SXSW: Dominique Young Unique Wins Over the Crowd

Liz Colville

Papermag's down at SXSW this week, living in the very weird, very fun HP Mobile Park at Red River and Cesar Chavez St. We're chronicling all the fun at hpsxsw.com and hpsxsw.tumblr.com, and re-publishing some of the coverage here.

Tampa's Dominique Young Unique traipsed onstage at Spill last night with a gleaming smile, and right on time -- at 1 a.m.  -- in the midst of an East 6th Street rampage that felt distinctly more like Mardi Gras in New Orleans than, say, a music festival. The 18-year-old rapper's headlining slot followed an infectious performance by Toronto's Diamond Rings, who borrows from the '80s as much as Dominique and her crew.

Dominique specializes in witty, fast-paced rhymes about annoying girls and confusing relationships, and there's a little of M.I.A. in her style. Her backup comes in the form of two men who, last night and probably every other night, were dressed for a party thirty years ago, sporting t-shirts that said "Hot Girl Young Unique" and "FANTASTIC," the latter decorated with a picture of a woman made with sequins, glitter, and possibly puff paint. The wearer of the Fantastic shirt, the keyboardist and drummer, looks like someone from Dune; the former, working the laptop and sequencer, like a younger version of present-day Lou Reed.

Presented by M for Montreal, which puts on some of the best showcases here and at CMJ, the event nonetheless felt a little haphazard: in the middle of Dominique's set, which sampled heavily from long-ago synth-pop ballads we probably know more intimately by tune than by artist, the emcee of the evening interrupted the trio perhaps to say they should hurry up, or not hurry up, or something else entirely -- it was hard to tell. Either way, it didn't do much for the vibe -- Dominique was undoubtedly new to most of the audience, and attention spans at festivals of this size are understandably short -- but the lithe, perky young rapper got back into the swing of things quickly, showing off an unstoppable flow that bends, stretches and snaps to any rhythm, though if you wanted to hear what she's saying, and you should want to, this wasn't the best way to do it. But this performance was more about dancing anyway, and it didn't hurt that the Dune guy at one point brought his floor tom off the stage and into the audience. Later, he hoisted his Korg around the stage like it was a keytar, screamed encouragingly at Dominique, and finally, semi-attempted to trash the stage as the group sidled off for the night, just as everyone was really getting into it.

Still, Dominique, who is unsigned at the moment, gave the audience something to remember her by, handing out a couple dozen copies of her album Glamorous Touch to eager hands, and the atmosphere as she did so suggested she won't be playing to this small an audience again.

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