Clip­ping joint

The Los An­ge­les hip-hop out­fit give us a tour of their home­town

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

It’s com­ing up to 2am in a Los An­ge­les car park next to the DIY venue The Smell. A guy who looks like he could do with some shel­ter for the night is singing the Wayne’s World theme in the di­rec­tion of Clip­ping, who are Wil­liam Hut­son, Jonathan Snipes and Daveed Diggs.

“That’s the one,” Hut­son says, mo­tion­ing to­wards The Smell. “That’s the one le­git­i­mate DIY venue.” The band had been on stage ear­lier, but hung around to hear The Mae Shi play.

Down­town LA is chang­ing. What was al­ways some­thing of a night­time ghost town has seen an in­flux of bars and restau­rants, gal­leries and other creative and cul­tural spa­ces open. That smells of money, and now old build­ings are be­ing de­mol­ished to build shinier things.

The Smell, an all-ages, al­co­hol- and drug-free punk/ex­per­i­men­tal venue, has fos­tered bands such as No Age and Health since open­ing late in the last cen­tury. Now it is un­der threat and needs a new home. A crowd-fund­ing cam­paign has

raised more than $50,000. Goal: an eye-wa­ter­ing $1.4 mil­lion.

The first time Hut­son went to The Smell was 15 years ago, tak­ing the bus from UCLA. The cy­cle of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion is now a fa­mil­iar one.

“It’s just a re­ally con­tentious is­sue right now, ob­vi­ously,” he says. “This de­vel­op­ment down­town is some­thing that hap­pened be­cause it’s a process of a weird ad­ven­tur­ous space open­ing up that’s re­ally in­clu­sive that’s get­ting peo­ple to come to it. Which shows a bunch of de­vel­op­ers that peo­ple are will­ing to come to this area, so the de­vel­op­ers buy up prop­erty and end up kick­ing out the poor peo­ple.”

“Which in­cludes the weirdo artists,” Snipes adds, nod­ding

“Even­tu­ally, yeah,” Hut­son agrees.

“A cou­ple of steps later, the weirdo artists get kicked out too. I do un­der­stand that part of the com­pli­cated is­sue is that we’re the harbinger of doom for any neigh­bour­hood. We’re the first line, we’re the tip of the spear that goes in that be­gins a process of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.” Strangenoises When it comes to weirdo artists, Clip­ping would hap­pily put them­selves in that cat­e­gory. Their sec­ond al­bum, CLPPNG, re­leased by Sub Pop in 2014, ex­posed them to a wider au­di­ence. It is stun­ning and per­plex­ing, a word-of-mouth al­bum rec­om­mended to any­one in­ter­ested in strange, bril­liant noises and neck-snap­ping raps.

Clip­ping have since re­leased two EPs (one of remixes, an­other called Wrig­gle), and in Septem­ber brought out Splen

dor & Mis­ery, which Sub Pop de­scribes as “an Afro­fu­tur­ist, dystopian con­cept al­bum” about a slave’s jour­ney in outer space. It’s a strange one, all right, ab­stract and ex­per­i­men­tal, Clip­ping ex­pand­ing their own uni­verse as well as the char­ac­ters within the al­bum.

On stage there are screams and eardrum-af­fronting drones and what sounds and looks like glass be­ing crushed by a mic in a box of Tup­per­ware. Off stage, they are soft-spo­ken and smart – to the point that this badly lit car park, which looks like some­where the char­ac­ter from

Grand Theft Auto would un­leash an un­pro­voked at­tack, be­gins to feel like a Cul­ture

Show panel. The band dis­cuss how an artist’s work should be viewed: piece by piece or as an oeu­vre? They dis­cuss Robert Alt­man ver­sus Stan­ley Kubrick in this man­ner, or Philip Glass ver­sus Steve Re­ich. Snipes is also a film sound­track com­poser, and Hut­son has re­cently com­pleted a PhD in theatre and per­for- mance stud­ies with a fo­cus on ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic. Both also play with other bands.

Mean­while, if you wanted to bet on one con­tem­po­rary artist bag­ging an elu­sive EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Os­car, Tony), Daveed Diggs would be it. For his roles as Thomas Jef­fer­son and Mar­quis de Lafayette in the colos­sal mu­si­cal hit Hamil­ton, Diggs won a Tony and a Grammy be­fore wrap­ping up his par­tic­i­pa­tion in July.

“Broad­way was weird,” he says. The end. Now he is cast in the Kenya Bar­ris-cre­ated ABC sit­com Black­ish. He is also star­ring in Net­flix’s The Get

Down, and next year will play op­po­site Ju­lia Roberts and Owen Wil­son in Won­der.

Rap­ping jug­ger­naut

Diggs’s flow is one of the great jug­ger­nauts of mod­ern-day rap. It is re­lent­less, blis­ter­ing, proper hip-hop hairdryer treat­ment, build­ing up rhymes at in­cred­i­bly high speed and then col­laps­ing them like mul­ti­ple games of Jenga fast-for­warded in time-lapse.

Hamil­ton brought Diggs to wider ac­claim, but Clip­ping shows are “the most fun . . . ev­ery word I’m say­ing is a word that I wrote. That doesn’t hap­pen in any other space where I per­form. So this is the most own­er­ship I have over the things that I’m say­ing. Not that I don’t feel that I have over my per­for­mances and other as­pects – but this is just us. All these things came out of the three of our heads and there’s noth­ing else to it.

“It’s free in a way that we don’t own any­body any­thing,” he says. “We get to cut songs out of a show if we want to. Not play the songs peo­ple want to hear. This is just us, and we get to do what we want. The other ar­eas that I per­form in are great and chal­leng­ing and push me in a lot of ways,” but he is a small part of a much larger ma­chine. “So you re­ally fo­cus on do­ing your part the best that you can.”

With Clip­ping, “I’m one-third of the to­tal of a thing, so we make these de­ci­sions and that’s what it is. I just have a lot more agency in this. In that sense, the stakes are way higher and way lower. No­body can tell me I did it wrong, but when I fuck up I feel way worse than when I fuck up a take on Black­ish. Be­cause we’ll just do it again on Black­ish.”

Clip­ping is so com­pelling on record is mainly down to the the acous­matic na­ture of their sounds. They are sounds you haven’t nec­es­sar­ily heard be­fore, draw­ing par­al­lels with ev­ery­one from Aphex Twin to My Bloody Valen­tine. Beats and noises come from things that sound like punches and cin­der blocks smash­ing, alarm clocks har­mon­is­ing, beer cans squash­ing, and what sounds like some­body some­where shriek­ing from the up­side down.

The re­sult is puz­zling and im­pres­sive, jolt­ing one’s brain into a space that is forced to both con­cen­trate and won­der what is hap­pen­ing, what is be­ing heard, how it’s be­ing made. It is abra­sive and beau­ti­ful, bru­tal and in­tel­li­gent, force­ful and high­brow. It shouldn’t make sense, and it ab­so­lutely does.


“The nice free­ing thing about the way this band has worked,” says Snipes, “is that the things I think have been the most suc­cess­ful, or that peo­ple have re­sponded the best to, have been the de­ci­sions that we’ve made just to make our­selves happy. This band was re­ally a side project. I mean, we were all do­ing our own things, and we came up with these spe­cific con­straints and this par­tic­u­lar way of mak­ing mu­sic – and we weren’t even sure that we liked it at first.

“The first few tracks, I re­mem­ber we’d say: ‘Well, that checked all the boxes, all of the cri­te­ria that we made. It ful­fils all of those. So does that mean it’s done? I guess it’s done.’ Then we’d sit with that for a while and try to do an­other one, and then we de­vel­oped a lan­guage of how it worked, and re­ally very few of our friends re­ally liked it at first. It was just this weird ex­er­cise we were do­ing.

“When that be­comes the most com­mer­cially vi­able and suc­cess­ful thing that at least the two of us have ever been part of . . . ”

Ev­ery­one laughs at the know­ing ref­er­ence to Diggs’s in­volve­ment with slightly more suc­cess­ful things. But the sen­ti­ment re­mains: in pleas­ing them­selves, in go­ing for the side an­gle, in cir­cum­vent­ing pop­u­lar­ity, Clip­ping has be­come far more in­ter­est­ing than the song-mak­ing for­mula they set out with could ever have sug­gested. Splen­dor & Mis­ery is out now on Sub Pop

Diggs won a Tony and a Grammy for his role in the colos­sal mu­si­cal hit Hamil­ton, be­fore wrap­ping up his par­tic­i­pa­tion in July. “Broad­way was weird,” he says. The end

Neck-snap­ping rap Jonathan Snipes, Daveed Diggs and Wil­liam Hut­son of Clip­ping

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