At one distant end of the Art Basel week spectrum, far away from the one with all the bald Frenchmen wearing pink pants, the visual artist and musician Narwhalz (Of Sound)—government name Brian Blomerth—performed a set of abstract Gameboy music on the stage at the North Beach Bandshell.
“Oh my god in hell, here we are at the motherfucking arts fest thing,” Blomerth said to open the show. He was standing on a stage that was bigger and more professional than the warehouses and basements where, over the past decade, he has accrued underground fame for confrontational sets that combine harsh and briskly fractured Gameboy-based music with an on-the-mic presence that borders on stand-up comedy.
In addition to music, Blomerth, who is based in Far Rockaway, Queens, makes colorful comics, often about Pomeranian dogs. He also runs a “boutique vape juice” company with his girlfriend Kate Levitt called Slippy Syrup. Some might know him from his viral appearance on an episode of Judge Judy. Whatever the case, he wasn’t the first person that came to my mind when thinking about artists that might end up performing during Basel week.
“Welcome to Miami, assholes,” Blomerth screamed to a bunch of kids decked out in contemporary street wear, a good portion of them probably there for the headliner, the cult rapper Lil Ugly Mane. Ugly Mane himself was side stage, throwing bottles at the musician. DJ Dog Dick, another musician playing that night, was documenting the whole thing. Blomerth’s thumb was already bandaged up; he cut it on a ceramic coffee cup driving from Far Rockaway to Miami.
Less than ten minutes in, Blomerth tipped over the table that all his gear rested on, jarringly cutting off all the music and ending the set. The whole performance was irreverent, abrasive, and downright insane, a necessary counterbalance to all the fancy hotels and well-lit art-fair booths I’d been spending time in.
“I think it went OK, but I forgot to mention the sign that says, ‘Push The Button, Cool Stuff Happens,’ ” Blomerth told me after the set. “I ignored a crucial piece of content in the room.” I wasn’t sure if Blomerth liked playing shows during an art-fair week—these kind of things can often be confusing and weird for a performer accustomed to a different context. “I love it, are you kidding me?” Blomerth said. “But I’m also a fucking masochist.”