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New Press Shot - photo credit Renata Raksha
Courtesy of Renata Raksha

Stream 18+'s succulent debut album ‘Trust’

The LA duo flirt with the furtive and confront the secrecy of their identities in their electronic jams

'Barely there' is how you’d describe the early output of 18+. Within their stark electronic universe were odd fragments – a Prada contract here, some press clippings there – but the underground duo’s real essence hung precariously in post-internet limbo, an anonymous blur of mixtapes, graphics and hyperreal symbols, content made without comment. Now unveiled as visual artists Justin and Samia, the furtive LA/NY duo remain discreet as night cats on crackling debut LP Trust, taking turns to whisper hyper-sexed fantasies over gagged beats and swallowing drones. The full-length, out on Fabric imprint Houndstooth, compiles new takes and brush-ups of cuts from the three mixtapes they’ve released since 2011. As the pair touch down in Berlin for their European tour, we attempt to grasp their darkly sensual Web 2.0 critique.

Tell us about your videos and visuals.

Justin: The first video was for “Drawl”, which is a very dark and strange song. We paired it with this image of a superficial, picturesque beach environment and a garish depiction of a female dancing mindlessly. We unpacked that idea for the stuff that came after, which was about the malleability of identity. How an avatar functions via Facebook and social media interactions. 

How does that superficial, corporate take on beauty relate to our online identities?

Justin: I think that kind of synthetic ideal is how people function when they turn into their own PR agents, via social media. You're constantly presenting this facade – always happiness, never loss or boredom. It's like a 2D image: 'Oh, I'm on vacation!'

Samia: Beyond the CGI woman, we slowly evolved into anything that depicted hyper-sensationalised, idealised versions of reality, especially advertisements. It plays with an odd tension to compare that with the music, which comes from a very sincere place.

Justin: At first we were anonymous participants in 18+. As we started playing shows, we were added into the mix. So 18+ started as our facade, but now we're sort of merging with (the concept of 18+).

Is that how hyperreality comes into play – the merging of real and fabricated selves?

Justin: It's the way that it's always both. Your online self and your real, flesh self are always running parallel, either in conflict or feeding into each other.

You’ve mentioned that when forming relationships online, it’s natural to delve a little deeper emotionally to compensate for the lack of presence. People love to complain about oversharing, but you’re saying that self-engaging so precisely is actually productive.

Samia: Yeah, it brings people close quickly, having to communicate in that way. You can also trust people on a level that’s more immediate, because things are written in words and people have to be so clear with one another. It cuts through a lot of distractions.

An interesting way we recreate body language is using dialects when typing. Those ungrammatical, coded quirks of language that spread through online communities.

Justin: Yeah. The various voices we use from song to song reflect that. It's funny, sometimes when a stranger emails us, they'll take on this cool dude, hip-hop-influenced dialect. What made them think that's how we're gonna respond? (laughs)

You've talked about the characters on the album – the "thug" and the "bitch". Why those roles?

Justin: I wanted to do something a little embarrassing that I wouldn't show my friends. Something a little self-indulgent and off.

Samia: The way I write and record, I've learned to trust intuition. And it's often surprising what comes out in the first take. Oftentimes I feel personalities come out that are suppressed in the real world, like very romantic or very angry. Things I wouldn't say in front of people.

“The way I write and record, I've learned to trust intuition. Oftentimes I feel personalities come out that are suppressed in the real world, like very romantic or very angry. Things I wouldn't say in front of people” – Samia

There's a tension between the openness in the music and the secrecy of your identities. Are you shy people?

Justin: I've been considered very reserved. I'm a person that doesn't volunteer information unless prompted, and that strikes people as weird sometimes. It's usually misinterpreted as shyness.

Samia: We're both very approachable people. But I've had people say, 'Oh, you're very formal.' It's like, 'Oh cool, I'm formal.' (laughs) I mean, over time, we've narrowed down the friends we wanna be around, and who we can comfortably be around. Not be formal around. But neither of us say things if it's not necessary.

Justin: Also, bullshit superficial conversations drain me. They take away from things in my life I enjoy, people I enjoy. You gotta pick who you interact with.

Samia: Coming back to the secrecy thing, the way everything exists right now is so much about the person behind it being represented, or turned into a god or an icon to worship or stand behind. People project on to pop stars and icons because of the hype behind the way they look and their personal lives.

Justin: If you're directing your own movie, why star in it too? You're already making the decisions, why do you have to use your body? We want to get away from that theatre of personality cult. Just now we were talking about teenage Instagram entrepreneurs, these 15-year-old kids with a million followers who somehow manage to turn it into a business.

Samia: It's popularity on steroids. To have that attention on your personality and immediately know you could commodify it.

Justin: Now, when people make a "friend", they're earning a possible person to be sold. Your collection of followers or friends then become your wealth, your pool of influence. It’s crazy.

18+'s LP Trust is out November 10 on Houndstooth