Interface Dynamics #2: Mind Dynamics, IVVVO, Yen Tech
Every month Tim from Rose Quartz examines three overlooked releases from the digital ether and their place in our networked culture.
A certain dystopian current is running strong through underground electronic music right now. While Mind Dynamics — the Brooklyn duo of Brian Whateverer and Daniel Freshwater — don’t exactly break the mold, their approach has a unique sense of poise, falling somewhere between the hyper-capitalist paeans of vaporwave, the slick, technology obsessed luster of the Night Slugs crew, and Actress-indebted messy techno.
Their debut release, the After-Sport EP, came out at the end of last month on cassette and digitally, and across its seven tracks it sketches some decidedly murky tributes to self-actualization. The duo have a carefully honed aspirational aesthetic, riffing off of haute couture and the currencies of the regulatory bio-politics that now define our subjectivity — be liquid, heal, be the best that you can be, unlock your potential.
Opening track “MaxiBoy” is maybe the strongest of the bunch, trading off muddy, Oneohtrix-esque drones that slowly reveal a beat, the track is just on the right side of Café del Mar listenability, complete with soft-focus, leisurely breakbeats. “Jade Garden,” is longer-form, and adopts a somewhat typical drone-rock palette, with robust, clattering percussion and assorted electronic fuckery that gets increasingly tense and high-pitched as the track goes on.
The EP seems to be concerned with ideas of sensory stimulation, a theme that is alluded too with track titles like “Direct Message Manicure.” The track is built around scattered waves of noise, that with all the low-end cut from them are rendered with a certain slickness. This tension between the formless and studied defines the record in a sense—this is lo-fi that almost conveys the illusion of high production values, at the point where tape hiss blurs into digital scree.
The last track on the EP, an older one that is (sort of) appropriately called “Hi-NRG;” a mutant club number, obscured by washes of reverb and with a messy kind of thinness to the production. The effect is profoundly unsettling and conveys a distinct sense of technologic dread, as if I we’re witnessing the fracturing of late capitalism through a militaristically reimagined club-space. A video that was made for the track serves to drive this point home, with the utopianism of the title simultaneously undermined by its degraded, techno-accelerationist clips of war and video games, which collapse into an amorphous mulch of negative energy.
The record is in many ways caught in the current interplay between underground culture and its ‘others,’ as the DIY/noise world increasingly bumps up against and actively seeks out new horizons of subjectivity through many of the most extreme manifestations of contemporary society eating itself. Fashion and lifestyle concerns, as well as their corollaries, hyper-sexuality and militaristic violence, have here become aesthetic touchstones for music that has very little to do with these worlds. After-Sport feels particularly refreshing because it pokes holes in some of the binaries that have come to define certain corners of the underground over the last couple of years — the seeming exhaustion of lo-fi and improvisation as conceptual tools in favor of an overriding attention to very specific sonic and conceptual architectures, largely under the influence of dance music, is here taken apart, allowing for glimpses of the future in the degraded, very recent past.
Another recent record concerned with repurposing past elements as a way of reimagining what lies ahead comes from Portuguese producer IVVVO. I was first clued into IVVVO by last year’s excellent cassette of crackling, minor-keyed techno, All Shades of White, which came out via Opal Tapes. The producer’s new EP-length release, out now on Public Information, is sort of confusingly titled Future — confusing because, with its elegiac titles (e.g. “Before The Death of Rave”) and its grey-scale techno palette, it would be easy to dismiss this as another melancholic excavation of the rave era, à la Lee Gamble’s Diversions 1994-1996, à la Burial, à la Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore. In many ways, of course, this is exactly what it is, but the record generates enough semantic confusion to obscure what we’re actually meant to be feeling nostalgic about.
For starters, Future references almost none of sonic elements that would place in the context of halcyon-era UK rave — there are no breakbeats or house piano to speak of, nor are there the stuttering rhythms and pitched-up vocals of 2-step. Opening track “Darkness In My Soul” is atmospheric, bleep-heavy techno with a decidedly ominous bent, buttressed throughout its runtime by ominous, guttural factory noise. The titular “Future” overlays a sluggish, gear-grinding beat with the kind of memory-laced poignancy Forest Swords and Sun Araw excel at. Most of the tracks are cold, mechanistic, but with a world-weary granularity that sets them apart from the more functional strands of both British and German techno. There is also an inherent sadness to the EP, as if it can’t quite decide where it fits within the continual push and pull of stylistic evolution, and instead opts to distance itself from the medium it’s paying tribute to.
Perhaps this makes the aforementioned Lee Gamble record quite a good comparison. Even though Future lacks the conceptual baggage of Diversions 1994-1996 — a record stitched together from the in-between parts of old jungle mixes, the comedowns, the ambient interludes — it nonetheless speaks to dance music from a distance. It imagines an emptiness at the heart of rave — not only was rave always already dead, it has also always required its own lamentation. Future highlights the temporal gaps of a sonic history that has gone diasporic, where the present is always absent, replaced by memory and nostalgia.
Yen Tech is the hyped, adrenalin-filled club pop project of Chicago’s Nick Newlin, which draws equally from happy hardcore, K-pop, love-lorn R&B, and the macho, Guetta-esque sounds of contemporary club music. The Revengeance mixtape is his first full-length release, after an EP last year and an HD, smoke-and-mirrors video for mixtape track “Forever Ballin’.” Newlin’s Yen Tech persona plays on the tropes of manufactured pop, presenting the producer as an archetypal Korean badboy for the post-Matrix era. Just as likely to be lifting weights in the club and taking performance enhancing drugs as he is to sing sappy ballads about girls, Yen Tech is a post-human amalgam of the super-producer, boy band member and martial arts film star.
The sound of Revengeance is mostly an overblown blend of top 40 trance and R&B, with Newlin’s autotuned vocals and bracingly caffeine-addled EDM synths providing the stylistic bedrock of its sound. What’s surprising is how well the mixtape avoids falling into pastiche. There are points where it veers away from its high concept, bigger-is-better adrenalin rush, and instead heads into weirder, genuinely futuristic territory, as on the Kingdom reminiscent “Rub Ya.” Another clue there’s more going on here is that two of the tracks are collaborations with Aaron David Ross, and like ADR’s work both solo and as one half of Gatekeeper, they offer a sideways-slanted, realer than real take on the otherwise maligned.
My favorite track on Revengeance though has to be the new “YT RE-UP” of last year’s “Mobile Suit Chrome” track, which succeeds mostly through its obviousness. Repeated refrains of, “This is just another street banger” and “girl get that body on the floor,” jar with the mecha-inspired line, “Mobile suit chrome in the hanger,” laying bare the militaristic, sci-fi futurism at the heart of mainstream club culture. Revengeance offers a tantalizing glimpse into our ultra-polished future-present, where we’re all jacked up on research chemicals and working on being more than human.