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Damien, Jesse and Gianna From the BLOK
It’s easy to spot the three siblings who make up Irvine-based, avant-garde hip-hop act BLOK. Meeting them for this interview at the Gypsy Den in Costa Mesa this Tuesday afternoon, they’re the only ones wearing black-and-white-striped pajama pants and slippers (main vocalist/producer Damien B), a white nightie with leopard-print tights and hat (backing vocalist/hype woman Gianna Gianna) and a black-and-yellow blazer with a Joker pin (vocalist/hype man Jesse St. John, also sporting a plastic tiger snout affixed to the side of his head). Their audiences get an up-close look at such sartorial splendor—with Damien B frequently stepping offstage and spitting lyrics from well within the audience’s personal space as St. John and Gianna tirelessly jerk about in nonsensiscal, spastic dance moves. A BLOK show is as much performance art as concert.
OC Weekly: Where does the inspiration for the live show come from? Is it just an extension of your natural personalities?
Damien B: It is an extension of our personalities a lot. I like to combine the energy of a punk show, that kind of of intense energy, but at the same time, I like just the entertainment aspect. It singles you out. “I’m playing the music right in front of you.”
Jesse St. John: The live show is sort of a visual interpretation of what the music hopefully sounds like. It wouldn’t make sense if we were just standing there singing it.
Gianna Gianna: I just let my inhibitions go completely so that everyone feels comfortable enough to let theirs go as well.
Do you ever worry people will see all that during your shows and think it’s too gimmicky, or just a novelty act?
Damien B: We dress like this in real life. I listen to music that’s kind of like our music; they listen to music that’s variations of our music. It’s just us. We’re not doing anything beyond ourselves. We’re not forcing anything. It’s really what we are—amplified through a speaker system.
Musically, what led you toward the direction of BLOK?
Damien B: I’ve always liked hip-hop/rap since I was little. I liked Busta Rhymes, Rage Against the Machine and 311 back then. Pretty much immediately, I got into electronic stuff, as well as roots music and world music. Taking sounds from everywhere and mixing it all together into one sound and trying to make it sound cohesive . . . BLOK are really derivative of what I’ve always liked.
Where did the name come from—with no C?
Damien B: I wanted something that was very blunt. Everything is straight to the point, pretty much. The word “BLOK” has, like, a city-street connotation, kind of an urban connotation, as well as the geometric shape, so it’s combining design with urban. I took out the C because it’s stronger, I think, without it.
It’s more distinctive. Otherwise, it’s just some word.
Gianna: Or a mall.
St. John: Or an action, I guess?
Damien, you’re fast when delivering your lyrics, especially live. Do you worry that people aren’t grasping much—or any of it?
Damien B: A lot of times with the recordings, too, people ask me to still write down the lyrics for them. They’ll get a phrase here, and because they just processed that one, they miss the next one. My lyrics are very conscious. I want to combine the elements of underground—like the normal elements of intellectual underground hip-hop—and at the same time, I want people to just go and dance, and they don’t have to listen to the lyrics.
What’s it like working in a group consisting exclusively of siblings?
St. John: It’s so easy to make music together because we all know one another’s references, we’ve all been exposed to the same things. All of us know everybody’s intentions.
Damien B: I can skip a lot of steps—I know how to explain to them whatever I’m thinking, and vice versa. They know how to communicate with me, just from living together all of our lives.
BLOK with Pop Noir and the Polyamorous Affair at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Mon., 9 p.m. Free. 21+. BLOK can be found online at www.myspace.com/theofficialblok.
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