“No, I’m not pregnant.” “Can we use a calculator, or is it just pen and paper?” “Are we allowed to make a call?” I told Uni I’d be throwing them a tough first question, as payback for their wild responses in our first interview, and they were already in fine form, changing topics faster than I could reply to each thought. I was ready for that, though, and stuck to the plan. It was Friday night, and news stories bubbling up just hours before indicated that the U.S. was quietly preparing for nuclear war with North Korea – the exact scenario that prefaces Uni’s newest single and music video, “Mushroom Cloud,” released last month. Their response? “I have some secret intel,” said Charlotte Kemp Muhl, in the intense tone of voice she uses to toy with fact and fiction. “Shit is about to go down. I just want to say that we said it first, and I told you so.” From the middle of the backstage couch on which the three musicians were squeezed, David Strange had a different reaction to the news, reinforcing their ability to hijack the conversation. “You should always wear a condom, and sex with a virgin will not cure AIDS,” he advised, assuming the glare of a reproachful sex-ed instructor. Even though they’d flipped topics again, their blasé attitude about total annihilation was oddly reassuring, and pretty rock and roll.
Detangling their fast-moving embellishments, we extracted some juicy facts from the enigmatic glam rockers, who we’d been following and digging hard since their first show last spring. In addition to the full-length debut album they promised to release in 2018, Charlotte noted that they just shot a claymation music video, and are planning to release more 7-inch records, with videos for each song – the next one due out on March 23rd. Plans for each live performance, though, remain up to chance. “I honestly have no idea what we’re going to be doing in this show, so it’ll be interesting to see it unfold,” Charlotte said. “All I’m gonna say is…” David warned, swapping his sex-ed face for that of a stuntman, “…stay close to a fire extinguisher for the safety of everyone in the venue tonight.” “Dude, we have like a million dollars worth of pyrotechnics for this show,” giggled Charlotte, “I hope you have a full hazmat suit.” It was a laughable warning in the cozy confines of The Knitting Factory, but there was a perceptible thread of truth buried somewhere in their banter. “I know we joke around about all this stuff, but I actually do have some experience in pyrotechnics, from the fourth of July this year,” said David, grinning as Charlotte launched into a dramatic retelling. Frontman Nico Fuzz was characteristically quiet, enjoying his bandmates’ descriptions of flames and narrow escapes from explosions. Ironically, later on, during the same nuclear-powered song we first asked them about, Nico was the one shooting fire overhead with a can of hairspray and a lighter.
The Knitting Factory crowd was sufficiently hyped up after the opening set from HNRY FLWR, whose Brooklyn-brewed, vocoder-filled pop performance got them dancing and cheering early into the evening. When Uni took the stage, screams filled the small space and swirled around their glamorous costumes; Kemp in a shimmering silver jumpsuit, Fuzz in the classic tight-white-suit-with-no-shirt look, and Strange in a groovy flared suit he said was handmade by his friend, using fabric the band had picked out at Mood. Switching up their setlist from previous shows, they opened with “The Girl Who Has It All,” a gem of a new jam that quickly hooked the audience, thrusting their receptive bodies into the sultry, hard-rocking progressions that have made Uni a standout band so early on. Diving into “DDT” and “Orgy on the Moon” without pause, they showcased their dark and delicious concoction of sounds: Nico’s delicate, wide-ranging vocals, Charlotte’s brutally cool basslines, and David’s supple riffs on his double-neck guitar, all backed by the meticulous, groove-setting work of keyboardist Jared Samuel and drummer Andrew Oakley. Better yet was the realization that they were changing things up on the spot – solidified during crowd favorite “What’s The Problem?,” when Nico leapt into an impressive high-register harmony on the line, “The butterfly wings turned grey,” redefining the impact entirely.
It wouldn’t be an Uni show without some glitter and thinly-veiled sexual energy, and we got plenty of both from their lead singer. Seemingly more comfortable on stage than off it, Nico thrust his hips to the hard beat of the drums, danced all over his bandmates as they soloed – getting them to crack into smiles in spite of their instinctive focus – and threw handfuls of star-shaped confetti over the heads of the satisfied crowd. A whirlwind of trippy musical highlights came with the liberating insta-hit, “Adult Video,” followed by “Mushroom Cloud” – the aforementioned track that not only found Nico wielding a hairspray flamethrower, but was dedicated by the singer with a short-and-sweet political statement. “This next one is for all of you Donald Trump fucking assholes…of which there are hopefully none here,” he said, throwing his hands up with a “whatever” flourish and leaving it at that. His candid message got a big whoop from the audience, and that high-energy song built momentum for the next one, “Greed,” during which Nico raced around them on the floor to administer another dose of glitter. But they hadn’t used all of their tricks quite yet, and the next song, “Your Eyes,” featured him in a dramatic, three-faced mask that was a perfect fit for the lyrics. Uni closed with a heavy, syrupy “Electric Universe” that further secured their spot as one of the city’s coolest up-and-coming groups. It was the kind of rock show you could watch on repeat and still get lost in the smallest moments; suspense…climax…suspense…climax in an ever-enticing tug-of-war.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley