A cultural shake up is happening. Entrenched societal values and judgements are being challenged across a broad political spectrum, creating a gap in which previously hidden identities emerge and new modes of expression are manifested. And it’s in this gap that you’ll find KYVA – the dynamic new project from Kyle Linahan.
Freshly signed to seminal New York City indie label Frenchkiss Records (The Antlers, Les Savy Fav, Diet Cig), KYVA’s forthcoming single ‘Dollar Sign’ is rung through with post-punk guitar lines reminiscent of the Cure, and the yearning funk of Prince in slow-jam mode.
The track – co-produced by The Jezabels’ Samuel Lockwood with Vlossum’s Alister Wright and mixed by Kllo’s Simon Lam – is a retro-futurist reverie in which distant synthetic melodies work their way through a neon-lit fog. It’s as if Vangelis had spent a night in the club before composing the Blade Runner soundtrack.
KYVA’s diverse set of influences were introduced early, with his West Indian mother playing soca, reggae and calypso in the family home, alongside Annie Lennox and Crowded House.
As a person of colour KYVA was marginalised growing up in the typically European-Australian suburban neighbourhood of Avalon, in Sydney’s northern beaches. Whether it was from micro-aggressions like being dropped in on by rival surfers or direct confrontations from Avalon residents, otherness has shaped KYVA’s identity.
“I went with my brother into a chemist one day. I was sort of looking around and thinking I’m going to dye my hair blonde. So I picked up this hair dye and the lady in there literally said to me, ‘why do you want to dye your hair blonde? You’re never gonna be one of the surfie grommets up here. You’re never going to be one of them’,” remembers KYVA. Instead of finding a sense of place in the suburbs, KYVA found a community amongst the musicians and artists of inner city Sydney.
The stream-of-consciousness lyrics on ‘Dollar Sign’ examine the temptations and pitfalls of living through late-stage capitalism – themes that inform much of KYVA’s creative thinking. The track contrasts hedonism with loneliness and a desire for escape and connection when faced with a confining and restrictive society.
“As a kid, I always thought that I wouldn’t be one of those people that would be stuck. I always had this idea that I was just going to somehow find my way where I could do my passion,” says KYVA, who experienced the stifling effects money can have on creativity after being signed to a major label at 16 years of age – a situation that saw him lose creative control of his work and agency over his musical identity.
“I have a far more complex relationship with money now. On the one hand I like the comfort of money and material things. But then at the same time, I’m disgusted by extreme greed and the absurdities of late-stage capitalism,” says KYVA. “I think that duality is something that’s experienced by a lot of people who are just wanting to make ends meet and to survive.”
KYVA made it through those difficult early years, going on to perform backing vocals for Taku, Wafia, Adele, Ngaiire, Touch Sensitive, Set Mo, Genesis Owusu and Mo’Ju. But outside of those valuable collaborations, navigating a world that prioritises commerce over expression meant a long process of self-discovery before fully acknowledging his queer identity. KYVA is an exploration of a multi-faceted idea of masculinity, one that places femininity and androgyny on an equal footing as more traditionally masculine modes of presentation.
“I try to find ways to subvert that patriarchal narrative. Because ultimately, it’s never served me, it’s one that’s caused me immense pain and hardship and so many others would probably have the same experience. My whole ethos is to try and break that narrative, shift it or augment it to be a more truthful reflection of who we are as a people.”
Australia, New Zealand, Asia