PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAM BYNENS
A band that makes her dance
2Pretty is an emerging band based in New York City. They’re a real tough pill to swallow for some and a real treasure for others. The band consists two humanoid performers, Lain Kay (pictured left) and Colin Self (right), and an iPod plugged into speakers with a playlist full of personally made electronic nightmare beats.
I first encountered 2Pretty at Death By Audio on August 24th 2013. I was getting drunk in the back room and heard some wild electronic noises seeping through from the front; I turned to my friend and said “What the fuck? I have never heard electro music here before” — I was kind of pissed off, I came to see Hunx and his Punx and now I was being subjected to dance music… So I swiftly staggered from the back to the front expecting to see a really terrible gig. I was immediately proven wrong — these boys are animals on stage. I expect that what I felt was similar to what those audience members felt at an early Suicide gig. They’re tough. They’re screamers. This isn’t club music, this is something else.
Where are you both from?
Colin: I’m from Aloha, Oregon. It’s on the edge of rural/suburban area about a half hour from Portland. I moved to Olympia, Washington to go to Evergreen when I was 17, then hopped all over the states, lived in Chicago, now New York.
Lain: I grew up in Minnesota, lived around old people, livestock and white trash. Left art high-school in Minneapolis to attend California College of the Arts in the bay area. Stayed there for five years, graduated and moved to New York 2 years ago.
How’d you both meet?
C: I first saw Lain when I was walking through the hasidic neighborhood of brooklyn to go to this party, and I saw this kid in a really gay outfit in close distance. We were both walking to the same party, so I kind of just followed him there. I knew about Lain from friends stories- the crazy things he had done, preliminary warnings, I thought he was cool.
L: I knew Colin through my ex. I don’t know if he remembers but the first time we met he and my close friend, artist Raul De Nieves, tried pull off my pants at a roof party.
How was 2Pretty born?
C: I think Lain came up to me after a Chez Deep show and was like “we should make music together.”
L: I had been developing ideas about an angsty “pop” project as a departure from my usual punky thrash bands. I found myself moved by Colin’s presence when he performed and felt our combined stage personas would generate a complex duo.
I understand that you guys both work at Beacon’s Closet together? Is it super fun times?
C: Yeah, a bunch of our friends work there. It’s nice to have a work environment where we are surrounded by the people we are friends with. And Lain always finds outfits for us to perform in..
L: Its definitely a privilege to work with people and for a company I respect. And that I get to style us and other projects is a benefit for sure.
I bet you were both pretty interesting teens — what was High School like for you both?
C: I was really into theatre, choir, and anything riot grrl related. I had this friend Beth Wilkins who bonded with me because we both really liked Rilo Kiley, and she got me into Kill Rock Stars, feminist zines, and performance art. I was in lots of musicals and in madrigal choir.. but I was also a troublemaker. I got lots of the Morman boys to fool around with me and was always convincing friends to get stoned with me in the theatre sewing room during lunch. I took summer school every year so I could start college early- I was really ready to go when I did.
L: Arts high school was a relief from backwoods public school I had attended all my life. I was exposed to dirty punk shows in basements and warehouses with the typical leather, spikes, latex and bullet belts. I have always been into riot grrl, my first tape was Babes in Toyland, so punk made sense. I started my first band with some metal/skater bros called the Wounded Knees, a native american themed speed metal project. I was in the visual arts program at school, but I wasn’t allowed to show a lot of my work because the school considered it pornographic. I guess student’s parents came to all of our openings so the school was afraid to lose funding if they saw nude suggestive self portraits of underage me.
So you’ve stated that “We support gay violence” —what exactly do you mean by this and what motivated you to take this stance? Are you serious?
C: Yeah, we call it #BashBack.. we’re working on a manifesto. It’s essentially an aesthetic and behavioral response to violence against women and the LGBTQ community. #BashBack supports gay violence but also is a gereative term to encourage radical resistance and to maybe dress in a way that is violent to conceptions about gender/power/sex. I think that frequently violence is not the answer when it comes to fighting back, but that should not discount an individuals decision to fight back by physical means. The VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) was a federal law that passed in 1994 as a government-ruled action to help investigation and prosecution for violence against women, which went on to also support other gender identities and sexual orientations… but it sort of sublimated public action. I believe there is still the need for personal and communal agency to fight back by all means; to incite commotion and strike back against ignorance-based violence in whatever form.
