Cafe Oto, London, UK
Model Home is a duo from Washington, DC who make improvised avant rap infused with punk energy. Since 2018 they have released over 20 albums, most of which are unceremoniously titled in ascending numerical order. Consisting of producer Pat Cain and rapper NappyNappa, Model Home specialises in combining fervent beats and challenging electronic noise with off the cuff lyrics about harmony, unity, and freedom.
The duo perform in profile while lo-fi visuals dominate the screen behind them. Cain commands a table topped with electronic devices – self-built modular synths, a Roland TR-08 drum machine and a variable speed cassette player – all linked up by sprawling wires fed through a small mixer. Countless tapes litter the desk. Their plastic shells are marked with titles that suggest the character of the loops within: industrial, snappin, fake sax. NappyNappa stands across from Cain at the same table. His equipment is limited to a microphone and a digital sampler, which conspires to chop and rearrange most of the semantic coherence delivered by the MC. The pair face each other but rarely make eye contact, both lost in the collective cascade of their synthesised noise.
The group is performing a two-day residency. Prior to their Saturday show, Cain explains to me that each night is different and that their improvised approach led to Model Home’s prolific output. “When we first started out it was very intense,” he says. “We played very frequently: twice a week for a year or so. That forged [Model Home] together.” Regular durational sessions taught the duo not to linger on what the project should become. While their respective individual practice has roots outside of the band (NappyNappa has a parallel solo hiphop project and Cain’s background includes playing “skronky jazz in Buffalo”), together they make music that dips one foot in corrosive industrial textures and the other in catchy, irresistible grooves.
Halfway through their set, supporting act Dee Byrne briefly joins Model Home onstage. Byrne’s filtration of saxophone through various delays and other effects results in a multitude of tones that range from rhythmically meditative pulses, which recall waves crashing on a beach, to the chillingly physical apparitions of a formerly sentient AI. During her solo set, Byrne has to contend with summer pop music bleeding through an open window. When playing with Model Home, however, any possibility of interruption from the outside world is obliterated.
Before the gig, I ask NappyNappa what his subjects are and whether his words are improvised or predetermined. “I have a bank of ideas, not necessarily the words themselves,” he says. “I want to push forward the idea of a universal sense of freedom that comes with realising that we need each other.” His preferred method of conveying such messages, at least within the context of Model Home, is by playing with frequencies using delays and phasers. “It becomes less about the words themselves and more about the energy,” he admits. “It amplifies the energy of what I’m saying.”
As NappyNappa’s distorted flow glides over Cain’s squelching synths and warbling tape loops, I catch the phrase “termination of the body”. Keeping in mind our earlier conversation, this may be Model Home’s call for transcendence, guiding you away from any intellectual critique of form towards, as NappyNappa puts it, “a hyper-awareness of the state of existence”.
Originally published by Wire, July 2022