Brooklyn three-piece Babyfang view ‘Goan Go’, the opening track from their debut album ‘In The Face Of’, as a thesis statement. “I’m hurting inside, but still yearning for and unearthing this life,” sings vocalist Théo Mode. “Of all things robbed, they ain’t taking joy.”
“It was written in the summer of 2020, which is when Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were murdered and we were out here in the streets, things blatantly in our face,” says Mode, on a video call with NME alongside his bandmates, bassist Evan Lawrence and drummer Canteen Killa or “CK”. “One of the main feelings [of the album] is, this actually could be our last day. That’s not hyperbole, especially being Black in America. These moments, this conversation with you right now, might be my last.”
Creating under the shadow of this atmosphere lent the album its evocative title. “It was a phrase that just kept coming up,” Mode explains. “It felt like, ‘Why are we choosing to spend time making music in the first place, given that the world feels like it’s ending?’ And our answer was, ‘Let’s rock out’. It was kinda the driving factor of identifying what’s precious.”
The album is full of that urgency — translated via scrappy, unpolished sonics that encompass livewire hip-hop, atmospheric indie, and snarling punk. The band make frequent left turns like violin interludes, Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies and funk basslines. Lyrically, Mode explores the anger, panic and fear of living in a world constantly churning out new apocalyptic threats but also the beauty in finding love and community within that.
Babyfang formed in late 2019 while Lawrence and CK were playing in bands around Brooklyn, and Mode was primarily a rapper who was feeling burnt out on a solo career. Their friendship and musical chemistry were immediate, but in a cruel twist of fate, they managed to play only two shows before the pandemic shut the city down. The band was pushed to the backs of their minds in the chaos. But once restrictions loosened and the trio managed to finally get in a room together, they began low-pressure jam sessions simply as a means to hang out again, which gradually became ‘In The Face Of’.
The band brought a kitchen sink of influences from Radiohead to Death Grips to Arctic Monkeys and allowed it all to naturally meld. The intense ‘Goan Go’ deals with the determination to live a meaningful life in spite of a world that tries to rob you of that; the dreamy ‘Scarsgo’ imagines driving through a post-apocalyptic desert in search of someone you love, and the moody ‘Crush Me’ is about finding romance against all odds. “‘What does this feel like?’ was more of my question over ‘what does this sound like?’” Mode says. “We spent a lot of attention on trying to make the moments feel cinematic.”
The whole band identify as queer and, in their performances, they create a safe space for themselves and their audience to express that. “I’ve never felt masculine, and as a band, when we’re performing, I feel like there’s an absence of that sort of dudeness. We try to avoid the pitfalls of heterosexual toxicity,” says Mode. Lawrence adds, “I’m from south Jamaica, Queens, and it definitely lacks queer communities. But band-wise, I feel like we’re always around a bunch of our queer friends. It just feels like a real community, like a real family.”
This hard-won feeling of community adds a crucial layer to the explorations of survival and resistance that make up the album. “We’re talking about our experiences as Black queer people just existing and trying to figure out how do I exist and not go crazy?” Lawrence sums up. “I feel like our attitude is queer in the sense of queer perseverance.”
Babyfang have kept going through circumstances that would have broken up a lot of lesser bands. Perseverance is key to who they are. It has to be, explains Lawrence — there’s more at stake than just this band. “It feels like the rock world already has a problem with allowing different identities to get through. I’m really tired of the indie rock narrative that there can only be one popular Black group every few years, but then we have to deal with Interpol 2 and Interpol 3 and Interpol 4! We need a sea of Black bands. So that’s the biggest reason for us to keep going — just existing and taking up space as queer Black people.”
“It took so many people to come together to even allow us to be able to make this album,” CK sums up. “You have to envision this thing that doesn’t exist, and I feel like this record is a good example of what can happen if a group of us come together and try to create something bigger than ourselves. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Babyfang’s debut album ‘In The Face Of’ is out now