Arrogance. A foolish strand of youthful self-belief. An ignorant, intuitive confidence that your way is the right way. It’s what social science author Malcolm Gladwell cited majestically as “the root of all great art”.
Right now, we’re seeing it across a pub table in Lambeth, in the unwilling form of 20-something Filipino singer/producer Idris Vicuña, AKA Eyedress. His stoner-paced tendency for ‘troubled artist’ clichés – like pointing to the fruit machine and saying “that’s my head, right now” – can become tiresome, but the way his erratic personality parades the thin line of cultural dilettante and genuine young talent makes for a unique interview.
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Eyedress, ‘Nature Trips’
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Idris – who came to UK attentions thanks to XL Recordings imprint Abeano, and championing from bass producer Oneman – has a shrewd edge for both production and vocals.
“The demons are filling me up,” he sings on ‘Nature Trips’, the centrepiece of his December 2013-released ‘Supernatural’ EP, “and I need you back”. The way his vocal pitch and lyrical content match the mood of his arpeggiated synths and slow, sinister beat is almost palpable.
Elsewhere, ‘Biolumine’ is a wonky slice of Purity Ring-referencing glitch, and our favourite, ‘No Competition’, is a disgustingly effective 8bit banger that dines out on Idris’ entertaining confidence about being “the shit in the Philippines.” It’s certainly a far cry from the blissed-out love songs of his previous outing as a guitarist in a surf band called Bee Eyes.
Vicuna’s love for a more live form of music (“post-punk and The Fall”) morphed into an obsession with beats thanks predominantly to hip-hop, and he began toying with Fruity Loops software. Rap culture even inspires his approach to vocals.
“I don’t like writing. There is more magic when it’s improvised. So, in recording I freestyle. I end up saying things I didn’t even know I thought. The singing isn’t always perfect, but it has more character. You get good at choosing the best mistakes.”
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Imagine being in a country where nobody stops for anyone. It’s hell, but it’s inspiring as hell…
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For UK listeners, many of the tracks from his recent EP reappear on a free mixtape entitled ‘Hearing Colours’, which Idris describes as “a record for anyone still chained to their pain” – listen to it here. On it, he further explores the atmospheres of the EP, while experimenting with the radical dualism of himself and frequent female guest vocalist, Skint Eastwood.
“She sings about losing hope, destiny and stuff,” begins Idris. “I sing about the opposites.”
As he reels off his previous artistic endeavours – graphic design, photography, filmmaking – it becomes clear that Idris has always craved expression. What sounded superficial when listed at first is buffered with much more emotional context when he delves into the reality of life in a gated community in the Philippines.
“I have such an abundance of ideas,” he reveals. “The hard part is accumulating life experiences. Life can be stagnant. There is no creativity flowing. If you’re waking up to the same thing everyday, then you’re going to make the same music every day. Parents hire maids. They make them do the dishes and cook, so the parents can just work constantly. It’s weird. You never see the parents, because they hire people to do all the things you could be doing as a family. That’s how a lot of Filipino kids are raised.”
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Eyedress, ‘White Lies’
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Was this disillusionment what first led him to working on the demonic beats he now conjures? “No, it was to stay out of trouble. I was doing dumb shit, trying to rebel, trying to break the law. When I got put in a precinct overnight, I hit rock bottom.
“Stripped of your freedom, waiting for someone to bail you out – that was not what I wanted to be doing with my life. So, from then I stayed in and started trying to figure out what I could do aside from all that. That’s why all my music has a dark, angry, aggressive energy, because that’s what I was all about when I was younger.”
Idris directs his own videos, and they vary from teen lesbian revenge thrillers to haunting metaphors that encapsulate the spirit of Manila’s angry young men. Artistically, it seems that his biggest curse is also his blessing.
“You take it for granted because you hate it so much,” he says. "It’s so inefficient. Imagine being in a country where nobody stops for anyone. Nobody cares about anyone. It’s every man for himself. It’s hell, but it’s inspiring as hell. It’s crazy. You get killed if you go to the wrong place. People are angry all the time. And I know why, it’s because we live in a shitty place.”
Unfortunately for Idris, it seems where he least wants to be is the very place that inspires him.
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Words: Joe Zadeh
Photography: Federico Ferrari