“Wanna go up on the roof?” Chaz Bear asks me with a puckish grin.
His gusto catches me off guard. It has been a long day here at Company, the art studio and record label that Bear, otherwise known as experimental music act Toro y Moi, founded in Oakland, California. Last night he was here producing new music till five A.M., only to return hours later for a packed itinerary that includes being photographed, filmed and interviewed by PLAYBOY. As he heads into the last portion (it’s now near sunset), Bear’s energy hasn’t wavered, and he’s eager for me to see more of his world.
Reaching up, he pops a heavy circular access door installed above industrial pipes. A column of light pours in and bathes the rear of Company’s second-floor recording studio. The opening, barely wider than his shoulders, resembles a submarine escape hatch. Passing through it requires some skilled scrambling between a ladder and a metal power box on the wall. Bear ascends, his legs dangling comically before he hoists himself up.
“You coming?” he asks, flashing that same grin. There’s no knowing what lies above. But because Bear is a virtuoso — his creative exploits have positioned him as one of today’s most daring and inspired cross-platform artists — chasing him into the sunset is a welcome pursuit.
A decade has passed since Bear, now 32, breached popcultural consciousness as Toro y Moi, a solo project birthed in a dorm room by a South Carolina raised skater misfit who loved J Dilla and Panda Bear. The hypnagogic pop sound and anxiously lackadaisical disposition of his 2010 debut LP, Causers of This, earned him a cult following and helped usher in a rapidly hyped musical movement called chillwave — a microgenre marked by nostalgia, escapism and glazed resignation. The embrace of chillwave and its theme of youthful abandonment was no doubt bolstered by 2008’s fraught climate of recession and high unemployment.
But chillwave’s star burned hot and fast, eventually cooling in the face of early-2010s hipster malaise. In retrospect, even if Toro y Moi is considered a progenitor of the genre, the association discounts the stylistically omnivorous explorations of his succeeding eight studio albums, two mixtapes and three EPs — releases fueled not by trends but by his love for exploration.
Today, Toro y Moi is just one facet of Chaz Bear, an artist whose imagination is central to his holistic identity and whose accomplishments read more like career-test results than a boilerplate biography. He’s Chazwick Bradley Bear, né Bundick — singer, songwriter, producer, graphic designer, painter and album-cover artist; founder of Company Records; DJ and purveyor of dance music as Les Sins; collaborator with Travis Scott, Flying Lotus and Tyler, the Creator (among others); honoree of “Chaz Bundick Day” as bestowed by Berkeley’s mayor; and workaholic by his own admission.
“I noticed that before my work got to where it is now, I was seeking pleasure in the creative process, in the genres I was seeking to re-create,” Bear tells me. “The romance has shifted from the creative part to the enjoyment of people’s expressions.”
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