Tuesday, 16 September 2014

top 10 favorite songs of 2004

  1. William Basinski “d|p 1.1”
  2. Arcade FireNeighborhood #2 (Laïka)”
  3. Morrissey “First of the Gang To Die”
  4. Arcade Fire “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
  5. The Magnetic Fields “I Don’t Believe You”
  6. Interpol “Next Exit”
  7. Rilo Kiley “Does He Love You?”
  8. Modest Mouse “Bukowski”
  9. Loretta Lynn ft. Jack White “Portland Oregon”
  10. Animal Collective “Who Could Win A Rabbit”
Monday, 15 September 2014

interview:: everything you always wanted to know about vaporwave but were too witch house to ask in talk with harley magoo aka general translator

Our portal to Harley Magoo was via his epic post on his Rate Your Music profile about Vaporwave Subgenres. He is the most knowledgeable source to anything post-internet, mallsoft, segahaze, sea/ice/slimepunk. Trust us when we say there are sub-categories in this weird exciting mall hallucinator that the composers themselves are unaware of. He also makes music under the moniker General Translator but you will know everything soon if you are patient. To quench our vaporthirst, we found no other alternative than interrogating the man. Here is what he shared with us. This time, being a potential mind reader, Harley introduces himself before we even start our questions.

HM. To most, I am Harley Magoo. If there’s anything I’m known for, it’s being a big vaporwave listener. I created the “Vaporwave Subgenre” list on Rate Your Music that has entered the dialogue on vaporwave. I dig the vibes and want to share them with others.

Others may know me for my work as General Translator, a vaporwave project I started at the end of 2012. To date, there have been four solo albums, two collaborative efforts, and inclusion on four (I think?) compilations, two of which I led (Pleasure Network Selections). There are also two cassette releases out.

I also have composed and continue to produce music under other aliases.

GFM. Shall we start with a keyword? Anti-capitalism. How are the genre and its subs and ancestors connected to this? We have a feeling there are school kids out there with a few albums on Bandcamp who have no idea what we are talking about.

HM. As much distancing as there is from “anti-capitalism” and accelerationism these days in vaporwave, it’s rather funny how anti-capitalist (or at least anti-corporatist) some vaporwave progenitors are. Even in the 80s, there was some exploitative nature with the very music vaporwave would come to sample; that’s the case with any commercialized music genre. Who knows how big of an impact Yanni and Vangelis had on creating copycat artists looking to cash in on success? So even then, there was a self-aware component, almost political incongruency one had to admit to make the type of music they were making and achieve success. Going as far as back as Lopatin, whose own parents are Soviet Union immigrants; that puts him in a unique position as far as perspective. The very context Ferraro sought to exploit with Far Side Virtual was a satire of the state of capitalism. Vektroid is quite left-leaning from what I have gathered about her personal inclinations, self-described as “very political” and is at least partly inspired by accelerationism, i.e. the destruction of capitalism by “accelerating” it to its destruction.

So is vaporwave inherently anti-capitalist? Probably not. I think what you see is a lot of politically aware/interested individuals happening to be a part of vaporwave, it comes with being an internet-based genre I think. Being anti-capitalist has given a frame of interest, but the music is just curation. In regards to the list I made, you’re probably going to see more of those artists within the “post-internet” or “muzakcore” umbrella than the “future funk” subgenre so it’s certainly not uniform throughout the genre. Connecting it to today, people still glean political undertones and I won’t deny that a few people have taken that approach when producing.

Personally, my views are…probably more pronounced than most in the anti-capitalist department so of course I take that with me in the process, consciously or not. Probably even what drew me into vaporwave in the first place. I know of one other second-wave producer who is rather “rightist” and anti-Jew. So even with the swathe of vaporwave producers that have little to no political inclinations, there are many still existing otherwise. At the end of the day though, sound comes first for vaporwave. And I don’t have a problem with the lack of political context or ideology. Sound is important, regardless of how legitimate a genre vaporwave is.

