Summer in Milwaukee is full of live performances, festivals and special events. Everyone seems to crawl out of their shells. It’s street festivals, beer, Summerfest and beer. For me, big festivals are just too big. I want to be up close and personal at an intimate show. I want to feel the spit from the artists’ lips and look them in the eyes when they tell me their stories. There’s something amazing about that moment. That connection. That inspiration.
That happened this summer.
I got mesmerized by NAN (New Age Narcissism) in a small venue called the Cocoon Room. The Narcissists are the exact opposite of what their name might indicate -- selfishness. In fact, they are dead set on inclusiveness. By becoming a positive influence for others.
And that creates a euphoric atmosphere. Even on the tiny stage at the Cocoon Room, the space bubbled with contagious love.
The PA system sat on the ground and spat out the sound of the creatives. Once the music started, everyone in that room huddled together like family. The line between artist and fans blurred. The room was near capacity, so sticky and sweaty it was almost unbearable. Yet it inspired me, drew me in. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the show.
I had heard NAN’s music before on SoundCloud and various social media sites but had never seen them perform. Their live show did so much more than any recorded music could. Lorde Fredd33 headlined the show and the energy was something I haven’t felt before. The current was electric and transferred into every person. And for me that was just the beginning. Every time I’ve seen them since, NAN has moved closer to perfection. Every carefully crafted persona drew me in, made me want to create, live and groove with every beat.
I could try to describe each show individually, saying NAN creates a contagious energy and has an undying passion for music. But none of that does their shows justice. A NAN show is something to experience for yourself.
The collective didn’t come out of nowhere. Lorde Fredd33 notes it was “all hard work. There was a lot of background work, where everyone came from their own place musically and geographically. This is one of the reasons the group has been spreading our message mainly through word of mouth and social media. This is like push ups – it’s a workout – if you stop working out you are going to smaller and we’re trying to get buff.”
WebsterX noted “everything came together rather quickly,” all under a year. With the addition of Lorde Fredd33, the idea of New Age Narcs turned into a collective that multiplied quickly. Lex Allen was added after collaborating on the track “Renaissance.” The three heads came together with a vision. Putting Milwaukee on the map. The last piece of the puzzle, Siren, came on board after the others discovered her raw vocal talent.
WebsterX is electric, wild and contagious. He’s a natural when it comes to lyricism, rapping and singing. He can contort effortlessly from a re-envisioned version of “Blue Dream,” be featured on a house song or entirely entice a crowd while playing “Doomsday.”
Sam Ahmed, better know as WebsterX, has a goal: to engage in a long, loving relationship with music. “I’m not an artist that wants to make money off of a quick single, get the nice car, home, ect. I will starve before I sell out.”
It all began as an outsider looking in. Ahmed says he started by “not knowing anyone or anything about the scene.” Early on, he found influences from his Muslim, Ethiopian heritage. But as he grew up, he found a love of poetry, which served as a grounding for his emotions. Inspired by poetry, he created his first release, “Desperate Youth.” Ahmed explained that the mixtape evoked mixed feelings. “People either loved it or hated it.”
Enough loved it to give Ahmed an outlet for his voice. He dropped out of college. Began making connections. Began making his vision a reality.
The formation of NAN began when he rapped “Blue Dream” to Q the Sun (keyboard player of NAN’s band, No Name Noise) in 2014 while backstage at a show of fellow Milwaukee rapper, Klassik. After that, the two began to meet up and create their vision.
Ahmed describes his creative process this way: “it’s all just some hippy s***.” He begins by creating a bare bone structure with producer/musician Q the Sun. He knows within the first minutes if the song will work or he will scrap it. All he needs is four guitar chords and everything falls into place: the emotions, melodies and lyrics.
WebsterX’s creative vision goes so much farther than music. He aims to make a difference by creating a community where everyone is included. No matter what race, gender, or orientation, etc. He explains the meaning behind “You’re Me and I’m You,” which can pretty much serve as NAN’s mission statement.
“Its about being yourself because we are all one. We’re all humans existing and living together. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone is awkward in their own way. We are each other.”
Why does this sound like such a crazy yet simple idea that we are all one? NAN is advocating for the 21st century dream, an all-inclusive community.
“Everyone is a reflection of one another. If the audience is going crazy then I’m going just as nuts to keep the energy going. But at the same time everyone is different and an individual so it’s essential that our message is all inclusive. People today are scared of confrontation and public opinion. But really we all need to voice our own opinion.”
