ACL Interview: Live Wire Genesis Owusu Talks New Band and Unboxable Sound
"In America, I have to sort of reset and do everything again"
In April, leaving the Austin touchdown of Genesis Owusu’s first stateside tour, I sent my friend a text: “This is the greatest show I’ve ever seen.” Then I sent another to clarify. “Y’know … without instruments.”
Going in, the Ghana-born 24-year-old was somebody I knew mainly for how many diverse Spotify playlists he popped up on, from funk to post-punk to abstract hip-hop. But in the flesh – literally, dude’s chest was out and open – backed by his trio of ski-mask-clad “goons,” Owusu’s undeniable star power was enough to unite all those sounds under one banner. (Literally, dude waved a giant banner at one point.)
His singular artistic identity draws together through intricate, high-energy choreography and in-your-face political messaging. (Literally, in a 400-cap venue, dude was inches from people’s noses.) But what if there’d been a guitar cord to trip over, I wondered? Would the performance have lost its live-wire daring? Maybe I just had to fly to his home of Australia, where Owusu has twice appeared on the cover of NME and can bust intricate moves across stages 10 times the size of Antone’s.
“My dream show, a band and the goons together, happened just once, at an Australian festival,” Owusu tells the Chronicle. “We’ll see if I ever climb to that level here. In America, I have to sort of reset and do everything again, at a lower budget, for crowds who don’t know who I am or what I’m saying.”
The artist clarifies: “I’m not resentful. Starting over is a fun journey.”
Owusu’s ACL gig is one of his first dates with a new, L.A.-based touring band. Without the goons behind him to wave banners, I ask if he’s concerned about his message getting lost in the drunken haze of party-hardy festival dilettantism.
“The music will never really be like, ‘Hello, I am depressed. I have faced racism.’ If people do just show up to vibe, that’s fine. The beats are groovy for that reason. They bring you in,” he says. “Maybe by the end of the set, they’ll pick up on my message.”
As for any genre-brained Americans who might leave ACL trying to silo Owusu into playlists of their own, the artist doesn’t mince words: “Go ahead, try. You can put me in any kind of box you like. The next time I put out a song, though, you’re gonna look stupid.”