Across their multitude of projects, Shayne Oliver has always stood at the forefront of innovation. The driving force behind their work is Anonymous Club, a collective that unites emerging talent and Oliver’s close collaborators across music, nightlife, and art. In this FRONTPAGE feature combining multiple interviews with Oliver and company, writer and curator Ebony L. Haynes assesses their impact and the importance of their signature brand of groupthink.
There’s something comforting about the phrase “gang mentality.” Also known as mob, pack, or herd mentality, the psychology behind it speaks to the loss of the individual self and the heightened emotional states which may lead to peer influence. It largely affects the way one might process information and make decisions. Not surprisingly, the textbook definition is not where my comfort lies, nor can the comfort it affords be understood or appreciated by everyone. The gang mentality I welcome, and even seek out, can more accurately be described as “unwavering support” and “strength in numbers.” My gang provides a sounding board, they are reliable and accountable, and they only want to see me achieve my goals and perform to my utmost potential. This kind of Gang Gang is what I thought about while speaking with members of Anonymous Club.
Founded by Shayne Oliver and comprised of a core group of creative partners – including Tama Gucci, Izzy Spears, Total Freedom, Christian Velasquez, Santiago, Thug Pop, and Ian Isiah – Anonymous Club is less of a brainstorm and more of a constant creative squall; it’s the perfect storm for a removal of labels and rigidity. Oliver has created a studio where fine art, music, fashion, and Blackness can thrive. It feels like a house party that you are happy to be invited to, and one that you also wish you could get a behind the scenes glimpse into what they’re cooking in the kitchen - because as we all know, the best parties happen in the kitchen. Anonymous Club is the kitchen. When I asked what some members thought about how Anonymous would grow, I got the overwhelming response that Oliver has already put in everyone’s mind that Anonymous Club is like a school. It’s an institution, and, as Ian Isaiah put it “everyone is on the honor roll.”
Working backwards from what the goal of Anonymous Club might be, I would say that there is a need to create alternative space within the trajectory of being successful. I want to give people that space so they can fight for their idea of success and creative hubs are something that people think are frivolous but are actually really needed to remain sane when you’re jumping through hoops of modern economy. For me, the end goal for this hub is to work to generate its own form of economy and strength while creating viability and encouraging the members to maintain their truths.
When Shayne decided to start Anonymous Club, I knew it was to develop a sound that went alongside a visual aesthetic. He played me a few jams, and I fell in love. Days later, I came into the studio to meet some of the artists he had, and we started writing hits immediately, lol. Anonymous is like a toy box of new, young creatives with fresh vision and ideas that will — for sure — influence and contribute to the present and future in culture.
Anonymous is just love. It’s like Genesis - the start of something great and instead of working against people, you’re working with people. It definitely gave me a sense of community.
Oliver recently relaunched the infamous and iconic brand Hood By Air [HBA], which is arguably where Anonymous Club gets its bones – and its bones are made up of endless ideas. Also akin to the HBA idea-infinity pool is Anonymous Club’s sense of family and community. This is not the “community” and “family” that your company’s new Diversity and Equity officer tries to feed you - this is the GoodFellas and Heat kind of crew; the kind of crew that would rob a bank with you and not need to count the bag because they trust you implicitly. It’s the place where you don’t need to explain your cultural reference points because everyone at the table gets it, and everyone also understands the need to prove to those who are not in the club that they can reference their government approved textbooks, rather than the mix tape from the swap meet, if needed.
Anonymous more of a family dynamic. It’s not like this is the barber, this is the stylist. It’s more organic. Being in the studio isn’t just pen to paper with a set amount of time, instead we’re all cooking at the same time. We all try to reach the same goal - we’re all trying to explore our untapped potential, individually and as a group. Anonymous Club is more like a family.
Until recently, the word “hiatus” has largely provided the framework for understanding the fate of HBA and its members. But I would argue that Hood By Air was never on “hiatus,” as some media outlets chose to report. Rather, you were just not part of the gang that needed to be in the know of what was cooking (or perhaps, simmering). HBA didn’t always meet the calendar benchmarks of fashion weeks or runway lines, nor did they feel the need to respond when you asked. But the Gang Gang was doing things, together and apart. And it’s in this doing where the flexibility of anonymity lies. Anonymity also lies in the blurred margins, where there’s no such thing as a C-suite, and you don’t even notice the removal of titles because you’re working for or with someone who looks like you – someone who has the same cultural references as you, and sounds like you. The rigid delineation that comes with someone’s title, accreditation, pronoun, prefix, or suffix often creates too small a box to feel completely free to work and create. Finding the most comfortable gang space not in the black or white, but the off-white, and not in the street wear or haute couture, but in the street couture.
