New York's New Acts: PWR BTTM, Breanna Barbara, and Denitia and Sene.

New York's New Acts: PWR BTTM, Breanna Barbara, and Denitia and Sene.

Three young bands with wildly different styles have one major thing in common—N.Y.C. plays muse to their music.

Three young bands with wildly different styles have one major thing in common—N.Y.C. plays muse to their music.

Photography: Bruno Staub

Styling: Julian Jesus

Text: Joshua Lyon

SPORTS BRA ADIDAS

PWR BTTM

It’s disheartening that in 2017 queer rock bands don’t have more visibility. We’ve got a growing list of out-and-proud pop and dance acts, but gay kids that prefer harder music with lyrics they can identify with have few places to turn. Enter PWR BTTM, a kickass guitar and drums duo made up of Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce, friends who formed their band while attending Bard College in upstate New York. They also perform in drag, but not the kind most audiences are used to. “RuPaul’s Drag Race came along and helped define what people think drag is, because it made it more popular, which is amazing,” explains Hopkins. “But it’s also worth knowing that while all this is happening, there are performers doing weird innovative drag shit…it’s always meant to be transgressive.” They take their visual cues from pioneering performance artists like Taylor Mac, Ethyl Eichelberger, and New York’s downtown Pyramid Club scene in the ’80s and ’90s. Think face paint, glitter, and extreme eyeliner, though Bruce, who is non-binary, has been going more “subtle glam” lately, and jokes that at their first photo shoot, they “looked like the queer Insane Clown Posse.” Thankfully, their music doesn’t bear that comparison—the sound is pure indie-pop punk rock (fittingly, their song “1994” has a mid-’90s era Guided By Voices vibe) with loads of expert guitar shredding. As Hedwig famously sang: “And all the strange rock and rollers, you know you’re doing all right.”

Ugly Cherries is available to stream and purchase now from Father/Daughter Records

TOP COACH

BREANNA BARBARA

“It usually happens when I’m delirious, or either very depressed, or extremely happy,” says Breanna Barbara about her songwriting process, and all of those emotions are evident on her debut album, Mirage Dreams, a decadently swampy blues explosion. Despite getting her first guitar at age 16, she grew up relatively sheltered, music-wise, until a boxcar–riding boyfriend introduced her to Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. “All those old-soul blues mamas,” she sighs. “I just fell in love.” After moving to New York in 2012, she wrote the bulk of the album inside a Bushwick loft with no air conditioning during a brutally hot summer. She recorded tracks on her phone and emailed a few demos to a producer whose name she kept seeing on albums she loved—Andrija Tokic, who’s worked with Alabama Shakes and Hurray for the Riff Raff. “I did not expect to hear back,” she says, but in fact she did just a few days later. “He was like, ‘Great, let’s make a record!’” That kind of experience is one in a million, but so is her voice—a smoky quartz howl that lives somewhere between Florence Welch and Cat Power, and all of her songs tap into something primal. “I really love that energy that exists at a live show,” she says, “when it’s just like power and dance and sweat.”

Mirage Dreams is available to stream and purchase now from No Roads Records

SENE WEARS SHIRT CALVIN KLEIN JEANS DENITIA WEARS JACKET COACH

DENITIA AND SENE.

As a musician, you know you’re doing something great when no one knows quite how to identify your sound. The songs crafted by Denitia Adesuwa Odigie and Brian “Sene” Marc have been honored with descriptions as varied as “iceberg-cold R&B,” “electro-fused rap,” and “bedroom jams,” all of which are just fine with the band. “Whatever people think it is, then that’s cool, call it that,” says Odigie. The two met at a music collaborative space in Brooklyn’s Borough Park called the Clubhouse, where Odigie was living when she first came to New York in 2010. “The day that I moved in we had this big house party and I was singing and playing.” Sene, who had been recording music with guys from the house, was captivated by her voice and later asked if she wanted to sing on his rap record. They soon began collaborating on other songs that he had been writing on the side, until they had enough for an EP, which they followed with his and hers., their first full album. “I’ll joke that Sene is stuck with me now,” Odigie laughs. “I know he thought this was gonna be temporary but like, I’m in his life.” Which is just fine with Sene. “At the time I was like, ‘I hope this girl is in, because I don’t plan on looking back.” Their new album, love and noir., has a dreamy, cinematic quality, and similar to their past tracks, resists being pegged to any one descriptive quality. Maybe we’ll just settle on “brilliant.”

love and noir. is available to stream and purchase now

Credits: Hair (Breanna Barbara and Denitia and Sene.) Owen Gould (The Wall Group)  Grooming (PWR BTTM) Peter Matteliano (Kate Ryan Inc.)

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