GFM. What happened on this specific January the 3rd event with the virtual Metallic Ghosts (the 17-year-old Chaz Allen)? How influential in the grand schemes do you think it was in the vaporware journey? 

HM. SPF420, at least in the beginning, had a big impact for the vaporwave community. It allowed these fans to listen to vaporwave together and not only that, but “interact” and see some of the big names that hid behind pseudo-obscuration via the Internet. On a personal level, (this) SPF420 had an impact on me in influencing me to continue to produce.

But the machinations of the vaporwave journey had already begun a new course before January 3rd. At that point, Macintosh Plus had already blown up (again, and bigger), and the first wave of vaporwave was finished. Outsiders beyond the initial circle were producing, evidenced by Metallic Ghosts and Luxury Elite assuming the momentary pantheon of vaporwave alongside Vektroid. Most importantly, a huge backlash was in place now. Not to mention, I guess January 3rd was billed as an “eulogy” for vaporwave. I think that’s rather selfish, for people to declare an end to something especially with so many artists that weren’t necessarily a part of its advent. I never viewed SPF420 as an end.

Looking back on it, SPF420 was important but as a platform for relatively popular artists to perform music, it easily derailed the vibes of vaporwave with who became the centerpieces. Subsequent performances became really dancey or beat-orientated. It was funky, hence the development of future funk. I didn’t go to many SPF420 performances as this occurred. In the discussion circles I have been a part of, this seemed to be the case for many; that transition from 2012 to 2013 was painful for the genre and some fans. SPF420 was a good context piece for that chronology.

GFM. Daniel Lopatin!

HM. You know, it’s rather funny how many people like to retroactively treat his work as vaporwave, especially Replica and more recently, R Plus Seven. Even Eccojams Vol. 1, which is often considered the pinnacle vaporwave before the genre even came to terms. I think it’s a great discredit to him as an artist. Lopatin is a great demonstration of how the aesthetics and ideas that are hallmark in vaporwave exist far beyond it. That said and having met the guy twice, he’s definitely someone that most vaporwave producers can relate to: he carries aesthetic and memory into his work which is ultimately essential to the genre.

Most people that know me will say I am a huge Daniel Lopatin fan and that would still be an understatement. I think his work is pretty grounding; he’s put vibes and aesthetics into sound that many have felt. So for vaporwave? Probably the most important figure, but he’s more of a kindred spirit than the actual soul. If Ferraro is the contextual forebearer, Lopatin is the aesthetic architect. It’s hard not to hear what would now be considered a vaguely vaporwave essence in all of his work. He’s definitely had a part in nearly every subgenre of my list, so that should stand as a testament to his influence.

GFM. It can be a hard task to separate quality vaporware from the rest. How, in your listening experience, have you been able to draw a line?

HM. I think coherence is the most important. There’s the push-pull between vaporwave that’s smooth jazzy (kinda like Macintosh Plus) and then there’s the post-internet sounds of Internet Club. Both are coherent. I can get a consistent idea, environment, or aesthetic out of either project. It comes down to production and sample-quality for both. Macintosh Plus is simply produced well, and continues to be the most evocative for me. Internet Club is a great curator.

Beyond those two, I believe artists that don’t buy into the Floral Shoppe effect are good at drawing the line. I will almost always avoid albums that invoke Roman or Greek busts or senseless seapunk aesthetics. Why? It’s decadence. I had an interesting dialogue here with another vaporwave producer about this and artists that typically buy into the memetic culture that has been cultivated in vaporwave are usually…not very good producers. Self-celebratory or ironic, it’s been nauseating to say the least. So I draw the line there as well.

Ultimately, it’s coherence, aesthetic, and atmosphere that makes for a good vaporwave album. To give an example, UNLIMITED DREAM COMPANY by Amun Dragoon (one of my favorites) is extremely coherent and I can distinctly recall the sound of it. The aesthetic is pretty apparent, old-school JRPG vibes. The atmosphere is dark, it’s unifying. It’s produced extremely well. Conversely something like GreeNPotion or Sissyjams is the opposite. There is no coherence, it’s a chore to listen to, the satirical element is too much, or the aesthetic simply is not present; it just doesn’t make for good vaporwave.

