase and hunt story for 2010.
Oh? You probably think it was:
What? That name doesn’t ring a bell? That’s not completely wrong, because Theophilus London is everything one can understand as Fresh (To Death) Let me enlighten you about Mr London.
Not so long ago, only a couple of months even, while youtubing from one stream to the other I clicked this video. Like always, I got triggered and I wanted to know as much as possible about this individual with a cardboard camera hanging around his neck. The man knows how to accessorize. Theophilus London, from Brooklyn, New York (where else?) popped out around 2008 with his first mix tape JAM! Mixtapes are a common thing nowadays to get your music out there for an unsigned artist but this mixtape stood out because of its diversity in music and flow that personally was very new to me.
This mixtape is the embodiement of a new generation with an open view towards hiphop, electronic music and stone hard classics put together with an ease by producer MACHINE DRUM ready for the liking of your ears. But it was not after I downloaded his second mixtape ‘This Charming Mixtape‘ that I was completely convinced that there was nobody else around doing what Theophilus London is doing.
I did the ultimate test at a girls dinner party at my place by playing this amazing Whitney Houston remix.
At first they thought I completely lost my mind blurring out Whitney Houston out of my second-hand speakers at 2 in the morning but after a couple of seconds more they practically went ballistic in my appartement. However, that might be due to the amount of lavishly flowing dark rum in the room aswell. Turned out that Theophilus’ music was becoming a daily soundtrack for me with the following re-push-play songs: some Amadou & Mariam Sabali moods in ‘Grey X Sage‘, Bongo playing ‘Crazy Cousins’,
electronically Sexy ‘TNT’ and the breathtaking ‘Pull My Heart Away’ (The XX remix) .
Versatile is the least you can say about the above. I never heard a sound like that before. Period. SO. That should do for the homework part. Let’s get to business.
When I planned a trip to New York a couple of weeks ago I did not only contact Mike Schreiber and VASHTIE, but Theophilus London aswell. How? Facebook of course. It didn’t last long until Theo (can I call him Theo to save some letters?) responded very politely that it was best to contact his management for these sort of requests. I am a good girl, I try to play by the rules, so I did. Three times actually.
I left for New York without a reply. And I came back from New York without a reply. However. If you have read the V for Vasthie, Violette & Va Va Voom story you probably already know that I actually saw him while I was sipping (again) on some dark rum at Santos, entering the club with Vasthie. But like I said before: if I don’t get a personal agreement from the artist, I try and respect that. So, I told myself to let it be, wait for another opportunity and I danced the night away. And yes. The fact that I was too chickened to step up to him played a role as well.
So big was my surprise after I posted the VASHTIE story, the first comment I got on my blog ‘forum’ was from the man himself!!? Giving me props on the story I did of Vashtie, telling me he had some busy times and asking me to contact him for a feature. Now thàt, I didn’t see coming at all…. But. Imagine the thrills in my spine and you’ll understand I was pretty happy with this. He informed me that he was playing 20 JAN in Berlin and 6 FEB in London. After mailing back and forth it turned out that the place of the first encounter would be London. Wich made sense, London is only a breath away, less complicated ànd cheaper than Berlin travel-wise, and my P.I.C. Jules got to come along since it was on a Saturday. (Yes I am a freelancer now, and there should be a more sexy word for that job description) But… there was something about Berlin. It attracted me more than London. But, then I had to go alone, without the lovely support of Jules so I quickly let that idea go. London. period.
Call me crazy, but Berlin kept slumbering through my mind, and I made a very big effort putting these silly thoughts away but I finally let my gut feeling speak and decided to put it in a status feed on Facebook asking if there was anybody heading for Berlin the next couple of days. If it led to something? Great. If not? No harm done and I could let it go.
