For her cover feature with BubblegumClub Lenny-Dee Doucha, the lead singer and keyboardist of Bye Beneco, wanted to mix the contemporary and the traditional. Photographed by Charlemagne Oliver at the National School of Arts Campus in Braamfontein, the concept was to merge Art Deco and Japanese motifs. The Art Deco style speaks to glamorous modernism with a focus on precise design and elegant geometry. The photographs convey this through Lenny’s subtly glamorous accoutrements- the snow white sunglasses, the stem of the cocktail glass. This is complemented by her floral shawl and scarf, which hint at the Japanese influence. Flowers have a particular importance in Japanese aesthetics, with their rich pallet of colours conveying a powerful spectrum of emotion.
The photos also speak to Lenny-Dee’s broader artistic project ‘’ The shoot merges a classical time with the now, which is kinda where I see myself.’’ Bye Beneco was established in 2012, ‘’ The story of the name is based on an enigmatic fictional character we once wrote about.’’ They released their debut album Space Elephant in 2014, which was recognized with a SAMA nomination for best alternative album. The group’s line up also consists of Bergen Nielson (drums, guitar) and Matthew Watson (guitar) and they describe their style as ‘’eclectic dream-pop with a dark underlying spirit.’’ They are currently working on a EP which will be released next month as a taster for their second album.
The group is inspired by a diverse set of artists, but ‘’ we do all have one thing in common – we’re kids of the 90s.’’ Growing up in that decade meant that rock, rap and electronic music were all part of the cultural menu. Bye Beneco reflect this heritage with their mixing of guitar and drums with synthetic beats. One of the highlights on Space Elephant is Witch Port, which combines a loop which sounds like a less clinically depressed version of The Weeknd’s The Party & The After Party with gentle percussion. They cannily use melody to smuggle in a darker agenda, like on Vampire in which dejected lyrics are combined with a sparkling melody and rousing outro. Lenny suggests that they are closest in spirit to a hybrid of chill wave and hip hop. In a similar vein to Animal Collective or Neon Indian they work experimental sounds into their pop hooks. Although their hip hop influence isn’t overt, it’s clearly there in the use of repetition and incorporation of diverse styles.
Bye Beneco also project a powerful visual identity. As titles like Witch hint at there is dark undertone to their music and they have regularly played this up in music videos which are as she puts it ‘’ mind pools of cult craziness.’’ The visuals for On The Line are colourful but speak to a midnight world of dark forests, weird rites under the moon and non-human forces. Like some occult ritual it’s both alluring and disorientating, coming from a right brain realm of myth and symbols. This approach gets especially feverish in the all-out surrealism of Chemirocha, which mixes Frida Khalo, UFOs and other unexpected elements. As Lenny-Dee told us, the song itself has quite the history:
The story of Chemirocha is a remarkable one. I came across the original traditional arrangement whilst recording Space Elephant and naturally did some more research on it. The recording dates back to WWII when an ethnomusicologist traveled to Kenya. He had records of popular American yodeler, Jimmie Rodgers which he played on a gramophone for the Kipsigi Tribe. The villagers were taken by the music and started worshipping Rodgers as their ‘half antelope-half human’ God. They called him ‘Chemirocha’. The original song is sung by the young girls of the village. We loved the story and loved the song and wanted to do something with it. Nothing will ever match the original composition but we couldn’t resist taking it on.
With such a strongly defined sonic and visual aesthetic in place Bye Beneco will soon be exporting their vision abroad. Next month, they will be taking their unique vision to Germany, Switzerland, Amsterdam and the UK.
Photographer: Charlemagne Olivier
Styled by: Lenny-Dee Doucha
Make-up: Orli Oh Meiri
Location: National School of Arts