Tuesday, 17 February 2015

System Focus: What Health Goth Really Means

After a brief hiatus, System Focus is back, this time a look at Health Goth, its roots, some of the music surrounding it, and how it represents a turn towards particular aesthetics rather than scenes / genres (click here to read it). Nonetheless there's a geographical convergence in Portland (the piece's working title was 'Health Goth, Portland Hi-Tech and the Age of the Aesthetic.'). Featuring Magic Fades, Club Chemtrail, Karmelloz, C Plus Plus and the return of Vektroid.

How about this: these days there are no scenes or genres, only "aesthetics." A scene implies a physical community in physical architectures, and as such is a fatal slur against the URL everspace and its viral lungs. A genre implies limits, intentions, rules, fixity, and—as every itchy-fingered Facebook commenter knows—is a hateful thing. Nothing exists anyways, not really, only names, only hyperlinks, only patterns that work up to a point and then need an upgrade. Backspace your tearful emojis, hypocrites, it's always been that way; it's just more obvious now that code flows through our arteries rather than squeezes of blood and other smells. But it's not homogenous out there and never will be, the online underground and the cultures tapping its magma are built on a vector field that ripples and clumps together, each blob too quick and continuous for your Dad's rock collection. An aesthetic is not an object, it's a way of looking, a way of finding beauty and sifting experiences, originating with process and behaviour rather than product, or, indeed, a journalist with a butterfly net...
Magic Fades: Push Thru
As the Facebook group curators put it in an interview, "Health Goth is not a lifestyle, it's an exercise in aesthetics. Any publication trying to tell you that Health Goth is about working out has simply taken the two words at face value and opted for a less challenging, and extremely boring alternative." It seems to me that saying that Health Goth is gymming for goths is like saying that cyberpunk is Johnny Rotten doing spreadsheets on a Dell. Let's make something clear: in its original context of the Facebook group and the curators behind it, Health Goth is at a significant remove from music. Health Goth shouldn't be regarded as a musical genre, even if it was given its name by people operating in the online underground music community. What it is is an aesthetic, one that primarily concerns fashion...

The roots of hi-tech, and Health Goth in particular, go way back, but gained particular momentum around 2011. As the Facebook curators recognize, Health Goth is just as reflective of aesthetic trends that preceded it as it is constitutive of new ones. Surprisingly, none of the pieces I'd read on Health Goth mentioned the GHE20G0THIK club phenomenon pioneered by Venus X in NYC, which was a major force in associating pop and hip-hop with dark underground weirdness. Organized alongside Hood By Air designer Shayne Oliver (who often performed), the parties provided an early context for Fade to Mind names like Total Freedom and Nguzunguzu, and were attended by a nascent Arca...

Karmelloz's Silicon Forest, named after the nickname for the Pacific Northwest's hi-tech industry, confirms him as one of hi-tech's best ambient artists, whose subtle work balances heavenly sweetness with the nausea of future shock, and always puts me in mind of giant vats in which amoral artificial biospheres are roused and stirred. C Plus Plus's Cearà is a rich take on a clubbier sound, catching the light of grime, vogue, house, pop and transatlantic styles as it spins eerily in a space of apparently infinite connections. Most notably perhaps, the Push Thru remix album sees the return of Vektroid, one of the key players in the development of vaporwave between 2010 and 2013 as New Dreams Ltd. and Prismcorp Virtual Enterprises. Vektroid is from Portland and the Pacific Northwest of the USA originally, and her remix of "Ecco" is palpably weighty, shifting through a range of cyborg textures in its eight minutes until it feels more like crawling through a digital wormhole or watching a short film demonstrating some horrifying artificial transformation than hearing the usual shuffling of riffs...

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