premiere: la timpa’s wildly experimental ep, ‘animal’
We talk with the Toronto-based artist about how ‘Gummo,’ Junya Watanabe, and catholic school uniforms inspire him to produce a bold, raw sound unlike any you’ve heard before.
Photography Aaron Wynia
Though we've long been captivated by the weird and wild rap music percolating in Atlanta's soupy humidity, recently, we've started setting our sights much further north. Sounds forged within Toronto's vibrant creative communities have increasingly begun to make their way south of the border. Much of the spotlight now shining on The Six is, of course, due to its diplomatic deity, Drake, and the roster of hometown heroes he's amassed on OVO Sound — which spans the heady, R&B-inflected stylings of PARTYNEXTDOOR and the mid-tempo cuts of dance-minded duo Majid Jordan. But beyond that major label base, there's an urgent, diverse sound swelling in the Canadian creative capital — from Jazz Cartier's cinematic trap leanings to Daniel Caesar's soaring soulful songs. Far, far left of all of these people sits LA timpa, an experimental producer and artist whose concept driven EP ANIMAL i-D is pleased to premiere today.
The improbable spirit child of Daniel Johnston and Junya Watanabe, LA timpa sounds as if Death Grips and Oneohtrix Point Never teamed up to score a Harmony Korine film, and looks as though Panos Yiapanis dreamed him up for an early Dutch editorial. His Instagram account is an apt visual representation of his uniquely raw sound: a collection of words and phrases often rendered in typography found on hardcore punk flyers — grainy VHS screen shots of some familiar faces (Chloë Sevigny sans eyebrows in Gummo), others forebodingly foreign. The page is also full of vibrantly colorful images: Jeopardy answer screen blue, glowing alien green, and, yes, blood red. If it all sounds a bit unsettling, it can be, but that's part of the allure. When I call timpa, his voice has none of that starkness; it's warm, and full of the inquisitiveness that drives his multidisciplinary practice.
Born Christopher Soetan, the 21-year-old artist spent the first six years of his life in Nigeria before relocating to Canada with his tight-knit family of four older brothers and one younger sister. "Toronto's suburbs are just a bunch of subdivisions and large homes. There's a lot of farms where I grew up, a lot of barns — they're surrounded by houses that all look the same: grey or beige with two-car garages," timpa explains. "There's a huge Catholic and a huge public high school, those are the only choices you really have." Which did he attend? "The Catholic one."
Though he admits to no longer attending church, he doesn't speak of any crisis of faith. In fact, he counts it as a pretty formative influence on his life, his look, and his art. Between his high school and Christian parents "who just love praying and singing," "I can confidently say I went to church every single day for at least one year of my life. It's where I first heard and learned about melody; I even sang in the choir for a little bit!" he laughs. It's informed a chief aspect of his personal aesthetic, too: "I had to wear a uniform throughout my whole high school career: navy pants and a golf shirt. I think that still brings inspiration to what I'm into in terms of fashion: minimalist, uniform consistency and solid colors. I love womenswear, especially Junya Watanabe's. When I dress up in the morning, it's just another way my imagination can create."
That predilection for wildly inventive, conceptual designers has in turn inspired timpa's approach to creating experimental music, which he's been pursuing with seriousness for just over a year. "I was working on music with my brother, but it was more hip-hop based and I wasn't making the beats or sounds. I started working on my own production just after I graduated from high school," he explains. "I had a very old tape recorder and I'd pick up various sounds around me. I'd turn on my sink, record the water falling, and create something from that. That's really how I got into production, by recording things hitting each other and using that as a snare. Taking raw sounds and manipulating them into new elements of a song is something I love so much."
Five of these imaginative sonic exercises appear on his just-released EP, ANIMAL, a project that first took shape when timpa moved out of his parents' home in the suburbs and resettled in Toronto's thriving downtown scene. "The mentality for the project arose when I first moved downtown with my friends and we were just creatively experimenting in our new environment." Though he and his friends were inspired and emboldened by their new surroundings, the former choir singer confesses to feeling apprehensive about lifting his voice on its own. "Most of the project — at least its vocals — was recorded between 1 and 9 am. I'd wait until everyone fell asleep to work on vocals or go into the stairwell to do some quick stuff because at the time, I was so nervous to perform in front of my friends," he says. "I haven't had singing training, I didn't go to art school, but I still have ideas and inspirations I'd like to express. The only real thing I can always go back to when thinking or talking about my creative process, my sound, or my aesthetic is knowing that I've always been very imaginative. Thinking outside of the box -- doing the alternative of the alternative -- gives me so much joy."
Though his approach is rooted in unabashed individualism, timpa is not on his journey alone. He runs with A.C.C. Studio, a collective of young Toronto-based thinkers who work individually in various fields. Its members include musician Josh McIntyre, of duo Prince Innocence, and Jimbo Williams, the designer behind rising label Insub'ordinate. They're united by an insatiable hunger to produce art and ideas. "Just thinking about whatever me and my friends are going to put out in the future, even if it's only in two weeks from now, is so exciting to me," timpa says, "Because one thing I really stand by is the power of repetition. When you constantly do something or work on something — when you constantly create — you always get better."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Aaron Wynia