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Lord Felix never appears as Lord Felix without hiding half of his face behind a mirrored visor, looking as if he’s just arrived from the future — except for right now. He’s taken it off when we meet up on the patio of a Newbury Street cafe early on a Saturday evening, but soon it becomes clear that his aura of mystery isn’t going anywhere. Five minutes into the interview, he sits there grinning while refusing to answer any of my basic background questions.
He won’t reveal his age — won’t narrow it down beyond somewhere in his 20s — or even his full name. There are clues online, including a photo in a happenstance street-style feature in New York Magazine last year where he’s listed as “Felix Van Buren,” though he swears that’s not his real name. “I like trolling a lot,” he says, laughing.
But while he keeps the finer details murky, when it comes to the music itself, he’s not messing around. Earlier this month, he dropped “Ultraviolet,” an EP that’s stacked with three back-to-back contenders for the local song of the summer, mixing slick hip-hop with everything from pop electronics to an infectious guitar groove. Back in February, he self-released his debut full-length, “In Bloom, Forever,” a mix of blast-with-the-windows-down braggadocio and post-heartbreak catharsis outlining what one song title aptly describes at “The Worst Summer Ever.” But while his music is dark at times, overall it’s not a downer: Lord Felix triumphs at channeling difficult moments into something danceable. And he’s already hinted at another release later this summer.
While music has been his main focus for the past three years, it also creates opportunities to show off his other creative interests. Before launching his project as Lord Felix, he spent several years studying graphic design in Boston (he points out a sign that he designed hanging down the block on Newbury) and developing a background in fashion; he used to work in luxury retail and designed for his own streetwear line, Amerikanah.
Though he’s since shifted his focus to music, he still works as a freelance designer, brings a professional edge to his own album art and promo materials, and keeps up with certain corners of the fashion world, which comes through in his videos and performances. He just wrapped up a music video shoot down the street and looks the part, showing up in a black denim jacket and half-unbuttoned vintage floral shirt, accented by a giant gold housefly pin. He explains that while he appreciates fashion for fashion’s sake, it also serves a bigger purpose. “I was always a quiet dude, and I kind of made shit either through my art or what I wore, so that’s how I express myself.”
A few years ago, that interest led him to find his now-signature mirrored visor at Opening Ceremony, a designer-brand hotspot. He admits that he thinks the look is “a good branding thing,” but it’s also functional.
“I’m a really private person, so I like to create that private space. I put so much into all the music, so I just wanted this [privacy], kind of like how Sia does it,” he says.
He’s never done a show without it, and doesn’t plan to. “I think it would feel completely different,” he says. “It’s like a shield. I feel almost protected, even the first time I performed. I didn’t have jitters, I just felt in my own space.”
When he does put it on to perform, his sense of secrecy turns into swagger. Introverted mannerisms disappear, replaced by a stage presence that’s all explosive energy and a blinding smile. But Lord Felix isn’t an alter ego, as he explains: “It’s me, but it’s a more extreme version of me, of all my thoughts and shit.”
That’s how the whole project started. He explains that he dug into music when he was going through a difficult summer and needed something new to focus his energy on. “I didn’t really take it serious until my uncle passed, and then right after that I had a major heartbreak, a split … I just put everything into the music.” It shows: “In Bloom, Forever” tells that story from the highs of a new relationship to the lows that followed. This month’s release, “Ultraviolet,” isn’t totally devoid of darkness, but chronicles the bounce back.
And Lord Felix is on the clear upswing right now. He’s spent the past few years developing his sound and style in Brockton’s burgeoning hip-hop scene, learning alongside accomplished Boston hip-hop artist (turned recent Brockton resident) Latrell James and finding community at the SoundLab, a local studio and creative hub. That’s where he met most of his collaborators, who have since formed a creative collective, Van Buren. The group, named after a fictional gang from the show Seinfeld, includes artists and producers from around Brockton who create music both together and independently, often featuring on each others’ tracks. Lord Felix also uses his design skills to create show posters for the group’s other members; the collective is about supporting each other both as artists and individuals.
So as he breaks out beyond Brockton, he’s bringing his collaborators with him. Part of that growth was out of necessity — while the old SoundLab location used to be their main venue for shows, the city shut it down last September due to safety violations — but he says that the push also gave them the momentum they needed.
Getting more established in Boston’s music scene isn’t easy for anyone, but with determination and enthusiastic support, Lord Felix has performed everywhere from Berklee’s underground scene to the Middle East. Still, with few clubs around Boston actively booking local hip-hop, he and the rest of Van Buren still haven’t found as many opportunities as they’re looking for.
But they won’t let that slow them down. When outside opportunities fall short, Lord Felix and his collaborators rally around each other. That’s how they wound up putting together the upcoming “Van Buren and Friends” show at the Oberon. Rather than leaving it up to other venues to book them, they decided to produce the event themselves, because as they see it, they’re ready to move on to bigger things, know the crowd they can pull, and have no reason to wait.
“We’ve got to prove something,” he says. “Even if you weren’t a fan, we’ve got to make you a believer by the end of the show. That’s pretty much our whole thing. We pretty much just go as hard as possible.”
Lord Felix performs with Van Buren & Friends on Sunday, June 30 at Oberon in Cambridge.
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