And so it did. Turned out I got a free ride (yes a very long 8 hours drive) ànd a free bed in Berlin from my buddy Mike. So. Now I had to decide. I was practically broke. And going to Berlin without a last-minute confirmation of Theophilus London was simply suicide. I told myself, I was only leaving for Berlin if I had an A-OK from Theophilus. I pushed SEND and waited it out. Not long after, I got the golden reply with: Sure! Come on over! And off I went. To Berlin. With exactly 130 euros in my pocket. Which might explain the title a bit more although I could have named this story ‘Broke Back Berlin’ but that might have the wrong connotation to it…
The minute Mike and I arrived in Berlin I got back to my nervous self. My cellphone wasn’t working. No more words from Theophilus. I took a shower, put on my favorite TOPSHOP dress and waited for a sign. Finally I got an email from Theophilus asking me to come ‘here’. Where’s here…? Ever been to Berlin? The Germans have the tendency to see it BIG. He didn’t reply to my question of what exact location he was at, so Mike and I put one and two together. Since he was playing at the DIESEL party, that was probably related to the fair, where a lot of parties where going on right that minute.
THANK GOD we had a car, because when we arrived at Tempelhof, home of the international fashion fair of Bread&Butter we quickly found out that the Diesel party was NOT where we were but at a place called ARENA at Treptow. THANK GOD, we speak both German. So, back in the car, heading for hopefully the right location. 20 minutes later we arrived at the right spot, parked our car and headed for the – for this occasion – very appropriate entrance:
When we finally entered, I went straight for the guestlist. Theophilus confirmed me in his last mail that I would be on it. Apparently we were not and we were kindly asked to go back outside. You know, the nice Berlin -6C° outside. Okay… This was something I was avoiding for the last minute, so I reached for the phone number Theophilus gave me. Let me tell you something. I HATE calling to people I don’t know. It makes me nervous to the point where I can’t even pronounce my first sentences right. When both my phone and Mike’s decided not to recognize the number that was given to me, I was practically ready for a nervous breakdown. What The Fuck? In despair I decided to call Jules, and ask hèr to send him a text that he better phone ùs because we can’t get through with òur phones.
Complicated enough for ya? Jules, in bed, relaxing in her pyjamas, thrilled she still could be an important link in this story did what I asked her to do. And indeed. Her text arrived and he got the message. Apparantely we’ve been pushing all the time 001 for the international USA number but turned out, things work just fine if you push +1. Is the title of this story starting to make more sense for ya? A couple of minutes later I have somebody calling Mike’s phone carrying the name of Theophilus. I tried to answer in the most laid back, normal way; as if he would call me – everyday all day – but my heart was pounding in my throat. He told me to wait a couple of minutes more, just until the runway show was over and then “dkskdjfdjfdmqjdfldjfdjfdjfdm.” Yes. That’s my cryptic interpretation of a phone call I could not understand a word of, because of surrounding noises.
But hold on. Runway show? Man! I’m stupid! Of course there was a runway show! It was Fashion Week! We were at a DIESEL event! How come I couldn’t put one and two together? Stupid!
So at our second attempt for the guest list, it appeared I was on it, but only me and not Mike. I could not bear the thought of leaving Mike alone in the Berlin -6C°, so I told Mike to hold tight and I entered the enormous venue that was ready to entertain a couple of 1000 people, having no idea where to go and what to look for.
While running I bumped into this:
Looks like somebody at the DIESEL ad-campaign department and I have a lot in common…
I quickly figured out that there were two venues with a stage each, so when I saw nothing interesting in the small one, I entered the second big one, looked at the stage and there he was… I think I arrived out of breath, soaking wet from stress, giving him the ‘Yup, hellowww, it’s me, the Polaroid chick’ wave and shaking his hand. Immediately I asked him for another bracelet for my friend Mike and before I even got to finish my sentence he gave me another one. Waw…that is. Quick. And nice. I thanked him, ran to the exit and got Mike in. By the time we both arrived at the stage, Theophilus London was starting his set.
I was amazed… This person stuck to his promise of getting us in until the very last minute before he was going to perform… I mean, certainly there are other things you would like to give your attention to being an artist right before you perform, right? I was so curious to see him play. It was his first performance in Berlin and besides him there was nothing but an empty stage. No Dj. No Band. Nothing. Just Theo and a Mac Pro.
It was very interesting to see the crowd react to him. I already knew a couple of songs, but most of the audience was not familiar with his music. I really looked around and people where really lòòking at him. Like looking at something you have never seen before. As a performer he is unique in a way, especially his moves, and although you cannot judge him from that specific performance in Berlin, he definitely got the attention of the audience.
