The women of THEESatisfaction—Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons—are no strangers to Portland. The rise of the Seattle duo in the last two years has roots all over this city—from performances at Doug Fir and Holocene to sets at Pickathon and Siren National Festival. So the packed crowd last night at the kick-off event of PICA’s annual Time-Based Arts festival was prepared for high-energy hip-swinging as the two woman belted through boisterous melodies and weaved in and out of each-others rhyme schemes.
TBA hopped the river this year to SE Portland for its newest late-night Works locale: Fashion Tech (we’ll have a slide show of the Works up soon). As I wondered around the grounds waiting for the show to start, I found myself behind a barricade of bouncers at the back entrance of the building. We had hit capacity before the show even started, and they were only allowing people in on a one-in-one-out basis. I anxiously peered over the bouncer’s shoulders to catch sight of the charismatic duo’s opening and luckily was let in to the venue before the first song, “Needs,” finished.
The energy of THEESatisfaction is certainly palpable on record, but the electricity of their live show—as Harris-White and Irons performed waves of synchronized choreography and infectious hooks reverberated through the space—was contagious. At times it was like watching some warped time-line where instead of swaying in rhythm and snapping their fingers, the Supremes are doing 90s dance crazes like the Carleton or the Wop.
Portland’s young and old arts crowd (well I guess 21+) turned out to celebrate the start of TBA, from middle-aged men in waxed mustaches and berets to young septum-pierced hipsters in tank tops and beanies. Perhaps it was just the draw of THEESatisfaction, or perhaps there's a bigger change happening (finally), but it seemed a more diverse crowd than any previous Portland art events. Assumedly the majority of the crowd were newcomers to THEESatisfaction, but I guarantee they were rapt by the end.
The duo’s rich, soul-heavy hip-hop sound elicited flashbacks to the turn-of-the-century Soulquarians years—a revolving door between the studios of Questlove and the Roots, Erykah Badu, Common, Bilal, and D’Angelo. But it’s clear their sound and lyrical ingenuity reached far beyond their musical forefathers and into other cannons of African American art. Exhibit A: when Stas name-dropped Zora Neale Hurston, Terry McMillan, and Lauryn Hill in the span of four lines on “Sistah You Been On My Mind.”
In the middle of the set, as a beat was dropping for the next song, Harris-White proudly declared, “I just want you to know we make our own beats and write our own lyrics.” This line didn’t stand out to me because it was contentious—I don’t think anybody in the audience would have argued otherwise—but it made me think whether or not a claim like that is necessary for a female emcee in hip-hop today. It made me think of Nicki Minaj’s acceptance speech for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist at this year’s BET Hip-Hop Awards. She, too, smugly pronounced, “What I want the world to know about Nicki Minaj, is when you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it.” She felt compelled to dispel rumors of ghostwriters, something that has swarmed around Minaj’s career. Now I don’t think that Harris-White and Irons have garnered the amount of acclaim or criticism that Minaj has, but as exceptional woman of hip-hop they want their creative, artistic, and lyrical prowess known and not disputed. Hip-hop is a historically hyper-masculine art form, and it is rare for two inventive, unique women who completely create their own music to make waves—it’s why THEESatisfaction is enchanting.
The hour-long set featured material from across THEESatisfaction's short career, with choice songs from their 2012 debut full-length AwE NaturalE: like stand-outs “Bitch” and “QueenS,” as well as “God” and “Enchantruss,” two songs that feature vocals from Palaceer Lazaro, one half of Seattle alt. hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces, who will be performing at Pabst Project just two weeks from today. They also pulled songs like “Moonday School (Intergalactic Church)” from their most recent project, 2014’s Black Weirdo Compilation, released on their Bandcamp page.
The two self-proclaimed “jazzy soul girls” ended their set strong, but as chants for an encore ensued, they had other ideas. Simply, they wanted to dance. Beyonce’s seductive, disco-driven “Blow” proved the perfect soundtrack as Harris-White and Irons bounced their way off stage initiating the next faze of TBA’s kick off: late-night dance party.
The Time-Based Arts Festival runs until September 21, featuring live performances, visual art exhibitions, instillations, concerts, and yes, more dance parties. Check out our field guide and get out there.