Tomas Tammemets hated growing up in Estonia. In the middle of nowhere, where nothing was happening. Being raised in a poor neighbourhood in Tallinn right after the breakdown of the USSR, he was confronted with human abysses manifested as heavy drug abuse and inferior living conditions from an early age onwards. Even though—orprecisely because—he always felt like an outsider, he learned how to channel his ambitions and found creativity in the isolation. He learned how to express himself through painting, dancing and eventually music: Tomas Tammemets became TOMM¥ €A$H.

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His life today is the polar opposite of that in Estonia: as one of the most exciting upcoming artists, he celebrates his existence with excessive carb orgies on Instagram, with explosive stage performances, and more or less tongue-in-cheek impersonations of Post-Soviet and rap stereotypes. In general, Tommy Cash is a living contradiction. He is obsessed with Rammstein and calls himself Mr Positivitydz. He hated art school but smartly references film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky in his visuals. He works out every day and raps lines like “Why have abs if you can have kebabs?”

Introduced to hip-hop, as well as the gabba and witch house scenes, his music style breaks with all convention and genre boundaries since the release of his debut album Euroz Dollaz Yeniz in 2014. It’s unpredictable. As unpredictable as his visual language which has evolved to become a ground-breaking power force which creates surreal yet humorous depictions of his askew imagination, garnering millions of views on YouTube. Today the 26-year-old works closely with avant-garde pop label PC Music and can even add a satirical line of apparel to his resumé. INDIE spoke to the self-proclaimed breakfast-lover when he brought his almost sold-out tour to Berlin.

The only person you follow on Instagram is Rick Owens—why is that?
We were in Paris and he messaged me, in all capitals, “HEY GUYS COME TO HAVE DINNER WITH US IN THE EVENING IF YOU WANT.” We went there, knocked on the door and I see Rick from the far walking towards us with a lady. And it’s his mum! We had dinner with him, his wonderful wife, his mum and two more people from his team. He seated everyone at a big table and was just talking to me for three or four hours. I was asking everything! He inspired me so much—he is just himself, very independent, not running with the trends. The funny thing: his birthday is even on the same day as mine!

How did you feel in that situation? Did you get shy?
Of course!  I’m  shy  as  fuck.  You go  to  one  of  the  world’s  best  designers’  house  to  have  dinner  with  him,  his  wife,  his  mum—that’s  fucking  weird.  I  don’t  know  how  old  he is but he  works  out  every  day.  So  from  then  on  I  started  doing  the  same  thing.  I  saw  him  as me in  some  years’  time.  We  had  many  different  things  in  common,  especially  the  way  we  think.  In my Surf Video there’s  a  woman  strapped  to  a  guy  which  was  inspired  by  him.

Another  similarity:  you  do  work  closely  with  your  partner  as  well…
It’s hard, but it’s cool. I also spoke to Rick about it and he said, No one tells me what the fuck I need to do or not. And I’m like, amazing, do you hear babe? No one tells me nothing. It can be hard, it can be easy. It’s fight, it’s love, it’s everything.

You mentioned your Surf video before—a video that is basically a three-minute-long sexual innuendo paired with suggestive lyrics. The song arose from a phase in which you tried out sexual abstinence. Do you often try out self-experiments like that?
Smaller ones, every day. I want to see how far I can take my mind and my body. I experiment with my physicality, I work out and dance every day and really push myself. I try different kinds of diets and see how they affect me. Right now, I’m really into this ketogenic shit. It’s not really rapper-ish.

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You  don’t  seem  to be  a  stereotypical  hetero-normative  rapper  guy  in  general.  Not  only  do you  break  with  genre  but  you  also  push  alleged  gender  boundaries  all  the  time.
I never  really  took  gender  as  a thing  but I was  raised  by  a Ukrainian  mum  and  she  taught  meto  respect  women, to  hold  doors  open  for  them,  to be  a gentleman.  I learned  to  respect  everyone.

Speaking  of  your  childhood:  how  did  you  find  growing  up in  Estonia,  just  after  the  collapse  of  the  Soviet  Union?
I grew  up in  a pretty  poor  neighbourhood.  The  houses  around  were  rotten  and  stank.  They  were  made  out  of  wood  and  weren’t  really  inhabitable.  We  also  had  a  lot  of  junkies—from  a  very  young  age,  maybe  by  the  age  of  seven,  I  could  already  tell  what  each  guy  was  on,  whether  it  was  heroine  or  some  other  kind  of  amphetamine.  It  was  really  good  training  to spot  those  hardcore  junkies.