When he started to pull some girls on stage Mike asked me very concerned: “Why is he pulling all the weird ones out.’ He had a point, but I told him: “I see what you mean… maybe we should come back next year and see the girls front row. For some reason I think we will see a complete different picture. Frenzy front row shit. I’m telling you.” Theophilus finished his set and I decided that Mike had suffered long enough, since we didn’t have a decent drink or meal since we arrived in Berlin, it was all about the hustle until then. So, I suggest to go to the free bar and get us some rum. (yes. again) Mike looked at me and said: “Uhm, is this not the time for you to ask what you have travelled 8 hours for….? I mean…Seriously.” He was right. I felt naked without my Jules and therefore I was stalling. I took a deep breath, and went for the curtain I just saw him disappear in.
I stuck my head behind the curtain and asked him: “‘Hello….please do not forget lil’ old me….” Theophilus looked up: “No, that’s right. Hold on. I’ll just grab my stuff and we make sure you have your picture.” While he was putting everything together I looked around and noticed three other girls to whom Theophilus gave a pin and a mixtape cd. I noticed the girls putting the badge on. Great promo. I have to give him props for that. “Where would you like to take the picture, there are some white walls upstairs if you like?”
Is this a dream? Since when do artists start suggesting white walls themselves? Aren’t they supposed to react difficult towards changing space in according to satisfy ‘Mademoiselle Ouni’ with a nice perfect white wall? The only thing I could bring out of my troath was a sore “Ok…” So together with the girls we went upstairs. When we entered the room it looked like we were in the H&MU rooms for the models, that might have explained the high amount of very tall drop dead gorgeous women and skinny looking boys hanging around, surrounded with mirrors and lightbulbs and stuff.
I immediately got to work. I took of that blazer, because the heatflashes were doing their thing as usual, and asked a girl if she could be my instant-assistant, explaining the ‘picture of me taking a picture of subject’ thingy. (if you are reading this, THANK YOU) Meanwhile Theophilus was asking questions about who the coolest artist was that I snapped on Polaroid and giving me props on the Pharrell Williams one. I admit it was very hard for me to both focus on my job and answer his questions at the same time.
I put Mr Theophilus against the wall, explained my demands and asked if there was a possibility to take off his glasses. Which he declined, since, so he explained, it would be a personal picture and that was not what this was about. Point taken.
I framed. 3.2.1. Flashing.Lights….Bingo.
Exhibit I :
Exhibit II :
After that was done, I put them together and waited for the results, hoping he would be satisfied. (and I framed right) “So”, Theophilus asked me with full enthousiasm, “are we going to do an interview?!” Uhm. Hold On…Wait a minute. Since when do artists ask themselves for an interview? After their performance? Ok. This man was making me more and more nervous. “Uhm….I don’t know, I mean…”(I did not prepare SHIT) was the only thing that came out. Theophilus continued: “Well, I’m just saying, I feel like doing one now, so this is your chance, do you have your recorder with you?” (recorder? recorder????) “Uhm. Nope. I’m more of a oldskool pen and paper type of girl I presume.” I asked him to give me 5 minutes, and that I would be back asap. I think I was going to FAINT while I ran out of that room. Interview??? Recorder??? WHERE IS MY ASSISTENT WHEN I NEED HER!?
I was feverishly looking for something to write on in the rooms upstairs and ended up finding the complete productionsheet of the DIESEL fashion show (like written out, right until the moment Renzo Rosso is sitting down and the show can begin) grabbed a pencil from the floor (how oldskool can you go) focused and searched in my inner hard disk for every little detail that was back-upped in my personal memory disk about Theophilus London.
I wrote a couple of questions down, checked if I didn’t have the sloppy journalist look and went back to the room where he was waiting. When I entered the room he looked at my miserable piece of paper and said: “Wow. Did you do that just now?” “Uhu” was the only thing I could get out. So here it is. My mini Q&A with Theophilus London. If this story wasn’t already long enough as it is.
IMPRO INTERVIEW WITH THEOPHILUS LONDON
How is Europe treating Theophilus London?
Europe is great! My greatest response is coming from Europe. You guys are the early grabbers! Putting my music on blogs and stuff, and picking me up like that. It comes with some pressure aswell, I have to deliver, there are so many expectations, and the pressure is on me to live it up.
