meet bushwick cyberpunx ONWE
Brooklyn-based post-punk trio ONWE aren’t afraid of using their music to challenge socio-economic inequality, gender roles, and the impacts of the Internet.
In the 70s, youth frustrated with the commercialisation and empty political promises of pop music, revolted through punk and spawned some of the most iconic music, art, and fashion in history. Today, that rebellious spirit seems to have all but evaporated. In an age when activism is boiled down to BuzzFeed listicles and online petitions, and culture is stalled on endless scroll syndrome what can we do? Enter ONWE, a trio of self-professed "Bushwick cyberpunx" led by former male model David Welles, who cleverly prod at this highly problematic apathy. "We write high-energy punk songs with intricate guitar hooks and unconventional storytelling," says Welles of his project.
"Unconventional storytelling," arrives by way of highlighting the contradictions of life in the digital age. Yet instead of outright lambasting, ONWE smartly use the tropes of generation "eh" to critique it. The group releases their music on Capitalist Records (a play on major label Capitol Records), include sprightly sardonic taglines like "reblog us on Tumblr!!" in tracks, and incorporate lo-fi net art graphics in their music videos. Welles isn't afraid "to be a part of a generation that takes the systemic failures left to us by the Baby Boomers head on," and uses music to confront contemporary issues including socio-economic inequality, gender roles, the changing landscape of the music industry, and the impact of the internet on our lives.
If this all sounds a bit heavy-handed, it should be emphasised that ONWE's sound is totally fun and infectious, it's rare that such poignant social criticisms induce such uncontrollable foot-tapping. "Our music draws a lot from no wave, krautrock, and contemporary deep house music. Iggy Pop and Jonathan Richman always inspire me to be a better performer," said Welles.
Yet Welles also draws inspiration from another key source: Canadian singer and producer Grimes, who in her 2011 breakout video "Oblivion" explores notions of mainstream masculinity by cheerfully dancing her way through hyper macho sporting events. ONWE's video for "Unpaid Internship" puts a new twist on this concept: "With 'Unpaid Internship,' I was really curious how far I could go with my love for Grimes' work in that I want to be Grimes. I want to be a soft, lovable fairy that prances around and is able to just be kind," Welles said. "Yet what these things are turned into in terms of how they are perceived in a man is generally homosexuality, and I wanted to challenge that," he continued.
Welles explained how "Unpaid Internship" also functions as a critique of New York City's economic inequalities, speaking about his own neighbourhood, Bushwick: "You have immense privilege, global fashion, global technology - basically, the internet in real life - next to people who are just trying to provide for their families," he explained. "So in the video I'm in Bushwick, a neighbourhood without economic privilege, dancing around as if I own the place. I wanted to draw attention to some tensions and hypocrisies that I see in what I'm engaged in." Welles said.
Yet this economic inequality doesn't merely exist in Bushwick. Welles sees it as a larger characteristic of todays' music industry: "I think that the music industry is in incredible transition right now. Where the money is gonna go and how it's gonna be distributed is so up in the air. There's a lot of options for how things could change in the next five years," he said. "You need more economic privilege than ever to make music in New York. If you don't have great privilege and want your voice to be heard, you have to work ten times as hard, which is very exciting."
For the fledgling band, this hard work seems to be paying off: "We've almost finished recording our first album. It's the culmination of all the stuff we've been making, and it's been a challenge to complete. It took much longer than I ever anticipated. We have our next album written, too. So we're just trying to make as much content as possible in as little amount of time," Welles said. "I think there are some things resurging and happening in Brooklyn and I really hope that continues." We hope so, too.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Brayden Olson