[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
In an alternate 2014, Mtendere Mandowa's creative fusion could have made him one of L.A.'s most famous young chefs. Maybe he'd sling Chambo fish and hibiscus tacos in an Arts District pop-up, or integrate Caribbean cuisine into tsukemen ramen in Little Tokyo.
Had he stayed in culinary school at Cal State Pomona, it's unlikely that we'd know Mandowa as Teebs, the Brainfeeder-signed producer and painter known for gorgeous beats and neo-psychedelic acrylic canvases.
Gifted at bridging the gaps between the music and art worlds, Teebs fittingly celebrated his sophomore album, this month's Estara, with a multimedia release party at MOCA.
“Cooking, painting and producing are really rooted in the same thing. You're mixing ingredients to make it taste or sound or look good. It's all about layering and the process,” Teebs says from a couch at Dublab, the online radio station where he regularly spins.
The 26-year-old Chino native is as relaxed as his music, which often approximates the Buddhist calm of wind chimes or water rippling. Even after a coffee he's tranqui, sporting a camouflage jacket and chin-length dreadlocks.
Born in the Bronx to parents from Malawi and Barbados, his life is a study of melding cultures, consonants and raw materials.
The family moved when he was in elementary school to the Inland Empire, where skateboarding and art became his first real obsessions. Neither initially progressed beyond the rudimentary stages; nor did beatmaking, which he first began doing at 16 as a way to impress the older brother he idolized. The culinary aspirations came as a way to get a college scholarship through a program that his school offered.
“I knew I didn't want to do math and English, and I liked cooking, so I figured I might as well give that a shot,” Teebs says, soft-spoken.
Shortly after enrolling, he switched to an art major, eventually leaving school to care for his sick father at home.
During this period, at the end of the last decade, his musical career began to flourish. The founding member of the My Hollow Drum Collective was selected for the Red Bull Music Academy. Shortly thereafter, his dreamlike sketches reached the ears of Flying Lotus, who immediately signed him to his then-nascent Brainfeeder imprint.
Teebs quickly established himself as an outlier in a Low End Theory scene that reveled in soul-coughing bass. By contrast, his music was gentle and ethereal, dusted constellation hymns for the drive home. Despite the astral tilt, there's something terrestrial and pastel-bright to it. At its best, his beats sound like flowers blooming.
“They're just super-pleasing; the curves and the shapes … the obsession that people have with them when they're in bloom,” Teebs explains of his floral ardor.
The music and art work in tandem, bringing attention from both art-world and dance-music media. The lack of a proper studio makes painting more difficult, but he recently had a gallery showing at the HVW8 Gallery.
If there's a guiding theme to his pursuits, it's an experimental streak and search for simplicity.
Some songs are little more than stripped-down acoustic guitar strums and aqueous drums. He still produces on an obsolete but somehow functional 1998 PC.
Some paintings are little more than flower petals exploding with David Hockney color. But they rarely fail to yield emotion. Beneath the dazed demeanor lies a meticulous eye and ear for detail.
“I want to give people a break from their reality … to give them that split-second freak-out and throw them off their game,” Teebs says. “There's more out there than the same daily grind. I want to offer a space to sit alone and look in the mirror and try to figure everything and anything out.”
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