An Adidas-clad Salvador Dali gallops through a MacDonald’s drive-thru on a shiny brown horse, clasping a Big Mac and the reigns of his generation. He transcends the boundaries of history, forging a new narrative for eastern Europeans through a bizarre blend of ‘the three stripes’ and a love for equestrianism. This is Tommy Cash, a city boy from Tallinn, Estonia, and the pioneer of post-soviet voices in the landscape of modern music.
Although his crash landing into the radar of the American music industry occurred a mere three years ago with the release of the album Euroz Dollaz Yeniz, Tommy has been a creative enigma and cultural force against the straight-jacket of Estonia’s political past ever since he was fifteen, when he found liberation from his stifled environment through hip-hop and dance. His sound encompasses a hefty mélange of genres, flirting with rap, hip-hop, trap, techno and experimental, even to the point of laying the lyrics “My hands are golden so draw like Jesus leave your legs open / I’ll take you to Venus still wearing socks classic three stripes Adidas” over a sample of Enya’s ‘One Time’ in the iconic song ‘ProRapSuperStar’.
Upon first glance, it would be easy to argue that Tommy’s often overtly sexual lyrics and music videos, with their emphasis on penetration, align comfortably with the exploitation of female bodies at the core of male dominated hip-hop and rap culture. But in reality, his videos exist as conceptual art, penetrating the barriers that separate gender, sexuality and societal dictation of body image. The video for Winaloto uses bums and bellies as drums and human bodies to build a pyramid. The recently released video for Surf features fingers penetrating the windows of abandoned apartment blocks and Tommy standing in military Soviet gear surrounded by couples kissing. We also are confronted with the slack jawed faces of two men appearing to engage in mutual masturbation (complete with turtlenecks), yet when the camera pans out we see that their activity was simply an aggressive game of rock-paper-scissors. These images not only defiantly take control of the dilapidated landscapes of Tommy’s childhood and the cultural and political environments of Estonia, but their dual identity lies in playing with expectations of sexuality and the body, working elegantly to bamboozle presumptions surrounding the phallic nature of contemporary music.
It’s no surprise then that his following reflects the eclectic and fearless aesthetic that he has created not only for the youth of eastern Europe, but for weird kids everywhere that simply want to find freedom through music. This notion is evident when I witness his live performance on my own turf in Broadcast, Glasgow. Despite the venue having hastily been changed a mere day before the gig from the basement of Stereo to Broadcast, its much humbler cousin, Tommy’s audience is fierce and loyal; many of them Latvian and Estonian allies. Dressed all in black, with his hood up and his gaze narrowed, Tommy sings one of his earlier gems Leave Me Alone and the screech of the synth impregnates the room as he bellows, “I used to be clean before I was a teen / When I hit fifteen my vision turned green”. The crowd is hypnotised; off their tits on ‘the elixir of Tommy Cash’: the liquid sound that he drip-feeds them like a hip-hop Jesus, since the music may as well be his blood. The atmosphere is thick with exclusivity; it’s as if his performance is part of some secret underground cult. I realise this is a very special moment for Glasgow. I leave the gig feeling creatively charged, and whether those double rums had anything to do with it, I cannot say. All I know is that Tommy Cash represents the eccentric youth, the weirdo in all of us – Tommy Cash is the future.
Tommy Cash is touring Europe through April
ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHY BY TRACKIE MCLEOD