Violence has a lot to do with gender roles and gender performance, and we’re really interested in creating inversions of gender when it comes to violence. Just because I’m a boy wearing earrings and a dress doesn’t mean I’m not willing to hit someone for being an ignorant asshole, and we want to encourage other women and fags and dykes to do the same.
L: I think that covers it, but I would add that violence is not only physical, but social and institutional. #BashBack was also us trying to create an identifying music genre.
What role does drag play in the enigma that is 2Pretty? Does it play any role at all?
C: Maybe Lain is better at kind of explaining this… I know that we are interested in playing with visual and rhetorical ques when it comes to performing maleness.. or co-opting hetero/queer styles to incite curiosity in symbolic gender garbs.
L: I guess if you mean drag like the kind you see on Rupaul, it has nothing to do with it. I have always played with gender identity and constructs in performance, which is sort of an obvious issue in terms of queer art. If drag is performing the feminine, I think we’re attempting to perform the masculine. Whether we succeed or fail I see it as addressing the identity crisis for some gay men of being emasculated by their orientation. I wanted to present this idea through the archetype of a boy band, but I believe we have progressed into something more hybridized and unnameable.
I’ve been trying to place 2Pretty on the rock music trajectory but I can’t find a place for you…that’s kind of impressive — how often do we get the chance to accuse someone of being original!? Do you listen to Suicide? Where do you fit? I have however always felt that if you can be placed on the trajectory then you’re doing something wrong.
C: Funny thing is I couldn’t name one Suicide song. I know I’ve heard them before, but I didn’t really expect the musical comparisons we’ve been cited. People have said Lord of Acid, Le Tigre… I feel like we sound like SEWN LTHR– Griffin Pyn! I miss him! Those are good references. The only thing I really like about “genre” is peering into the hybridization of popular and “ew gross!” genres. I grew up listening to lots of riot grrl and screamo but my musical tastes on the regular don’t remind me of what we make.. I think we once referenced a song as “a technospiritual reincarnation of riot grrl and electroclash” which I think is an identifier that will be broken again and again as we keep making music.
L: Someone I had a crush on gave me a mixtape with Suicide on it that’s all I remember about it. My influences for starting this project range from miscellaneous post punk ladies, Kas Product, Annie Anxiety, Cristina to early 2000’s nue metal girl group Kittie to the more digestible RnB melodies of Mariah Carey. In terms of where we fit, we’ve played at clubs, in DIY basements and at the New Museum, I enjoy our range and I like hearing people’s interpretations. My favorite comparison is Crass meets Rihanna, isn’t that a t-shirt?
What’s your song writing process like?
C: I don’t know if we can talk about it? There’s usually research involved, then ditties recorded and then I transcribe it into Ableton. Lain and I will write lyrics and improvise over a beat. Sometimes Lain will be like “I want a sound like this” and then I finagle some synth mimes. If we freak out and scream then it usually means we will keep it.
L: I’m learning. I come up with melodies and hooks all the time, my iphone is full of them, but I always need someone with technical abilities to actualize it. The words in our songs are usually mutually created through bitchy comments about parties and people.
I’m assuming that the performance is just as important to you as the music; do you rehearse your stage show?
C: We do energy-rehearsals to get an idea of how it will feel, but a lot of it is prompt-based improvisation, like “when I do this, do something like this”
L: Its pretty loose, we each have a routine based on what kind of performer we are. Colin goes off, I’m more stoic and gestural. Whenever we stop to look at each other during the chaos, I know we’re either going to start fighting or hold hands.
What’s the deal with those amazing handheld lights? Would it still be 2Pretty without them?
C: We strongly believe in LEDs as a form of selcetive staging. LEDs operate as a portable quotation for moments within rapturous activity. If 2Pretty were text on a page, the LED rods would be our highlighter.
L: Our answer to some spaces awful lighting.
