“I just think it needs a bit more to it,” Yves Tumor says, looking appraisingly at himself in the mirror. He’s wearing a bright yellow blazer, white skintight jeans, gigantic hoops, black latex gloves and silver Barbarella-esque platform boots. Having perfected the look, he stomps intensely onto set, glowering for the camera, bending his long spider-like limbs into a crouch.
It’s snakes, not spiders, that gave the Tennessee-born, Turin-based artist the title of his second album Serpent Music, which was released earlier this year via the experimental label PAN. It’s confident, with diverse tracks ranging from blushing, blissed-out psych pop to whirring, post-apocalyptic soundscapes. A cataclysmic mishmash that somehow still feels unified, Serpent Musicfollows releases on compilations from NON Worldwide and Mykki Blanco’s C-CORE project. In this sense, Serpent Music feels like the culmination of something: it took three years to make, during which time the musician was spending time between Leipzig, Miami, LA and Berlin.
“I just want to make sure people are not getting lazy. I want them to hear my shit and step their game up,” Tumor says of his music making process. For him, there’s a necessary element of competition – keeping the level of achievement as high as it can be. “When I listen to other shit that’s just so bomb, I will just turn it off and start working on my own shit, just to make sure my shit is up to par with that.” This theme often arises in conversation with Yves Tumor: the idea of pushing everything to the limits, of exceeding them, even: “With dressing myself, music, talking too much… I tend to push shit as far as possible.” On set, the performer gets stuck into the stylist’s rack of outfits, fully aware of exactly how he wants to portray himself, adding an array of his own accessories to lay his stamp fully onto the shoot: a bejewelled glove here, a sporty lycra catsuit there. The result is impeccable eclecticism, somehow blending fetish dandyism with athletic grunge. “I try not to be too safe, ever,” he nods. In the same way that Serpent Music creates a holistic effect despite its multitudinous genre-markers and influences, Tumor’s style is a patchwork: beautiful, but hectic. “Sloppy, messy: that’s me!” he admits, wryly.
But is this extravagance connected to his presence as a performer, I wonder. Are clothes a costume for him? Tumor thinks not: “I think my sense of style and my performance might be unrelated maybe,” he muses. “I wanna look good for the audience, but I’m mostly doing it for me, so I feel comfortable up there. Feeling good comes first with me.”When we chat in the Berlin studio where Crack Magazine’s shoot takes place, it’s a few days after a live set as part of a PAN showcase at Berghain, where the crowd started a moshpit during Tumor’s performance, as he jumped headfirst into the dancefloor madness, microphone in hand. “Pure chaos,” he says. “I think the crowd was actually more in tune with what happened than I was… I just had the mic, but they were the ones actually living, you know?”
If Yves Tumour’s style is for himself, his performances show a tireless, punk devotion to the crowd. Earlier this year, he played at the L.A. fashion show of avant-garde streetwear label Hood By Air, where models stomped around a stage covered with a pile of dirt. Tumor flailed madly around, occasionally tackling models to the ground. “We were all fighting each other, and the models were kicking dirt in my mouth while I was singing. It was really fucked up and sick,” he says: intent, serious. He pauses for a moment, lost in the memory, before adding: “It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
Photography: Vitali Gelwich
Make Up: Berenice Ammann
Styling: Yves Tumor & Fabiana Vardaro
Words: Josie Thaddeus-Johns
Yves Tumor plays COIL at the Brunswick Club, Bristol on March 24