I don’t think there’s as much bad vaporwave out there as everyone says, but it suffers from it’s schlock (irony) like any other genre.

GFM. Dubstep led to Skrillex. For better or worse, do you think there will ever be a Skrillex for vaporwave as well? Are there any capacities for going mainstream?

HM. Some would argue the genre already had it’s “Skrillex” and that was Saint Pepsi. Certainly the case could be made, and I lean towards that. In a way, he has taken sampling and stripped away concept to make purely enjoyable music and has achieved a great deal of success doing that. That’s as close as we will get to a Skrillex, although Nmesh has also enjoyed success to a similar degree but in a more insular manner. The way the genre is structured and the way it’s developed, I think mainstream success is not in the cards, at least not for artists that are vaporwave in it’s strictest form. Internet-based music, circulating through web-based labels, is hard to market and move. It’s different from witch house, another “microgenre”, which had the backing of Disaro and Phantasma Disques, physical labels with clout.

I think a great deal of producers would have to go the way of Oneohtrix Point Never or Saint Pepsi if they wanted to achieve mainstream success. If they choose the former, it would involve bringing the concept to original production. Napolian did such, but his main project has always been “fringewave”. If producers choose the latter (Saint Pepsi), it would involve sacrificing concept to make accessible music. That seems to be the general trend, with Yung Bae or マクロスMacross 82-99 being popular names thrown around, on Tumblr and Bandcamp.

Everyone else in between is too scared. Vaporwave is the subject of a lot of criticism and has no shortage of band-wagon producers. I think people are too scared to break beyond the mold in either direction I outlined. They want to preserve vaporwave and honor it’s treasures and hallmark releases. I can’t blame them but the genre is stuck in a loop. The mold has to break if vaporwave is to develop, whether that’s in a popular direction or legitimizing one. Elsewise, vaporwave may as well be dead as everyone says.

GFM. What are some items in your not-to-do list when composing music yourself?

HM. I avoid memetic aesthetics. With this in mind, I set out with a distinct vision and try not to stray away when gathering and utilizing samples. This has varying success. My first release, kind of a love-hate thing for me, had some of my favorite tracks and some I loathe to even think about. I bought into the whole senseless Kanji text for each track initially; now it’s more deliberate and careful. With each release, I became more disciplined and more distinct. So that’s a big one on the list: vision.

I enjoy the Uncanny Valley and I enjoy disturbing/unsettling sounds. I always try to implace that in my work. So if there isn’t some uncomfortable dimension to samples I am curating, I know I am doing something wrong.

Never do I force myself. When that occurs, I can sense myself buying into vaporwave tropes so I will scrap the track altogether. More often than not, I need to be tremendously inspired or transfixed on something to begin any composition. Whether that’s looking back in retrospect, consistent Internet-themed nightmares, or anything in between. The Internet is terrifying.

GFM. Would you like to share your current favorite vaporwave albums?

HM. Currently, I’m rather fond of Fragmented Memories, a release I did with others including t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 and Hong Kong Express for Dream Catalogue. I suppose that’s not self-promotion since my contribution only amounts to roughly half an hour of all six hours of it! Really good release, everyone involved definitely “gets” vaporwave for all its retrofuturist, twisted soundscaping. A must-listen for 2014.

A shorter 2014 release I also liked a lot was クリスタル Crystal’s 愛RPG LOVE EROTIX愛. I think more so because it’s just bizarre, segahazey. It’s so short but I think it’s rather good.

快い亡霊 OST by Kobayashi Yamato is another 2014 release I am fond of. Strange that it is also rather uplifting. It’s supposedly a soundtrack to a defunct Sega game (so definitely segahaze) but I rather doubt that story. Still a great release.