How does your hometown Brooklyn respond to you?
(big smile) Brooklyn is my fam. Brooklyn love is simply amazing.
Biggest influences for you at the moment?
Marvin Gaye. I’m working on a song as we speak, I’m covering Marvin Gaye covering Nat King Cole. Kraftwork. Gill Scot Heron. So great to see that somebody like him is still out there.
Summer is coming up, so are the festivals. Looking forward?
Uhm. Yeah, definitely, but, I will only do a couple of them. I think it is more important to finish my album. You can only make a good impression once. I don’t want to mess that up with an overexposure on festivals.
Personally I am a big fan of the Solange remix for Sand Castles, tell me how did this happen?
Thanks! Me and Solange we just have a great vibe together. It’s hard to find a (girl)friend that understands the industry, the game and the situations you get in, being an artist. She is from Houston, and we just connect in a pure way. We actually performed that song for the first time, unprepared at SXSW FADER FORT festival. We just did it and it turned out great. She’s just grounded and a great friend.
Any cultural ‘Euro’ shocks?
Haha. Portugal and them starting so damn late to begin a party. Shit starts at 3AM. I performed at 4AM over there. Crazy, how Europe parties so late. And. The girls behind the windows in Amsterdam… I mean. That’s just insane.
(surprised) Really? Don’t you have that in the states?
Are you crazy! Hell no. We have to call a secret number or something.
I’ve noticed that you are well supported by BBC I’s godfather Gilles Peterson. You are playing at his World Wide Festival in London february 6. How did you become his ‘The One To Watch’?
Man. Gilles Peterson was there from the early beginning, he is just one of the early adapters. He played Cold Pillow in his show, Enjoy The Sun. Which is pretty huge, Gilles’ show is on global time. Meaning. When his show plays, London club kids that are coming home are listening to it, Japan is listening, Australia. It’s a big deal to get that kind of airplay. Annie Mac and Nick Grimshaw played my songs aswell. Basically radio BBC I is giving me a lot of love.
All of the sudden, Theophilus interrupts me in my next question, excused himself, walked away from his chair and I hear him say:”
“Come on guys, you can’t do that, that’s her Polaroid, put that back.”
To my complete SHOCK some model dude (shaved hair, Ash/Josh Beech look-a-like, arm sleeved tattoo and a hat) was holding MY polaroidcamera in his hand that was laying on my purse, taking Polaroid pictures from his famous model friends. Apparantely Theophilus heard the Polaroidcam going off and went to rescue for the few pictures that were left in my cam. The model dude was very apologetic so I forgive his mistake and we got back to business. See what I have to go through!!??
ANYHOW. What can we expect from your first official album?
An inspiring album. Couple of collaborations. Mark Ronson is on it. So stay tuned. It’s coming and I am very excited about it.
You have a very specific style and dresscode, out of the ordinary. What’s up with the cardboard camera?
I found that camera in a secondhand store, bought it for practically nothing and it has a kaleidscope in it. Turned out people really responded to my necklace, so I contacted the company that made them and now I wear them all the time.
Last question. If I say Belgium, which 3 words pop up?
That’s Easy.. Marvin Gaye. Waffles. And… Grey skies.
That’s all folks, the conditions in that dressing room where too bad to get any more content plus I should travel with a recorder taped to my body because I could not read my own handwriting for at least 1 question. (The Jamie -XX one)
Who knows maybe one day I’ll get a more profound interview with better questions. (on a recorder) You never know… I thanked Theophilus for enduring my stalkermails, his patience and his cooperation for this little blog. Because at the end of the day, he did all this for a total nobody. He gave me that american hug type of thing, on which I still don’t know how to respond. You know the hug/tap on the back kind of greeting.
I left the backstage going straight to one place and one place only -THE BAR- heading for this:
It took me 10 emails, 2 days, a 16 hour drive, 5 phone calls, 5 texts, 3642 words and blood sweat and tears to finish this story.
Smart has the brains, but Stupid has the balls. Right?
PS: A big thank you for my personal driver and friend MIKE for helping me out with this hunt by driving me around in Berlin, enduring my nervous breakdowns and listening for hours to my hiphop addiction. Mikie. You rock. <3