MUSIC

Popdust Exclusive: Young & Sick Talks New EP "Size of Relief"

The Dutch artist and musician's newest release is buoyant dance music inspired by nighttime bike rides.

You might recognize some of the art created by Nick van Hofwegen, aka Young & Sick. It's adorned the covers of Foster the People's Torches and Mikky Ekko's Kids, among many other albums.

You might also recognize his music—and if you don't, you very well may be hearing him everywhere soon. His newest EP, out May 3, is a collection of dance music that's as atmospheric and complex. With its crystalline production, pumped-up rhythms, and dreamy loops of synths and keys, it's tailor-made for clubs, bike rides, or for any time you need a pick-me-up or an excuse to take off and drive. Ultimately, it's the product of a mind that's clearly enamored with its own ability to distill color and sound into shapes and tunes.

The music has a buoyancy to it, a clarity that belies meticulous attention to detail but still meshes well with its sense of electric intensity and free-spirited energy. Standout tracks include "JET BLACK HEART," a track that—despite its brooding lyrics—feels like the sonic equivalent of making it to the top of a mountain after a long trek; the thrilling, bittersweet "IT'S A STORM," and "SIZE OF RELIEF," which layers van Hofwegen's angelic, slightly overdriven vocals over an arrangement of reverb-drenched horns, cool synths, delicate strings, and tense rhythms.

Popdust talked to Young & Sick about the relationship between visual art and music, inspirations for his upcoming EP, and the importance of listening to albums all the way through.

Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming EP, and the inspiration behind it?

YOUNG & SICK: This collection of work was made right before I went on tour with the Knox. In the back of my mind, while knowing I was gonna be on tour with them, I got really in the mood to make something more uptempo and uplifting, so that drove me to be faster in BPMs than I usually am. I'd also been making a lot of remixes for people, so it tied in with that, too. I took European dance roots and made something more sample-heavy and dancey.

At the time, I was also living in the valley in Los Angeles, and when I was making all the songs I was going on long bike rides in the evening. The songs I'd listen to while riding also shaped what I was creating—it was more dance music, so it made me shift towards that.

Are there any other inspirations, sonically or in terms of place, that you feel influenced your new work?

This EP is very largely inspired by the emotion of the city passing by on the bike. A lot of my inspiration—especially with this record—is drawn from sampling; I'd find a nice little piece of music that I'd chop up, and it would guide me to the next spot.

Have you always been into dance music? Did you grow up going out and dancing?

Growing up in the Netherlands, dance music was always pretty prevalent. I grew up a rock kid. Nirvana was my first love. There was always a lot of dance music around me, though, and when acts like the Chemical Brothers came out and started merging rock music with dance, a lot of people like me got very into that. Dance music has always been around me, and I've always had a big love for it, but it hasn't necessarily always come out in my music before.

YOUNG & SICK - BITTER END www.youtube.com

I know you do a lot of art as well, and it's pretty unique to see someone doing such high-quality work in two fields at once. Which did you start out with—art or music—and how do you see those two fields relating to each other?

That's really kind. I've always done both, as long as I can remember. I've been drawing as long as I've been playing guitar. I always say I feel like they come from the same place, and anyone's brain that can do one can do the other—it's multidisciplinary. They feed off each other so well. If I get stuck in either, I just switch up and keep going. I don't think there was one before the other; it was a chicken-and-egg kind of thing.

Your art and music seem to fit so well together. Do you have any sort of synesthesia? Do you see music in colors, or see them related in that kind of way?

I do think they tie into each other incredibly. I know people have full-on synesthetic things where they actually see color in sound—I don't have that to the full degree, but if I do artwork for my music or others' I tend to listen to it while creating the artwork, to really shape them around each other. I do see a very strong connection between them. When a band or artist gets that connection right, it makes me very happy—when someone's just getting it when the music and art live in the same world, it's such a gratifying feeling.

Did you feel pressure to choose between them? Was there a moment when you decided you weren't going to pick one of the two fields?

I wouldn't say I was pressured to ever choose. There were early moments where I was thinking, I want to use this name for both fields, for doing art for other people and for myself and also for making music, and there were definitely moments where people were kind of wary of that. But I never had to choose, luckily.

Your music and art are very psychedelic. Is that something you're interested in and do you explore spirituality in any way, or where does that imagery come from?

My work draws from 70's psychedelia, and obvious bands like the Grateful Dead that I've always looked up to, in terms of their art and how well they made an insane brand for themselves. I'm a big proponent of that type of art, going that far in detail and tying everything together that well. I'm not necessarily a very spiritual person but I do tend to like the occasional psychedelic… I definitely draw inspiration from that.

What's happening next with your music?

I'm working hard on a follow-up. A lot of musicians like me, as soon as you finish something, it's kind of out of your system. I'm working to follow it up with something different, but in a similar line.

What's the inspiration behind your band name?

My manager used to throw a lot of parties in New Orleans when he was going to Tulane University. He'd ask me, do you know a good name for a party? I'd come up with one and make a flyer, and he'd start passing them out. One day I saw those two words [young and sick] together, sitting next to each other, and I made a poster for him with that name, and he said that was one of his favorite parties. I had that poster up in my bedroom in London when I was living there, and I was looking at it and thought, I kind of need that name. I started putting out songs and making art with it, and it kind of stuck. It's a simple, striking name—you just have to tell someone once and they remember.

Are you going on tour soon?

There's going to be a few shows—LA and New York and some festivals—and I'm doing a bunch of DJ sets as well. We're figuring out what the next tour is because we just came off of one.

You do a lot more than visual art and songwriting. What other fields do you work in?

Remixing is something I've been very fond of lately. Obviously, the art for festivals and other people and that kind of thing has been amazing. Fine art and making things, in general, is definitely a big passion. With music and art, there are so many little nuances within each field.

Are you particularly excited about any of the songs on the upcoming EP?

Every time you make a release, there are a lot of songs that don't end up on it—usually I make about triple the amount, and we send them to the people we work with at the label and they come up with their favorite lists, which were pretty close to what I had in mind for this one. Sometimes it's hard to pick between the songs because you made all of them, so it works well when somebody on the outside picks one and it aligns with your choices. My favorite songs all ended up on this EP. The song that's about to come out, which will close the EP, is called "SIZE OF RELIEF," which is also the name of the EP. I wrote it in New Orleans in such a short time—maybe a two-hour window of making the first loops and all the vocals—and it just felt so right. I just had to change a few things, and detailing and mixing took a lot more time—but initially, it just took a few hours, and when that happens, I just feel so good. That one is definitely one of my favorites.

Anything else you want people to know?

I know it's hard for a lot of people these days to take in more than a few songs at once, but I'd encourage people to take off 20 or 25 minutes and listen to the EP in full.

It seems like kind of a lost art to go through and listen to a full album, but it's super rewarding when you do.

That's kind of how it was meant to be heard. If anyone's able to do that, that'd make me happy.

Young & Sick's debut album was released in 2014. "Size of Relief" is now available on streaming services. Listen here.


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.


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Culture Feature

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.


Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality


Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.


Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.