Sometimes you want to kick back on a fishing boat, feel the cool evening breeze come off the bay, wait for a bite that never comes and listen to pirate radio while drinking a beer. Chances are that you’ll have to imagine the boat, and an open window is as close to the breeze as you’ll get, and that bite that never comes is found in the form of retweets as you stab at your keyboard but at least you’ve got Neon Dystopia’s Cyberpunk Music Dossier to provide the tunes. Here’s to the summer that’s just around the corner. Let’s welcome it in with glitchpunk…
First, a sample menu of sonic distractions is from Chicago-based and Internet-located record label Glitch Mode Recordings. If you’re interested in fruit from the musical tree of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry then what should begin as a pick-and-mix dive into the Viva Dystopia will end with you consuming the album from start-to-finish. Nose to tail. Beginning to end. The music in this one isn’t in its original form, but derived from it, remixed to resemble the sounds of the future club where you can mingle in meatspace, just one system process sharing memory with a hundred others.
So on to a selection. Control Motion is one of the tracks that surges, loops and entertains. It’s underground cyberpunk dance music, complete with deliberate glitching in the vocals, synthetic alarms blaring, and a drumline that propels the track at a rapid pace. On a broad sense, it’s representative of the whole album in that they’re all been remixed by the same hands with the same tools but has an easier sound to acclimatise to than, say, Mainlining Tension from the same album. It’s not music to watch a Miami beachfront sunset to; not unless you’re off to a quasi-legal warehouse rave immediately afterward.
If I’m to believe the words of Henry Rollins, San Bernadino is a tough town. Erase Negate Delete’s new release, Endure The Fire, is therefore to me a reflection of that environment as all art reflects life. It’s a junction point between the favoured flavour of many Neon Dystopia readers – synths with drum machines – and a heavy dose of 80s punk and new wave sound. The album is a short one with five original tracks and a cover of Something to Believe In by the Ramones, but the songs themselves go quite some distance and not always for the better. The lead track, Embrace the Pain, is a quality sprawl but at almost seven minutes long it came across as unfocused. Awful Mistake, on the other hand, plays out like a punk band with access to synths as standard. O You Who Turn the Wheel and Look to Windward diverges from the sound of Awful Mistake and… well, you don’t want me to spoil the surprise do you?
Endure the Fire was a surprising listen. As I mentioned earlier there’s a lot of late 80s New Wave sound that apparently got trapped in San Bernadino’s event horizon, plenty of punk rock, and you’re probably going to beg for some synthwave by the time this dossier is over. Give the cover of Something to Believe In and if you find yourself tapping a foot to this then give the album 21 minutes of your time.
This month’s second album from Glitch Mode Recordings is one for fans of early Nine Inch Nails. Distant, breathy vocals submerged with electric guitar scales and solos. Drum machines programmed to macerate eardrums. Lyrical content obsessed with mortality and self-annihilation. My complaint here isn’t about the formula that much of the album follows where the final third begins with a big upsweep, but more that it follows that formula. Pulse Code Misery is a well-produced release from passionate musicians but there’s only so much of this template that I can take before enjoyment turns into endurance.
Evoke sounds like an offcut from Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails. Uncannily so. I dig the aesthetic; the album cover looks like a technoglyph from a lost future temple that a team of temporoarchaepologists could debate the meaning of until they lose their minds in an Event Horizon style murder-suicide. Pulse Code Misery isn’t likely to convert you to enjoying this style of music unless you’re already a fan, but if you are already a fan then you’ll enjoy this.
Context for this one first. The Amiga home computers were popular alternatives to the IBM-PC back in the late eighties and early nineties. The Amiga stood out for its ahead-of-the-time graphics and sound capabilities. Predictably it was a popular platform for gaming. As an anti-espionage measure, the designers referred to the three custom chips by name when discussing them over the telephone. Paula was the codename given to the sound chip. Project Paula, therefore, is a love letter to those bygone days of the demo scene and the power of the Amiga.
You can listen to the original soundtrack here if you’re curious. Dune is a reproduction of one of my seminal influences, a slightly bizarre interpretation of Frank Herbert’s novel framed as an adventure/strategy game. The Project Paula reinterpretation is the way I remember it through my rose tinted glasses. You’ll find cover versions of classic games by such artists as Volkor X, Master Boot Record, and Takahashi Jones. Perfect Sunday morning nostalgia music.
Seemingly yesterday, but in actual fact now two months ago, the Vaporwave tag on bandcamp turned from a slow drip of focused releases into a torrent of cookie-cutter lazy efforts that did little more than decrease the signal to noise ratio. With that backdrop, it’s easy to miss something like this. I’m really not sure that I’ve a handle on the motivation behind this but as per usual, I try to confront the things I don’t understand in an effort to affect some sort of personal change. Inevitably all I end up with is confusion, but occasionally I catch the gleam of something in the distance. Such is the case with most releases on Pink Box Teleport, and definitely the case with this one.
