MAAVVEN | ANiiML's engaging witch-pop

by Drew Penner

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It was just hours before the moon came into its fullest, when top-dog creative agency MAAVVEN launched its unsigned artist showcase at El Cid on Sunset Blvd., Thursday, April 18. The event was to feature Canadian-turned-Californian-led ANiiML as the inaugural talent to envelop in extensive visual production.

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For some reason I thought I was in for a simple music video launch with perhaps a small musical showcase as accoutrement. My first clue that the event might be something extraordinary was its location – held at El Cid, a club where mysterious images of sexual energy, powerful creativity and performances reminiscent of ancient cultural forays, tend to bubble up on my Instagram in the days following exhibitions of rawness.  

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The experience starts as a simple mid-week mingle, the creative set – men with long locks, women with short-cropped hair in fluorescent hues, camera-ready dudes attired in casual elegance, women in black Carmen Sandiego hats – filter down the stairs, past the exterior bar, on to the main performance space.

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The dancers hired as the opening act begin to play amongst us.

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It’s like watching a breakdance showdown, or a schoolyard fist fight. The dance professionals in white tank tops bend, twist, and writhe together. Sometimes they end up on the ground. They beseech each other with physical cries, to music you can’t help but think Rasputin himself would enjoy. There’s an old school Bollywood lilt to the auditory strains. It reminds me of the swankiness of that Turkish disco folk song “Volga Nehri” by Arşivplak.

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We get a break for some more interfacing with one another, as the fog machine spew its wretchedness into the room, making way for the headliner, ANiiML.

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It’s all the brainchild of MAAVVEN, a creative agency that backs visual artists who work with people like Pharrell, Miguel, Alicia Keys, and Rihanna, and take on projects for companies like Vogue, Stella McCartney, Apple Music and Conde Nast. 

Coleen Haynes, MAAVVEN’s founder, a former executive at Black Dog Films, chose the venue because of its history in the local music scene, the theatrical setup and “creepy” atmosphere. You know her work. At Black Dog, she executive produced Lana del Rey’s “Blue Jeans,” Pink’s “Try,” and Beyoncé’s “XO,” just to name a few. But at a certain point, she decided to take that broader perspective, and did so from an entrepreneurial standpoint.

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“It was important,” she said of launching MAAVVEN. “I felt like there was a hole in the business for 360 representation around visual artists.”

Haynes relished the opportunity to guide behind-the-scenes talent. And she’s found it fascinating to watch as the importance of the visual has grown in the post-music video opulence, Instagram period. That’s been her perspective from the get-go.

“I just wanted it to be about the art,” she says, not long after leaving the set of Katy Perry’s latest music video. “I didn't want it to be about words.”  Why tell people what’s at your core when you can just show them, right? That’s exactly what she did, producing “A Study In Duality” for Brooke Candy, “Without Love” for Alice Glass, and “Swan Song” for Dua Lipa.

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For their part, ANiiML has just released a single titled “OUCH!” The video for the track is bathed in blue and violet light with a very dark Game of Thrones tone to it.  It’s created, directed and produced by Lila Rose, Sequoia Emmanuelle, Malcolm Guess and Alicia Angeles, and caps its regal presentation with a crown made by WXYZ Jewelry.

In the live show, lead singer and songwriter Lila Rose exhibits that same primal authority throughout her performance. Her gaze is piercing, her deliberate hand movements keep you in rapt attention. Two dancers (including choreographer Ryan Spencer) writhe in the darkness. Drummer Ryan Fyeff keeps things on track. A loop-triggering, guitar-playing Daniel Burdman plays sounds that create an atmosphere of murky reverence.

“It’s so good to feel you,” Rose says to the crowd, three songs deep. It’s a bit trite, admittedly, but you know she’s being true to herself. So you can’t really hold it against her. Plus, you appreciate the cool electronic orchestration. She loves to place that extra emphasis on the last syllable. She’s crying into the void. Because that’s where we live. And it’s nice to hear someone speaking directly to us.

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Watching three sets of drum sticks pounding on a variety of surfaces (midi pads and analog skins), I think there’s something Neolithic about the performance. You can tell ANiiML is yet early in their career, still solidifying their identity. But, importantly, it’s clear they’re attempting to channel something vital. It’s that extra, extra. But somehow it doesn’t quite come across as sorcery. Even Rose couldn’t help but give voice to it. 

“So much magic,” she declares from her pulpit. “Take a risk! Meet someone new.”

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Words formed in my brain. But not a complete sentence. “High Priestess of…” I don’t know where they came from or what they meant. I mention this to Haynes after the show, to which she responds, “Just the High Priestess of Power.” Exactly. “She's like, witch pop, I would call it,” she adds. “There's a spiritualism to her music.”

I just got off the phone with my buddy from Canada I used to hang out with along Toronto’s St. Clair corridor. I think he was as excited as I was to learn that ANiiML’s lead singer actually grew up along that same stretch. I hadn’t called him. He’d randomly reached out to me after months of not speaking. And I only learned of Rose’s origin story myself, when I spoke with her after the showcase. Take from that what you will.

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Haynes explains that the whole idea for the event is bathed in symbology, right down to the event poster. “There's the Roman numeral one,” she describes, “and every time we do a showcase, it will change to like 2,3,4,5,6,7 – 7 is the number of Maven.” There are seven days of the week, seven deadly sins, seven chakras – and now, seven MAAVVEN unsigned artist showcases in 2019.

They’re planning to take a musicals from across the spectrum, and pair them with a visual artists on their roster. “It gives this artist a chance to have a bigger visual performance they probably wouldn’t be able to afford, to be honest,” she says. “I hope it becomes a destination point in LA for the record business.” The idea is to keep A&Rs – and fans of great music – guessing, so attendees are left feeling like, “What the fuck is that?”

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It’s a good question. Why not let Rose explain her performance herself?

“Every song is about protecting the Earth and the animals,” she tells me. “I am channeling the Earth.” 

Rose also seems quite pleased to have made it from mid-town Toronto to NorCal, and now to the hipster center of Los Angeles for this unique event. She’s been fixated on the fog machine and how impressive these MAAVVEN-sponsored visuals are. And she’s tweaking her performance in her brain for next time.

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There’s a constant stream of people who keep coming up to her after the show, so we have to hide. Unfortunately, in El Cid’s labyrinthine setup, people keep mistaking the corner for a passageway to the latrine. So, time and time again, Rose is recognized and showered with affection, for that gentle yet assertive performance. You can tell she feels fortunate to have been given this opportunity by MAAVVEN.

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“She's such a boss,” she says, thinking about the chance to shine given to her by Haynes. 

Apparently, their partnership was even foretold in a dream. Considering they got Roc Nation, Loma Vista and Sony BMG reps to show up, it’s clear MAAVVEN’s managed to generate that initial buzz they were hoping for.

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Photos by Drew Penner