The Big Read – The Internet: ‘We belong together’

They’re the Odd Future off-shoot whose number includes singer/producer/badass Syd Tha Kid, producer/artist/renaissance man Matt Martians and the man being tipped as the new Pharrell, Steve Lacy. As they release their most collaborative album yet, ‘Hive Mind’, Jesse Bernard figures out what makes the contemporary funk heroes.

In case you hadn’t guessed from their name, The Internet are a thoroughly modern group. Their members originate from all over the place, but were forged in the crucible of the Odd Future collective, which also gave us Frank Ocean and Tyler, The Creator. The Internet came from a meeting of two misfits within that group – Syd Tha Kid, from Los Angeles, and Matt Martians, from Atlanta. Both musicians have previously alluded to being ‘the weird kid’ at school, and The Internet has gradually morphed into a place where weirdness can be celebrated instead. Although it took them a while to get there.

Over the last seven years, the project has grown even further, welcoming in production prodigy Steve Lacy as a full-time member, along with Patrick Paige II and Christopher Smith. Since 2011, they’ve switched from awkward, funk-inspired souls to the lead charges of LA’s contemporary funk movement.

“Togetherness and belonging is something that’s always bound us,” Syd explains on a Parisian morning, where she’s ready for the day after a ‘wake and bake’. Though she’s not in the French city to perform (for once), she’s still here on The Internet business; a hard worker, it’s been quite some time since Syd’s taken a break. As it happens, she’s here at the same time as fellow Internet band member Steve Lacy, who is set to appear as a model at Virgil Abloh’s first runway show for Louis Vuitton. He’s flown over at the designer and creative director’s request. Having produced for Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, The Creator and J. Cole, he’s hot property. “Steve is special,” Syd nods in agreement. “For him to be doing everything he’s been doing since [2015 The Internet album] ‘Ego Death’, after being invited to a few session shows, is because he’s so open and genuine.”

The Internet NME
Photo: Press

Syd has never sounded so calm. Since stepping out from the shadows of Odd Future (she was the crew’s only female member) there’s a marked shift in how she talks about herself. Once, she felt the pressure of being the openly gay member of the group (before Frank Ocean came out), and being the group’s appointed spokesperson around accusations of homophobia was wearying. However, as we’ve also seen with Tyler, The Creator and numerous other crew members, Syd has outgrown Odd Future’s provocative beginnings, releasing ‘Fin’, her debut solo album, last year – a record that allowed her to explore her own path. “We did what we said we were going to do with the solo projects,” she says. “It’s still ‘Odd Future forever’, and we all started this together but everyone’s in different places with their own things going on.”

Because the groups exist so unconventionally, it’s made it all the easier for Syd to find her place. “I’m tweaking what I’ve learned from the solo experience and trying to apply it to ‘Hive Mind’,” she says, referring to The Internet’s forthcoming album. “I’ve felt a new type of confidence in my voice.” The name, ‘Hive Mind‘, she adds, is a fitting nod to the headspace the group are collectively in: they’re only as strong as its unique personalities and talents.

Enter another key cog in The Internet’s collaborative cluster: Matt Martians. Martians, who comes across like the sage, older brother of this family of musical eccentrics, still resides in Atlanta, and occasionally stays in LA with Syd. “Matt’s like a brother – part of the reason why we’ve always worked so well is because he has a presence that’s calm and fun,” Syd says.

“We’ve been making this music for eight years,” says Matt, over the phone a few days later. “Initially it was slow, but we were sure that eventually this sound would come back around and people would start fucking with it and we’d be at the forefront of it.” He’s not lying. The Internet are symbolic of the contemporary wave of funk bands – ones which still possess a ‘no fucks given’ attitude, allowing them to stay the course of the genre for so long, without ever compromising their vision.

Matt is the sole member of The Internet who hails from Atlanta. The journey he made from the South to LA – once a jazz and funk mecca in the 1940s and 1950s following The Great Migration – is one musicians have been making for years in search of better opportunities. Matt’s move emphasises his desire to be in an environment more conducive to his style of music where, contrastingly, Atlanta is these days seen as the epicentre of trap music. Matt knows The Internet had to work and succeed, because the move made his risk and sacrifice much greater. “Atlanta’s the right environment for me and as long as I’m good, so will The Internet be,” Matt says.

The friendship Matt and Syd share goes beyond the music. “Matt was there for me through some of the toughest periods in my life, particularly when I had serious bouts of depression and anxiety,” Syd says. “Finding someone that trusted my vision helped me find certainty in who I was.”

the internet
Photo: Press

With each album (2011’s ‘Purple Naked Ladies’, 2013’s ‘Feel Good’, 2015’s ‘Ego Death’), The Internet’s sound has differed, sometimes significantly, and as the sound has changed, so too has the line-up. The original iteration comprised of Syd, Matt Martians, drummer Christopher Smith and vocalist/keyboardist Tay Walker, who released debut ‘Purple Naked Ladies’. Tay departed back in 2013, but both Matt and Syd say they understand Tay’s decision to leave, allowing him to find room for his own voice to grow. He’s since gone on to release two solo studio albums of his own. “I wanted our message to get out how it was supposed to, and I think we understood from early on that we were going to evolve,” Matt explains. “In the past we came to a mutual agreement with members that left as it’s something that worked out for them individually. We’re all still tight and that’s what’s special about being in this band.” And it is all love still – The Internet recently shouted Tay out on Twitter and asked fans to support his latest project, ‘One Way Street To Nowhere’.

“There’s a certainty and comfort in where we’re headed now that we weren’t sure of [previously],” Syd explains. “We’re on our fourth album, which is a sign of the trust we’ve put in each other. “The first album we put out, people were saying stuff like, ‘This isn’t Odd Future’.” But The Internet have assurance now, and have a stronger sense of where they sit within the electronic and funk sphere. The addition of Steve Lacy and Patrick Paige ll to the group on their second album ‘Feel Good’ added new dimension, one that has given more room for Syd to flex her vocal ability.

the internet
Photo: Press

As the group’s youngest member, 19 year-old Lacy is already being compared to Pharrell Williams. At Steve’s age, the veteran producer was working with R&B legend Teddy Riley, nu-jack swing group SWV and Mase. Lacy’s appearance on the aforementioned  Louis Vuitton catwalk goes to show how far his wings have spread since joining the band and releasing his own solo demos last year. In addition, he appeared on Tyler’s ‘Flower Boy’. “The thing with Steve is that has such a strong ear for the right chords and melodies,” says Syd. Pharrell has been a mentor to Tyler since featuring on Tyler’s album ‘WOLF’, and it was perhaps natural that he would gravitate toward Steve. The youngest of the group went from convincing his mum to let him stay the night at Matt’s studio to chilling with Solange and Louis Vuitton shows, within three years.

That’s perhaps the most important thing The Internet has given each member: a home, and a space to create. But they also aren’t afraid of change, and they’re equally willing to shed old skin if it no longer serves the development of the band. Being cut from a team can be devastating – especially when it goes onto achieve further successes – but every member, past and present, has understood what The Internet stands for, Matt says. That’s why it wouldn’t be totally surprising if we were to ever see a reunion, of sorts, with, past and present members collaborating – just as they did on ‘Feel Good’.

The Internet may not exist in this iteration forever, further evolving depending on which direction life takes each member. “These five people right now have a hive mind, and it’d be really difficult for anyone to join the band,” Matt says. “What was great about us is that we had a group of kids that really didn’t give a fuck and not a single member would be where they are if we were concerned with any of that.”