Brooklyn's Body Language on Dildos, Disco, and Their Sexual Mythos
Body Language (L-R): Grant Wheeler, Matthew Young, Angelica Bess, and Ian Chang
Photo courtesy Grandstand Media
Body Language, a Brooklyn four-piece who play an upbeat mashup of r&b, disco, and house, list their genre on the group’s Facebook page as "SEX." This may go part of the way toward explaining why band members Grant Wheeler and Angelica "Ang" Bess find themselves in the SoHo outpost of upscale sex-toy shop Babeland, squeezing fancy dildos while we discuss their group’s work.
"[Ang] was like, that’s what we get, we put that in there, now we have to answer to it," laughs Wheeler. He picks up one of Babeland’s many expensive toys, a pricey silicone strap-on. "Rubber dicks have come a long way," he says thoughtfully.
Wheeler and Bess say that the perceived sexuality of their group, which, when they play live, features singing from Matt Young and Bess, synths from Wheeler, and percussion from Ian Chang (who is also the drummer for band Son Lux), may be a little exaggerated. "It’s more like a mythos, a fantasy," Bess says. "If we are freaks, we’re very private about it."
Body Language formed in 2008, when Wheeler, Young, and Bess met in Connecticut, at University of Hartford, where Young and Wheeler studied music production. "Matt and I had a weekly DJ night with a friend of ours," says Wheeler. "Every week we were writing new remixes. [In 2008] it was the pinnacle of banger French house like Daft Punk–bloghouse." After writing remixes week after week, Wheeler and Young eventually began to compose original material. "We started working with Ang and we put our own vocals on it," Wheeler says. "[We were] like OK, this is a band."
Body Language released their first EP, Speaks, after moving to Brooklyn in 2009. During this time, Young and Wheeler remained active in other projects, contributing to the second Passion Pit album, Manners. The group also collaborated with Trinidad rapper Theophilus London, through whom they met Chang, who completed their lineup.
The band is a bit of an oddity in today’s electronic music scene, where most performers are viewed as auteurs despite the fact that collaborations are common. But Body Language have always functioned as a band. "It usually starts with one producer. Somebody will write a beat and pass it along to another person who writes vocals," says Wheeler. "[Our songs] can start in lots of different ways. It’s the reason why our music is so eclectic."
Body Language’s sound does combine a wide array of influences and genres. Their songs are just as likely to draw from the alternative r&b of artists like Solange and Autre Ne Veut (who Bess collaborates with) as the kind of funky electro-pop Breakbot popularized. Their new single, "Just Let It," heads in the direction of the moody maximalism pioneered by Born Gold and Baths. "The whole challenge is how do you keep that cohesive, within the same project," says Wheeler, since "you definitely don’t want to eat the same meal every day. [It’s the same with] music."
And sex toys, too, which Wheeler and Bess pick up and muse about as we discuss Body Language. Bess idly turns on a vibrator but then can’t figure out how to turn it off. She laughs. "The hilarious thing about these is that when you’re done using it, you have to cycle through like twenty settings like…is it off now? Is it off now?"
Though the Body Language project is now eight years old, the group only has one full-length release. "Just Let It" and its B side, "The Fall," were two of more than a dozen songs that Body Language originally intended to become an album. Eventually, the group decided the songs were too stylistically different to put on the same LP. Instead, they’ll be releasing an EP in the fall, which they say was largely inspired by the bass music they’ve been consuming recently. "We are definitely retreating into this techno house vibe," says Bess.
The group takes the same measured approach to touring, rarely playing the months-long tours so many groups rely on in the post-digital music economy. Their upcoming show on June 21st, at Bushwick venue House of Yes, is one of a few upcoming dates that also include stops in San Francisco, San Diego, and Philadelphia.
Body Language shows are a lot of fun. "A big part of our band is trying stuff out with a crowd and seeing how they react to it," Wheeler says. "Really, that’s how we tailor our sets. See if people dance. That’s really the litmus test." This crowd-pleasing orientation separates them from much of Brooklyn’s current hyper-serious electronic music scene, where live shows offer an opportunity for musicians to challenge expectations but can become monotonous and heavy.
"It’s not about making people take our music seriously. It’s what feels good to us. If you want to make droned-out, experimental synth music then do that," says Bess. "The four of us together, it’s almost like a language," she says, laughing at the pun. "We are communicating. We like the same things, we like vibing together." She pauses before adding, "I’m saying 'vibe' as I’m looking at the wall of vibrators."
Body Language play House of Yes on June 21.
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