Thunderheist | 01.15 | New York

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Words & Images by : Nell Alk

Thunderheist :: 01.15.09 :: Santos Party House :: New York, NY

Isis – Thunderheist :: 01.15 :: New York
It was a cold night in New York. Let me rephrase: it was a freezing night in New York. Still, not quite right. It was a fucking freezing night in New York. That’s a bit better. Speaking of better, it was bitter. Did I mention that? But, hey, a commitment’s a commitment, right? So, there I was, bundled up from head to toe, pairing a Susana Monaco sleeveless silk dress with winter boots, scarf and gloves. And a coat, of course. A sight to be seen, I trudged along Lafayette looking for the entrance to Santos Party House. Luckily, it’s located close to the Canal Street 6 train stop.

Upon entering the venue, I was surprised to find the space essentially empty, save for a few clusters of diehards here and there. I wondered if I’d made a mistake; maybe these Canadian kids weren’t as stellar as rumor would have it. I was a new fan, what did I know? I leaned against an empty table (soon to be covered in band tees) and surveyed the space.

Still waiting for my friend to show, I was reminded that solitude in public places often drives me to talk to strangers. So, I did just that. A guy on the shorter side wearing a black zipped hoodie over a gray hat stood nearby sipping a Corona. We made small talk about the less-than-impressive turnout. Granted, it was still early, like 10 pm, but still. Weather be damned, a good act in NYC will lure some kind of crowd, so where the hell was theirs? We continued conversing and I was mildly mortified to learn the cutie with big blue eyes was none other than the production portion of the crew I was there to review. Smooth. We laughed it off. In his early 30s and, according to his manager, far from available, Grahm Zilla is responsible for dropping beats while his co-conspirator Isis Salem rocks the mic; together they are Thunderheist.

The Nigerian-born 22-year-old beauty bounced over to me, insisting I “loosen up” with a shot of whisky. I shuddered but drank from the glass she handed me. At the time, Isis didn’t know me from Adam and definitely had no notion I was covering her performance. This in itself is indicative of her demeanor – instinctively friendly as all hell, loquacious and, on this specific occasion, drunk! She flung her arms around me and complimented the vintage green leather handbag hanging by a gold chain from my arm. What can I say, this Toronto import has taste. But that was evident based on her getup alone – skinny black pants, long gray pocketed cardigan, tall, red leather flat-soled boots, a black cutoff illustrated t-shirt reading “Iggy Pop” and “Debbie Harry,” a big ring on her middle finger and a gold necklace with bracelet to match. She topped it all off, literally, with a vibrant, patterned scarf wrapped around her chic bob. She embodied hipster kid meets Parisian fashionista sensibilities and pulled it off flawlessly.

Isis – Thunderheist :: 01.15
Prior to the main event we were treated to NinjaSonik, a self-proclaimed “punk/club/crunk” trio based out of Brooklyn. The floor started to fill out a bit and my buddy finally arrived. Comprised of two emcees and a DJ, NinjaSonik was just the warm-up Thunderheist needed to raise the mood of the room. Grahm hung back while Isis grooved her rump off, encouraging everyone within listening distance to do the same. After an entertaining and energetic set by the foul-mouthed outer borough boys, Thunderheist took the stage.

Taking a cue from NinjaSonik, and certainly nothing new to her repertoire, Isis spent plenty of time singing and dancing with fans, preferring to interact with them rather than to simply peer down from the stage. Her enthusiasm filled the room from floor to ceiling, floating over us, bouncing off the white pillars and drenching the sea of devotees. Not a soul stood still. Her ability to command an audience’s attention was impressive and led to passionate dance displays. Isis didn’t skip a beat and seamlessly traveled from floor to stage and back again. At one point, she even laid down on the ground, perhaps to catch her breath, but the girl kept belting it out! Her rich, velvety voice had hands in the air, cameras flashing and many mouths singing-along, trying to keep pace with her rhymes.

Grahm manned the Mac, the “silent partner,” as he earlier coined himself. Their manager, Tash, at one point whispered to me, “He was born to make music.” She wasn’t kidding. His electro-house meets hip-hop arrangements were top-notch and single-handedly had every head in the joint nodding in agreement. On occasion he’d chime in, echoing Isis’ lines, but for the most part he fulfilled his previous proclamation, keeping quiet while concentrating on turning out danceable beats and synth textures to make you swoon, and that he did with ease and apt attention to the crowd’s desire. The showcase was a workout to say the least. If you weren’t perspiring, you were missing the point. One young man certainly made the most of it, declaring this concert an opportunity to worship our leading lady. He stood front and center, frequently reaching out to touch her and nearly fainting whenever she came close. I later learned this Hamilton College student who’d driven down for the event was “in love with Isis.” Can you blame him?

Grahm – Thunderheist :: 01.15 :: New York
The party-rap pair had us burning calories for what felt like forever. In a good way! I generally get antsy after 45 minutes of nonstop monotony, but this dance-a-thon was far from a yawn fest. They played a host of songs, including the classic, catchy “Jerk It” from the Jerk It EP (released August 12, 2008 on Nasty Mix Records), as well as numbers from their forthcoming debut full-length due out March 31 on Big Dada. One of the tracks had Isis shouting, “Where the after party at, bitch?!” That she wouldn’t already know the answer is astonishing.

They paid homage to the ’80s with “SueƱos,” a twisted take on the Eurythmics‘ “Sweet Dreams.” Common as covers of this song are, Thunderheist’s version was warmly welcomed and wildly popular. Another new song they performed had serious swagger and repetitive lyrics that in no time we all learned to lip sync, another example of the natural bandleader Isis is.

Primarily known as a live band, their following is exciting to say the least and the fact that they’ve been bouncing from place to place collecting new friends with good ears along the way without so much as an album under their belts is pretty remarkable. Nowadays, if you’re not on the Web, you’re not known, and being Web present is a step in the right direction. Thunderheist have taken this formula and run with it, winning hearts the world over. Come March 31 every Isis and Grahm Zilla enthusiast can take home a piece of the deliciousness that is Thunderheist.

This dream team can be caught making waves at this year’s South By Southwest Festival. Be sure to check it out if you’re able. Different from their recent takeover in New York, chances are these Austin slots will fill up fast, so run don’t walk to get in line.

Thunderheist tour dates available here.

Here’s the pair doing a guerilla gig on the streets of London.


The video for one of the fan faves about a gal who shakes what mama gave her.


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