Sunday, 9 March 2014

Pattern Recognition Vol. 11: Gangnam and Beyond

The latest Pattern Recognition hopefully captures something of my recent obsession with K-pop (click here to read). Introducing you to (if you haven't already been introduced to) Big Bang, G-Dragon, T.O.P, Taeyang, Seungri, Block B, B.T.S, Teen Top, 2NE1, CL, f(x), GI. You have to check out some of these videos!

The futuristic weirdness that was 2013 had extended into an incredible year for the South Korean charts, with mad offerings from the likes of G-Dragon, CL, f(x), Taeyang, T.O.P, Block B, Exo and many others opening up to me an elaborate, almost psychedelic world of ornately intense songs and bizarre fashions...
For me the main appeal of K-pop is its overall intensity. It’s pop, only more so. It so often feels like an accelerated form of the pop most Westerners are familiar with. The West has long considered the future to lie in East Asia, either technologically or politically, and South Korea has among the most developed internet usage and infrastructure in the world. It also holds and televises tournaments of the sci-fi computer game Starcraft, and uses robots to teach kids English, guard prisons and do battle with jellyfish swarms in what they’re calling “co-operative jellyfish removal strategies.” K-pop regularly reflects this futuristic image—to many Westerners at least—by being stranger, catchier, more elaborate, more complex, more unreal and just generally going harder than Western pop. It’s like a glimpse into the future, or at least a deeper, more intense present...
G-Dragon—who has been in K-pop since the tender age of five—is known most of all for a crazy-but-cool fashion swag that has been garnering plenty of Western attention, but he also plays a larger creative role in his music and videos than many K-idols do. The guy carries on like a cross between Nicki Minaj, Agyness Deyn and Jim Carrey. The best term to describe “One of a Kind” was coined by Dusk and Blackdown: ‘ghetto ridiculous’...

Bouncing over a beat that chops up succulent slabs of thrash-wobble, it’s what hip-hop might look like minus the key element of ‘keeping it real’: crisp oversize hoodies, children, a tiger, a bear, a sequence featuring a tennis tantrum in a fashion museum, and a color-scheme that suggests a barcode angrily losing its mind... G-Dragon is keenly aware of the unrealism of swag, of swag as a dream that is performed...

With his deep voice, mature looks and gentlemanly suave, you might be forgiven for expecting T.O.P to lean over a grand piano with a whisky and pour his heart into a good old croon. Nope. Appearing as a gelato-haired Capital-of-Panem dandy general in “Fantastic Baby”, T.O.P becomes an early-twentieth-century gentleman adventurer for the existentialist fever dream that is “Doom Dada”.This one has a particularly intriguing beat, with its minimal Space Invaders synth, swooping ice-cold textures and child crying out at the bottom of a well (fortunately, the instrumental’s out there). T.O.P raps over this at an intimidating pace, dribbling wantonly surreal lyrics such as, “you with the sleeping cells, have you seen the last weapon… shower that washes the eardrums, you unstoppable hot souls...”
The idol that makes f(x) particularly special is the androgynous Amber Liu, who flouts gender norms by rapping and singing in a deeper voice, having short hair, and flaunting her straighter silhouette in more male-gendered clothing (typically, the same type of thing streetwise boy bands like BTS would be wearing), even though it means she doesn’t match the others. But watch any video and you’ll see that that’s far from a problem. The idea that someone like Amber would not just be welcome but celebrated in a girl group alongside women with a more conventional image is pretty liberating. Can you imagine such a thing in Western pop? AND Amber speaks three languages fluently and has a black belt in Taekwondo. Best idol ever...
Sound progressive? Some recent K-pop videos have been downright revolutionary. In what is probably something of a response to the Arab Spring, Occupy, austerity riots and recent Hollywood films (e.g. The Hunger Games, Elysium), there’s been a spate of them depicting violent dystopian uprisings against oppressive regimes—Big Bang’s “Fantastic Baby”, BTS’s “NO” and B.A.P’s “Badman” for example. These images, as well as K-pop fashion’s recurrent interest in military-style clothing, become particularly resonant when you remember that South Korea has an oppressive regime very close to home. Taeyang’s “Ringa Linga’” begins its otherwise merely let’s-get-this-party-started lyrics with the intriguing simile, “Put your hands up like the country’s been liberated.” The video for G-Dragon’s “Coup d’Etat” arguably sees him become a despot, but at its conclusion he destroys a giant concrete wall, donning a red balaclava and standing in front of giant red flags...

