On Sept. 2, Vancouver-born rapper and worldwide musical sensation Alex Gumuchian performed a concert in Halifax. You may know him better as bbno$. Gumuchian had recently finished a months-long onslaught of European concerts, making his 9 p.m. show at the Halifax Grand Parade his first performance on the continent. Before the show, I had the opportunity to talk with him.
In the elevator with bbno$
Gumuchian’s team closed off the Halifax City Hall building behind the Grand Parade. Local electronic artists performed on stage to a crowd as the sun went down. People flowed in and out freely, experiencing the music on the grass near the stage. The concert tables gave out crowns of wired flowers. Some barhoppers watched from above the Grand Parade, leaning over the gothic balcony that separated the concert venue from Argyle Street.
I waited in between City Hall and the Grand Parade stage with my cameraman Liam Kelly (POORHILARY). At around 8 p.m., we were let into City Hall. The building was dark and empty at first glance. No security personnel guarded the inside. A single light emanated from further down on the right side of the hallway. I walked towards it, following the soft melodic music and white light that split the shadows.
Once I reached the room, I looked inside to see a giant table stacked with cold beer bottles in ice buckets, alongside snacks and drinks. One young man with a goatee and beanie, arms placed casually forward, waited alone at the center. We made eye contact.
“Alex? We’re the guys for the interview,” I said.
He stood up, welcoming us.
“What’s up? You guys want a beer or something?”
For the next several minutes we followed Gumuchian around through the abandoned hall, which he agreed looked like something out of a zombie apocalypse video game, searching for a quiet space free from the echoes of the outside electronica.
“Do you guys want to shoot in the elevator? That might be our best bet,” he said.
Once inside he directed Kelly to stand alongside the mirrored wall to avoid filming a reflection and checked that my mic was recording. We pressed the button for the third floor and talked there, in a metal box suspended forty feet above the ground.
Gumuchian’s music originally took off in China, where he has since collaborated with many Chinese rappers and producers.
He spoke of his Europe tour, especially his show in Vilnius, Lithuania. There, he performed to a sold-out crowd, half a per cent of the city’s population of 544,386.
“What is it about your music that breaks through language and cultural barriers?” I asked.
Gumuchian shrugged. “No idea. I think it’s my beats. I personally think that I have a good taste in beats. They’re always very eclectic, they’re all different. I feel like I try not to do the same thing over and over again.
“It’s like if I knew how to make a hit, I would, but I’ve only done that twice, so…”
Gumuchian was referencing his hit singles “Lalala” with American producer Y2K and “edamame” with Indonesian rapper Rich Brian.
“I mean ‘pogo’ is doing pretty well,” I said.
“It’s doing okay, but it’s not like—you can tell, dude. It’s like the best feeling ever. It’s like getting a hundred percent on a test that you didn’t study for,” Gumuchian said.
He said he felt like that during his experience with “Lalala,” but not for “edamame”
“‘edamame?’ I worked my ass off on that one,” he said. “Making it is the easy part. You can make a hit and it can spew out of your body or spew out of your mouth…but marketing it and making the narrative interesting for people to tap into, that’s the difficult part.”
Gumuchian is burnt out. He has performed seventy shows since the start of April.
I asked him if he had time to write on tour.
“I don’t write music on tour. I just choose not to. I’m usually like, ‘oh, the time off I can get is all just sit in bed, recoup.”
Gumuchian is a self-proclaimed binge writer.
“I [wrote for] like three months in the studio, every single day. My goal for next year is to make sixty-nine songs in three months.”
“I heard you in an interview, talking about how the ‘bbno$’ name might be temporary. You were talking about becoming ‘Father Cash,’” I said.
“I want to become a father. [I] want to have kids and so my goal is just as soon as I pull that trigger I’m just gonna be like ‘fuck this’ and sell my music catalogue and sell my master catalogue and just sign to a record label and become like the most industry person of all time,” Gumuchian said. “Maybe [I’ll] make country music. Like who cares…just like make a massive bag (of money) and support my family.”
“So the idea of ‘cashing out’ someday… that’s something you see in your future?”
“Yeah, a hundred per cent,” Gumuchian said. “It’s like why wouldn’t you? I mean I could stay being a musician the whole time, but it’s just, like, unhealthy. I’m dying way faster than most people are being on tour because you don’t sleep. I don’t drink on tour. I don’t drink anymore. I would say I’m pretty healthy. I’m fit. It’s hard.”
He was in great shape. He was well-spoken and motivated. Excited, even. But I didn’t know what to expect that night when I stood in the crowd.
The crowd was packed together, drawn to the front and socializing. At nine, everyone started shouting “Baby! Baby! Baby!” calling Alex to the stage. He wore the same tank top and designer pants embroidered with pizza clipart that he sported earlier.
The show came in waves. He opens by rickrolling the crowd, in real-time, teasing “Never Gonna Give You Up,” by Rick Astley before diving into his own catalogue. He has one thesis he stated over and over, a mission to guide the crowd on a “musical experience upwards” with the energy always increasing. And the crowd, driven by intoxicated college students, bought in. They know him for his fun and joy and he brings it to the stage, dancing excitedly and sexually, running back and forth, thrusting, twerking, bringing the crowd into the show.
At one point, he asks for a fan to join him on stage to fill in for the verses of SoundCloud rapper and frequent collaborator Yung Gravy on the tracks “Whip a Tesla,” “Shining on my Ex” and “Welcome to Chilis.”
Luke is a Saint Mary’s University Husky with a Hawaiian shirt who matches and exceeds Alex’s energy, forcing them both to higher energy levels. And the crowd sees them both as heroes, cheering for Luke and Alex.
Gumuchian makes fun of Halifax as he teases an unreleased song that ends up being an old sea shanty. He offers a seafood cookbook to one fan that ends up going to Luke.
“Cook your mom, cook your girlfriend or boyfriend a nice fucking dinner, baby,” he tells Luke, passing off the recipes for cooked fish. He throws vegetables into the crowd that will now sit as lifelong memories in apartments across the cities, slowly rotting but always carrying their core meaning.
This is what Gumuchian does. He lights you up with a perfected “edamame” performance and then goes into reading nursery rhymes with sexual innuendo, just to keep you on your toes. The fans aren’t enamoured with him like he’s Kanye West, he’s not untouchable. It’s better than that, more visceral. Everyone’s face is lit with a smile as they jump up and down, high, drunk, joining Alex in the moment.
As his lyrics echo out from his own mic and from the vocal cords of thousands of young people wearing flowers, it’s easy to feel how he takes over the entirety of downtown. The city has no skyscrapers and so the sound just carries on past everything, across the peninsula, down to the water. The stage is low and adorned with thick green vines that wrap around LED panels and jungle plants, alongside one big monitor of white light.
The show is physical, sensual and hits a core nerve. He closes with club remixes of “Crazy Frog” and “Better Off Alone,” and then walks off stage to get up early and fly out to shoot a music video in Victoria.
Making It last forever
Gumuchian is searching for connection in a broken world. The ecstasy-like bond he builds with everyone from China to Lithuania to Halifax breaks through the internet bunker where his art was born, pulling people out of their shells and into the world of bbno$. As he says, Gumuchian is dying faster than most people. He is fighting to keep going and giving it everything he has, every last ounce of joy and love in his soul.
At one point in our interview, the elevator was called down and we descended to the base floor. No one was there, it was just a weird glitch that pulled the three of us back down to earth.
He misses his nephew.
“It would be nice to be with family all the time but at the same time, I gotta do this. Because this is not gonna last forever unless I make it last forever.”