At a time when the idea of “alternative R&B” has become the genre-defying norm, when hip hop and EDM and house music and indie-rock have all started to sound mysteriously the same, the chilled-out, futuristic soul vibes of Brooklyn electro pop duo denitia and sene make a perfect kind of sense. The group formed in 2011 after the two crossed paths at a Brooklyn art and music collective simply known as “The Clubhouse.”
At the time, Sene (who cut his teeth in NYC and LA as a rapper) was looking for a vocalist to sing over some of his beats. Denitia, who had come to NYC less than a year earlier to make a name for herself as a singer/songwriter, was happy to oblige. As it turned out, the pairing of powerhouse vocalist Denitia and production whiz and beat-maker Sene turned out to be something of an effortless no-brainer. “Our first collaborations had such an ease to them,” recalls Denitia. “It just seemed like an obvious thing to keep going. Then, after we put out our first EP the response was pretty immediate. Certain blogs and music sites started to mention us, but more importantly our friends were really into it, and that was kind of the most encouraging thing.”
“The ease that we have working together has carried over into all aspects of what we do,” says Sene. “There is often this big power struggle in New York—especially coming from the world of hip hop—but we’ve tried to just do our own thing and follow the opportunities that have come to us. We are very humble people, actually. We just try to focus on working and to make sure that we’re having fun. Not getting too caught up in the business—and the competitiveness—of the music world has served us well. We’ve been pretty happy to do our own thing.”
After releasing a debut EP in 2012 (Blah, Blah, Blah) and making a name for themselves as a formidable live act, two duo eventually unleashed a full-length album, the excellent His and Hers, in early 2013. That record not only spawned a fair amount of press attention (Interview Magazine saying that the record “…feels like summer love: dreamy, loose, freewheeling…”), it also reached #11 on the iTunes R&B chart based on the strength of singles like 'Casanova' and 'Lucy, Loosie.' As debut albums go, His and Hers (and the handful of singles to follow) was a voluble statement of intent, but according to Denitia that record was only a stepping stone to where the duo heads next.
“I think Sene’s journey as a producer and a songwriter is really evident on the new EP,” she says. “It builds on what we were doing on His and Hers and pushes it forward. This EP is kind of our way of pursuing a more futuristic sound.” It’s an assessment that Sene agrees with as well: “I think this is more sonically mature. I definitely paid more attention to the specific sounds. I think the songs sound a little bit bigger now. We just focused on pleasing our own ears. We definitely operate more as minimalists—trying to make all the elements sound as amazing as they can be and getting rid of anything that doesn’t need to be there.”
Evidence of the band’s forward momentum—both creatively and commercially—is on full display all over their new EP, side fx. The four new tracks trace a progression from trip hop to R&B to pure electro-pop and harnesses a vibe that wouldn’t be out of place on an old Fugees or Massive Attack record. The EP’s title track is an exercise in sublime minimalism, with warm synth sounds playing counterpoint to Denitia’s sanguine vocals. “When I leave you’ll wish I never came,” coos Denitia over the track’s hook, the lyric playing out like both a warning and a promise, “That’s the side effect of hurricanes.” On the rest of the EP—particularly songs like 'the fan' and 'runnin'—the band prove themselves adept at creating music that defies easy categorization. It’s music equally suited for soundtracking late-night comedowns or inspiring ruminations on the dance floor. The band’s increased stylistic acumen—the ability to move seamlessly between pure pop, subdued electronica, and slinky R&B—will no doubt make it even harder for those tasked with the job of trying to define exactly what denitia and sene are all about.
“I know it sounds kind of like a cliché response, but I don’t really like to think about our music in terms of genre,” explains Denitia. “I know it’s easy for people to think of what we do as pop music and I’m fine with that. Mostly I think that we’ve both been blessed with having an ear towards simply making good songs, and not necessarily gearing ourselves towards making any particular genre of music. Over the years I’ve been in almost every kind of band you can imagine, so I think I bring that experience with me to this project. I love every kind of music—and I feel grateful that my voice, both literally and figuratively, is not coming from a totally defined place.”
“Honestly, I’m not concerned with the genre,” says Sene, “I think it’s kind of funny that we get described in so many different ways. I’ve never been opposed to the idea of making pop music. Pop is short for popular. You can call it whatever you want, really.”
At a time when New York City is taking a lot of heat for being overly expensive, too clean, and no longer a place fit for harboring the hungry young starving artist, the continued success of a duo like denitia and sene is particularly inspiring. For Sene, a native New Yorker, the city continues to be a constantly renewable kaleidoscope of influence and inspiration. For Denitia, a Texas native who, like so many before her, moved to the city to explore her creative ambitions, New York has been a crucial element not only in the development of her band, but on her development as a human being. The restless energy and the need to evolve that is so much a part of denitia and sene’s music could only have been inspired by the very same city that brought the two musicians together.
“I love New York and I feel like it’s the struggle of being here—and how hard it is to come here from wherever you might have grown up—that makes for such good art and music,” says Denitia. “I always think of New York like a rock tumbler—remember those things from when you were kid? You put a bunch of rocks inside and eventually it polishes them by rolling them around together?—this city is like that. You come here and live among millions of people, every day you get bumped around and turned around and eventually—if you are lucky--you emerge from that experience as something else, something shiny and new.”