Tuesday, 24 September 2013

PRINTED WORDS / Karley Sciortino Interview

Taken from IDOL Issue #4 (not sure why I didn't post this online sooner...) 



Images by Jesse Untracht-Oakner

"COULD THERE BE A DANGER OF GOING FROM 'SLUTEVER' TO 'WHATEVER'?"
Karley Sciortino was a squatter. Sharing with 12 of her friends, it was "all the things you want when you 're in your early twenties. No rules. No rent. Just parties. But it had its drawbacks too. "Not having a shower was the worst thing ever," says Sciortino, "I always looked dirty and had partial dreads." Picking food from the garbage, only eating carbs and weird Marks & Spencer mayonnaise salads... My skin was green. I couldn't do it now."
Sciortino's ketamine chronicles and squatter tales were a large component of her now infamous blog Slutever when she established it in 2007. There's no point in me recounting the utter insanity that made up Karley Sciortino's everyday life – living in abandoned warehouses and sleeping in stairwells –  as no one could possibly tell her story better than the girl herself. If you want to know exactly what life is like when you're making £80 a week, living with three drug dealers and getting arrested three times in six months, do yourself a favour and go raid the Slutever archives.
However, the salient facts are these: Karley Sciortino's writing experience before creating Slutever was limited to enjoying English classes at school and writing "really bad poems." Harbouring ambitions of  becoming an actress, she studied Drama at Kingston University as an exchange student. But she quickly found herself disheartened by "pathetic losers" and frustrated that her higher education consisted of having to "listen to music and make shapes with our bodies."
Dropping out of university aged 19, she committed to the rent-free modern bohemian life of her artist-friend Matthew Stone, whilst "not doing anything, being a little bit of a bum, taking a lot of drugs and hanging out." Another acquaintance of Sciortino's, a staff writer at Dazed & Confused, encouraged her to take up some intern work and advised that "the best way to be a writer is to practice." Thus Slutever was born – a blog made up of Sciortino's carefree lifestyle and, perhaps most provocatively, the peaks and pitfalls of her sex life.
Fast forward to 2012 and the unwashed, unmotivated, sallow-skinned squatter is a far removed image from the Karley Sciortino I meet today in her native New York. Turning up to our interview, she's Amazonian height, dressed in a short denim skater skirt with a bright block coloured blouse and a pair of leather Frye platform sandals that she sourced from a thrift store for $9. Her hair is a scintillating shade of ultra-pale blonde, and her makeup is flawless; even in the 95 °F heat of the city her complexion is a natural matte canvas, and her Amy Winehouse-esque sweeping flicks of liquid black eyeliner remain intact.
It's difficult for me not to be in awe of her. I feel like Aubrey to her seductive Lord Ruthven, or, to be more modern, the Amy Farrah Fowler to her Penny. I've been an avid reader of her blog musings and professional freelance commissions since being introduced to her work as columnist in 2008. I was downright shocked by the outrageous content, but the relaxed informal tone of her writing instantly won me over. And I'm not her only admirer. As we wait to catch the subway later that day, it feels as though every other commuter can't help but look at her – not that she notices. Plus I'm just one of the 100,000 readers that visit Slutever each month.
