Three Great Things: Hennessey

Frontwoman Leah Hennessey talks her complicated relationship with ‘80s nostalgia.

In honor of our new single “Let’s Pretend (It’s the 80s),” here are three great things which express something of my complicated relationship with ‘80s nostalgia and retro aesthetics.  

1. Synth Britannia

I’m really not a synthesizer dork (unlike everyone else in my band), but this is a deeply illuminating history of how a technological practice can reshape the aesthetic experience of culture. In this moment of cataclysmic change, I think it’s important to imagine a future for ourselves, however science-fictional, and to realize that generations before us have consciously and intentionally shaped our mediated worlds.

One night, while fretting about my lack of musical ability, I had a vision in which a deceased mentor told me that the function of music is to describe space through time. The seamless integration of images and sounds in “Synth Britannia” is like a perfect, pretty literal, exploration of how sounds can describe cities, and how cities are shaped by sound. The way that it expresses how J.G. Ballard’s particular flavor of dystopian bleakness gave birth to the chill of the new British sound is so clear and eye opening, and made me realize the inherently literary nature of early synth pop. The second half of the film, in which synthesizer based music stops being the experimental sound of the concrete industrial wasteland and becomes the sound of glossy glitzy yuppie-dom is something I wouldn’t have completely understood without seeing the shift of visual language. I think that part of the film probably had a big influence on this song of ours, even though it’s really about England and our song is about New York. 

This video has subtitles and gets a little out of sync, but I’m sure with some searching you can find a better copy.

Wendy Carlos

Visions of the future and the past.

2. Basquiat

Sometimes Basquiat can feel so ubiquitous — he (or the “brand” of Basquiat) can feel like this epoch’s Klimt poster, but it’s worth digging beyond the museum gift shop and Supreme collections to access his radiance. For me, this loving biopic by Jean-Michel’s friend Julian Schnabel feels eternally fresh. For better or for worse, it’s one of the most lasting, continuous influences for the “Let’s Pretend (It’s the 80s)” model of a New York art scene. There was a period in my life when every party or opening I went to felt like some uncanny recreation of scenes from this movie, which I found disturbing but also weirdly enjoyable.

As a biopic, it manages to be humanizing and, paradoxically, effectively canonizing. The director’s deceased friend emerges as eternally, tormentingly young, beautiful and brilliant and available for all of us to love. The Basquiat soundtrack was the soundtrack of my childhood. My mother had the cassette and played it on repeat and this one song “She is Dancing” by Brian Kelly is one of the most evocative, nostalgic songs to me, and I’ll share it right here because quarantine is making me uncharacteristically generous.

3. Magical Shower Curtains

A study in camp masquerading as an ultra niche boutique shower curtain retailer.  “Sally and Mitch” are the creators and curators of Magical Shower Curtains, and their vision of the ‘80s is a shrieking delight to me — you want a pop art Stephen Sprouse on the cross shower curtain? You got it. A Trompe l’oeil backdrop of Suspiria? As a shower curtain? A Liquid Sky shower curtain? A QUERELLE SHOWER CURTAIN?? Every time I scroll through their feed I gasp. After months of indecision I finally committed to shower curtain that features not one, but two airbrushed images of David Bowie as Screaming Lord Byron from the “Blue Jean” music video. It was a very difficult choice, which I rationalized because it is the venn diagram of two of my most powerful obsessions (Bowie and Byron), but I’m thinking of purchasing a second one that’s maybe a little more versatile, like the Indochine print or the Joey Arias shower curtain . They also make t-shirts. 

Hennessey is a good old fashioned hipster band from New York. Manhattan to be exact. In the tradition of Le Tigre, Gorillaz, Devo, and Roxy Music, they are a group of multidisciplinary artists who have come together to create vintage-pop obsessed electronic dance punk.

Leah Hennessey, also known as a playwright and creator of the underground web series Zhe Zhe, is the lead singer and principal songwriter of the band. Synthesizer/drum machine “operator” and Eno-like “non-musician” E.J. O’Hara has been collaborating with Leah “almost since high school.” His main concern is to make the beats sound more like Timbaland. Electronic guitarist Noah Chevan eschews amplifiers and traditional guitar rigs in favor of computer processing.

(Photo Credit: Mike Martinez)