I see [Anonymous Club] as the house - like raising a bunch of Margiela's that you know are definitely gonna be namesakes. But at the moment they’re practicing as Margiela’s to get footing. And that’s not at all to discredit anyone I work with, but really to get them to appreciate and sink in to the freedom that comes with practice before going off - especially in New York.
Anonymous is my first time being part of a music group where people have so much to contribute. Where everyone is an artist and we all bring a bunch of ideas that fold together perfectly. Ideas beyond just music.
The subtle setback to the Gang Gang structure is that the GGs are the minority in the boardroom, and it’s unlikely that a major paradigm shift will change that as fast as some of us may want it to, so until then, we perform to the best of our ability, and we should all be commended for performing in the uncomfortable seats that were allocated to us. This is where the phrase “performance as commerce” comes into play - Oliver used that phrase a lot while we spoke, and it really resonated. Anonymous Club does not just perform on stage, or on an EP, they perform a fine balance of what they are expected to produce and the truly fulfilling projects that they are excited to realize. It’s not performance culture, it’s performance as commerce, and demands some reflection on who is actually able to cash in. There’s an imbalance between the power of the idea versus the power of the name behind it. After all, what’s in a name? A gang by any other name would still be gangster.
Since I’ve known Shayne, the idea of ‘a creative hub’ has always been his top priority. To create a space for community and learning and to embrace truths behind being what it means to be a Creative and to perform commerce.
It’s frustrating when something that is ‘new’ always has to be called ‘project.’ The thin line comes when 'We' create something but 'They' need to say that it’s not ‘established.’ New can be permanent. And it’s frustrating when 'They' try to dismantle it, knowing that 'They' will try to own it as 'Theirs' and do it 'Themselves.'
It’s important to recognize the antiquated value placed on seemingly arbitrary systems of hierarchy and systems of classification and nomenclature. The word “collaboration” gets thrown around a lot to suggest some sort of creative co-op, but I don’t think that collaboration has strong enough legs for real innovation to stand on. “Partnership” is sturdy like a brick house. True collaboration affords very little room for dissonance, and you need that dissonance, that tension, that comes with partnership – it affords more agency and room for variation. One Anonymous Club member recently compared the group to Disney Club, a platform for people to learn, grow, and feel encouraged to do their own thing. I personally see more of a likeness to something like Wu-Tang, St Lunatics, or A$AP Mob; someone has to go first (Method Man, Nelly, Rocky) but the GGs are always in the building, on the project, and part of the Research and Development team. The seats at this family table might shift or change. Some people might leave the daily dinner, but they’re always invited back and encouraged to build their own families, when they feel it’s time.
When I'm in the studio, Shayne is just trying to pull whatever is in me, out.
We really don’t like to work with titles ’cause it limits us. We’re more interested in making our artistic practice open to all mediums and mixing them. Anonymous is a way of thinking about the future possibilities of culture. It’s a philosophy, a lifestyle.
The tracks on the Anonymous Club Screen Savers Vol. 1 LP, and the EP released under one of Oliver’s monikers “LEECH” have a sort of intentionally, slightly unmastered sound, like your favorite song from Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol. 1, Kanye’s Yeezus, or Tyler, the Creator’s BASTARD albums, you wish they came with customized headphones with a built-in equalizer, in a good way. The music that gets conspicuously released feels on par with any party, merch for sale, tour, or creatively directed project. If you don’t know who you should contact in your outreach to the Anonymous Club label, then the safest bet is to simply cc everyone.
There’s not really a Them anymore — everybody’s Us, for better or worse. Anonymous is — from where I’m standing at least — a generator where all the ideas that are input don’t only come out as outerwear products. There’s actual material, actual power. I couldn’t be more for it.
I don’t include my title in my email signature (if that ain’t the most C-suite sentence I’ve ever written!), and I encourage everyone I work with to do the same. Perhaps internally, there are levels to this, but it’s about fucking up the optics and switching to killer instincts before others figure it out. The confidence to pass the torch and not always be center stage is a special kind of unicorn. It makes me think immediately of Virgil Abloh and the power of suggestion, partnership, and building platforms for others. With great power comes great responsibility, and the case for anonymity that I’m making is not for taking credit for someone else’s work, but it’s actually the complete opposite: it’s for understanding that whoever is fighting for either a little or a lot of anonymity, is fighting for more seats at the table for us all.
You have to continuously perform a little bit for some people, for the wrong reasons, because they don’t understand why you’re here, and it’s nice to have a space where you don’t have to perform and it can still be just as strong. A space where you can drive the car instead of pulling it up a hill.