[Photo by Lauren Gesswein]
Theophilus London is feeling the vibes. After locking himself in a sprawling house in Palm Springs, CA—where he’s been arduously recording his sophomore LP Vibes—he came back to his hometown of Brooklyn for the 2013 Afropunk Festival last weekend (August 24-25). With influences in dance music, calypso and funk, Theo is a perfect fit with the always-eclectic Afropunk lineup, and he’s happy to be involved. Still, he’s visibly startled by New York City’s off-putting pace, and is struggling to find his footing before a stellar set in Saturday night’s twilight hour.
Despite discomfort, throughout the course of his performance Theo ran through his wildly diverse catalogue, performing a clubby remix of Rihanna’s “Jump,” his trap-inspired A$AP Rocky collab “Big Spender” and his breezy single “Rio.” London also premiered a few new cuts from Vibes, all of which sound as psychedelic as they do soulful, and he delivered them with ease alongside a brand new backing band.
After his set, XXL spoke to the fashionable Brooklynite about good and bad vibes, stripping himself bare for an audience and finding inspiration in the desert.
XXL: Your new album, Vibes, sounds amazing. Tell me about your vibes right now.
Theophilus London: I came straight from the desert to play here in Brooklyn today. It’s super nerve-wracking. It’s funny, I had a huge anxiety attack walking down Broadway…All of a sudden everything became fake, like it was a movie set, and the shadows and the lights just got weird. It was like a hundred people scrambling…I started getting sick, man. I was like, “The vibes are bad here.” Nobody was acknowledging each other. Nobody was acknowledging the environment. It was scary. It felt like the Internet, in a way.
Bizarre. So were you nervous to come out and play new songs after that?
It’s taking a risk, to come here and play all new songs, and it’s my first time playing with the band. I could’ve come out here and played with my DJ, but I’d rather come out here as an artist and be bare. Show my flaws. Show my weaknesses. Show my strengths. And just try to relate to people.
In your hometown.
Yeah, in my hometown. Just try to show people that it’s about progression. Where I’m at now, where I’m at today. It’s like, “Why are you fucking with me today?”
You’ve been holed up in the desert, recording the new album. Tell me about your experience out there.
It’s good. I felt like I lost myself as a person. When you’re a new person and a new idea, you get invited to all these different things and everybody wants a piece of you. And you want to be polite and say yes to everything, but it gets dangerous. At the end of the day your mind just feels raped from it all.
What about the desert inspires you?
It’s very magical. I went out to Joshua Tree like five times in one week, just sitting and gazing at a million stars. I’m trying to open a part of my brain that’s telling me different shit. And I’m just happy to make the album out there, because I feel like an artist again. I need to be personal. I don’t want girls and weed in the studio. That shit is not personal.
Alright, as a Brooklynite, what does it mean to you to have something like Afropunk that covers all of these genres and is so welcoming to so many different crowds?
It’s sick. Everyone out here is rebellious. Punk music is rebellious. Saul Williams is about to play right now, which is so crazy. They’ve been doing it for years, and I’m so happy to be a part of it this year. I came straight from the desert. I’m culture shocked right now.