Other artists who’s work I dig are Nyetscape, Siddiq, mediafired, and Computer Dreams. Beyond 2014, my favorites haven’t changed much. My two all-time favorites are still Floral Shoppe by Macintosh Plus and Holograms by 骨架的. Both of these evoke the most in me, in terms of my own experiences and my own perceptions of the supposed “post-internet” world. It’s sort of dystopic, you know? Culture is different now, history does not necessarily repeat itself anymore so much as it just belts out the same note. Vaporwave has come closer to giving voice to this than anything I have come across. It’s a sort of folk music, when you think about it. Really accessible to produce, repurposes old music or compositions and ideas, and transmits them to others in a continuous proccess. Folk music for the Internet age.

Friday, 12 September 2014

All those mid-90s Wednesdays at 20:00 when me and my friend Amir impatiently anticipated the next Sherlock Holmes episode so we could play detective games and switch roles between Watson and Sherlock, we were just so lucky we did not know Jeremy Brett is dying!

Jeremy Brett will always be the seemliest portrayal of Holmes to me. No other versions of the character earned the charismatic charm that he created for Arthur Conan Doyle’s astute private detective. Especially not the ridiculous desperate endeavors by Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m going through the classic adventure series once again (the 1984-1994 Granada Television). The first time I watched them was back in juvenile years as explained above: a false, densely-censored version from Iran’s national Islamic TV and you may figure the rest. But it felt so right anyway. We did not know anything else. However, if I were to select a candidate to replace Brett, it would be Jeremy Irons! The look, the prestige, the persuasive zeal and of course the voice.

The song was "221B Baker Street"
performed by Patrick Gowers
from Sherlock Holmes: Classic Themes from 221B Baker Street
Thursday, 11 September 2014

guest ghost:: the music of 9/11

On this very first edition of Guest Ghost happening on the 13th dawn of September 11 attacks, we have asked one of our favorite ghost writers (so was Mozart) and music enthusiasts, Michael Tkach, to reflect on his memories of the tragedy in music language. You can reach him via Twitter here or catch up with his mad scrobbling velocity here if you can.

Greetings from a guest ghost writer. You could even call me a ghostwriter and this would be mostly accurate, as I’m relatively unknown aside from the darkest corners of the internet, where I once set up a small shop under the moniker The Planet Pluto.

9/11 has come ‘round again but I’m not here to recount the events of this day in history or its ramifications. So much has been written; who would listen? Within the purview of those events in 2001, the entertainment industry shifted, buckled, postponed, edited content, and ultimately responded in full force. Sporting events were canceled and the World Trade Center was digitally removed from films and television; The Sopranos even altered its opening credits.

A common thread among those that have looked back (be it in anger or sadness or composed by those sitting in a calmer sea) is how surreal the day felt. Here in the states, at least, our quotidian activities were laden with guilt. Is this how I should be spending this day? Isn’t there something better I could be doing? Should I really be meeting a close friend at the site of our high school job, then driving to Best Buy? And yet, that’s precisely what we did after class let out. This was Tuesday, and new music was to be had. We were both equally thrilled to pick up Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, and my friend also scored the latest Ben Folds release, Rockin’ the Suburbs, which I wouldn’t get into for another couple years. Reportedly, Ben Folds was giving an interview on his new album which was cut short due to the plane crashes. Years later, on The Blueprint 3 (2009), Jay-Z would give a respectful nod to the WTC on the hit single “Empire State of Mind”.

Music, in particular, was greatly affected and influenced by the events of 9/11. There were minor adjustments, such as how “New York City Cops” was replaced on the US version of The Strokes’ Is This It. (Of peculiar note is how the CD I purchased a few years later has the US tracklisting on the packaging yet retains “New York City Cops”, which is preferable to “When It Started”, anyhow.) And there were also formal tributes, many even falling outside of the modern country music spectrum!

The most striking musical examples weren’t directly influenced by the attacks. Among these, the most anachronistic is Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” (1981). Originally written with the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1980 in mind, Anderson revived “O Superman” on her 2001 tour, even recording a live performance of the song in NYC less than 10 days after 9/11. In this new context, lyrics of American planes adopt an eerily-topical shape.