And  when  you  go  back  to  Tallinn  nowadays,  have  the  surroundings  changed?  Have  you  changed?
I  still  meet  my  old  friends  who  don’t  do  shit  and  just  get  fucking  high  all  the  time.  I  know  all this  talk  about  how  you  should  just  hang  around  with  the  productive  ones  but  these  guys  were  around  me  when  I  started  out—of  course  I  still  want  to  hang  out  with  them!  I  actually  haven’t  fucking  changed.  The  funny  thing  is  the  people  around  you  will  start  to  change  the  more  successful  you  become  but  will  then  claim  that  it’s  actually  you  that’s  changed.  The  real  ones  won’t.  I  got  some  new  cool  friends  but  it’s  still  super  tight  and  the  circle  is  very  small.  I  realise  more  and  more  how  I  should  keep  it  more  isolated.

In  your  art  school  you  apparently  weren’t  the  most  ambitious  student  ever.  When  and  how  did  you  realise,  when  did  you  find  the  bravery  that  you  just  have  to  rely  on  your  own  vision  and  do  what  you  believe  in?
I  got  into  this  school  because  of my  drawing  style  but  other  than  that  I  had  awful  grades.  I  hated  school  and  was  only  a  good  learner  in  the  things  I  loved.  I  never  gave  a  fuck  what  other  people  thought.  I  still  don’t.  When  you  start  to  get  into  the  industry  many  people  try  to  fuck  with  your  vision.  Art  should  be  the  place  where  you  can  speak  freely.  If  they  fuck  up art,  if  they  blur  art,  then  we are  all  fucked.  Everything  gets  eaten  by  the  big  brands  and  corporations,  it’s  all  a  big  machine.  Especially  as an  artist,  as  a  creative  person  who  makes  a  living  out  of  the  things  they  adore,  it͛s  hard  to  draw  a  line  between  work  and  free  time.

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Do you sometimes worry you might overdo it? How do you take care of your mental and physical health?
Sometimes you need to take a break. It’s hard if your work is your passion and your passion is your work. It’s the easiest way to burn so you need to know when to say no. I want to Steve Jobs this shit, I’m literally psycho about making it. But at the same time your body sometimes tells you that you need to chill. It’s all about this zen yin-yang kind of life—to keep it all in the balance.

Is spirituality a part of your life?
Yes but in my own way. I don’t believe in God, I believe in myself. We are all gods and we should speak to our higher selves and project things into the future. My higher self tells me to not care that much and to just listen to myself.

In your videos you often create surrealist visions of the future—would you like to live in the worlds you present? Or would you even like to become something like a cyborg yourself?
Sometimes I already feel like I live in my videos. Or better: in a video I haven’t shot yet. I live in an old Russian toy factory which was built in the Soviet era but got renovated into a really beautiful apartment. It’s very futuristic and looks like in Spike Jonze’s movie Her. Very cybergoth. But in the end we all are already totally doing this cyborg shit. We are all living in the internet. Having cyborg bodies or—imagine when your body starts to die you just transfer it into a new cyborg body—that could be very possible, maybe even in our lifetime.

Are you for or against that kind of development?
I’m not afraid, in theend they should help us. I hope we all learned from these sci-fi movies. Worst case scenario: just pour some water on them. They’re fucking robots.

Another pro or con question: with the seemingly endless ͚post-Soviet trend, do you feel like the West is exploiting yet one more culture?
There was a time when everyone was using Chinese and Japanese stuff and now they’re like, ͞let’s go for Russia, that’s so exotic. On one hand, they are showing love and acknowledgement, and on theother it’s a fake crowd doing this. Demna Gvasalia is literally doing what bums have been wearing for years in the place where I grew up. You can’t tell whether it’s Balenciaga or if the person’s just poor.

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The way you stylise your artist name—TOMM¥ €A$H—might suggest that you don͛t like being poor. How much do you love money?
I don’t have to love money if money loves me.

And before money loved you, what was the weirdest job you did?
If you need money, you need it. I would never kill anyone but anything else, I would consider. I used to work as a lawn mower. You get addresses where you have to go with your team, you wear this full neon outfit. I think it was the manliest and coolest job I ever did. I totally went there just to get the experience.

Imagine you were the president of Estonia in 2040: what would be the first thing you would change?
I would make alcohol cheaper. And I would build a huge statue of myself coming out of the sea, holding a ship. I think there’s a problem with architecture—everybody’s building these pointless, boring shit glass buildings. Maybe I would build a castle. Why is no one doing that anymore? I would also rule that people have to work less and do more of their own thing and not get like €400 when you are 75 years old, like it’s the case for my grandma. I would support the people.

Production and words MARIEKE FISCHER
Hair and make-up ADIAM HABTEZION
Photography assistance FRANZ BECKER
Styling assistance LAURA CHYBIN

Taken from INDIE NO 59, THE WORK ISSUE – get your copy here.

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