Slutever is a personal website and a labour of love that's changed over the five years of its existence, says Sciortino. "A lot of what I wrote about when I was in London was my own sex life, and then when I moved to New York I got a boyfriend. And I remember thinking after a while, 'What are you going to write about? Because you can't keep writing about having sex with the same person over and over again' So that's what led to me to start interviewing other people more."
And the "other people" she tends to shine her unique spotlight on are those with particularly outlandish sexual fetishes – with the aim of creating a natural and very real dialogue with people who would normally be perceived as, for lack of a more eloquent word, freaks. Sciortino is adamant that her aim is to humanise sexual misfits. "You have to be able to laugh at yourself. Like, if you drink pee cocktails and saunter around your house in women's nighties, you know what I mean? I'm kind of laughing, but also I'm trying to humanise these people and say, 'Sure, you can laugh at them, but also they can laugh at themselves,'" she explains. "Which everyone should be able to do," she adds, "The main goal is to never exploit anyone, and to be able to show them for who they are."
Her one-woman investigations into sexual behaviours extend into a video series for Vice – her blog in an extremely watchable visual form. She searches for the answer to questions like what to do when you're "at the age where you don't want to date losers anymore." She meets her Internet slave who gets his kicks from financial domination and would send Sciortino gifts and pay her rent. Her videos also provide moral messages like, "If you remember to read lots of books, take your vitamins and not be a total bore, one day you will find that special person who will love you for you, will give you semi-regular orgasms and ask nicely before he puts it in your butt."
A further video venture of Sciortino's is a monthly short film release for the French culture title Purple. Her videos for Purple consist of a series of distinct, unconnected aesthetic projects. Sciortino takes inspiration from the photography of Nan Goldin to create "simple beautiful videos that feel intimate." Sometimes they have a narrative, sometimes they don't. Sometimes Sciortino stars in them, sometimes she doesn't. It's an artistic project that operates completely on her terms and is often an outlet for her brazen exhibitionist side.
Yet although she is willing to share images and information of and about herself that most others would consider strictly private – she once claimed that it's a good idea to post photos of yourself having sex online in order to beat "an asshole ex" inevitably doing so in the future – Sciortino rationalises her unashamed openness as a case of closeted exposure. "I don't want to psychoanalyse myself, but there must be an element of exhibitionism. I like the idea that it's provocative; but I guess there is an exhibitionist quality to me, and I get off on that a little bit. But almost in a cowardly way because I'm not performing in front of people. I'm not reading the words out loud. I'm not stripping," she says. "It's really easy to do all that stuff when you're alone in your apartment – like blogging about sex, or taking pictures of yourself – but you don't have to be there when anybody else sees it. There's a barrier that kind of makes it not so scary. You can upload something, walk away and then not have to think about it."

