They Hate Change: parallel worlds
Tampa duo They Hate Change made an international impact in 2022 with their album, ‘Finally, New’, showcasing an exhilarating mix of Floridian rap and breaks with flourishes of jungle, drum & bass and UK rave. They talk to Eoin Murray about the birth of the Gulf Coast sound, learning from the DIY scene, and joining a global community of artists pushing innovative genre fusions
It’s Halloween 2016 in Tampa, Florida, and Andre “Dre” Gainey and Vonne Parks are experiencing their eureka moment at a friend’s house party. The pair are regulating — a distinctly Floridian style of DJing characterised by sudden volume cuts, lively mic shouts and dubwise FX — over a wild array of tracks on their laptop, run through an SP-404 sampler. Over six hours, they sling out Detroit house and hip-hop, UK rap and broken beat, Chicago footwork, foundational electro and more, peppered with locally-sourced sounds like krank and jook. Tracks are interspersed with interview snippets from MF DOOM, Moodymann and Brian Eno, triggered by Gainey while Parks bangs out live drums on the buttons. There’s freestyling. There's crowdsurfing. Eventually, the police come and shut it all down, but for They Hate Change, it’s just the beginning.
“The way we saw ourselves putting things together at that party, that clicked for us,” Parks remembers, speaking to DJ Mag over Zoom. By that time, the two had already been playing live DIY shows and producing bedroom rap and instrumental EPs under the name for a little while. But the energy they felt from DJing that night gave them the confidence boost needed to let their disparate influences shine, alchemising them into what they now dub the Gulf Coast sound. “We saw how everyone was so engaged with what we were playing,” they say. “We just knew from then we had to try to replicate that night in our actual live sets. We had all these genre experiments that we sat on over the years, stuff we would make all the time and put aside for a ‘side project’. We decided, fuck it, this is all They Hate Change. This is our style.”
It’s a style they’ve been finessing and developing ever since, on releases like 2018’s ‘Now, and Never Again’, 2020’s ‘666 Central Ave.’, and their 2022 breakthrough LP for the celebrated indie label Jagjaguwar, ‘Finally, New’, which DJ Mag named as one of its favourites of the year. The 13-track album saw them blending elements of jungle, drum & bass and UK rave with sizzling Floridian hip-hop beats and breaks, and IDM glitches a lá Miami’s Schematic Music Company. “The Gulf Coast sound is foundationally these sounds that come from here,” Parks explains. “But then it reaches and finds the parallels in these other genres from around the globe, from across the diaspora, and lets us flip it on its head.”
Sharing production and vocal duties, Gainey and Parks swap fiery verses that touch on themes including authenticity, gender identity and car culture, but ‘Finally, New’ speaks most of all to their unfaltering belief in the music they’re making, and their eagerness to show the world just what they’re all about. As Parks raps in ‘X-Ray Spex’: “We finna make it into some new shit that you ain’t heard or had.”
“We've been through the gauntlet, and that builds character. But it also puts character back into the music.” – Andre "Dre" Gainey
When we catch up with Parks and Gainey in early February, they’re enjoying a brief spell at home before hitting the road again. It’s been pretty non-stop lately. They’ve been on six tours since June 2022, travelling across the US, UK and Europe as support act for The Avalanches, Toro Y Moi, Bartees Strange and Brixton post-punks Shame, as well as playing some headline shows of their own. In conversation, they show no signs of wear. Friends since the age of 15, there’s a comradely ease to the way they share their anecdotes and observations, enthusiastically embellishing each other’s answers with notes of reinforcement.
They first met in 2009, when Parks, a Florida native, moved into the Tampa Bay apartment complex that Gainey, originally from Rochester, New York, was living in. They bonded on the basketball court, geeking out over Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z albums, and whatever fresh sounds they stumbled on. Before too long, they were making music together. The vigorous, nerdy curiosity that fuelled their crate digging fed right back into their own creativity, and is more active than ever today.
When they write — with Ableton as the “brain” that connects their collection of Korgs, Moogs and AKAI rack samplers — they come together as fans first and foremost, showing each other what they’ve been listening to, getting in the zone, and finding a jump off point. From there, it’s a balancing act of frenetic intuition and laser-focused precision. “I go more wild with things,” says Parks. “And Dre is able to see exactly where [the track is] actually supposed to go. So it's very maximal at the beginning of the process; a kitchen sink kind of approach. And then we start dialling it back and making it into something real.”
Their use of AKAI racks is particularly pertinent, Parks points out, when you consider it as a tool for intercontinental genre dialogue. “We figured out that that's the kind of gear they were using in the jungle and drum & bass era. But at the same time, that's what the East Coast hip-hop producers were using too. The difference was that, on the East Coast, they were sequencing the samplers with the SP-1200 and, over in Europe, they were sequencing with Amiga computers and stuff like that, tracker software and shit. Once again, it’s parallels. Everything is parallels.”
For all the myriad influences and stylistic citations in their tracks, however, the two are quick to emphasise the importance of accessibility in their music. There's no barrier to entry into the They Hate Change universe, though they are excited for listeners to dive into the histories of the music they love too. “It's nice to have people look back or get back into the actual world [of those sounds],” says Gainey. “We will never sit up here and act like we haven't been influenced by anything. Come on, you gotta be honest.” “You gotta share,” Parks agrees.
