Inc. and Autre Ne Veut Slow Things Down at Downtown Fest
It was a night of filtered lights and oblique love songs. at Saturday's (May 11) Downtown Music Festival -- a young, Downtown Records-owned event that dispatches emerging artists across Manhattan’s Lower East Side -- two leading lights of a new wave of R&B offered alternative takes on the genre, playing back-to-back sets for a room full of incidentally intimate strangers.
The R&B of Autre Ne Veut, the recording project of Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/producer Arthur Ashin, refracts Maxwell and Prince through post-modern, glitchy electronic music. His excellent, recently released album “Anxiety” was co-produced by maestros of ‘80s ambience Joel Ford and Daniel Lopatin (of Ford & Lopatin), and the songs are possessed of decadent atmospheric flourishes and beats that shift and expand in unexpected directions.
On stage, though, Ashin is much more primal and uncalculated. He belts his lyrics -- mostly about longing for love, sex, or understanding -- with untempered agony and ecstasy. Occasionally he’d break from a long stretch of frayed falsetto to gaze directly into the audience, which returned his unself-conscious emoting in kind.
In the cramped back room of Pianos, the workhorse LES bar where the show took place, there is no backstage or side stairway, meaning the only way to the stage is to barge your way directly through the heart of the crowd. The brothers Daniel and Andrew Aged of inc. broke the ranks cleanly, though, transfixing audience members with the intensity of their attire long enough make their way unencumbered. The brothers, one with a shaved head, the other with slick black locks cropped on the sides and pulled into a knot on top, were dressed in full ‘90s all-black goth regalia, complete with asymmetrical sweaters, loose-fitting jeans and heavy boots. inc.’s music can be traced back to the ‘90s too, but it's rooted in the slick, sensual R&B of Playa and Jodeci rather than anything that was happening in the goth or punk scene. It’s as if they stumbled into a Taye Diggs movie on their way out of Hot Topic.
The Aged brothers have worked as producers and session musicians for artists ranging from Raphael Saadiq to Nite Jewel, and their songs are consistently polished and subtle. Daniel sings in a pillow soft register just above a whisper, backed by spare click-clack drums borrowed from the Timbaland playbook. During highlights “Lifetime” and “5 Days,” from recent album “no world,” controlled passion gave way to the live wire energy of the full band. The goth element was infused with sensitivity and sincerity, while the R&B element gained richer, dusty textures. Together, the mix was stirring and bracingly original.