Whilst she consistently ups the shock factor of her writing and film work, could there be a danger of going from Slutever to "whatever" in the provocative stakes?
In one installment of her Purple video series Sciortino talks about her occasional side job as a dominatrix, specifically how she urinates on men (earning $350 an hour and content for future blog posts). She also talks about the surprisingly short amount of time it took for her to become desensitised to the extreme situations she found herself in. She hesitantly admits that constantly delving into the darker recesses of human desire may be leaving her emotionally indifferent.
"I am conscious of it a little bit," she says, "I was doing an interview with a stripper, and she was talking about how her career as a stripper has now made her become what she believes to be asexual…  I guess I already am there." She pauses. "It feels bad to say, but I feel like I'm at a point where I can have sex with someone and it doesn't mean anything. But you can have sex and it means something as well, but I feel like more often I have the other kind."
However, a common phenomenon amongst the comments left on Slutever.com is the expression of compulsion. Which generally goes along the lines of, "I've read one post on this blog, and I've now spent the day reading all of it." I put it to Sciortino that it's not necessarily what she's writing about that draws in dedicated readers, but rather the fact that it's her writing it. A key strength to her blog is the ease with which she transmits her effervescent personality.
Sciortino agrees that her blog thrives on its protagonist-centred delivery – in a similar vein to Tavi Gevinson's Style Rookie. Both blogs focus on "a girl writing about her personal life and something else," she says. But she also sees her exceptionally gonzo style as the combination of  "the idea of a character" and a real, relatable "normal person."
The explanatory tagline to Slutever is that "This blog is intended to trick strangers into thinking my life is more exciting than it actually is." Therefore it begs the question, what exactly is the fact to fiction ratio to Sciortino's work? "My blog is like a sensational version of my life because it's only the good or interesting parts," Sciortino explains, "It's all true, but it's a very edited-down version of my life."
She compares her editorial process to that of social media. "We all have the ability to curate our lives and edit our lives so that the public perception is the best that it can be," she says. "No one Instagrams when they look like shit or they're crying because they've broken up with their boyfriend. Or no one uploads pictures to Facebook where they look bad." Similarly, Sciortino doesn't write about her part-time job as a waitress as she views it as "a symbol of being unsuccessful."
Through carefully curated diary entries (these being the pieces of written work she feels most proud of due to the time, effort and creativity she invests in them), Karley Sciortino has carved out a niche for herself as perhaps the premier "it girl" of the Internet age. She lures in readers and media interest through an enticing combination of tenacity and well-selected and documented moments of glamour and debauchery whilst still having something of a regular life.
Yet as successful as her online outreach is, the world of printed media – as for everyone everywhere – is not so kind. Following a more professional approach to her blogging duties around 2009, Sciortino's popularity is growing. Professional commissions arise. Sciortino puts her name to cover stories and interviews for a wide variety of high-brow culture titles, but it's no secret that the magazine industry in the 21st century is a bitch. "It angers me a lot that I don't get paid very well. I get paid in pennies for everything I do. It's at the point where I feel like I don't want to do stuff because magazines and websites really exploit the people that work for them. It's actually like, fuck you, I'm working really hard. If you work in the magazine industry or write or make art, you're expected to intern – and you're expected to pay your dues. But when does it stop? When am I going to make money from this? Ever?"
Sciortino justifies her frustrations. She talks about the sacrifices she has made to pursue her creative ambitions, "wanting to be thought of as a successful, powerful woman and not someone who refills soy sauce bottles at a noodle restaurant" and not having a real room in the apartment she shares with another girl.
Her Williamsburg living quarters consist of a cornered-off area of the living room shaped by two curtains with just a mattress in amongst piles of clothes, books and magazines behind. She does find some solace in the philosophy of photographer Bill Cunningham: "If you never accept money from anyone, then they can never tell you what to do." "Which I think is a cool idea," she adds. "So I suppose, not getting paid is a good thing. But that's a bit of a stretch."
Despite the setbacks, it seems that Karley Sciortino is determined to take her reputation as a writer to the next level as she's currently in the early stages of composing her first novel. "I'm kind of writing a book," she somewhat cautiously tells me and keenly stresses that it will be a novel and not a memoir. "I'm calling it fiction because – although it's heavily based on my own life – I feel like if I was calling it a memoir, I would have to be so accurate about facts. But I like the idea of creating and using my own life but also having the freedom to write." She's aiming to have her first draft finished by autumn and is escaping the city for her family home in upstate New York in order to focus on her work and meet her self-imposed deadline before approaching publishers.
Dennis Cooper, Sciortino informs me, is one of her idols. "I think when I started writing, his writing was a really big influence on me. He writes fiction and novels that are very poetic.  He writes about sex and young, skinny, long-haired boys with sunken eyes who are sexually confused. I feel like reading his books really formed the type of guys that I like because I fell in love with all his characters. Like, I want to date a skinny, long-haired, sexually confused teenage boy! Which I still do!" She gushes: "His writing is really beautiful and sexy, but also what I really like is that he expresses a lot of emotion and pain and sadness and love in a very minimal, colloquial way. It's not in any way difficult or academic writing."
It's an evident influence that shows itself on Sciortino's blog through a natural, conversational tone that mirrors her spoken voice. Sciortino concludes, "I think that's why it's readable because it's like someone is talking to you." One can only hope it's an influence that will permeate into her novel. What's sure to remain ever-present in Karley Sciortino's work – whether it is on Slutever, in a magazine, a book or on film – is her headstrong, unapologetic attitude. "If you do something that everyone likes, then there's a problem," she says.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

