As the various members of Brockhampton, AKA the self-proclaimed “best boyband since One Direction”, log in to a slightly chaotic eight-way Zoom call, it is quickly apparent that no one is immune to lockdown cliches. The band’s producer Romil Hemnani arrives first, wandering past his laptop cradling a puppy, before returning 10 seconds later holding a different, much larger, dog. There isn’t time for anyone to laugh at my “Not a fan of journalists?” gag after he (the dog, not Hemnani) growls into the camera, before vocalist Joba, AKA Russell Boring, appears sporting shoulder-length hair and a patchy beard that screams “re-open the barbers”. By the time de facto group leader Kevin Abstract emerges, sitting in front of a swimming pool, with his rainbow-coloured dye job, it’s full house on the Zoom bingo card.
For a 13-strong collective of twentysomethings who, along with the eight vocalists and/or producers present today, include photographers and app programmers in their ranks, lockdown’s creative malaise has passed them by. In fact, Abstract says they recorded three records to get to the one they’re happy with – next month’s sixth album in four years – Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine.
Setting the template for the band’s mix of high-octane, sun-kissed pop and ragged skate-punk energy, 2017’s breakthrough Saturation trilogy – created while the band were living together in South Central LA – was quickly followed by 2018’s Iridescence and 2019’s Ginger, the latter two part of an unprecedented $15m contract with RCA. Each helped introduce the world to a new kind of “All-American boyband” that aimed to fuse Odd Future’s gonzo spirit with pop choruses. It was a label they relished subverting, both via their diversity – the group includes black, white, gay, straight, African, Irish, and Latin members – and an egalitarian, DIY ethos underpinned by endearing vulnerability. An early anthem arrived in the shape of Saturation III’s skull-rattling Boogie, with Abstract’s downbeat chorus of “I’ve been beat up my whole life, I’ve been shot down kicked out twice” riding a hedonistic mix of blaring horns, west coast hip-hop and screeching alarms. When they performed it in New York’s Times Square for MTV in blue paint they were quickly swamped by a febrile fanbase drawn to relatable party anthems for a depressed youth.