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Pattern Recognition Vol. 10: Pon! Cuter Love

v cute illustration by inka gerbert
The latest Pattern Recognition is on the spread of cuteness in the UK and US electronic music undergrounds, especially the influence of the Japanese kawaii aesthetic (click here to read). Featuring JACK댄스, Power Lunches, AG Cook, FELICITA, SOPHIE, DJ Paypal, Tielsie, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, nightcore, j-core, Kanja, ZOOM LENS, Slime Girls, Yasumiyasumi, i-fls, SPF420 & MEISHI SMILE. Includes a rare occasion on which I actually report back on an actual live music even I actually went to. Survived online cold turkey for several hours. The intense cuteness helped.

I think Power Lunches is my favorite club in London right now. The place is like a weird light blue diner and it’s always full of aliens. It’s got flamboyant artificial plants and avant-garde beer bottles and its sound system is proper good—it loves to make a parping noise that sounds like the universe ripping open. Weekend before last, I squeezed myself into its basement and had my brain scrubbed by digital damagists Brood Ma and Recsund, then soothed by the elegant dream-dance of Emotional. Last weekend I dragged some friends down there with the promise of cuteness...

Oh yeah, Sophie, who you might have heard of. Well, we all thought Sophie’s set was one of the best things we’d moved our tushies to in ages, and it was cute, too. The set sounded like it was full of new material—wiggly synth lines and pushy pop divas with their voices pitched up, like grime all painted pink. The other acts played all kinds of tunes—I think we heard Avril Lavigne and a rave remix of the Fireman Sam theme tune. So yeah, it wasn’t a dubstep night or anything...

Cuteness is coming up. Seems like a network of younger producers and DJs are not particularly inclined towards the more po-faced and straight-laced tastes and traditions, be they the screwface macho mainline of the old UK hardcore continuum or the leagues of frowning analogue avants or the Right and Proper Preservation of House. They’d rather have the even more euphoric, poppy, often faster-paced melodic hardcore with pitched-up vocals—the whole thing pitched up really, often so’s there’s no real bass to speak of—and a pinch of weirdness thrown in...
Jack댄스 flyer
While you might have feared that Kyary’s music, videos and performances are little more than a raging torrent of soft, small, pastel-colored objects and lurid affirmation, what makes her art supremely cute is not ultimately the intensity of the cute imagery, but the subtle and charismatic way she wears it. Underneath all the sets and costumes, the slightly restrained, modest, almost shy way she performs the songs and their dance routines cleverly makes her both human and even more cute, since cute things are sooooooo much cuter when they aren’t aware of their cuteness...

I think the essence of cuteness is not just in being cute, in being diminutive, young, pastel-colored, sweet-tasting per se. It’s in being made cute, in having to perform cute, and perhaps in getting it slightly wrong in the process.. I think Kyary dresses up as ‘dressing up’... When you remember that the figure at the center of all these parades is a representation of a pre-pubescent child, the videos can become remarkably poignant...

The California-based Zoom Lens label has a japanophile and cute flavor in much of its imagery and music, which blends dreamy indie with 8-bit and rave euphoria. Slime Girls’ Vacation Wasteland offers really well-composed melodic rock album rendered in 8-bit, yasumiyasumi’s Tokyo Digital Love is a more diverse, almost cinematic take on the same, while i-fls’s Residential Town Loneliness skirts vaporwave with its endearing lil instrumentals... One of the more prominent hubs of middling-to-strong cuteness has been the TinyChat (a free online chatroom service) gig platform SPF420, where gigs have an overwhelmingly warm and upbeat atmosphere and where the track selection mixes underground sounds with songs so unashamedly poppy you wonder whether you’re at a school disco...
Meishi Smile - Lust
If 2014 is going to be a year of cuteness in the online underground, it represents yet another in a series of severe challenges the area has posed to the tastes of more traditional music undergrounds. First there was seapunk, then vaporwave, and now this?! All of them are ridiculous affronts to classic cool and bearded vinylologists—it’s like they don’t yearn to be taken seriously by the establishment or something!...

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Pattern Recognition: Cold Forecast

Illustration by Inka Gerbert

The first Pattern Recognition of 2014 is an overview of futureness and coldness in recent underground music (click here to read). Featuring futurism, climate change, technology, drone strikes, queerness, EGYPTRIXX, Logos, Ynfynyt Scroll, Diamond Black Hearted Boy, DV-i, Mykki Blanco and loads more.

(One thing I forgot to elaborate on was the Mykki Blanco connection to mutants - a quote from, I think, the cartoon of X-Men appears at the beginning of Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss, plus the video for 'The Initiation' depicts an oppressed minority who have second faces they hide, and who engage in underground brawls - pretty resonant.

Also the sound of broken glass, which was common in 2012 and 2013. Not only is it a great sound for demonstrating hi-fi sound design with its detail and high-frequency components, but it represents a sensually cold and brittle sound, as well as the smashing of illusions and barriers, and social violence / rioting of both the revolutionary and Kristallnacht varieties)

When I first listened to the opening tracks of Egyptrixx’s recent album A/B til Infinity, my mind’s eye saw an attack on climate refugees by a squadron of drone aircraft. This was not an image I’d thought about before. The year was somewhere between 2020 and 2050; thousands of people, mostly people of color, shambled towards a border carrying hastily packed bags and their distraught children in rain—not intense but steady and oppressive...