My brief for this album was “S T R A N G E” but undeniably cyberpunk. The New Idol is the only piece on Classic Vaporwave Hits that could be considered anywhere near musical. The album is definitely more on the artistic side of the dividing line between art and entertainment. Take some Salvador Dali, William S. Burroughs, and a Casio pretending to be a synth and you’re about there. Drink it in. Electronically repurposing the old and discarded for a modern audience; that’s cyberpunk, right?
I did debate including Xetrovoid’s new single, Army of Steel, on this month’s write-up. I’ve covered a lot of Xetrovoid’s releases and this is only a single. On the other hand, this is a great sounding harbinger of a new album to come and has been my unofficial soundtrack for boss battles while playing The Surge. It’s five minutes of chiptune and darksynth inspired throwback soundtrack, and it’s usually only a minute in by the time I’ve seen ‘No vital signs detected’ and cursed my controller.
Another quick one to get my mandatory quantity of synthwave promotion into this month’s dossier. Neon City Murder is an artist I’ve heard of but not necessarily heard, if you get my meaning. Super 80s inspired stuff, the Cosmic Terrors release has some fun experimental motions that, with refinement, I’d quite like to hear explored further. If I had a complaint it would be that the drums need a bit of softening or quieting because they, for me, ended up overpowering the sound. Since this album is a work-in-progress of sorts with more songs yet to be added, this may not be entirely relevant by the time the finished product is on show. Worth checking out if you’re into synthwave. You are into synthwave, aren’t you?
Full disclosure then. Revolting Puppets aren’t quite my thing which is a bit of a surprise given how much of their sound feels like it’s lifted from Danzig-era Misfits. Their schtick is punk with a heavy veneer of cyber to it. Neon all over the place. It’s actually quite visually appealing but too much of it is surface detail for me; the lyrical content, the instrument choices, the confident performance don’t put me in the mood to take on an evil corporation by defacing their web presence with a MySQL injection.
Brainwash for my Birthday is the closest that the Revolting Puppets bring their sound to the anti-authoritarian counter-culture vein the cyberpunk feeds off of. It feels a bit heavily laid on for my liking, but then I am old and no longer with it and you might just live near Bern and be able to see these guys play live. Then you can tell me just how wrong I was about this.
It’s a fair argument that synthwave and retrowave, in general, repeat the same forms and are unable to break out because that repetition is both what makes it a popular niche and inevitable musical dead end. Die With You is Trevor Something’s rebuttal. If you’re not familiar with his output it’s heavily tinged with love and regret – Your Sex Is A Dream, Fade Away, Inside You, Do It Again. His output is both of a high standard and driven to diverge from the norms of synthwave. Basically, he’s the artist you could lure someone into the sound with, or break out from it entirely.
Die With You was a pleasure for me to listen to. It’s dripping with shoegaze like a swimsuit-clad body stepping from the sea onto a Miami beach drips with seawater. Suicide, the teaser track that came out prior to the album, is the standout. It’s recognisably synthwave, unlike Buried Alive which treads the line between art and entertainment as other artists in this dossier have, landing slightly closer on the side of entertainment and setting the scene for Trevor Something’s darkest album to date.
Heartbreak was my pick of the album because for the life of me I couldn’t place where I’d heard the crash of cymbals over a distorted guitar. I know I’ve heard it somewhere else and kept going back to it certain that I’d heard this refrain somewhere else. Please, please tell me where I heard this before. Die With You doesn’t stay longer than it’s welcome, and it’s not something I’d push as representative of synthwave in general, but it’s a distortion-heavy bridge between genres of the past. Which has got to be part of why I was so keen on it. That and not being able to place where I’ve heard this before.
Why am I writing about a three-year-old synth/shoegaze record? Because Arsenal is, even with the recent release of Parapluie, still my favourite release from French electronic act Waxstar. I like the utilisation of vocal codes that sound like glitched echoes – even with two mentions earlier in this dossier you can listen to a track like Sugar and hear the familiarity of today’s releases to those from three years past. I like the remnants of chiptune present in tracks like Dynamite. I also like the ability to share the records that you might not have heard.
The production values through the album are splendid – Waxstar don’t make their point through blunt application of loudness – and while Ex Libris doesn’t have quite the range to demonstrate my point it does have a lovely heartbeat of a bassline that gets warped by the instrumentation it supports. Haunting vocals, soft chimes, it’s a charmer of a tune and a great way for this dossier to come to its conclusion.
And that’s your lot for the month! Was there an essential release that slipped our notice? Is your preferred genre cruelly underrepresented? Are you an aspiring or established cyberpunk artist slinging tunes that we need to hear? Our comments are open for your comments…