If you crept down the stairs and into the venue at Le Poisson Rouge last Saturday evening, you would’ve heard the disembodied voice of a woman gliding off the walls. It was silvery and sensual and the sprightliness of her breathy singing chilled the space. It was a little after 7:30 and I recognized the voice: Kelsey Bulkin of Made In Heights. And until recently, no one really knew the face behind the voice. It wasn’t until the duo started touring last year that fans who’d been listening to Made In Heights could put a face to both the singer and the DJ.
Made In Heights consists of Alexei Saba Moharjersjasbi (Sabzi) and Kelsey Bulkin; he hails from Seattle, and she, from San Diego. What’s convenient about a group that’s not well known is that the only information you have of them is from what they choose to tell the audience at live shows. It’s sort of ironic because this is a musical pair that garnered their audience through the internet, first through bandcamp, then through Soundcloud. I’d seen Made In Heights twice before, and in both those cases, the crowd was a skimpy handful of die-hard fans, people who might’ve been following Sabzi (he’s also ½ of Blue Scholars) or Kelsey’s creative trajectories since they debuted their first little EP on Bandcamp in 2011. When I got to the venue, I was surprised at how large the crowd was. It was a combination of young college students and people in their late 20s, early 30s, most of whom I assume were there for Tokimonsta (the main act). While the college students floundered wildly around with Sabzi and Kelsey to songs with “heavy drops” like “Wildflowers (Exhale Effect)” and “Murakami,” most if not all of the people surrounding me, seemed unfamiliar with Made In Heights. But strangely, it didn’t diminish the liveliness and energy of Sabzi and Kelsey’s affect towards the crowd.
It’s a funny era we live in these days. While putting music online can reach an indefinite number of computers, there’s still little information on the internet about the musicians that are sharing. So the details that artists choose to share when they have the opportunity to meet their listeners (and new listeners) in real life are crucial. What did Made In Heights choose to share? Sabzi and Kelsey met in New York and are now based in Los Angeles. He does the beats, she does the singing. They don’t know what genre they are so if you can think of a good description, please, do tweet at them @madeinheights. Some of the better suggestions fans have given them include: mythical filth (presumably a play off of the Seattle slang word “filthy”), artisanal (c/t)rap, and beauty slap. I’ve heard Sabzi recycle this script before, and it surprises me how charmed I still am by it.
One thing you should know is that Made In Heights loves synchronized dancing. People who watch Made In Heights will also love synchronized dancing after they see Sabzi and Kelsey busting out unimpressive moves in unison. When you’re watching a DJ and a vocalist—especially when it’s not about EDM, drugs, and light shows—it’s so easy for the set to fall flat, and this is their way around it. Made In Heights also has a particular kind of sound. Their music is lyrically poetic and sonically intoxicating with its juxtaposition of instrumental melodies and synth beats. This combination is what makes their performances interesting. Strip away Sabzi’s efforts, and the show might as well be another intimate acoustic session with Kelsey. Take away Kesley’s singing and the show would just be another experimental electronic set with people writhing into weird shapes. Put the two together and we have this chilling vocal performance alongside some really endearing choreography. By the end of their set, I even felt subtle nudges from my previously stock-still neighbors. Despite not knowing a single verse or who these people on the stage were, they, too, were feeling the endorphins flooding into the crowd.
With the internet and social media, we’ve become a culture that thrives from humanizing our famed musicians and celebrities; the problem with this is that it ends up blurring our opinion of the artist’s talent. After a short 30 minute set, the two snuck off of the stage, and disappeared into the green room. As much as I’d like to know more about Made In Heights—who they are as artists, what they consider their genre to be—it’s also refreshing to know that Made In Heights might not care about those categorizations.
The two will be returning for the CMJ Music Marathon, which takes place October 21-25, 2014. Check out their latest single, “Ghosts” below.