“You know that feeling? Like, ‘Damn, how come I didn't know this [music] before?’” Gainey posits. “You dive deeper and deeper and, ‘Oh my god, all this stuff is just sitting here!? Dang’.” “That’s the feeling we love giving people with our shit as musicians,” says Parks. “Yeah, ‘Finally, New’ is the tongue in cheek [title], but nah, it’s been here. I want to give you the feeling of, ‘Damn! This is crazy! Y’all have been on some shit like this?’”
Nor do they claim to be experts. Playing their jungle-inflected track ‘Screwface’ in London last year felt like a “final proving ground” for their UK rave references. Unsurprisingly, it went off. “This is y’all’s thing that we are pulling from,” says Parks. “We're not going to try to sell it back to you wholesale, but we’re going to show you our perspective on it and we hope that y'all rock with it."
Touring as extensively as they did last year, opening for artists playing everything from indie rock to sample-based electronica, required a certain level of adaptability from the duo, who ditched their synths and drum machines early on in exchange for their trusty SP-404. They refined setlists and track sequences as they went to ensure crowds were feeling the full impact of their music — hitting what Parks calls “the conversion point” — as quickly as possible.
“We try to pay attention to the crowd and make sure everybody is getting into it,” says Gainey. “But we’re also curating our set.” “It’s like DJing,” Parks agrees. “You're not just about to hop in with whatever your [biggest] joints are. You gotta bring them there.”
Luckily, years spent playing hundreds of underground shows and building a fanbase in the Tampa DIY scene instilled in them an ability to switch things up on the fly, and make it work every time. “I definitely think that gave us a bit of confidence in performing live in front of different kinds of crowds,” says Gainey of their days playing backyards and house shows to crowds of skaters and DIY kids. “There’s a reason we might be pacing back and forth on stage, or one of us might just bolt out in front of the crowd. It’s because that's what worked for us and got us going there.
“That confidence also goes into why certain songs on the record sound the way they do — how I pace it, its energy — because that part would have worked on a broken PA system, or with us passing microphones back and forth.”
“It allowed us the space as well to show more of the threads,” Parks agrees, noting how, when the scene was at its most active, they could play a show every few days. It afforded them chances to experiment, be that through dabbling in noise music, inviting their friends from the indie rock band Charles Irwin to close a show with them at the Red Light venue, or covering Minor Threat’s punk anthem ‘Straight Edge’.
“We've been through the gauntlet, and that builds character,” says Gainey. “But it also puts character back into the music.”
The duo gave it their all on those support slots, and emphasise how important it was for them to elevate the overall experience for their audiences and headliners alike. It’s an ethos of mutual support, of contributing to something bigger than yourself – something they feel gradually fell out of view for many in the Tampa DIY scene. Through building collaborative relationships with artists like Miami’s Nick León — who co-produced ‘X-Ray Spex’ — and Chicago’s Jana Rush — who remixed ‘From The Floor’ — and forging friendships with innovators including Finn, Loraine James, Wu-Lu, INVT and 96 Back, they’re becoming part of an international community of like-minded individuals who are not only pushing innovative sounds, but helping each other out along the way.
“This is bigger than just individual scenes; there’s a global scene forming,” says Parks. “We keep saying ‘Gulf Coast sound’, but we're being funny when we say that shit too. There's something that is much larger than just that happening... You could take it down to like: here's the Miami scene; here's the Central American electronic scene; here's what's happening currently in London. I think it's all gonna spell out to be one new thing.”
"When we do our shit, we have to share our world in a very real way. You see the restaurants that we go to, you see the ice cream shop that we might have grown up going to." – Vonne Parks
Nonetheless, shining a light on their home turf remains a core tenet of “Change world”. Their music videos depict Parks, Gainey and their peers in front of Tampa Bay landmarks, browsing records at Planet Retro, or revving a Chevy outside Marko’s Meat & Deli. It speaks to the ‘Blatant Localism’ their track title refers to (with a visualizer by Rena Johnson), and the “hairbrained schemes” their regular visual collaborator Xandra Robyn helps them bring to life with touches of Japanese noir and French New Wave
“I think that visually, when you come from a smaller place, or a less represented place, what has happened historically is that people try to represent it in the same way that other places are represented,” Parks explains. “Like, you know, showing the skyline of your city. Alright, man, this is not New York City, though. No one gives a fuck about the Tampa skyline.
“We know that we come from this place, and we want to represent it well, because that’s what’s cool to us about the rest of the world,” Parks continues. “When we watch an artist that's from London, or from wherever, we get to see parts of their world. I like that because it's not my world. When we do our shit, we have to share our world in a very real way. You see the restaurants that we go to, you see the ice cream shop that we might have grown up going to.
“When somebody here sees us going global, they're like, ‘Damn, they're literally representing where I'm from from. That’s my street. And now that we're on a world stage, people elsewhere are going, ‘Well, that looks cool. I've never seen a video shot in a place like that before’. It's a benefit for both sides.”
As they run headfirst into 2023, the sense is that there’s nothing that can stop They Hate Change. They’re back on tour in the UK this month with Shame, and have plenty more tricks up their sleeve, too. “Whatever everyone liked about what we did last year,” Parks says. “You’re gonna like it even more this year.”
Gainey jumps in with the finishing flourish, predicting what we may all be saying when 2024 rolls around. “They did it again!”