Local Current Blog

Collective perspective: Solo artists are teaming up to amplify their sound

V.I.C.E. BOYS; courtesy Robert Henry.

Everyone loves stories of the secluded musician. When Owl City’s “Fireflies” blew up in 2010, fans and journalists seized on the narrative of Adam Young recording alone in an Owatonna bedroom. Justin Vernon’s “For Emma, Forever Ago” cabin stay is one of the most mythologized affairs of Midwest music.

But even the most independent solo artists sometimes seek out second opinions from fellow artists, or forge alliances with music producers, like R&B maverick Ness Nite did with producer Mike Frey. Some solo artists have found success by collaborating with other artists on each other’s respective projects. That’s where collectives come in. (The difference between a collective and a band is loose. In fact, a dance group discussed later on identifies as a band. But for these intents and purposes, the absence of a front person is a dead giveaway.)

As in many other cities, it’s easy to find rap collectives in Minneapolis-St. Paul. There’s SPVCE (pronounced “space,” comprising Hard_R, Mixie D, Tek, RP Hooks, Arvell Genius, Yon Legend, and GoodKarmaNiles), the Rotation (Finding Novyon, Dwynell Roland, Travis Gorman, and Devon Reason), and of course, local veterans Doomtree. Young crew thestand4rd (Allan Kingdom, Bobby Raps, Corbin, and Psymun) have been quiet lately, but they racked up thousands of fans and national press after releasing their self-titled album in 2014.

Minneapolis crew V.I.C.E. BOYS — rappers Connor Marques, RoDizzyy, Yahiko, CHVSNV (who has an album coming out this month), and videographer/artist Nate P. — are making waves. Whether they’re playing at Honey in Northeast Minneapolis or any of the Twin Cities’ other venues, they go hard onstage, hyping each other at every turn.

Something that makes V.I.C.E. BOYS stick out in the local scene is their inclusion of a non-musical artist, Nate P., in their rap collective. It may be unorthodox, but it was never up for debate. Their group “is more [about] family,” the crew explain. Nate P. has known CHVSNV and RoDizzyy since sixth grade (the guys’ average age now is about 20), and one perk of having an in-house videographer, V.I.C.E. BOYS explain, is better online visibility. Seeing an artist’s appearance boosts fans’ connection with them, for better or worse. Thanks to Nate’s work, fans can find and connect with CHVSNV, Marques, RoDizzyy, and Yahiko on a deeper level than they could using only their headphones.

V.I.C.E. BOYS look up to Taylor Gang, the label and multimedia company founded by Wiz Khalifa. “And Odd Future, of course,” Nate P. adds. Marques mentions his respect for 2012 Kanye, which is appropriate considering the 2012 Kanye song “Clique.” “Ain’t nobody [expletive] with my clique, clique, clique, clique, clique,” Big Sean chants; later, Jay Z jumps in, shouting out his clique members “Ye,” “Rih,” and “Bey.”

Another unorthodox group in the music scene is DaNCEBUMS, five University of Minnesota alumni who decided to form a band. The catch is that no one plays an instrument while they’re on stage; they dance, often accompanied by keyboardist/vocalist Eric Mayson and percussionist Toby Ramaswamy.

Dance students Margaret Johnson, Kara Motta, Eben Kowler, Maggie Zepp, and Karen McMenamy became DaNCEBUMS while sharing a house in Northeast Minneapolis. At first, class requirements pushed them to work together. Then, some friends asked them to perform at the Kitty Kat Klub. A few garage shows, a Fringe Festival slot, and an Icehouse performance later, they’ve built a whole repertoire of dances, from the “One-Move Dance” to “Swearing Too Much in Front of Children.”

Courtesy of Emmet Kowler

As one might guess already, DaNCEBUMS are blessedly wacky. Their name stands for Dancers are Now Collaborating Everyone Buy Us More Snacks; a cartoonish slice of pizza decorates their “moves4you2do” video series. On their website, thoughtful blog posts live alongside a multicolored header. On stage, you’ll see ballet moves next to shimmies. It’s like if dancing was a tenderhearted meme.

Like many collectives, DaNCEBUMS stick together because they’re friends. One bio reads, “Their collaboration is based on mutual love and respect for each other, systems of support, and togetherness.” At a recent strategic planning retreat, Johnson says, “We did ‘warm fuzzies’ for each other. We had this big Post-it Note pad, and we went through each person and complimented them.”

As a collective, they enjoy sharing the creative process with each other, watching one idea turn into a whole new dance. “The idea changes,” Johnson says, “because four other people are trying to grasp the understanding of it and seeing how they can be inspired by it.” Working as a collective can be hard to explain to other people — “It’s not like one person choreographed everything,” McMenamy says, which might be easier to absorb — but it’s the process they prefer.

This month, DaNCEBUMS will possibly be the first dance group to hold an Icehouse residency. Two other dance groups, Hiponymous and HIJACK, will hit the stage throughout the series. But mostly, McMenamy says, “They’re going to run pretty much standard nights of music,” featuring Tony the Scribe, the Controversial New ‘Skinny Pill,’ and many more. The shows are called DaNCINESS, HaRDNESS, BuMMINESS, and PiZZA (there it is again). DaNCEBUMS will close out each one with a different set of their work.

The Twin Cities’ size — big enough to foster a scene, but small enough that everybody knows everybody—seems ideal for casual collectives like these. Word spreads fast about who makes a good collaborator, and when the same artists keep seeing each other in the same handful of places, relationships spring up all the time. The presence of the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, a community populated by about 50,000 students in any given year, doesn’t hurt either.

Watch for more Twin Cities collectives to form, collaborate, and demand attention.

This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Current and The Growler, a monthly craft beer lifestyle magazine covering the best stories in beer, food, and culture. Find this article online and in print in the April edition of The Growler.