SEX PEOPLE, Cal-Island: Season One
In over 25 years of writing about independent artists, there’s one word I have never encountered nor put to page or screen: polysexual. But we’re in a brave new world where such things are a bit fluid and much more socially acceptable, so all bets are off when we describe someone’s identity and what leads them to create unforgettable music. The origin story of Sex People, a uniquely L.A. bred collective, is fascinating and bears recounting.
Everything begins with a sixth generation Southern Californian named Knarfy.
After two failed longterm monogamous romances, he immersed in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles culture and emerged convinced he was truly polysexual, with a unique taste for every category. This sounds pretty “out there,” but the good news is, his musical tastes and influences are all over the map, which makes Sex People’s debut EP Cal-Island: Season One all the more compelling, infectious and joyfully schizophrenic.
The narrative takes a tragic turn from there, with Knarfy losing his mother suddenly. After a year of grieving and celibacy, he found a healthy creative outlet for his emotional upheaval when he met F.I.T., a Nigerian born hip-hopper. F.I.T. had spent the last five years traveling the world before settling in L.A. to stake his claim to the American dream. Perhaps they were musical soul mates destined to meet, or perhaps it was random chance (you can decide when you listen to their catchy melodies and whirlwind of sonic energies). Either way, they formed the group and invited various singers, musicians and artists on board to help flesh out their evolving vision.
Though Cal-Island is only five tracks, its title promises much more to come and there is a trippy concept at work as we journey/dance/groove/jam from the brooding, then punchy slamming and soaring harmonic rocker “Like A Queen” through the synthy, swirly, thumping and chaotic “Mr. Emporer,” which is strung through with loads of seemingly disconnected vocal recording samples.
It’s a dream-trance like narrative that follows three main characters on a sojourn to find true love in a world of promiscuity and fleeting erotic encounters. We may not approve of their behavior but we understand it and have compassion for them because we can relate. They are the outsiders of society, the rebels, the politically incorrect. Determined to transcend oppression and haters, they join forces to confront love, sex and life in modern America.
Each track allows us a glimpse of their emotional state along the way. “The LA Air” is a buoyant and synthy yet chaotic, anthem expressing a defiant, self-determined longing to be free; the track includes a radio announcer’s chronicle of their fugitive status. This track is the discovery of a potential stopping point for their weary souls, while the previous song, the chipper, playful sparkly and shimmering East African flavored dance synth party “Sanctuary City,” expresses their optimism that such a place may exist. The constant imagery of butterflies and pretty girls make it a worthy aspiration.
The next tune, “No West Left,” combines synthy dance cool and droning male/female voices to remind us that even the best places may turn up empty and require an emotional “rocket ship” to fly our hearts elsewhere. The five tracks leave us wanting more, to find out if our misfit heroes can ever actually find serenity and ultimately, happiness.
The reason we can feel certain that the saga of Sex People will continue is the group’s unique creative dynamic. The songs are mainly written by Knarfy, who demos them with F.I.T. before taking them to the surrounding vocalists and musicians. Knarfy gives them full freedom to develop their own melodies and harmonies. A third prominent member, Wes Koz, produces, engineers and does drums, while an artist named SamUIL produces, plays a variety of instruments and keeps the musical essence of the group flowing ever forward.
You probably don’t need to know the backstory and the narrative to “get” Sex People, but in an era where digital singles and thematically disconnected EPs dominate, the creativity required to create this kind of expansive concept is worth appreciating.