Seattle is known as the birthplace of Grunge that revolved around the independent record label Sub Pop signing acts that would become very influential in the scene like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney. Today they’re known for hosting big name indie acts like the Shins, Washed Out, Beach House, Fleet Foxes, and Father John Misty to name a few, but they are helping to cultivate something much more this decade: a group of artists that fall under a collective known as Black Constellation. It’s not just a group helping each other out with their albums and mixtapes, it’s something more: a wanting to express and share their cultural ideas through art. “We’re heading into an American future in which white people are no longer the majority, where racism and gender bias are publicly acknowledged as the enemy of progress. The cultural vanguard has pushed the boat away from the status quo, into uncharted waters toward collectivism and the inevitable reclaiming of power. Artists like Black Constellation are steering the ship,” writes Pitchfork’s Jonathan Zwickel.
“I feel like we are a group of creatives that bond over similar goals; to continue the evolution of the arts by any means necessary. It’s an interesting and inspirational experience,” says Cat of THEESatisfaction. “I think that there’s a lot of excellent black art being made in Seattle, it’s always been that way but it’s never been highlighted. It’s always washed over by a less potent version of whats really going on. I feel like there are inventors and innovators in Seattle that contribute to the culture worldwide,” says Stasia the other half of the group.
At the forefront of this movement is the astral and hypnotic Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces, the second hip-hop group signed to Sub Pop. Their 2011 album Black Up featured alluring sultry guest spots from the duo known as THEESatisfaction and were quickly signed afterwards. It consists of rapper Stasia “Stas” Irons and singer Catherine “Cat” Harris-White. To label them just as the female version of their label mates, Shabazz Palaces would being doing their art a disservice. They are helping to push forward the boundaries of music and have been doing so since 2008. Their relationship with the experimental hip-hop group is “familial and celestial. We laugh and contemplate a lot,” mentions Stasia. “they are definitely our soul-partners from past lives,” Cat chimes in.
The duo is set to release their sophomore LP, EarthEE, out February 24 on Sub Pop, but they have an array of mixtapes up on their bandcamp leading up to this moment including their fantastic debut for Sub Pop, awE naturalE, which also features guest spots from their fellow peers Shabazz Palaces. Mentioning those early days before being signed Stasia says “We used anything we could to make and promote our music. Closet recordings, community center sessions, garageband productions and make shift everything. It was fun learning and discovering new ways to make [music].”
Cat and Stas met at numerous open mic nights at the University of Washington. “Stas would sometimes get up and read her poetry. Having mutual friends, we would run into each other a bunch and ultimately became friends. In 2008, Stas went to South Africa for a quarter on a study abroad trip. While she was away I was making beats and songs and sending them to her and she would send me poems. As soon as she got back we decided that all the playful music we were creating should become something bigger, so we started THEESatisfaction,” says Cat.
EarthEE is a beautiful lush cosmic trip of an album with everything from “Be Bop Jazz, Minneapolis Funk, 90’s Gangster Rap, all ethereal sounds, wet bass, snapping snares. Badu, Ella, Billie, Michael, Stevie, and Prince,” Stasia mentions. It doesn’t sound like anything else out there even of that of Shabazz Palaces’ body of work. “All aspects [of recording] are important to us. Whatever it takes to make the song and express a certain sentiment, we do. The production is important because we have to touch the soul and the lyrics are important because we have to engage the mind. These things also work vice versa depending on who you are and how you feel,” Cat tells me over email. “I would hope we are morphing the sound of music in general. I feel like we are moving away from genres and closer to feelings.”
There’s a feeling of distance on the record as if it were recorded on another planet which is especially true on “Fetch/Catch” with unintelligible morphing vocals adding texture to the spacey beat. “We’ve grown a lot as humans and artists. With the newly found and sadly lost knowledge we approached this album as outsiders, as voyeurs of Earth. Whereas on AwE NaturalE we felt more grounded, with EarthEE we are floating and hovering. We’re able to look at how far we’ve come and also how far we can go. There’s more live instrumentation, collaborations, and more space for the development of our songs,” Stasia mentions.
Some of the most forward thinking music and art in the country is being made in Seattle right now, and with a reputation like that there’s a tendency to label Black Constellation’s cosmic mythos and textural hip-hop as “future”. “I try not to really think of past or future, but to make the most of the instinct that’s happening in the moment. To me that’s where individuality lies. I learned and got the notion from Sun Ra and cats like that, for sure. I see these guys, who we call Afrofuturists, to be masters of the now,” Ishmael Butler told The Guardian last summer. THEESatisfaction will be touring in support of their latest creation and with it comes more than just another live show. It’s a chance to experience and take part in something greater. Cat told Wondering Sound late last year “If people ‘get it’, that’s a bonus. I spent many of my days as a young woman dreaming of compatible persons to explore the universe with, and here they are. Here we are. We move as a unit and community, benefiting all those directly and indirectly involved.”
Listen to EarthEE right now via NPR’s First Listen.
TUE, Feb 24 Everyday Music, Seattle, WA (Live in-store @ 6PM!)
THU, Feb 26 Neumos, Seattle, WA (Album release show!) Tickets
SAT, Feb 28 Jewel’s Catch One, Los Angeles, CA (Album release show!!!) Tickets
FRI, Mar 6 Santo’s Party House, New York, NY (Album release show!!!) Tickets
FRI, Apr 10 Carleton College, Northfield , MN (Students only – Free show!)
SAT, Apr 11 Schubas, Chicago, IL Tickets
SUN, Apr 12 Bishop Bar (IN), Bloomington, IN Tickets
THU, Apr 16 Granada Theater (TX), Dallas, TX (w/Sleater-Kinney) Tickets
FRI, Apr 17 Stubb’s Waller Creek, Austin, TX (w/Sleater-Kinney) Tickets
SAT, Apr 18 Warehouse Live – Ballroom (TX), Houston, TX (w/Sleater-Kinney) Tickets
SUN, Apr 19 Civic Theater, New Orleans, LA (w/Sleater-Kinney)
TUE, Apr 21 Tabernacle (GA), Atlanta, GA (w/Sleater-Kinney)
WED, Apr 22 Ritz (NC) , Raleigh, NC (w/Sleater-Kinney)
THU, Apr 23 Marathon Music Works, Nashville, TN (w/Sleater-Kinney)
FRI, Apr 24 Pageant, St Louis, MO (w/Sleater-Kinney)
SAT, Apr 25 Blue Note, Columbia, MO (w/Sleater-Kinney)
SUN, Apr 26 Uptown Theater (MO), Kansas City, MO (w/Sleater-Kinney)
TUE, Apr 28 Sunshine Theater, Albuquerque, NM (w/Sleater-Kinney)
WED, Apr 29 Marquee (Tempe), Tempe, AZ (w/Sleater-Kinney)
FRI, May 1 Hollywood Palladium, Los Angeles, CA (w/Sleater-Kinney)
SAT, May 2 Nob Hill Masonic Center, San Francisco, CA (w/Sleater-Kinney)
TUE, May 5 Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR (w/Sleater-Kinney)
WED, May 6 Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Canada (w/Sleater-Kinney)
THU, May 7 Showbox (@ the Market), Seattle, WA (w/Sleater-Kinney)
FRI, May 8 Showbox (@ the Market), Seattle, WA (w/Sleater-Kinney)
SAT, May 9 Showbox (@ the Market), Seattle, WA (w/Sleater-Kinney)