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