PRINTED WORDS / The Blueprint Group

Taken from IDOL Magazine Issue #6



Illustration by Leornardo Corredor

Music sales figures in 2013 are not as healthy as they may appear. Single sales continue to soar but the popularity of individual track sales come at the expense of albums. And since album sales are where the real money lies, our shift to cheap digital downloads also comes at the cost of the music industry at large. It's more important than ever for music acts to seek capital elsewhere: touring, endorsement deals and product placements. This is where the Blueprint Group come in.
The Blueprint Group is a full service, multi-platform management and artist and brand development firm with an exclusively hip hop roster of A-list artists including Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj. Born out of a merger between management and production companies Hip Hop Since 1978 and Bryant Management, The Blueprint Group turns rap artists into crossover superstars.
They masterminded world tours of Nicki Minaj (Pink Friday), Lil Wayne (I Am Still Music),Drake (Club Paradise)and Jay Z and Kanye West (Watch The Throne) — all of which reached audiences around the globe and brought urban artists into lucrative arena venues. But besides live music, The Blueprint Group's other serious forte is branding.
The company prides itself on aligning its artists with brands to produce high-income business partnerships that raise music artists' profiles and earning potentials. Just a handful of the branding deals The Blueprint Group have generated include Kanye West's line of Air Yeezy sneakers for Nike and a further shoe collection for Louis Vuitton, Lil Wayne's TRUKFIT clothing range, and Nicki Minaj as the face of Adidas and star of MAC cosmetics campaigns.
In essence, The Blueprint Group makes brands out of rappers; and in the process turns their clients' dreams of success into a reality through savvy business acumen. "I'm honoured with that definition," says The Blueprint Group's co-CEO, Cortez Bryant. Alongside Gee Roberson, 33 year-old Cortez Bryant heads up this entertainment branding powerhouse and has amassed an estimated personal net worth of $66 million.
The New Orleans-born entrepreneur learned his craft hands-on — by hitting the road with long-time friend Lil Wayne as well as DMX and Nelly, while still a student at Jackson State University on a music scholarship. Fresh from graduating, Bryant started managing Lil Wayne. He became the Chief Visionary Officer of Wayne's Young Money Entertainment and founded his own management company, which ultimately turned into The Blueprint Group. "Wayne always had trust in me," says Cortez. "He had trust in me to come in straight out of school and ask me to be his manager."
Despite an unsteady start to his career, with the support of his friend and now client Bryant quickly thrived: "It was rocky at the start because I had to prove myself but Wayne has always been loyal to me, even when there's been times when I didn't believe in myself in the music business." On balancing his professional and personal relationship with Wayne, Cortez explains, "It works perfectly… We can turn off and talk about the past and growing up anytime, but we can also turn and talk about business… He trusts me and The Blueprint Group to carry out and represent his brand."
The Blueprint Group have had to fight to give their clients the high profile sponsorship deals and entrepreneurial opportunities they're known for. Despite Cortez's worry that "people are always scared of hip hop", he believes his clients are leaders when it comes to making hip hop mainstream: "As far as I'm concerned, our clients have knocked down a lot of doors for the hip hop space to move forward and to get the culture into that branding space. Now more than ever hip hop is more accepted in the corporate community."
Bryant is being coy. Hip hop is not only accepted by the corporate world, it's positively welcomed. And the jewel in the crown of rap music's crossover success is Onika Tanya Maraj, known as Nicki Minaj. Just as Motown invested heavily in their crossover queen Diana Ross, The Blueprint Group have similarly thrown their weight behind Minaj's widespread appeal. Minaj's pop culture supremacy has been cemented by a continuing string of extracurricular business ventures including, but not exclusive to, a seat on the judging panel of American Idol, being the face of MAC's Viva Glam campaign, creating her own fragrance with Elizabeth Arden, producing a line of nail polishes for OPI and inking a seven-figure endorsement deal with Pepsi. Minaj raps on Drake track 'Make Me Proud', "…best legal team so the deals is ill/It's MAC, OPI and a fragrance too/Apparel, I'm dominating every avenue." You can see why Cortez Bryant says the concept of "selling out" is an "outdated ideal".
To compliment her burgeoning business portfolio, Nicki Minaj has also developed a distinctly loyal and passionate fan base, bolstering her career's longevity. She has accumulated in excess of 16 million followers on Twitter, and her constant activity on social media is an asset that The Blueprint Group admires — but this isn't a requirement they force upon their artists. As Bryant points out, "when we signed her, she was already doing all of that."
He also fondly remembers a dinner date with Minaj that confirmed the closeness between her and her fans — or her "Barbz" and "Kenz" as she's christened them. "Once she was trying to give me a taste of Caribbean food for the first time, so she invited me to this restaurant in New York. I went to the restaurant and there's like 20 people at the table. I thought it was her family but she actually sent out a tweet asking her fans if they wanted to come and eat dinner with her. I thought that was amazing! She knew them by name and was talking to everyone like she knows them. And this was afterSuper Bass. This wasn't like an artist just starting out."
