Genre-bending NEO 10Y is not staying quiet in this political climate. The London-born multi-instrumentalist first came to light musically in late 2016 with debut single “Amerikkka,” which was played at a Tom Ford party. The track’s accompanying video was controversial in nature, as it featured live sex on film and a mask of the then-presidential nominee, Donald Trump, being set on fire (which subsequently resulted in hate mail and FBI reports for the artist).
To premiere his new music video “Echo Chamber,” NEO 10Y — the creation of artist Nik Thakkar — talked to Billboard about his responsibility as a queer person of color, his inspirations (Lana Del Rey and Grace Jones, to name a few) and how he “ended” Trump before Kathy Griffin and Snoop Dogg.
What is the origin of your name, NEO 10Y?
So there’s a word and construct in biology, ‘neoteny’, it means ‘the retention of childhood characteristics in the adult animal’.
On a psychological level, there is the sense of innocence and openness that gets closed off as we grow up because of the naysaying ways of the world — limiting creativity, stifling individuality etc. High-energy adults are shut down, medicated and called “puer aeternus” or told that we have Peter Pan Syndrome, which ties into so many negative stigmas. My lyrics and music and visuals are a release from that. I want to engage your inner badass.
“10” signifies rebirth and revolution, plus alphanumeric names are kinda dope (see 2Pac, swish). On a related note, my initials are also NT, and my dog is called “10”; the name works within my universe more than I could have ever imagined. Not much detail there then…
What’s the story behind the “Echo Chamber”?
I wrote “Echo Chamber” after Brexit, and after No. 45 [Trump] won the U.S. election last year — a moment when so many humans in the world realized that everything that we experience online and even in real life is often limited to a shared community mindset.
It’s about forcing yourself to break away from that, to talk to people and more importantly to listen to people. It’s also a personal song for me about my struggles with balanced dopamine levels, hypomania, technology and self-medication.
The portraits in the video show the internal monologue versus the expression of self in that sense.
As a queer person of color, do you feel a pressure provide commentary on human rights through your artistry?
I feel a responsibility to be a solid f–king role model and an intelligent, rational and visible voice in society. Privilege is scalable for everyone, in so many different aspects. There’s still lots of conversations to be had by humanity on this topic, and we’re going through a time when a lot of people are waking up to new realities.
I agree with Lana Del Rey when she said that it would have been weird to be an artist today that didn’t acknowledge the current political climate with their work.
For those just getting to know you, your last single “Amerikkka” had a graphic video. What inspired that?
Pre-election back in October, I released a three-part film where I play an Adderall-forlorn Times Square Mickey Mouse impersonator — a.k.a. America — who is sexually assaulted by, and then deletes Donald Trump by setting him on fire. There’s a lot to understand in the film, and I’m glad lots of people are taking interest to analyze its artistic and symbolic value.
Basically, I was the first artist to “end” No. 45 on film — before Snoop Dogg did, before Kathy Griffin did — albeit in a more nuanced and poetic way. As with a lot of artists last year and ongoing, I was pretty upset about the situation and the societal impact that he was (and still is) having on the world and I wanted to bring those feelings to life.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
My taste in music is so vast, hence the genre-bending result that is NEO 10Y. I grew up on French hip-hop like MC Solaar which comes through in my tracks like “Janis.” I love Grace Jones for being an unapologetic subject of her own art. My number ones for narrative are Elliott Smith and Lana. Kanye West and Lady Gaga are the most inspirational humans I have ever met. If I can add in Lenny Kravitz and somehow arrange a posthumous poly-love date in outer space, that would be amazing.
So what’s next for you?
I’m working on releasing a ten-track album this fall and I want to do more live shows — it’s getting there. For the show I did in London at Soho Revue it was super immersive, so I want to create more multi-sensory experiences for my kin.