Devonte Hynes: The Transatlantic Eccentric Whose Trials and Tribulations Has Seen Him Rise to Music’s Acme

 

Scintillating: Hynes graces the stage as Blood Orange in an enthralling show (Source: Luke Hannaford)

The evolution of East-Londoner Hynes has seen various personas come to fruition such as his lead singer role in dance-punk band Test Icicles to the ephemeral Lightspeed Champion but it’s under his ethereal Blood Orange sobriquet that Hynes has achieved critically-acclaimed success.

Monday night at Shepherd’s Bush Empire was something of a homecoming for Hynes, but having not performed here since 2016, his ethereal electronic R&B sound has seen him amass a significant cult fanbase showcasing how far this fiercely talented individual has come. “I love you, you’re a genius,” was a statement a man placed in the balcony shouted numerous times as his awestruck behaviour was echoed around the room in what was a jubilant affair. A show which married moments of energy and ecstasy with melancholy and candour, allowed him to express his juxtaposed demeanour as although he may not dominate the charts, his music beautifully transcend time as Hynes possesses a rare balance of futurism and nostalgia.

As Blood Orange, one of Hynes’ gifts is his ability to channel his dispiriting self-anxieties into powerfully evocative lyrics as he embraces those idiosyncrasies, and this was evident on his latest record ‘Negro Swan’. Ultimately, the idea was to bring this album to life and throughout the night a backdrop glowed in various colours casting a striking silhouette of the Blood Orange collective which was simplistic but hair-raising. In a New York Times interview earlier this year he discusses how his dislike for the area he grew up in fueled him to seek pastures new in The Big Apple, but he had not forgotten his roots as he sported a Union Jack flag for the duration.

Growing up in Ilford there was sense of a disenchantment as he suffered regular abuse from predominantly black kids who saw him colouring outside the sociological lines. In that same New York Times interview he states “I think people forget that I’m from Essex and had to fight, mentally and physically to, like, keep living. Being beaten up and going to hospital multiple times. Being spat on the bus every day. I hated every living moment.” I believe it’s a testament to his character how these experiences have molded his persona into what has been described as ‘proper well-mannered gentlemen’ coupled with his relentless drive which has seen him flourish in the industry.

This once English misfit now proud New Yorker is part of several inimitable artists who seem to be reshaping what black musicians have been for so long boxed into. Although his sound has palpable origins in R&B and hip-hop there are influences through new-wave alternative indie music which Frank Ocean is also beloved for. A student of music, there is no surprise his education is so miscellaneous which becomes understandable when listening to his multifaceted music. Enthused by his mother’s interest for UK soul, his father’s love for classical, his sister playing rock from her room and his brother’s obsession for hip-hop, Hynes was able to encapsulate these tastes as well as forge his own, which has definitely played its part in him being responsible for the creative direction for enigmatic figures like Solange and FKA Twigs.

As Hynes has found fame as a wildly successful music producer who has become synonymous with left-field pop quality, he has established a solid crew of collaborators who not only turn out to be friends but an important member of a self-created, unofficial collective of individuals he can call up and continue working with. In an interview for Crack Magazine in 2016 states that “I rarely work with artists once” and has been known to turn down work with artists he doesn’t click with, placing priority on developing a sense of trust and intimacy with his collaborators. “If it’s not that kind of vibe then I don’t care. I care about making friends, because then what you create is good. There’s no hard feelings in it. You’re not disappointed when you finish the creative aspect of it. It’s an ongoing process. That’s always what I want.”

Hynes’ songwriting has possibly become the most ingenious element of his glistening repertoire as despite his blissful instrumentals coupled with juxtaposed lyrics always explain his perturbed state of mind. It’s meditative as his soothingly personal documents are a representative of the desolation that resides within him. You can’t not think that the challenges he had to overcome during adolescence have played their part into what the New York Times described as ‘the aural incarnation of a socially engaged, emotionally intelligent, multicultural, gender-fluid zeitgeist that’s now reaching the shores of mainstream pop.’

The Blood Orange moniker is representative of Hynes’ story of a Londoner in New York whose music has no definition. His sweet falsetto and ’80s funk and dance music fascinations are constants, but the performer’s sense of adventure keeps the Blood Orange project evolving. Conventionally, we want to either admire or identify with artists who we obsess over as we want them to know who they are and what they are selling but Hynes is selling an identity that’s still in the making.