Another high-ranking figure who admires Nicki Minaj's fan interaction savvy is The Blueprint Group's general manager and partner, Al Branch: "The thing about Nicki is that she knows how to conduct herself. I'm really impressed with how she does it." And Al is a man to listen to.
Back in 2009, before The Blueprint Group had come to exist, he wrote an article forBillboard titled "The Deals Of The Future" in which he essentially predicted the formation of the innovative firm he is now a part of. In 2009 Branch argued: "record labels are exploring new and drastically different business models. The model du jour is called a 360 deal, which allows labels to get income from live performances, merchandise sales and other revenue streams… this model could help revolutionise the label as we know it by giving a way to make up for the loss of revenue from sales of recorded music." When asked about the foresight of his Billboard article, Al roars with laughter. "Nobody believes I wrote that!"
So do record companies welcome the money-spinning non-music endeavours The Blueprint Group offer their music artists? Al stands firm that his company supports rather than distracts artists and that whilst record labels are busy surviving, The Blueprint Group is thriving. But surely if branded deals are making up more and more of artists' incomes, they must also be giving a similar ratio of their time and energy to corporate arrangements as they do to their art, which begs the question: should an artist ever compromise their art for the sake of a business opportunity?
"Never," Al asserts.
"Ever" he stresses.
"No," he confirms.
"If a deal isn't right for you, it's going to hurt you in the long run," Branch explains. He points to Jay Z as a shining example of striking the right balance. "He's successful, but at the same time he has never compromised himself." Lil Wayne too, Al believes, is an artist who maintains the right music and business equilibrium. "Wayne is generous, but at the same time he never compromises himself or his art for any brand or partner."
That brings us around to the tricky subject of Lil Wayne's sponsorship deal with Mountain Dew. In March 2012, a multi-million endorsement deal between the PepsiCo-owned soft drink brand and Wayne was announced. It was the biggest sponsorship pay-out in Mountain Dew's history. At the time of the partnership Jamal Henderson, Mountain Dew's brand manager gushed, "We are celebrating Wayne through this campaign as an artist who found his personal success by following his own path." He also praised Wayne for "always dancing outside of the box but mak[ing] no apologies for who he is." Unfortunately, Wayne would be making a public apology just months later.
A lyric written and performed by Wayne on a cameo spot for Future's 'Karate Chop' remix track sparked complaints and the rapper was dropped by Mountain Dew. The lyric in question sees Wayne boast, "Beat the pussy up like Emmett Till". Till's family were incensed and pressured Mountain Dew to sever ties with the rapper.
Emmett Till was a black 14-year-old boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after reportedly whistling at a white woman. The teen was beaten up, had one of his eyes gouged out, was shot in the head, had a cotton gin fan fixed around his neck with barbed wire and his body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. Two white men were acquitted of his murder by an all-white jury. Once Till's mutilated body had been recovered, Emmett's mother insisted on holding a public funeral with an open casket. It was an act that shocked the civil rights movement into America's dialogue.
"We're dealing with Emmett Till's family right now. Direct," Cortez informs us. Whilst Cortez admits he "understands people's sensitivity to this issue," he is also defensive of his client's intentions. "Artists are artists. They use lyrics and words to paint pictures. That applies to artists of every genre." When specifically addressing Wayne's lyric, Cortez maintains, "I think that the emphasis was on how good Wayne is in the bedroom. He took a historical moment and he applied it to his prowess in bed to make a picture… Wayne didn't have any intention to attack what happened or to make light of it. If anything, his plan was to make people realise who Emmett Till was and make people go back and look into that." Nevertheless, Lil Wayne issued a public apology to Emmett Till's family. PepsiCo cancelled their deal with Wayne.
Lil Wayne's endorsement deal, rather than his music, was the focus of the Till family's campaign. Business Week ran the headline, "How Mountain Dew's Hip Hop Ads Misfired".
However, it's onwards and upwards for Cortez, Al and The Blueprint Group — a company that the pair refer to as "a family" and "a blessing." Cortez is excited about the development of young rapper Lil Twist. "You can look out for him as the next artist coming up," Bryant promises. Al too is enthusiastic about the fresh talent The Blueprint Group are involved with, in particular the alternative rock pop sounds of G-Eazy.
As their roster and infrastructure expands, so do their business ventures. They are busy planning projects — a Nicki Minaj KMart clothing line, her own Beats Pro headphones, a range of wine-based low alcohol content beverages called Myx, a part in a movie and a return to the studio.
As Al Branch succinctly concludes, "We want to be like the guys who brought George Foreman to the George Foreman grill."

