As “Mankind,” SciryL and !LLumiN@TE Rap About Wrestling, Religion and Video Games

Mankind, SciryL and !LLumiN@TE

“We’re using video games and religion to tell a love story,” says rapper SciryL, bouncing around the Harlem living room-turned-studio that belongs to his partner in rhyme, !LLumiN@TE. Together, SciryL and !LLumiN@TE record as the group Mankind. Their latest release, 8-Bit Genesis, is a concept album about the duo’s imagined search for the Black Lara Croft who, in this story, reveals herself to be God. This spiritual flight of fancy is set against beats provided by the eccentric hip-hop character Charles Hamilton, whose soulful, chiptune-style production boasts the oblique bloops of a ’90s video game.

!LLumiN@TE, relaxing in a corner by a mic stand, recalls how he first bonded with SciryL after their path’s crossed in New York City’s battle rap scene. “At first we weren’t even recording,” he says. “We’d get up, watch some battles, and talk shit about music that was out. We both cook, so we’d do dinner parties that were like chill sessions, and we’d invite people over. The Mankind recording sessions came out of that and we’ve been writing and recording for a year straight since then.”

In that short time, Mankind has racked up a sizable discography—proof of which is displayed on a wall opposite their recording nook, where six giant pieces of paper are taped. On each of them, the track listing for various projects is scrawled out in chunky green and orange marker. As the two rappers discuss their music, they often motion towards the display to illustrate key points, with SciryL frequently reaching over to touch specific song titles.

Having wrapped up the release of 8-Bit Genesis, Mankind spoke with us about the group’s collaborative song writing process, how they met Charles Hamilton, and the throwback wrestling references seeded throughout their music.

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Jay Gambit of Crowhurst on Eschewing Genre and Finding a Home for the Unmarketable

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One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to survive in the noise/punk/metal underground is the premium placed on not seeming like you’re trying. Not to say effort is frowned upon, but it should be effort for its own sake, or the sake of the art. If you admit aloud that, yes, you’d like people to hear your music, you open up yourself to accusations of careerism, capitalism, and serial uncoolness. Success and its ensuing food and rent should just happen, like the weather.

We here at Bandcamp, while still having much love for those too cool for school, also embrace the strivers. Jay Gambit—who, as Crowhurst, has posted over 80 releases on his page, from drone to ambient to epic black metal—is an idealist living through the work. Gambit makes no secret of his ambition; it’s self-evident in the scope of his labor. Talking to him is a bit dizzying: he’s so in love with the music that shapes him, and the subculture that emotionally sustains him, that there were moments in our chat that almost felt surreal. He talks about mid-level post-metal bands as though they were at a critical saturation point—like, say, The Pixies—and obscure loop and drone artists like they’re pop stars who everyone knows. His tunnel vision is appealing; his enthusiasm is contagious. If we were at a bar with him, we’d have gotten whiplash from nodding while we pretended to know every musical reference.

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After Björk: 8 Bands Redefining the Icelandic Sound

The Icelandic Sound

Blame Björk and Sigur Rós. Ever since the two acts hit the international music scene, fans have been predisposed to view Iceland through a lens of “strangeness.” Their albums, which feature lightly-accented voices singing against lush pop orchestrations, with videos that often feature black sand beaches, rolling hills, and more black sand beaches, quickly established an artistic shorthand for the country: Come to Iceland, they seemed to say. We have elves.

At the recent edition of Iceland Airwaves, local acts such as Samaris and múm certainly benefited from the Björk and Sigur Rós legacy; their emotive and atmospheric pop drew crowds as big—if not bigger—than much of the internationally-sourced lineup (which included notables like Conner Youngblood, Julia Holter, and Margaret Glaspy). But during the frantic four days of festival, clubs including Húrra, Gamla Bíó, and the many rooms of the Harpa Opera House hosted a different breed of local musician, focusing on the country’s quickly growing rap, hip-hop, soul, and deliciously indefinable weirdo pop.

Here are a few of our favorite new discoveries, any of which who might one day tip the Iceland’s rep in their direction.

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Rush Hour’s “Surinam Funk Force” Helps Lost Funk Gems Find the World Stage

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Antal Heitlager. Photo by Imke Ligthart.

Rush Hour’s new compilation, Surinam Funk Force, is the Dutch label’s second collection of funk, disco and boogie highlights from Surinam. Its existence serves as a kind of musical history lesson, tracing the post-colonial relationship between the two countries. Surinam, South America’s smallest country, was colonized by the Dutch in the 17th Century; the exploitation of enslaved Surinamese has long affected the countries’ history of trade, immigration and emigration. The Netherlands is not just a former colonial power, but also one of the only countries outside Surinam itself where one can find rare musical gems like the late ‘70s and early ‘80s funk tracks that make up this compilation.

“If you go to flea markets and things like that, you encounter [Surinamese music],” says Rush Hour label head Antal Heitlager. “You immediately open your ears, if you’re open-minded to it.” Both Surinam Funk Force and its predecessor, Surinam! Boogie & Disco Funk From The Surinamese Dance Floors ’76–’83, are the result of years spent sifting through second-hand records, searching for gold. In this case, these compilations are the finer cuts that Heitlager—along with co-compiler Thomas Gesthuizen—have found.

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Album of the Day: Mica Levi and Oliver Coates, “Remain Calm”

The role of classical instruments in electronic music is shifting, and Mica Levi and Oliver Coates are at the forefront of that movement. For years now, the instrumentalists have explored a possible marriage between classical and new electronic forms, pushing deeper into unexplored territory with each release. Oliver’s Upstepping at times veered into cello-driven dance music, while Mica Levi’s Under The Skin soundtrack went the other way—into creepy, visceral and atmospheric territory. On their new collaborative album Remain Calm, Levi and Coates unite, and blend cellos with various electronic elements, samples and instrumentals, creating 13 nuanced snippets with their specific sound.

At times, Remain Calm nods to contemporary genres like grime, drone, and techno, but the musicians do a masterful job of blending the live instruments into the mix, weaving esoteric twists throughout the album. The cello is the project’s main focus, and on songs like “Pre-Barok,” “Dolphins Climb Onto Shore For The First Time,” and “New Wren Kitch,” the instrument feels especially warm, albeit portraying its different qualities in each of the tracks. The highlight is “Barok Main,” an abstract composition full of capricious melodic lines and fluctuating atmospheres. Moments of comfort are met with bone-chilling stillness. On Remain Calm, Levi and Coates manage to create their own world—modern, nostalgic, and overtly personal.

Adam Badí Donoval