WebsterX is inarguably making ripples in more than just Milwaukee. He’s not going to stopping there.
Lorde Fredd33 is the spiritual guru for the collective. The most intense of the group. His presence: physically and emotionally dominating. In each show, he says, he “takes people to church.”
A different kind of church. Fredd33 drifts off into another world. Offering fans a portal into a new dimension, he invites everyone to partake in his ceremony. Cameron Henderson (aka Lorde Fredd33) has a persona that resuscitates the room’s energy, which fuels his spiritual exorcism.
“I am always practicing my craft,” he says, “sharpening the blade, and refining it to a point so once it comes to the ritual, everything comes so naturally. Everyone can believe with me. I absorb the energy, the show begins, and everything starts to black out.”
Fredd33 says he actually fades in and out of consciousness. But, he says, “When you conduct a ritual you can’t be fully in trance. You need to be in control at times and at certain points, during the show, be aware of what is going on.”
Fredd33 said he was a narcissist growing up. He stared at his reflection, looked closely at his face and got in trouble or was teased for what he looked like. “I would always think about myself, what I was doing wrong, and where was I going.” But during extreme self-reflection, “you need to know yourself and accept you, for you.”
Self-reflection has allowed Fredd33 to “observe others’ perspectives and their own self narrative. In the story, the protagonist encounters a challenge or obstacle and overcomes it.” Fredd33 uses others’ perspectives to translate his story into relatable lyrics.
Fredd33 says his father taught him aggressiveness, which can be heard throughout “LRD3”, “33:The Education” and most recently “Double Feature prEP.” That aggressiveness is balanced by traits of temperance, given to him by his grandfather, a jazz musician.
Fredd33 explains his own experience as a vessel, that through any storm it keeps moving to a final destination. By structuring his own path, he creates a new and beautiful experience -- so others can understand their own experiences and find themselves.
“I want my music to make people feel all the way through. If they are going to come back there should be a new feeling every time”
Lex meditates daily. He says it makes his mind more clear, and that many songs “are inspired by direct reflection.” And, greater self awareness helps him block negative influences. “The stars guide me.”
“Social Me Duh” is Allen’s most recent release, following his “Anonymous Vibes.” The new work has a stronger, more driven message: “finding a balance.”
In this case, the balance between your phone/social media and real relationships. It’s no secret many people are consumed by social media and their phones. Lex’s message: to find value in people, places and activities. That’s the beautiful world we live in.
“I lost my phone in Chicago and after a week,” Lex said. “I realized that I was connecting with people on a new level, especially my little brother. After two weeks I realized that it was a healthy accident. Losing my phone helped me see people again in a new light.”
Still, he says, not everyone likes the message. “People aren’t used to seeing them in song form and don’t like being put in that negative sense of being lost in their phones.”
Lex finds inspiration from classical music, the British invasion -- and everything in between. His vintage sound stems from Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse. His grandparents, who were into country music, mainly Elvis Presley, also helped diversify his musical taste. Lex can “never judge a song. It’s music. Its someone’s craft. How can I judge some one else’s vision? I can’t repeat art. No one can do the same thing as you. It’s your opinion.”
Lex focuses on his current path of “living in uncertainty,” which he says “leaves me open to so many great things. Before, I would limit myself. I would try to predict my life and find myself in a rut. I’m always thinking about the bigger picture. I do everything I can with my situations. I can’t let anyone tell me different. People told me that I can’t sing but I know myself better than you do.”
NAN embodies acceptance, whoever you are. Lex advocates for acceptance within the LGBTQ community. At times, that’s a been a struggle, because not everyone is comfortable with his sexuality.
“Hip-hop isn’t the most friendly to LGBTQ community,” he said. “I was scared. I thought I needed to be a certain way or act a certain way.” But then NAN welcomed him into the brotherhood. “Art doesn’t see orientation or gender.”
“In Greek mythology the sirens were beautiful creatures who caused shipwrecks by luring in sailors with their beautiful voices,” noted 88Nine’s Justin Barney, commenting on “Queen Medusa” by Siren.
This Siren does not fall short of that Greek legend. And how she makes it happen is the interesting part.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” says Katie Lafond (aka Siren). But having “no idea” -- just winging it -- has been Lafond’s best friend.
