Samantha Urbani: Dance Music Revolution

Samantha Urbani: Dance Music Revolution

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THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM V98. ORDER YOUR COPY NOW AND DON'T MISS A THING

Photography: FUMI NAGASAKA

Styling: TRACEY NICHOLSON

Text: William Defebaugh

“I’ve been existentially stressed out since I was seven,” says singer, songwriter, producer, and visual artist Samantha Urbani. Most recently, this stress comes from the face that after a career of group project and collaborations, with band Friends as well as her recent former flame and Blood Orange frontman Dev Hynes—the 28-year-old is finally breaking out on her own with her first solo project under her own name. While prepping for her first series of shows in her home of New York City, Urbani tells her supporting band members, “You guys are my bodyguards and you have to look tough-as-fuck and stand there and just move your shoulders and nothing else. We’re all gonna wear dirt-biking sunglasses and look just like the Terminator movies.”

The “bodyguards” on the other end of this directive include Roxanne, a female bodybuilder in her 40s who, instead of singing, flexes her muscles to the rhythm of Madonna’s “Vogue”; and Juan, a 75-year-old street performer from Puerto Rico whose “haunting, romantic songs” on acoustic guitar attracted Urbani on the L train. When Urbani herself takes the stage, she is wearing a black romper and an oversized bomber jacket, wth slicked-back blonde hair and biker sunglasses that she does not remove for the first half of the show. She has the face of a young Edward Furlong (a comparison she herself offers), the style of Michael Jackson (she has his initials tattooed on her arm), and a synth pop sound that could just as easily belong on modern radio as it could in a John Hughes movie (which she takes as a compliment).

This scene—part exhibition, part dance rave, part Village People tribute—is perfectly representative of the world that Urbani is trying to create with her music: diverse, unpretentious, and exploratory. I’m interested in curating things that feel more like performance art, feel more conceptual, feel like they’re opening people to this spectrum of identity and beauty. That’s one thing that made me get really cynical about awning to be in the music world at all, because I think it’s so boring to go to a show and see a bunch of things that look similar.

Urbani is interested in a new brand of diversity as well: a diversity of the self, which she describes in her latest single. “My song ‘Human Coat’ is all about identity and not necessarily feeling truthfully represented by your exterior,” she says. “It’s been weird this year talking bout gender neutrality and fluidity, which have become trendy in a certain way. I think about Michael Jackson a lot and I think of him as having identity fluidity. It’s a lot of themes of people connecting on a plane that’s so much deeper and more important than immediate social identifiers.”

This devotion to personal and cultural freedom, along with a fear of censorship, is one of the many reason Urbani has decided not to work with a label—choosing instead to manage everything herself. She wants her story to be her own, and never that of an executive who might try to force a narrative down her throat. In her words: “The white guys in suits are the scariest people on earth.”

In the spirit of anti-censorship and collaboration, Urbani has just decided to start her own label, U.R.U., which will be founded on the simple notion of connecting people and paying homage to the way in which she got her start as well as her own humanitarian principles. “A lot of people wonder why they feel miserable and it’s because they are just stewing in that stress that they can’t do enough. They don’t even want to try because they’re afraid of their own potential to connect with people.”

 URBANI WEARS COAT VERSACE EARCUFF REPOSSI
Credits: MAKEUP ZENIA JAEGER (THE WALL GROUP/BEL)  HAIR KAYLA MICHELE (STREETERS)  MANICURE KELLY B. USING DIOR VERNIS (DE FACTO)  DIGITAL TECHNICIAN CHELSIE CRAIG  PHOTO ASSISTANTS EDUARDO SILVA AND AKILAH RICHARDSON  STYLIST ASSISTANT MARIE ARAI  HAIR ASSISTANT KATHARINE CALI  RETOUCHING COLOR ONE NYC  EQUIPMENT AND LOCATION ROOT DRIVE-IN  CATERING MONTERONE

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