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Upfront: BV is the second coming of Black Vanilla

"Sometimes it feels like BV barely exists, other times it definitely does"

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BV is the second coming of Black Vanilla—a trio formed by musicians Marcus Whale, Jarred Beeler, and Lavurn Lee. Black Vanilla was a very different proposition to BV in its current form. Speaking with Marcus Whale, he refers to the initial project as being “essentially Boyz II Men-style slow jams executed poorly and with a very problematically jokey flavour”. It was perhaps this apathetic approach to music which held Black Vanilla back from full impact. Whale admits that collectively they “spent years having a very awkward transition from those days into the music we make now”. Black Vanilla’s 2013 mixtape BLACK ON BLACK ON BLACK was an indication of where they were trying to take things sonically, but it wasn’t until their rebrand as BV in 2016 that they truly found their rhythm. BV’s B2V release instantaneously repositioned them as a far more liberated project than it had ever been before. Notorious for their high-impact and effortlessly cool live performances, BV are taking their show to the stage and straight to your laptop for their second Boiler Room appearance this Wednesday night in Sydney.

Did you engage with Boiler Room before it became localised here in Australia?

I seem to remember watching Boiler Room before it came here and being very excited when they broadcasted from Sugar Mountain Festival.

How are you feeling about playing your second Boiler Room as BV versus your last performance as Black Vanilla?

Last time was a disaster. We played Boiler Room during the awkward transition period and it translated even more awkwardly to the Boiler Room broadcast format. It was humiliating to have that video as our most viewed on Youtube, and they were kind enough to take the video down eventually. While we definitely didn’t have our best set, we were inevitably subject to racial and homophobic abuse in the live comments during the broadcast by the bros that, at that time, frequented the Boiler Room page. It’ll go down as our most painful experience as a band, so we’re glad to try and erase that in this new opportunity to perform on Boiler Room. I’m confident it’ll be a much better experience for us.

How have events like Boiler Room x Budweiser’s “Discover What’s Brewing”, Red Bull Sound Select, and general brand sponsored events opened up opportunities for artists? And what are some of the concerns you have as an artist in regard to this model?

Brand sponsorship in dance music is a little bit of a conundrum for artists, particularly in Sydney, because the cost of putting on a night or a show can be really quite restrictive for most people—and we’d all love to be paid well for the work that we do. A brand spending money putting together an event, creates an opportunity for a performance that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

There’s a sense that we’re bound in a Faustian trade—cultural power for monetary power—and that can feel pretty dissonant for a style of music that was, after all, born out of queer, black/Latinx resistance to oppression. Even though dance music has for a very long time been co-opted from this context, I’m still concerned that the social power of this music is dissolved by becoming dependent on this spirit of resistance being translated into cultural capital for brands to exploit. I’m very aware that by performing at this event, we’re endorsing this model.

At the same time, by throwing all this money at an event and (ironically) not having to worry about making profit, they’re usually priced in a more accessible way than a show with a certain lineup would otherwise be. I feel like accessibility is very important when it comes to cultural production. And of course if someone offers us a show that a lot of people are going to have a good time at, with a fee that’s more than anyone else can pay, of course we’re going to take it. Many of these branded events have, I think, taken pains to avoid looking tacky by making artists promote a certain product in an explicit way, which makes it easier for us to say yes, also. The impact on artists and on music scenes in terms of the amount that’s happening, has been positive. So it’s a fraught question, for sure.

For context, talk me through the beginnings of BV. What were you all doing before, and what other projects are you still currently working on?

At the beginning, we were called Black Vanilla. Lavurn was making this very beautiful vocal-loop-centric music as Guerre, and I was in a band called Collarbones. I met Jarred and Lavurn at a Collarbones show in 2010, and we started making music together about six months later—just for fun really. Lavurn makes very syncopated but very danceable music as Cassius Select and hellish, gothically slow rap as Fake, while Jarred’s mining his heritage making Lebanese dabke-derived club tracks as DJ Plead and also in the duo Poison with T. Morimoto/Thomas William. I’m currently making music under my own name, and I’m still in Collarbones.

How do you coordinate your schedules between BV and your multitude of other projects? Is that difficult?

We’re quite casual with BV. Sometimes it feels like it barely exists, other times it definitely does. It’s kind of like that relative you’re meant to see more often. At the moment, Jarred lives in Melbourne so it literally is like—he’ll either be coming up to Sydney for BV or to see his family.

You’re all such incredible musicians so I’m interested to know how your songwriting process works. Does someone take the lead or is it methodical in anyway? Or is it very much a songs from scratch process?

At the moment, the idea is to just gain some enjoyment from putting together the tools we use for the live show, rather than constructing songs with a release in mind. I used to be too controlling in how I’d steer the beats (which we’d generally make together) into fully realised song structures. After a nine-month break, we all got together in April at Ableton’s Sydney studio, making a lot of beats very quickly on our computers and having a lovely time putting them through their many outboard pieces of gear. This felt super different from how we normally work.

Talk me through how you wrote ‘HUH’. Was this originally a Fake project or was it always meant for BV?

I believe it was a Fake beat. Some of our songs definitely originate out of Fake. On that note, I sometimes joke that the beats I make for BV just sound like Lavurn’s music from three years ago.

Are there any particular producers, artists, or people who were instrumental in defining BV as a project?

I identify with the way acts like Habits and friendships render the angst of their songwriting with highly danceable, if heavy, club rhythms.

What I love about BV project is that it has undertones that are very Australian but also sit with ease in a global market. How have you found the local response for sounds that don’t necessarily fit within a commercial radio or Triple J environment?

I’m still quite confused about who listens to BV, how they heard about us, and why they’re into it. We’ve always put a big emphasis on the live show and even though not a whole lot of people listen to us, those that are in the room when we perform are usually, I think, quite passionate about the experience they’ve had. We’ve also had great support from FBi Radio, and I’d say a large portion of our audience are engaged in the local music scene in a similar way. So while we’re very localised, I’m happy that we can still perform with some success, some years on from starting the project.

What is coming up for BV? New music I hope!

We’d love to put some new music out, it’s a matter of us getting it together. It could happen in a couple of months or a couple of years, depending on how everyone is feeling. Primarily, I’d love for us to play live more often. Send us an email.

BV will be appearing at Boiler Room x Budweiser’s “Discover What’s Brewing” in Sydney this Wednesday 9th August alongside TOKiMONSTA, Machinedrum, and Aywy. RSVP HERE.

  • Photography by: Jarred Beeler

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