2013 seemed like the year the future came back. For me, the one major theme reflected in practically every facet of underground music was the return of strange hi-tech sounds and stark, twisted rhythms that seemed to embody hopes and anxieties about the years ahead...

One thing’s increasingly clear—wealthy white men strumming wistfully on guitars or twiddling analogue gear and evoking hazy halcyon days is not just complacent, ignorant, and privileged but downright offensive in a world of financial crisis, military robots, the surge of the far right, NSA surveillance, and continual severe storm warnings. Music has needed to evolve rapidly or risk this obsolescence, and it has turned to technology and the connotations of technology to do this, creating a kind of arms race with the world around it...

Coldness is about more than just a sound and a look, and it’s more than the coldness of a technological being, too. Coldness is what we fear lies beyond human capability. Coldness is the gap between human intentions and outcomes. It’s the uncanny valley of the human reflected in the non-human...

[Diamond Black Hearted Boy's] tracks are Rorschach tests for futureness, initially coming across as haphazard collages of random sonic content but slowly they become weirdly and woefully deep impressionistic portraits of tomorrow, sucking you into a maze of wires and wormholes. Usually they incorporate violent or sultry smooth digital noises, sometimes with suggestive vocal mantras such as “I don’t want the real,” “disappear with me,” or “false god, fallen god… even though I’m a false god I’m still a god...

But not all that is future is grim, anti-human, and cold. 2013′s future music regularly mixed its coldness with dazzling glimpses of utopian pleasure—reminders of the legitimately positive and liberating possibilities of technology...

While the new digital sublime is regularly portrayed as unnatural, trivial, or fearful (and often not wrongly), it is also a lifeline for minorities of all kinds and an exponential multiplication of human expressive and representational possibilities...

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

my pieces this year

Thought I'd do a post gathering together everything relatively major I wrote in 2013. Click the links to get either the relevant piece or a fuller description I put up here on the blog where you can click through to the piece itself. Happy New Year!

End of 2013 Stuff

I loved 2013 for music - loads of huge and really fresh material. The second half of the year in particular was a constant stream of amazement, with Burial, Beyoncé and a new E+E release just missing the boat for most of the end-of-year coverage too. I did masses of lists and writings for the end of year, and here they are (in roughly chronological order). At the bottom I've jotted down another list of albums that were great but which you are less likely to have come across outside my writing and end-of-year contributions.


Wire's January 2014 issue (#359) was its annual Rewind issue. I contributed some reflections and an essay on the year in the online underground featuring vaporwave, newcomposed vaporwave (Eyeliner, PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises), hardcore pastiche (Yen Tech, Gatekeeper), post/para/quasi-vape beats (Contact Lens, Blank Banshee), weird beats (RAP/RAP/RAP, Karmelloz, Pazz Cherofoot, Suicideyear) and the new epic collagists (E+E, Diamond Black Hearted Boy, Total Freedom, TCF) with nice pics of Suicideyear, E+E and Diamond Black Hearted Boy. There's also a review of 18+'s MIXTAP3 by me, which I picked as my release of the year. And as ever, Wire's Rewind issue is worth a look, with a great list of best releases and everyone's reflections. At some point everyone's lists will be accessible online too.


Dummy did a load of stuff, much of which I got involved in voting and writing for, including best albums (click here), best tracks (click here) (ft. me on Autre Ne Veut's 'Ego Free Sex Free'), best EPs (click here), best mixtapes (click here) (ft. me on James Ferraro's Cold and 18+'s MIXTAP3) and everyone's individual lists (click here). I did one of the 'Trends of 2013' pieces too, on Neo-Eski, Alien Shapes and the New Grime (click here).

Electronic Beats

My Pattern Recognition column for Electronic Beats became a couple of best-of-2013 lists covering the online underground, one for non-vaporwave (click here) and one for vaporwave (click here). These are pretty good for releases you might have missed, and the second one is a good intro to vaporwave and its recent activities.


I did an end-of-year list for the online music shop Boomkat (click here to see it). It's probably the best list if you want to know what I liked this year, and features an almost lifesize and increasingly outdated pic of me. If you needed persuading.

No Fear of Pop

Top-notch mp3 blog No Fear of Pop came to me wanting to realise an offhand comment I once made (here, actually) that 'maybe one day the chart will rate musical objects of the year' and the result was a gorgeous page featuring lists contributed by myself and NFOP's writers (click here to read), with an introduction to musical objects written by me. The project ended up with a personal and thoughtful character, and was beautifully designed to - do check it out. I wrote about Burial, Janelle Monáe, war dubs, Laurel Halo, Autre ne Veut, Yen Tech, Metallic Ghosts, Lou Reed and Drake, the others picked a great range of specific musical tidbits and experiences.

