While wondering down dark city streets, surfing the unending internet and reading relevant music publications, your crusty chronicler comes across an odd assortment of artists at times. One such subject is none other than Lightspeed Champion. Devonté Hynes, a.k.a. Lightspeed Champion a.k.a. Blood Orange, was born in 1985 in Texas.
He is a composer, songwriter, musician, producer and author. He has written several number one hits for numerous artists including Basement Jaxx, Diana Vickers, Florence and the Machine and The Chemical Brothers (the 2007 number one “All Rights Reversed”). At present, he is on the Domino Records label. Although he currently lives in New York, he was actually raised in the UK. His most well-known stage name, Lightspeed Champion, comes from a comic strip he drew in his school math books when he was a teenager.
Hynes is certainly an interesting character in that he is multi-faceted and has several stage identities. While critics often label him one of the “coolest” people in the industry, he sometimes appears to be otherwise. His earlier years in the UK had an interesting influence on him and Hynes was perhaps first noticed as a founding member of the Test Icicles in 2004.
He played guitar, synthesizer and sometimes handled vocals as well. Their signature sound was a critically-questionable blend of abrasive guitar action and martial electronic and their live gigs were marked by raucous onstage behavior. Tin 2005 they put out their only album, the aptly-titled For Screening Purposes Only, which some critics considered an album made by musicians who were tired of playing with each other.
Indeed, upon their break-up the next year (2006), even the band admitted that the material could easily be considered as unpalatable by audiences. Hynes would not be quite so hard on their recording but did confess that they “never worked on (the songs)—a lot was made up on the spot.” Nevertheless, even the harshest critics had to admit that the single “Circle Square Triangle” somehow was able to capture the overall energy and spirit of the indie disco.
After putting out a collaborative EP titled Lightspeed Heat with the band Whirlwind Heat and a final post-break-up Test Icicles gig, Hynes went into the studio to work on his solo material. The next year (2007) he also recorded four official bootlegs that can be purchased online: Bad Covers EP, Team Perfect presents: Green Day’s ‘Nimrod’ which contained nothing but covers of Green Day ditties, a disc he did in less than a day appropriately named I Wrote And Recorded This In Less Than Five Hours and even a holiday record titled Garageband Xmas EP . Perhaps most importantly, he managed to release his first solo single, “Galaxy of the Lost” as well as “Midnight Surprise”.
The following year (2008) opened with the release of his premiere platter, Falling off the Lavender Bridge produced by Saddle Creek verteran Mike Mogis. His backing band for the album (recorded in Omaha, Nebraska) included: Mogis, Nate (Bright Eyes) Walcott on piano and trumpet, The Faint’s drummer Clark Baechle, folkhipster Emmy The Great, the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner plus members of Tilly And The Wall and Cursive. The album has an interesting mix of lush strings, twangy guitar, winsome backing vocals by Emmy and an sensitive leading vocals previously unheard from Hynes. His music now crossed over into several different genres including Indie pop, folk, baroque pop, country, funk and soul.
The album was enough of a success that additional singles were released from it including “Tell Me What It’s Worth” and a re-release of “Galaxy of the Lost”. Perhaps one of the best overlooked tracks from this project is “Everyone I Know Is Listening to Crunk” on which Hynes successfully distances himself from current buddies by composing a cut about the latest hip-hop craze. Surprisingly, it sounds a bit like a jaunty country ballad from the mid-1970s. This was also the year he would release a follow-up to one of his most popular official bootlegs titled appropriately enough Album In A Day 2. Finally, he would also co-release “My Turn” with Basement Jaxx.
Hynes would also tour and make live appearances in support of his music. One of the more notable gigs was his television appearance at the NME 2008 Awards. He performed live backed by a full band dressed as characters fromStar Wars, complete with Princess Leia on the drums. The group’s affinity with Star Wars continued when they performed the main theme to the trilogy at O2 Wireless Festival2008.
He would continue to perform the following year as well. One of his appearances had been delayed from 2008 and witnessed him performing the soundtrack to the cult film Harold And Maude at Latitude Festival. He would also be busy in the studio as well. He would release yet more official bootleg music including the self-explanatory House-Sitting Songs and the song “Heavy Purple” which was produced specifically to promote his new website.
Another noteworthy event in 2009 was the emergence of his Blood Orange stage persona. Armed with only a guitar and a laptop computer, Hynes using the name Blood Orange, would play live in the US and the UK. In fact, before the year’s end he would even perform a Blood Orange tune titled “Forget It” on the last It’s On With Alexa Chung show on MTV. He wore a wizard costume and played over a backing track.
2010 witnessed more new music and more interesting collaborations. He and Saturday Night Live cast member Kristen Wiig contributed the duet “Rock My Body” to the action comedy MacGruber. He began to make music plans with Solange Knowles, put out an EP called Bye Bye with the legendary composer-musician Van Dyke Parks and released the latest of his official bootlegs Icky Pasta. The most important event, of course, was the release of his new full-length CD Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You and the accompanying singles: “Marlene” and “Madame Van Damme”.
As this goes to press, Hynes’ Blood Orange tune “Sutphin Boulevard” was featured on the debut of MTV’s Skins but the first Blood Orange single titled “Dinner” on the Terrible Records label remains unavailable at many record stores. A full-length Blood Orange debut disc on Domino Records is expected out soon. While Hynes’ his first appearance on the music scene with Test Icicles was certainly not everyone’s cup of tea and a few of his more conventional songs are confrontationally labeled (“All to Sh*t” and “Let the Bitches Die”), it seems that his place in the musical firmament has finally become well worth a visit.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.