Not to feed any conspiracy theorists which I wish we could starve off slowly but surely, there are also minor prophetic moments on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, originally set to be released on 9/11. There’s talk of tall buildings that shake and the ashes of American flags, so it does fit nicely as an accidental soundtrack, but let’s not get carried away by coincidence.

William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops is ultimately the piece that speaks with the most resonance, and yet it wasn’t a reactionary composition either. Nothing will quite match the accidental brilliance of these tapes; the result of which is a startling work of art, an ambient classic, which you can readily read about in full many places. It’s the serpent eating its own tale, magnetic tape deteriorating and fading into nothingness. It’s apocalyptic and absolutely perfect, the weight of which has hardly been matched in all of music. It’s the sound of the ghostwriter disappearing back to obscurity, where they might not write at length for another eternity, leaving only the smoke and dust of what once was. Until, that is, we rebuild. See you in another couple years from another, altogether different transmission.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Heaven, sung in a Malkmus way, can be synonymous to a truck that got stuck on a breeze. It is surrendering to your will forever and ever and dissolving in trust in how someone like Dave Gahan sees it. It could be basing your life philosophy on “Three Little Birds” pitching by your doorstep and singing you sweet songs. But these versions of “Heaven is…” are putting heaven in a box equating it with what we selfishly define. For us, we have done our research to find there are other channels to heaven that pass through not necessarily bright substances. 

"Glass", the opening song on Total Control’s Typical System is an example of a dystopian soundscape that eventually gives birth to happiness. Even if it is performed by a band who care very little about their public presence and do not mind staying behind the curtain. Even if the frontman Daniel Stewart would somehow reject the idea of opening for a stadium-size act such as Interpol and even if he does not seem to be capable to remember how exactly they went to call their second full-length Typical System! In an interview with Noisey (in which Stewart himself has been writing columns) he sums up the conclusion on the title as:

The idea for the name Typical System really eludes me right now, and I don’t want to know the truth behind it. I don’t remember making the decision, I just remember someone said something, and someone else laughed and said that would make a great name for the record, and then it happened.

But “Glass” (and how it sounds like a perfect roommate for Cass McCombs “Lionkiller” in our opinion), together with the eclectic range of dark musicology embedded in Typical System ranging from Joy Division to Suicide to Screamers are the dark heavens we have been seeking. This has been one of our favorite records this year so far. It can get as electro as “Glass”, as hardcore as “Expensive Dog” (fierce as The Men’s Leave Home on certain moments) or as playful and ironic as “Liberal Party”. We are traveling quite a wide spectrum all under the same nihilistic signature. And that is a good thing.

The song was "Glass"
performed by Total Control
from Typical System
Tuesday, 9 September 2014

If you are a citizen of a late geological epoch, chances are you may have heard of a belief-slaughtering phenomenon called YouTube. It is a to-be-replacing word for TV in Oxford dictionary for the rightest of reasons. And while we enjoy basking in our futurist retroism of what our small screens were supposed to give us, we do not mind accusing television of content fascism and programmed oligarchy. For us, YouTube is the Galileo Galilei who spoke the truth but did not take it back. 

NewRetroWave, a favorite channel of ours and a to-be-music-label, is a carefully selected collection of everything that re-projects the beatitude years of tubular neon and Commodore 64. It just could not get any more Video Home System than that. You can stream full albums, get free 80s eye-candy and, if you stay informed with their current, get free EPs such as this second installment of theirs aka Equinox

What we consumed the most among the 8 tunes was the Brussel-based Sagittarius V's “Lucidator” that also happens to be his album opener for Renegade released yesterday. It ostensibly has a lot to do with 1986 Miami airspace and keyboard frequencies that are supposed to bring us outside our solar system but somehow do not work that way. Something is wrong! Could these confusions come from different versions of the Manneken Pis story? How many times has Sagittarius V visited Atomium? We hear a lot of it here.

The song was "Lucidator"
performed by Sagittarius V
from NewRetroWave Presents: Equinox EP