There was a lot to see at this year’s Format Festival in Bentonville, Arkansas. Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari’s Toiletpaper magazine refashioned a barn into a dance club with their signature prints. Two founders of the iconic activist group the Guerrilla Girls held court at an installation that allowed festivalgoers to lodge their general complaints about the world. Modest Mouse, LCD Soundsystem, Alanis Morissette, and Jamie XX all had slots on the lineup. Yet, on Saturday afternoon the hottest attraction was undoubtedly Sudan Archive’s set. There were lines out the door of the indoor venue, The Momentary, where she performed. (The live music and contemporary arts space functions as a satellite campus of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which hosted the fest).
The musician’s fans turned out to Format in droves—fitting, since the musician née Brittney Parks perfectly represents the art-meets-music ethos behind the multiday festival. After all, the self-taught musician blends various genres of violin (including Irish folk and classical) with experimental electronica and pan-African melodies to stunning effect. Her most recent album, Natural Brown Prom Queen, found its way onto various “Best of 2022” lists—including second place on Pitchfork’s, which cited the records “musical daredevilry and lyrical honesty.”
Although the inspiration for her music may stem from different corners of the globe, the main inspiration for the powerful image she wields on stage is mainly inspired by princess-warrior characters from Japanese anime. Here, the musician talks her fashion inspiration, collaborations with the Los Angeles label No Sesso, and her off-duty style.
I get the feeling you knew it was going to be hard for people to easily categorize the music you were making. How did you go about creating a visual identity around that?
Onstage, I just need to feel comfortable. Also, I feel like: I have on no clothes, and I’m free. I don’t like when clothes [constrict] me. I really don’t like feeling like they’re stopping me from jumping, or if I move a certain way something’s going to pop out.
Is there a persona you try to channel onstage, in addition to the fashion?
I kind of like to look like I’m ready to fight. I love Princess Leia’s looks, and outfits worn by princess-warrior anime characters.
Do you have a favorite character?
Sailor Moon, Xena—they all kind of wear the same things.
How did you come to work with No Sesso?
They’re really good friends of mine. It started off with them styling me, and then they had a lot of special pieces they would just put on me. I like their take on fashion, how they’re making something that’s super familiar to me. They’re giving ghetto-fabulous chic a platform.
Is your style offstage very different?
When I’m offstage, at the house, I would say it’s not so stylized. It’s more yoga pants and gym outfits.
What was your style like in high school?
I was very into what people were wearing on BET. I remember when “Air Force Ones” by Nelly came out, I was obsessed with shoe collecting and really into Air Force Ones. And Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons—I was really into that.