One weekend in Venice Beach, California
The back garden of a family home about a mile from the beach in Venice, Los Angeles, is where I first see Matt Martians’ Jamiroquai tattoo. Under the afternoon sun, he rolls up the sleeve of his hoodie to reveal an outline of the band’s Buffalo Man logo standing proudly inked three inches long on the inside of his left forearm, its toes turned out beneath flared trousers, not-quite-jazz hands, and trademark horned hat set at a jaunty angle. “We’re all going to see them at Coachella on Friday,” Martians tells me excitedly, gesturing to his bandmates beside him, “and I’m fanning out, I don’t even care: ‘Return of the Space Cowboy’ is one of my favourite albums. ‘Mr Moon’, on that album, is my favourite song of all time. I love Jamiroquai.”
It’s an unexpected reference point in a conversation that, so far, has taken in The Neptunes, Sly and The Family Stone, Solange, Kendrick Lamar and Thundercat, all of whom feel like more legitimate bedfellows of The Internet, the soul band that keyboard player Martians founded with singer Syd when both were still members of controversy-courting teen rap troupe Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, and which now includes guitarist and 19-year-old production prodigy Steve Lacy, bassist Patrick Paige II and drummer Christopher Smith. Jay Kay’s high-buffed paper-thin muzak feels too plastic for even The Internet’s poppier moments, but Martians’ ardency is nonetheless palpable, if unexpected.
Even more unexpected, though, is the cause of such ardency. The topic has arisen following a discussion about which bands are the most universally liked – and Martians reckons Suffolk’s finest purveyors of gossamer funk-lite pop are his trump card: “Even if it’s not an album, everyone at least has a song,” he insists. “Everybody likes something by Jamiroquai.” As he starts to tell me how happy he’d be if his band and their new album had the same level of “undeniability” as ‘Emergency on Planet Earth’, I resist suggesting that behind a fairly moreish single or two lurks a symbol of late-20th-century wine-bar acid-jazz smuggery; a guy who collects Ferraris despite a driving ban, who wears Native American headdresses for fun, and who became a ’90s punchline (literally, after The Fast Show’s legendary “Jeremy Kwee” sketch) for his preposterously inauthentic behaviour.
Not, one suspects, that it would’ve mattered if I had: not only are The Internet fiercely supportive of each other, mutually protective of their own individual tastes and self-assured enough not to give a Cosmic Girl what other people think of their favourite music, but they also clearly revel in debunking preconceptions so deeply that a love for appropriated and rather uncool Brit funk wouldn’t even make the top ten.
Indeed, the back garden of this family home, which belongs to the band’s married-couple management team, is where I discover that The Internet are a major refraction from their origins. After all, here is a bunch of urban millennials steeped in RnB who are rejecting samplers, drum machines and software in favour of old-fashioned musical instruments, without sounding retrograde; here is a group of young black musicians fronted by a gay woman in Trump’s America, who have little interest in making music directly about identity politics and yet still deliver a positive social message; here is an act from Los Angeles that want nothing to do with the glitz of Hollywood, the grit of Compton, or the glamour of Beverly Hills, and yet unmistakably represent their home city; a band that sprang from the brattiest hip-hop collective of the last decade, but count zero MCs in their number.
This is a story about a band with the ambition to name themselves The Internet and still top the Google search rankings; a story about a band who challenge you to expect the unexpected in their music, their presentation, and their attitude. This is a story about a band who have become Odd Future’s oddest spawn.