When I meet up with musicians-cum-models Isaac Benyamin, who goes by Izzy, Jazz Ingram, Rex Ingram (there’s no relation—their shared last name is a coincidence), and Nigel Mackenzie at New York City downtown favorite Lucien, per Izzy’s suggestion, he says it’s really a recommendation from his boss, Madde Østlie. Østlie heads up Strong, the casting agency where Izzy works and which represents all of them. Strong prides itself on being a platform for city kids across the United States whose interests lie beyond modeling. All four are also musicians, and this weekend, Izzy and Nigel will perform at Afropunk under the moniker Deaddogs. “I think Madde brought me here once before,” says Izzy. “Apparently it’s a popular spot, and I’m from Atlanta, so I was like, well, I should bring them where all the cool people go.”
All four hail from Atlanta, but by the time I arrive, they’ve made themselves right at home at Lucien, where they may or may not have had several bottles of wine. Jazz and Rex are just 20—Nigel is 24, and Izzy is 26; he proclaims himself “the grandpa” of the group—and their youthful energy is outmatched only by the striking figures they each cut. Jazz is wearing a beaded necklace that looks like one you might have made at an all-girls summer camp, fashioned from little pink flowers and petite letters that spell out Cool Girl in primary colors. He’s paired it, naturally, with an oxblood Telfar bar. Rex, who is seated beside him, is wearing layers of silver chains on his neck, an America’s Most Wanted T-shirt, and a black raw denim jacket that he made from scratch. At the far end of the table, Izzy, who has the Star of David tattooed in the space between his eyebrows and the words “Don’t Cry” underneath his left eye, is seated next to Nigel, whose hair is dyed cotton-candy pink and blue. Nigel’s patchwork jeans, which he modified himself, are conspicuously missing a crotch. “I’m really into this crotch-out thing, except for when I’m walking by families, because then I feel like a walking swear word,” Nigel says.
Even before they met under Strong’s umbrella, they were connected through Atlanta’s underground music network. Aside from Rex, who is still in college at Georgia State (where he originally met Jazz, who also studied there), they each split their time between New York and Atlanta. Rex and Jazz came up together in Atlanta’s rap scene despite their distinct sounds. Rex’s music is a bit more aggressive, which led him to play shows with the likes of Ski Mask the Slump God, whereas Jazz’s vibier music lent itself more naturally to Atlanta’s indie DIY scene.
Nigel and Izzy, on the other hand, make punk music as Deaddogs (they officially released their very first song today). They met as most modern couples do: through Instagram DMs. “I was on Instagram looking for weed while on a road trip going down to Florida,” Nigel says. Izzy responded, and the two arranged to meet in person. “We did acid that day, and [Nigel] never left. His friends were still on that road trip, and he stayed with me in Atlanta,” Izzy says. “I had been doing music for a long time, but I had given up on it because I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place, but meeting [Nigel], I just got introduced to so many different ideas and perspectives.”
Izzy and Nigel are such a conspicuously cool duo that right when they started dating four years ago, people expected them to make art in some way, and now that they’ve started making music, it’s quickly paid off. They’re opening for their friend’s band Upchuck on tour this coming week, culminating in a performance at the upcoming Afropunk festival in Brooklyn (they’re playing at the Atlanta iteration too in October). Raucous mosh pits start up at their shows, and they’ve begun to get recognized by fans. “I was walking on the street the other day, and someone rode by on a bike and was like, ‘Deaddogs! I follow you guys on Instagram!’ I was like, whoa,” Izzy says.
Deaddogs wills into existence the cacophonous music that Nigel has always wanted to hear, but could never find. “When I want to listen to music, I have to keep four different tabs open on YouTube at once. I slow one down with the volume off, have on another music video with the audio on, and then a scene from a horror movie playing in the background,” Nigel says, describing their process. “You know how sometimes you’re like, I want to hear ‘Wild Thots’ by Rihanna, but then you’re like, I want to hear ‘Wild Thots’ by Rihanna with glass smashing, and I want to smell a really nice almond scent at the same time?” That sums up the spirit of Deaddogs.
This same patchwork sensibility extends to their performance looks as well. Nigel makes all of the clothes that they wear onstage, and he sells some of his designs on Depop as well under the name Natural Born Fillers. He tends toward upcycling and reworking existing garments—he’ll take a pair of oxblood leather faux snakeskin pants and paint the word “parasite” onto them, for example—and he opts for a handmade touch. “I know that if I got a sewing machine, I’d be hugging that machine day in, day out, and I’d just lose the rest of my life. I’m too much of a perfectionist,” he says. Instead, he hand sews all of the garments that he modifies, giving them an appropriately crude finish (he did, after all, once make a T-shirt that had the Virgin Mary in the middle, accentuated by Cocoa Pebbles–colored crystals, a splatter of fake blood, and the words “Fuck God” on it).
Rex, on the other hand, started dabbling in designing his own clothes after learning about Rick Owens’s deconstructionist approach. “I’ll get secondhand fabric from jeans or a T-shirt, and then I’ll rip them apart and stitch them back together to create one large piece of fabric and work from there,” he explains of his process. The last pair of pants he made was a bit more of an experiment. “I did this stitching pattern called darning on the front of these leather polyester blend pants, and then I dipped them in black dye. The pants were brown, but after I washed them, it turned into some ashy gray color, and it looked so crazy,” Rex says. “After, I was like, yeah, these pants are going for $5,000.”
Rex says that Jazz’s penchant for crop tops has made him modify some of his own clothes to similar effect, though on the whole, Jazz’s style is a bit more reactionary than Rex’s. “In high school, I started wearing short shorts and Hawaiian shirts, these really big T-shirts with Vans, and I guess my style has just progressed over time,” says Jazz.
Recently Jazz has begun wearing women’s clothes, encouraged by the example of Nigel and Izzy to push his own limits. “I have this pink spaghetti strap top, and I have some low-rise jeans,” he says. “I’m trying to get a thong but I’m not there yet. I really want somebody to look at me and be like, ‘who the fuck raised you?’ That’s the reaction that I want from people.”
One of the first times Jazz wore women’s clothes, though, it took him 45 minutes of sitting in his car at an Atlanta gas station before he mustered the confidence to get out. Now he’s gone full throttle, even walking around with unusual accessories, like a giant yellow crayon or a teddy bear that he’s named Theophilius. “When I see people be unapologetically themselves, that’s the energy that I try to evoke,” he continues. “When I see people do it to a greater extent, it just makes me want to dive deeper into myself and bring out more to show people. I try to surround myself with people who I feel are trying to be exactly themselves—not anything more, not anything less. I get inspired by that.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue