Thursday, 8 May 2014

System Focus: The Divine Surrealism of Epic Collage

 'False God Fallen God False God Fallen God. Even Though I'm a False God I'm Still a God' - Diamond Black Hearted Boy
... and we're back. With a new monthly column for The FADER concerning emerging directions in underground music, going by the handsome title SYSTEM FOCUS. And this SYSTEM's first FOCUS is a network of artists I've been finding remarkable and profound for nearly two years of watching them carve runes into SoundCloud: Diamond Black Hearted Boy, E+E, Felix Lee, Total Freedom, TCF, Why Be and more. Click here to read 'The Divine Surrealism of Epic Collage.'

Cover of the Blasting Voice compilation
Grand piano keys creep out of an abyssal mist that curls from the open mouths of ghosts. A brand-new car gives chase across the dirt plain, a foreboding echoed in an Olympian crackle through a sky heavy with clouds. Towers of Babel glint sinister on the horizon, dark mills whipping up this slow storm. Then, a voice of immaculate R&B: I know you’ve been hurt by someone else. She reverberates at the edge of infinity, lifting the piano up into a mile-long shaft of light. Cause if you let me, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll take care of you...

Elijah Paul Crampton (E+E)
The album on which it appears, December’s THE LIGHT THAT YOU GAVE ME TO SEE YOU is full of visions in which R&B romance becomes epic spiritual epiphany, and where Judgement Day pandemonium becomes the trials of personal love and innermost courage... E+E is at the center of a remarkable network of underground musicians—also including Total Freedom, Diamond Black Hearted Boy, TCF and several other artists—who have been combining fragments of pop with epic textures and violent sound effects. The framework is avant-garde sample collage, but their work tells stories about 21st-century experience that emanate surreally from cinematic sound-palettes, transcendental theology and stark, pure emotion. It lives on an unexpected spectrum between avant-queer club and that hi-tech no-space in which radio idents and the logos of games consoles and film companies appear as gigantic monuments, incandescent with divine light...

Felix Lee (lexxi_)
At first, much of this music might simply sound like a gratuitous hodgepodge of extreme sounds with little logic to connect them. But slowly, each juxtaposition of sound-objects becomes a surrealist image framed by its own curious insistence, and each sample becomes an element in a dreamlike cipher. In the same way that 16th century Dutch artists Bosch and Brueghel‘s paintings combined everyday life with esoteric religious imagery, and in the same way that the twentieth-century surrealists parodied bourgeois culture and plumbed newfangled psychiatric theories, the epic collagists reflect contemporary life, but in ways that don’t yet seem fully comprehensible... Their tracks seem to echo the intense experiences and high stimulation of our technologically mediated environment, and the panic attacks and bottomless terror that follows overstimulation. But they also gaze into the ornate decoration in our God-like multimedia lives, revealing its bliss and mystery. They’re science fiction, too, showing the organic sliced and spliced into the machine, voicing itself somewhere between Utopia and Dystopia. And they emphasize the religious ritual and spiritual intensity in such modern youth commonplaces as playing a first-person shooter or listening to pop with a heart unclouded by indie-boy cynicism...

Lars Holdus (TCF)
It’s the birdsong added to “Smile” that suggests the Garden of Eden, or, at least, a spring morning. But there are religious overtones throughout Crampton’s work... He describes his process as the assemblage of trash, corpses, and shit (one of his most common sound-tags is a toilet flushing) into a new beast, an analogue for the creation of humans by the Lord, and thus hopefully something that can live transcendent and ever closer to God. For this, Crampton seems to have developed his own symbolic system, reminiscent of expressionist and neo-expressionist artists like James Ensor or Philip Guston respectively, that represents the holy struggles of biblical scenes and those who seek to emulate and draw inspiration from them. As well as pop and contemporary classical musics, the elements of this system include Latin-American dance styles and radio idents, vehicle engines, twinkling bell-tones and violent sounds like weapons being swung.
Ashland Mines (Total Freedom)
Yet although Total Freedom has a slightly more dance-ready sound, his aesthetic has lots in common with the other collagists, and his sonic tag is a blood-curdling scream. Much of his original material comes from an intense noise background, yet his remixes of Nguzunguzu (on their Timesup EP) and Dat Oven’s “Icy Lake” (on the recent Fade to Mind / Night Slugs reissue) derive a minimalist perfection from bare sequences of sound effects. Mines’s Soundcloud is full of strong Frankenstein creations, typically combining pop vocals with minimal, intense, or just plain weird backing. His recent combination of Ciara and Vissacoor (the joint project of L-Vis 1990 and Massacooramaan) goes particularly hard.
Olin Caprison (Palmtrees Caprisun (VIOLENCE))
With a name that sounds like that of a magical anime hero, Diamond Black Hearted Boy’s voice and presence are much more evident in his work than in that of the others, where he presents himself in the persona of a ‘fallen god,’ and a ‘fake boy.’ As such, he comes across as a sort of Lucifer—the tape opens with a text on the inter-relationship of humans, God’s grace, sinners and the law—but also a prophet or, in that Renaissance garb on the tape’s cover below, a kind of allegorical morality figure guiding us through the dark, disorienting, and sometimes heavenly places in which he lurks. Yet on a simpler level, DBHB’s is a voice on the outer reaches of hip hop culture and its means of self-expression. If Kanye is a ‘God,’ DBHB is a fallen god languishing in some weird purgatory, and his collected work is a Yeezus for even greater degrees of alienation...

His economically titled album e, from August 2011, is more ruthlessly cybernetic, like a stressful trek through a sci-fi-action shooter. zᵉʳº, on the other hand, is one of the most punishingly cold and minimal releases you’ll come across, a meditation on almost total nothingness with a sound palette that could’ve come from a Hollywood space blockbuster. DBHB’s latest release How The West Was Won, Wanted: Dead or Alive flicks through the wreckage of the twentieth-century Americana like it was TV channels on a concave wood-paneled screen, jerry-building a mock-epic (anti-)hero’s tale along the way...

Norwegian producer Lars Holdus, known as TCF, has been exploring epic soundscapes of a more abstract electronic nature in Oslo and Berlin. Like a painting by French artist Yves Tanguy, the assemblage of TCF’s music and its space are surreal, but the objects are not as often recognizable like they are with the other collagists. Nevertheless, on his tape for Berlin cassette label YYAA and upcoming EP for Mute offshoot Liberation Technologies, TCF creates a similar thrill of hurtling through sublime hi-tech holiness almost free of rhythm, with great chunks of machine flying past. His music’s sense of a technological territory is enhanced by the names of his tracks: large strings of numbers and letters, as if each recording was churned out by a computer capable of producing trillions more, and allotted a code whose meaning only its systems can grasp.

 SENTINL’s avatar
For me, these collagists represent one of the earliest and most imaginative subsections of the recent turn to hi-tech sounds that has cut across underground music lately. With the spread of this aesthetic, maybe more listeners can pick up their unique material, find a way into it, and expand their following beyond the cult. Either way, it’ll remain some of the most mystifying and moving work in the field...

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