Publication: Clash Print and Online
Date: 09 · 05 · 2019
Photography: Elliot Kennedy
Fashion: Harry Clements
When you’re passionate about the promise of a new artist, and are trying, hopelessly, to recount that feeling of excitement a new voice in your headphones has imparted, it’s only natural to reach for comparisons. Too lofty, too cliché, too inaccurate: ‘He’s the new this,’ and ‘She’s the next that’ are statements easy to utter, but ones that never do justice to that hair-raising feeling you had when you realise that you might have just found a new favourite.
This is because it’s the differences that caught your attention, and it’s the differences that define the next big thing.
Cole Basta, better known as Col3trane, has been touted ‘one to watch’, ’next up,’ and ‘about to blow’ since his 2017 debut mixtape, ‘Tsarina’, ascended rapidly beyond projects of Cole’s SoundCloud peers. Even though he was barely 18 at the time, the record was polished yet emotional, raw but accomplished. It is also not as comparable to Frank Ocean’s work as the first blogs, hot on Col3trane’s trail, would have you think.
“People feel more comfortable listening to something when they are able to compare it to something. So I understand, being a new artist, they will do it with everyone, and honestly, I do it sometimes too.” Cole, well into his second year of writing, touring and speaking to journalists, speaks with quiet wisdom and self-assurance. “At the beginning, it did affect me, because I saw it as people not really accepting the music I was putting out. I’ve realised now that it is more of a compliment, and people are just more comfortable with points of reference.”
Born to American parents living in North London, Cole’s formative years were defined by musical generation hopping, and while Frank Ocean does feature in his personal points of reference as an artist, the enigmatic pop auteur is really just one of many of the generation-defining singers, rappers and pioneering instrumentalists that Cole looks to for inspiration. “Growing up my parents would play a lot of Motown as well as Michael Jackson, Prince and D’Angelo,” he recalls. “As I grew older and got more curious, I started exploring more hip-hop, but jazz too: Miles Davis and John Coltrane.”
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Even from a young age, Cole had a fascination with the essence of creativity and was enamoured by displays of artistic talent – thanks in no small part to his mother, an independent film producer that now works in theatre. “She is a very creative person, and so I’ve always been exposed to art and theatre, and I’ve always been encouraged to get involved with anything artistic, and be open to all different mediums.”
In performance, Cole is accomplished, rarely wearing anything in colours beyond the black/white spectrum, and sustaining a deep concentration on his pretty much flawless delivery – keeping his art front and centre. In writing, he takes his cues from classic films and iconic literature.
“My mum used to get on at me for not reading enough, but I’ve always loved storytelling. Good stories – old stories – hold so much that people now can relate to, so I always try to take elements and repurpose them in my music, so people listening can connect, or reconnect, to it,” he says sagely.
Towards the end of last year he dropped a single video for singles ‘Fear And Loathing’ and ‘Britney’, directed by Oscar Hudson. Shot in Kazakhstan (a place Cole stresses that he is still in disbelief about visiting), the cinematic visual is a trippy collision of two worlds: the LSD-soaked landscapes inspired by Hunter S. Thompson, and the ridiculously ambitious world of possibility, created by a young artist for whom a dream becoming reality is just a matter of putting the work in.
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He cut his teeth in a weird, wonderful and powerfully collaborative SoundCloud scene that gave impetus to an entire generation of bedroom-based artists looking to pursue their musical ambitions full-time. “People like Yung Lean really inspired me as much as any of ‘the greats,’ you know?” With a touchingly nostalgic tone, he recalls how “seeing kids making the best, weirdest shit” within the confines of their bedroom shattered any veneer of impossibility that might have previously come between him and his lofty ambitions in music.
And, as with the majority of the quality work that came from those halcyon days of ad-free SoundCloud, when Kaytranada was king and Soulection reigned supreme, Col3trane’s music operates on the fertile fringes of familiar contemporary pop: in that grey area where standardised songwriting and sonic composition are of little or no consequence.
‘BOOT,’ the 2018 follow-up EP to ‘Tsarina’ from which ‘Fear And Loathing’ and ‘Britney’ are taken, plays gleefully with heartwarmingly accessible hooks, stirring atmospherics, and disjointed beats. Cole’s voice often takes up position in a single tone at the heart of a melody, before shooting off unpredictably into a whole spectrum of emotion and energy. Throughout, Cole flows freely between sung and rapped deliveries to match moments of calm introspection (‘Chemicals’) or defiant passion (‘Roses’).
Within the sometimes-suffocating confines of R&B, Col3trane is striving to deliver something complex and unexpected, and he’s having fun doing it. He possesses the determination of a young man who never considered doing anything but carving out a niche for himself in your ‘heavy rotation’ playlist.