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Benedict Sinister - Only Sixteen (self-released)

1 December 2023

There is a reason why Benedict Sinister has been crowned “the Banksy of music.” If that celebrated street artist revels in mystique and parody, a blurring of genres, social consciousness, culture clashes, and an ability to create rather than follow zeitgeists, to be one step ahead of fad or fashion, then just one quick look through Sinister’s musical works to date proves that the title is well-deserved.

“Only Sixteen” is a reworking of an Italian trap song called “Autostima” by the underground teen Napolitan-Roman duo Psicologi, and in this rejigged form it evolves into a raw and understated trip-hop ballad delivered with a primal Waitsian growl. And just such dichotomies, the idea of cutting-edge trap songs being rendered into the sound of America’s most underground and non-conformist alt-jazz man, are littered through Sinister’s work.

The song was retitled from its Italian original just to mess with “Spotify’s and YouTube’s algorithms” and includes additional lyrics that reference Cat Stevens, (referencing other artists in his songs is a trademark move); the video features social media influencer Jude’ No Gender’ Karda and the song has just been released in a remixed, seductive, lounge form entitled You Dance in the Club (Those Giants Remix).

And if the song itself is a nostalgic, yet often brutally honest, remembrance of a teenage break-up, the video gives a more modern insight into adolescent life and features everyday images of riding public transport, depression, and dark family situations, as well as alluding to more exciting teen experiences, like cosplay, illicit sex, and roof topping.

But what I love most about Benedict Sinister is his contrary nature. In a world where everyone is chasing celebrity and public recognition, he refuses to reveal his real face. Whereas many artists are happy to merely cover existing songs, he rewrites them, retitles them, warps them almost beyond recognition, and even then still remixes them. In a world where people seem fixated on creating the future in their own image, he is just as interested in rewriting the past. At a time when everyone seems fixated on American music, he instead is focused on Italian urban music, French chanson and becoming, in his words, “a twenty-first century Laura Branigan.”

Benedict Sinister is not a traditional music maker; he is more like the sound of a sonic hand grenade being dropped into modern pop culture. How can you not love such a loose canon?