It has allowed her to create and go with whatever comes to her. She describes her creative process as a “free flowing river where the next day is always something different. There’s no plan, which most times ends up creating a constant stream of vomit onto a computer and paper.”
She sets herself apart from other members in the collective by writing sad and dark music. WebsterX, Lex and Fredd33 are more positive.
Lafond’s started playing music (acoustic guitar) at around 12 years old, growing up in Racine. She quickly learned to write songs and perform.
But while she was playing acoustically, she was surrounded by pop punk bands. “That’s all that was around Racine.” When she was invited to play in a post-hardcore band, she found a darker place in music.
That influence continues to show. “It isn’t very positive and there is a lot of teen angst.”
The singer had her first encounter with NAN after releasing “Cold,” an acoustic EP, which caught the ears of NAN members. She joined them as a singer only.
“I felt more comfortable stepping away from the guitar rather than singing from behind the guitar. I was able to hide behind the six strings instead of experimenting with my voice.”
As much as she can be goofy, she’s also introverted. Lafond loves to be by herself, writing music. While also a full-time student, Lafond stands out as the only one in NAN that doesn’t play hip-hop. “NAN is not a hip-hop group,” she says. “We’re a collective.”
If you have never seen Siren, you know you’re getting the unfiltered Katie Lafond. But “that’s part of the charm,” she says. She admits on stage she feels awkward, weird, and even trips sometimes. “I fully embrace it.”
NAN embodies acceptance. The group is a perfect example of today’s world: black, white, homosexual, straight, male, female. No “typical” roles here.
And it’s open-ended. Sure, they have their core -- the four heads --but anyone who considers themselves a part of NAN is apart of it.
NAN is created so everyone can feel the love and feel good in their own skin. Can feel accepted.
Each member stands for an aspect of society that can be improved. Lex Allen stands for LGBTQ rights as well as homelessness. Siren speaks up for female rights, empowerment and activism. WebsterX combats depression. Lorde Fredd33 speaks against violence.
“It’s our dream and everyone has their own path but our dreams are being taken on as a family,” says Lex Allen.
NAN is involved in the community. In July, the members spoke at the Milwaukee Art Museum to inspire adolescent interns. They discussed the importance of being yourself, of realizing that everyone is different, that everyone makes mistakes and that what counts is how you learn and move on.
NAN’s goal is to enlighten the next generation. WebsterX’s name even hints at that. The “X” is for Generation X - described as a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom. Although members of NAN are not apart of Generation X, their message stands-- to better their community and its youth.
The group openly talks about issues with Milwaukee such coming out (being comfortable in your skin), being a female in a male dominated music scene, violence and other social issues. Siren says that she is “in love with Milwaukee” (as well as everyone else in the group) and wants to make it “somewhere everyone can be comfortable to go and thrive because it’s such awesome place.”
The collective blurs lines between multiple genres like no other act within the city. Within a week, the collective seamlessly switched between free flowing acapella improvisations, a DJ and a full band. NAN’s live performance always includes a full band, “No Name Noise” -- a saxophone player, drummer, bassist, pianist and a beat-maker.
No Name Noise is not only the band for NAN. Band members also have taken on solo projects, such as The Aluar Pearls and Foreign Goods.
No Name Noise has experienced several changes but currently consists of:
Chris Gilbert plays various samples through his trigger pad. Passion flows out of his veins and pours out onto the stage. “When you have your goals clear in sight,” Gilbert says, “you need to have the right mindset and the right vision.” He explained the “Four R’s,” which serve as building blocks for the collective: “Relatable, Relevant, Real and Respect.”
The behind-the-scenes producer, Q the Sun (also known as Kiran Vee), is the group’s creative mind, keyboard player and overall workhorse.
“Q has so much wisdom and even acts as mentor for the group,” says WebsterX. “He is the hardest working. He has produced 400 beats within the past two months.”
Kiran creates a skeleton of a song for the collective. If the instrumental doesn’t click right away, the track is scrapped.
Jay Anderson adds the most classic instrument to the group, the sax. Jay is an “old spirit,” noted WebsterX. He had been walking around with a cane and a wrapped ankle. Old school jazz style. He loves to make family meals, host the group and be a direct part of the community. Jay adds a natural instrumentation that accentuates the group’s sound.
Bo Triplex loves funk and slaps bass like no other. He creates a super high energy and somehow keeps everything under control. Bo creates the perfect momentum for the band, keeping the band in line and on time. And also adds in creative faces when he plays the perfect rhythm.