Recommendations of Less Famous Stuff

18+: MIXTAP3
a i r s p o r t s: BE THE 1 I DREAM OF
Alak: Guardian Petted
AyGeeTee: Fools
Blank Banshee: Blank Banshee 1
Bloom: Maze Temple
Cakes Da Killa: The Eulogy
Contact Lens: Free Throw Banquet (CL keeps taking this one down from Bandcamp but it's worth seeking out. Much of it's on Youtube - e.g. here)
Cyan Kid: Free
Diamond Black Hearted Boy: Father, Protect Me
E+E: Recortes (currently down from Bandcamp)
E+E: The Light That You Gave Me To See You
Egyptrixx: A/B til Infinity
Eyeliner: LARP of Luxury
Glass Eyes: Cero
Infinity Frequencies: Computer Death (gorgeous bit of vaporwave, this)
Karmelloz: Bud Air
Luxury Elite // Saint Pepsi: Late Night Delight (gorgeous bit of vaporwave, this)
Magic Fades: Obsession
Marie Dior: Euphrates
Nima: Spirit Sign
Yearning Kru: Cracked Lacquer / Vanadium
Yen Tech: Revengeance

Longer lists of less famous stuff can be found in the Electronic Beats pieces (see above)

Liner Notes for Matthew Shlomowitz and Peter Ablinger

I wrote an essay for the liner notes of a great new CD of contemporary classical compositions by Matthew Shlomowitz and Peter Ablinger (click here for more info). The music is really worth a listen - both composers reconstruct and play with samples in absorbing and complex ways - Shlomowitz by comparing, contrasting and paralleling material between a piano and a sampler, Ablinger by replicating vocal samples on a piano in various different ways. Have a listen and read extracts from my essay below:

Matthew Shlomowitz - '1. Free Sound' from Popular Contexts

Peter Ablinger - 'Hanna Schygulla' from Voices and Piano

When first listening to the works of Matthew Shlomowitz and Peter Ablinger, it's tempting to reach for a well-worn concept and say that they take music or sound and 'deconstruct' it - but this would be a mistake. It's common to hear of how works playfully pick things apart piece by piece and layer by layer, whether found objects or objects of tradition, in gestures interpreted as knowing, self-aware, ironic. The work of Shlomowitz and Ablinger is more interesting - it reconstructs music, not merely by getting back to basics or back to where we came from, but one note at a time. The interest lies not just in what they manage to achieve, but in the nature of the task itself and the scope of its foundations.

Shlomowitz and Ablinger seem less 'knowing' than open-mindedly learning as they generate their material - composing as if beginning from an almost pre-intellectual or even pre-human starting point. They approach the world of music and sound like an intelligent but newborn child, a blank slate whose complex and confusing surroundings must be parsed and understood moment upon moment. Or like a pet starling, picking up sonic objects like household noises and human speech from its environment, perfectly replicating them, and incorporating them into its song wholly or in fragments but with little apparent understanding of their everyday meaning... Or like a complex artificial intelligence, designed in a lab, algorithmically building a knowledge base by tracking the trajectories of its stimuli, analysing spectral data, and haltingly interacting with technicians...

Emma by Chuck Close, an artist whose work was a point of comparison in the notes

Performances of the work of Matthew Shlomowitz (b. 1975) are often met with well-intentioned laughter - it's the natural reaction to suddenly hearing recognisable or banal sounds in rapid combination within a concert setting. His work is playful and flippant in this way, but sooner or later it asks to be taken more seriously. As the frisson of meaning in the sound effects dies down, as the 'jokes' outstay their welcomes, it's the processes of form and syntax that take centre stage, the purity of the latter all the more surprising given the down-to-earth nature of the former...

Each of the Voices and Piano pieces can be thought of as a photograph of somebody's face overlaid with a system of lines and shapes that is uniquely generated according to particular architectural rules, suggesting a structure in the face not obvious beforehand. Discovering this process anew in each piece is what makes hearing them so beguiling. In some, such as 'Amanaulik' and 'Alberto Giacometti', the texture is wrapped very closely and tightly around the voice, almost masking it. So scrunched and fine-grained is it in the latter that they evoke the thin but turbulent bronze sculptures of the eponymous artist. In 'Jacques Brel' and 'Carmen Baliero', Ablinger constructs a halo of pitches at some distance from the pitch of the recording. The latter features staccato pitches high above the voice, which is talking about the rain in Buenos Aires, and it's as if the raindrops were falling from the clouds in straight lines and constructing Baliero's voice where they fell...