reasons to love new york

The Dare Likes To Write Songs About Sex

Every generation gets the Julian Casablancas it deserves, and he is ours.

Performing at El Cid in L.A. Photo: Wes Lachman
Performing at El Cid in L.A. Photo: Wes Lachman

It’s almost too perfect that Harrison Patrick Smith, better known by his electro-sleaze stage name, the Dare, orders his martini dirty. Very dirty. At the Swan Room, where we meet up, he also asks the bartender for “whatever’s the cheapest gin.”

The Dare has built his budding celebrity out of the cheap and dirty. His first single, “Girls,” which he tells me he wrote in 30 minutes in his East Williamsburg bedroom, has been stuck in my head since it came out in August 2022 and went as downtown viral as a case of drug-resistant clap. As the chorus goes, “I like the girls that do drugs / Girls with cigarettes in the back of the club / Girls that hate cops and buy guns.” It rambles on like that
for 1:59 minutes, about the length of the high you get from a huff of poppers. The song became a post-pandemic club-kid party anthem — it has been streamed over 4 million times on Spotify — and in the process, the Dare became my generation’s non-nepo Julian Casablancas, getting everyone’s panties in a twist. “I like music that’s about sex,” Smith says. “And I think a lot of music right now is sexless and boring.”

“I don’t think there’s a lot of guys out there talking about sex in this particular way, I guess,” he continues. “My intentions are really just to make fun and funny music.” He’s inspired by the post-9/11 electroclash scene. “The songs were simple, the songs were fun, and people were, like, going out, hanging out together. There was an urgency to it because horrible things had just happened but also an abandon that was exciting.” Never mind that, given he is 27, he was a toddler then.

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In person, Smith doesn’t quite exude the concupiscence he does onstage (more from “Girls”: “They say I’m too fuckin’ horny / Wanna put me in a cage / I’d probably fuck the hole in the wall”). Mostly, he’s polite. It tracks that until recently he worked part time as a substitute teacher and that he grew up outside Seattle in “super-suburban” and “super-boring” conditions. As a teenager, he taught himself to play guitar while obediently satisfying his parents with violin lessons (“I totally hated it”). He went to college in Portland and, in 2018, moved to New York to see what might happen.

But back to sex, as I try not to fixate on the cute little gap between his front teeth. The Sex EP, which came out in May from Republic Records, features four young people humping one another on the cover. It had four songs: “Girls,” “Good Time,” “Bloodwork,” and “Sex,” the last of which, he says, is written as “an instruction manual for aliens” curious about human coitus. This seems almost too on the nose given the reputation today’s 20-somethings have for having way less sex than previous generations. (Lyrics: “Sex … It’s what I’m thinking of / Some people call it love / I might even finish it way too quick.”) “Good Time” includes such rousing statements as “We’re all on the brink of suicide” and “I’m in the club while you’re online.” As for “Girls,” he admits that not all of the lyrics (“I like … girls with dicks … girls who got so much hair on they ass, it clogs the drain”) are representative of his personal proclivities. It’s almost cosplay. Which may be one key difference between the Dare and, say, the Strokes. As Lizzy Goodman, author of the aughts-rock history Meet Me in the Bathroom, told me, “Whatever they said they were doing, they were definitely doing.”

The Dare’s go-to costume for thrashing around is a black suit and skinny tie. His phone’s lock screen is a young Morrissey. “I think there’s something cool about dressing up to play really dirty music, you know what I mean?” Smith says. His suit used to be “cobbled together” from vintage-store finds (he also worked at Beacon’s Closet), but now he’s sweating onstage in Gucci, gifted by the brand after he DJ-ed its after-party in Milan in January. Anyway, he only has the one: “I dry-clean it often.”

Not all of the press has been great. Some critics have been dismissive, and he started receiving death threats in his DMs after that saucy EP cover got him accused of pedophilia in the Daily Mail. “I knew it was going to come because the hype of everything was so intense that somebody was gonna take a swing,” he says. “I like pissing people off, though.”

Smith is now niche iconic — drawing comparisons to LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and fostering a whole new New York music scene filled with party kids trying to nab a major-label deal like he did. (In a sign that he one day might find an audience outside downtown, Smith shares a label with Drake, Taylor Swift, and the Weeknd.) Supposedly, there is now an album coming, but Smith is, over martinis, rather cagey about it. “It’s all top secret,” he tells me. “There’s definitely going to be music next year, and I feel really good about it, and I think it’s going to paint a more complex picture than so far has been painted. People have only seen the bottom square-inch corner of the painting.” In the meantime, our hometown boy is testing his appeal outside the city and has sold out shows from Los Angeles and San Francisco to London and Hamburg.

There have to be many perks to being this droll zillennial horndog rock star. After a drink, I ask him if he’s getting laid a lot. He only blushes. “Definitely there are women coming into my DMs saying the most heinous, egregiously forward things,” he says. “If it were the other way around, it would be very bad. But I find it funny.”

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The Dare Loves to Write Songs About Sex