Friday, 6 September 2013

DIGITAL WORDS / Splashh "Comfort" Album Review

Find the original post HERE


For a band that have moved so quickly and produced a handful of faultless singles in the process, the wait for Splashh’s debut album has felt like a long one.
For those who have been trying to keep up with Splashh, just a third of Comfort will provide new material for your listening pleasure. The first half of the album is made up by the band’s already impressive collection of single releases and noteworthy b-sides; ‘All I Wanna Do’,’ Need It’, ‘Vacation’, ‘Feels Like You’, ‘Headspins’ and ‘So Young’. And an early favourite, ‘Lemonade’, also rightfully made the cut, although the omission of ‘Washed Up’ is questionable.
So what of the actual new material that Splashh have to offer? Well, it sounds – believe it or not – like Splashh. There are no huge surprises to be found on Comfort but that’s no disservice to this reverb-drenched, sun-faded foursome. When you do revivalist grunge pop so well why turn your hand to anything else?
‘Green & Blue’ is a gentle come down serenade featuring some lightly delivered lyrics from vocalist Sasha Carlon (“…slowly come down/ Where have you gone? / Where have you gone?”) against the backdrop of C86 guitar thrums. ‘Strange Fruit’ seems to be Splashh’s first attempt at a love song as they coo over “the strangest tasting fruit” that they “can’t get enough of” – “Some kind of flavour that I can’t quite describe.” It’s endearingly sweet, schoolboy stuff and has an air of ragtag, Libertine-era Pete Doherty charm about it. You know, when he used to be able to flatter the ladies through song.
‘Lost Your Cool’ is an apt conclusion to this all too short LP. It leaves the boys fading out on a wave of bright organs, those scratchy guitar sounds of theirs and fumbling, youth-centric lyrics – thus giving the impression that as the record draws to a close they’ll carry on with their tried-and-tested beach bum ways beyond this debut album.
Comfort may be free of anything unanticipated or startling but it’s no mean feat that Splashh have in fact met expectation and consolidated all of their lo-fi fashioned hits and hooks into one solid, must-have premiere collection. It ain’t a bad start.
Written for PLANET NOTION

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

PRINTED WORDS / ICONIC issue #12 OUT NOW

The new issue of Iconic magazine is out now


Feature highlights include exclusive interviews with photographer Sam Emerson, the creators of the HIStory statue (you may or may not have seen it floating down the Thames that time...) and the directing duo known as "Aggressive" who were behind the alternative video for 'Behind The Mask'.

You can also find articles by me blabbing about the use of Photoshop in Michael Jackson images and the Jackson 5's struggle to gain the front page of '60s and '70s teen magazines.

Plus free with this issue is a supplement entitled 'Innocent' which contains interviews with Tom Mesereau and the author Aphrodite Jones. 

Get your copy HERE