Don't call Teengirl Fantasy's music hipster house
No one enjoys being pigeonholed, and the Brooklyn-based production team known as Teengirl Fantasy is no exception to that rule. That, of course, hasn’t stopped critics from trying. Even though “hipster house” might be the most idiotic musical term to come along since steampunk, the duo of Nick Weiss and Logan Takahashi have found themselves saddled with it on more than one occasion.
For a good reason why that’s exasperating, check out their excellent sophomore release, Tracer. For all the sonic territory that it covers, it isn’t exactly overflowing with four-on-the-floor bangers.
“If there’s anything that we don’t want to be lumped into, it’s these new micro-genres that music critics like to create really quickly to describe a batch of artists,” Weiss says, on the line from his home base of New York City. “We definitely draw on a pretty wide range of influences. You could tie us, along with our peers, into any number of scenes. But I don’t like to label whatever we’re working on, mostly because there’s literally no saying what we might be interested in doing next. We might end up producing a whole album of R&B stuff.”
Tracer suggests that wouldn’t exactly be a huge stretch for Teengirl Fantasy, which Weiss and Takahashi formed after bonding at Oberlin College in Ohio. The album makes a strong case that the musical partners aren’t interested in staying in one place for long.
Part of moving forward has been changing the way that they do business. For their critically lauded debut, 7AM, Takahashi and Weiss pretty much worked as a self-contained, sample-heavy unit. A good half of Tracer has them going it alone, again, with wonderfully disorienting results. The kickoff track, “Orbit”, is a gorgeous mess of trilling synths, spectral sound flares, and skittering drum patterns, while “Eternal” drags pan flutes intothe underground clubs of ’90s Berlin.
Breaking with what they did for 7AM, Weiss and Takahashi go sample-free on Tracer. They also make a successful effort to expand their artistic scope in other ways, working with a cast of outside talent, including Panda Bear from Animal Collective. The guests are there for more than window dressing, the ethereal soul-sister vocals of Laurel Halo, for example, acting as a chilled-out counterpart to the squelchy percussion glops and wheezing keys in “Mist of Time”. With others, though, Weiss and Takahashi had no problem tailoring things to their supporting cast. One of their big thrills was teaming up with Daft Punk collaborator Romanthony for the record’s brightest and most uplifting cut, the glitter-spackled thumper “Do It”.
“We wanted to work with him because we’re such big fans of his stuff, but we really didn’t think that it would happen,” Weiss says. “We ended up being able to make it work, though. He wrote the vocal part pretty soon after we wrote the song, which was cool. But then, just getting everything in place was a little more complicated. He’s more established, where the rest of the vocalists were our friends.
“Still, for the listener, just being able to let go and have fun with it, I think it’s a really great track,” he continues. “Romanthony’s stuff has this almost celebratory, wedding-type vibe that’s just undeniably positive. It’s like you can just free yourself. I was really happy at the way that it ended up working out.”
Even though it’s not easy to get him trumpeting his own accomplishments on Tracer, Weiss cautiously allows that he’s pretty thrilled as to where Teengirl Fantasy finds itself positioned at this point in its career. You don’t have to have a deadmau5 bobblehead on your dresser and everything ever released by Skrillex (including From First to Last’s back catalogue) to have gotten the message that EDM is pretty much pop’s most shit-hot genre at the moment. What Weiss likes is the anything-goes aspect of modern electronic dance music, which makes complete sense when you consider that Teengirl Fantasy isn’t riding anyone’s coattails with Tracer.
“I think it’s really exciting, definitely, to see some of the really more insane kind of music that is making it into the mainstream in America,” he offers. “I think it’s really cool that the wider public can embrace someone like Skrillex, who makes really crazy, futuristic music that has very little organic-feeling material for people to grab on to. He pushes a lot of boundaries. In terms of our music, I don’t know if we’ll be able to reach that same sort of mainstream EDM market. We don’t subscribe to that sort of production technique. Our stuff is way more scaled-down and laid-back.”
Still, Weiss isn’t ruling out a future stylistic shift for Teengirl Fantasy. He and Takahashi are, after all, determined to do everything possible to ensure that pigeonholing them isn’t an option.
“I like the energy of mainstream EDM,” he admits simply. “And I wouldn’t be opposed to going in that direction.”
Teengirl Fantasy plays the Waldorf on Friday (August 17).