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INTERVIEW: a chat with UK rapper VANES

"VANES’ punchy and, at times, school-boy (ish) sounding rap melodies continue the challenge to socially expected stereotypes of British hip-hop today" RIDE Music

The visuals are great for 'i lost my mind' - could you describe the creative process behind the shoot? Was it intentional - what was the concept behind the vibes?

They're actually stills from the music video shoot. Spike Jonze's short film "I'm Here" inspired the yellow-box head character. Colourwise, we wanted Lego-head-childhood-vibes. However, yellow/ black is also a warning sign in nature; they represent a hazard. The facial expression mimics the emoji used to express worry, frustration, or concern.

The Acne Studios sweatshirt was inspired by Edvard Munch's famous painting, 'Separation', while the 'Spirited Away' No-Face (顔無し) posters symbolise abandonment and loneliness.

The feminine-looking character personifies a pixie, and they are the one our yellow-box head protagonist is desperately seeking to feel whole. I've been immersed in Jean-Luc Godard's movies of late, he really loved using red… Brigette Bardot inspired the hair. This campaign has kickstarted exploring my femininity.

The track is out now: congratulations! What was the most technical aspect of the piece that you found important? Was there a specific sound you were going for (if so, please detail)?

谢谢 (lol), it means thank you in Chinese.

Sonically speaking, the technical aspects are handled by Mindaugas (producer) and Clinton "HeadAche" Walker III (mastering engineer). Shout out to these G's; they're gifted souls. My concern was vocally capturing how the experience felt; rushy, yearning, tongue in cheek, and borderline desperate!

Your website biography mentions you were "private schooled since pampers" but come from a working-class background. How did these school environments shape your identity?

I'm grateful my parents invested in my education; receiving private schooling is an advantage I enjoy, thanks to their sacrifices. Being working class in a middle-upper class student body was undoubtedly challenging. However, identifying as mixed-race/ black in a dominantly white school environment was intensely suffocating.

Outside of ensuring I'd attend a Russell Group university, this educational setting imprinted me with 'whiteness'. Although being lighter skinned mixed-race/ black, I experienced less direct racism than my darker skinned friends, this still came at the cost of internalising a 'white self'. Reflectively, the actual price I paid was the suppression of my 'blackness'.

Nowadays, I'm feeling into identity differently. The questions are, what's holding me back from being in relationship with Mother Earth? What's restricting me from embodying nature in human form? Without disclaiming my ancestral lineages, nor disremembering the shared historical trauma(s) influencing my shaping, I'm no longer defining myself through these racialised and distracting socially constructed identities.

Judith Malina is a household industry name, but some audiences might not be familiar with her work in the creative and cultural industries. Please explain a bit about her and how she became a part of your life?

In 1947 the late Judith Malina co-founded The Living Theatre, NYC. Counting Yoko Ono and Al Pacino as artists they've nurtured and inspired, it's a theatre community "moulded by Abstract Expressionism x Jazz x Beat Culture x Rock n Roll x Punk x HipHop x General Strikes for Peace" - The Living Theatre.

I came to know Judith through a friend who was understudying her. In clips of their work, I overheard her shout, "la bella rivoluzione anarchica non violenta" - (the beautiful non-violent anarchist revolution). The way she expressed it really shook me, such passion, fierceness, and grace.

At the time, I was a fashion student and decided to make a dress celebrating her life's work. Half a year later, I delivered it to her in NYC. She was 87 at the time and the most radical person I'd ever met. She told me I had "it"... And from that moment, I've never doubted my commitment to living into my inner artist and playing out this hand until the very end.

VANES has many influences, ranging from Blondie to Dominic Fike. How do you hope to influence your listeners?

All men have a hurt inner boy buried deep inside them, waiting to be loved and yearning to be seen. Look closely enough and you'll see it. Setting this child-free requires a lot of sensitivity. Without cultivating this, it's challenging to be honest; if we can't be honest, we can't be vulnerable.

Sensitivity gets bred out of most men during childhood. Those familiarly toxic words "don't be so sensitive" make embracing it a red flag. Personally (albeit in a non-linear way), I'm starting to live into my mantra of being 'an unashamed embodiment of tenderness'.

So this is my purpose, to "Make Tenderness Cool Again" by influencing a new generation of youngins to unashamedly embrace their sensitivity.

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