Azealia Banks’s road to success began in Harlem, and her breakout single “212” is an ode to the city that seems to live in every one of her beats and slyly snarled lyrics. She’s moved, though, to Los Angeles, and in her new cover profile in this month’s issue of SPIN, she says she never intends to move back to the city that’s firmly left its mark on her work. She came back to visit last night, though — across the river from her old home in northern Manhattan to a very different neighborhood — to play a Fashion Week show at the Wythe Hotel hosted by SPIN and fashion website Refinery29, and sponsored by Virgin Mobile.
The Wythe Hotel is a boutique hotel in Williamsburg, situated across the street from the Brooklyn Brewery headquarters and Brooklyn Bowl, a venue that pairs bowling with live, typically indie, music. As I walked to the venue, two lines snaked from a small gate, one for press, one for those who by some other means had made it onto the invite-only list. The crowd was a mix of hipster-chic and standard Fashion Week types, impeccably dressed and manicured men and women blessed with the gift of height. I got in line and watched as a cab pulled up in front of me and unloaded a brigade of Scandinavian models.
Inside on a patio people swarmed an open bar (the one inside had no line, people!) while photographers circled, snapping society photos. Brooklyn’s raucous punk band Hunters took an inside stage at 9 p.m., but only a few dozen of the couple hundred attendees chose to gather around the stage.
Hunters were raw and energetic, and singer Isabel Almeida pogo-ed her way through the band’s set, shaking her messy pink bob from side to side. She frequently went to the floor, rolling on the ground and wrapping the mic cord around her neck as she screamed. There was visible sexual tension between Almeida and guitarist/singer Derek Watson as the two barked their playfully antagonistic lyrics at one another. At the end of the set, Watson laid down on his back as he picked out the final notes of the closing number and Almeida sat on top of him and wrapped her legs around his, yelling her last words at him like some sadistic parting gift.
A DJ took care of the interlude between Hunters and Azealia Banks, beginning with a mix of dance-y electronic and moving to hip-hop of the chopped-and-screwed variety as Banks’ set neared. At 10 p.m., the presumed scheduled time for Banks’ appearance, something unexpected happened: She showed up. Flanked by two security guards, the petite Banks took the stage wearing shades and a cone bra top and shorts that would make both Madonna and Lady Gaga proud — and probably pleased the fashion types present.
“How is everybody doin’ so far?” Banks asked a couple times throughout her set, which lasted about 20 minutes. In her music videos, Banks is a tough and street-smart sexually charged and domineering character who is wise beyond her 21 years. She is in person, too, and her stage presence was remarkable in the intimate setting, but there is a palpable sweetness to her. She also seems to act a bit more her age. She sounded great as she sang and danced her way through “1991” and “Esta Noche” from her mix-tape Fantasea.
The packed room roared when Banks announced that she would be performing a song that she wrote for New York City, her breakout single “212.” Banks’s bouncers looked a bit nervous as the surging crowd shouted, “I guess that cunt getting eaten!” and “I’m-a ruin you, cunt,” along with Banks as the dancing encroached on the stage. At the end of the song, Banks quickly made her exit, flanked by security. Her set was short, but it left a lasting impression.