When I first met you guys after the show — well, when I absolutely HAD to get your numbers so we could arrange this interview, I said that it was a shame that you had to be the opening band and play before the crowd loosened up because your music and performance felt very after hours. You disagreed and said you love opening, could you elaborate?
C: I like setting the energy of a space, especially in an environment that wouldn’t anticipate us. Not to say that I don’t love playing to a packed room at 1am which is also nice. Any varying degree of audience-performer is good- there’s some fun power play with the absence of energy and bodies, and getting people riled up. Sometimes it just pisses people off too which can be fun.
L: I like playing in galleries and museums, if I had my choice thats all that we would do.
The genius rock and roll theorist Ian Svenonius from Chain and the Gang, The Make Up and The Nation of Ulysses said that all great rock and roll is essentially comedy — personally, I take you guys very seriously but that does not eliminate the potential for comedy, what do you think of that concept?
C: I think we’re really funny! Especially at that show with all these punks Lain and I are wearing these toga-dresses and over-the-top jewlery. I had that headband on. Just being there and looking crazy and performing this disruptive gay whiney “nyeh nyeh” makes me laugh. People always remark about how I’m really wacky in person but all my work is so dark. I think seriousness is wacky, and try to perpetually enact queering the idea of what seriousness is.
L: I suppose we’re abrasive, I know I am usually staring everyone down, but I do think we’re funny. When we occasionally attack one another while wearing sports bras or just our snotty voices calling out trust fund babies! The seriousness factor is just a product of being on stage or perpetually trying to be photogenic so you don’t wake to a horrifying pic on Instagram or facebook.
You’re both artists on your own right as well — could you both take a moment to elaborate on what you do outside of 2Pretty?
C: I do a lot. I’m a composer, choreographer, curator, writer, activist. I throw a monthly party called Clump which led me to start a biannual arts grant program called The Radical Diva Grant. I’m programming a 4-day series of conferences, lectures, performances, and workshops with a group of friends this November called NEXT TIME at Envoy Enterprises. I’m spending next year producing an opera with Raul De Nieves. I have a solo album coming out on USB in October. It’s all energy-work, developing energetic sheconomies and expanding consciousness.
L: I love collaborating with other artists and musicians, whether I’m lending my voice/scream, styling, or performance. I have a grindcore band called GBX and a recurring project called Butthole Unplugged which is basically a Hole cover band where I am Courtney Love. Butthole’s next expected performance is coming next year as a collaboration with Raul De Nieves including a sculpture by artist Matt Momchilov of me as Courtney passed out on the floor.
How do you find the shift from art making/designing etc. to writing songs? I don’t really like to isolate the two but in my experience the thought process is wildly different.
C: I see it all as the same. If I am my own energetic enterprise, then 2Pretty is the exchange between Lain and my vibration. Programming a conference series and making music with Lain really just becomes a difference of materials/medium. It’s relative, complimentary, but maybe expansive in another direction.
L: I think of music as encompassing it all which is why its my focus. Colin and I are in the works for our first music video. Though we can’t share the details, it is a perfect example of the bridge between visual making and music.
Please tell me that 2Pretty plans to record and release an album…
C: Yes! We want to put out an EP soon on USB. Anyone interested?
L: There will be a sexy listening party.
C: My boyfriend is the sexy, perverse, and brilliantly talented Brad Callahan. He has a unisex line called BCALLA and has made outfits for 2Pretty and myself many times.. I love his work because it is unabashed, honest faggotry. His work puts clothing in an economy that doesn’t seek to mass-produce and makes mostly custom pieces. His influence and push for queer visibility has majorly informed my practice.
L: One in every port.
Any other projects or things that you want our readers to know about?
C: The Radical Diva Grant! Faggaloos and queers of all sorts please apply!
L: My Combo Birthday Rager! Its October 5th at Passion Lounge in Bushwick. I’m sharing it with Adam Radakovich of House of Ladosha, Raul De Nieves, It girl De Se and other Libra babes. Amazing performances by all the birthday boos, dj’s and notorious fish bowl cocktails to get ya turnt up!
Come see 2Pretty with us on September 22.
$8, 10:00PM, Secret Project Robot Art Experiment, 389 Melrose St. BK, NY.