Well, okay; not here-here. But “here:” the second-ever San Francisco edition of the steadily expanding MUTEK festival is going down soon: May 2-5, to be exact. Now, the first wave of the electronic music celebration’s artists has been announced, and oh my, you’re gonna like some of these names.
Uniquely focused on American acts among its various local iterations, MUTEK San Francisco will host some of TMT’s estadounidense favorites: Kelly Moran, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Steve Hauschildt & Tzonev, and Lara Sarkissian (of Club Chai).
The supporting international line-up looks equally thrilling, with Amnesia Scanner leading a pack that counts GAIKA, Smerz, Kode 9 (performing with Koji Morimoto), and N.A.A.F.I.’s Tayhana in its roster, among many others. Seriously, there’s a LOT of others, so be sure to check out the full line-up at the bottom of this post.
Tickets for the festival, including 4-day “passports,” can now be purchased through Eventbrite; they range from $150 to $450. Watch a brief recap from last year’s inaugural edition below, and then listen to a track from a lesser known of the just-announced performers, Edna King, ‘cause we know you’ve already listened to Amnesia Scanner like five times today.
MUTEK SF 2019 full first-wave line-up:
Abandoned Footwear & arc (US)
Amnesia Scanner (FI/DE)
BLEIE & Chelley Sherman (US)
Cool Maritime & Emily Sprague (US)
Cruel Diagonals (US)
Edna King (CA)
Freeka Tet (FR)
The Hacker presents Amato Live (FR)
Halal & Relaxer (US)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (US)
Kelly Moran (US)
Kode9 & Koji
Kyle Evans (US)
Lara Sarkissian (US)
Lawrence English (AU)
Michael Claus (US)
Mozhgan & Josh Cheon (US)
Nihar & Subset (US)
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement (US+FR)
Robot Koch & Mikael Le Goff (DE)
Steve Hauschildt + Martin Tzonev (US)
Veronica Vasicka (US)
Over the summer, I found myself at Hammerstein Ballroom surrounded by more than 2,000 ecstatic Vocaloid fans, each equipped with a color-changing wand (something between a lightsaber and those conical lights that ground control uses to direct runway traffic at airports). Without much warning, the crowd would sync up their movements in spontaneous choreography along … More »
THE ONLY POSSIBLE RELATIONSHIP TO AESTHETICS TODAY IS A CRIMINAL ONE — a bad reproduction, a sniveling simulacrum, an amnesia scan of Moten & Harney
AS as simile,
as device of commensuration and comparison,
as simulation and symmetriba
as appropriation and extraction,
as the imprimatur of reproducibility and the material amnesia it extorts,
as another life inscribed as palimpsest onto a referent — a referent gone A.W.O.L.,
as the representational forfeiture of facelessness,
as the daemonic choreography of embodied discipline,
as the chain harnessing facticity to the world as picture and its schematic stigmata,
as the securitazation of the unrecuperable and unlicensed,
as the carcerality of the unilinear,
as that which — militarized and lumbering — 0domesticates the chaos,
as the foreclosure and criminalization of the vestibular (the outdoors and the rewild),
as the rerouting of the submerged into the spectacult,
as the conquest circle of sticky grammars,
as speech gone too wrong.
Another Life sounds like (or as) a lot of things: festival EDM, warehouse raves, Garden of Delete, Chino Amobi’s more abrasive work, happy hardcore. And that’s the point, at least I think. Matching Amnesia Scanner’s own maddening methodology, I will proceed with an extended simile of my own.
Like (or as) the bad faith bad politics bad joke matrix that is Wolf Eyes’s John Olson’s Instagram account @inzane_johnny, Amnesia Scanner unapologetically crib, jockey, falsify: to aesthetics they steal, and there they steal and steal. Siphoning the affective resonances and cultural capital invested in the cachet consolidated and brandished by dressing like you make records for Posh Isolation or posting about dumping Trumpf or hating the Grateful Dead and compressing a freighted web of attachments and intensities into a fixed set of fungible formats of enunciation and reference, inzane_johnny has managed to sear an overexposed and deadening blue filter into a certain optical unconscious.
At stake in inzane_johnny’s popularity and relatability is not just representation or tastemaking or anti-virtue-signaling virtue signaling, but a way of seeing whose blue grain and resolution obliteration make sound, speech, and conduct into a deviant art of exchange value circulating along the perverse circuits of digital labor as a technology of the self (the self to whom I cling when minimum wage is intolerable and I cannot see my coworkers as anything but normies and my dissatisfaction congeals around a sardonic syntax of disidentification and disavowal). But if a hermeneutic of generosity go under erasure in inzane_johnny’s flattening and flagellating similes, what emerges out of the margins is a possibility of identification and interaction developing into a wry consensus, a sniggering assembly of sympathies: another life irreducible to the vice of the scroll or the fungibility of the aestheticizable.
Emerging out of the rote grammars of disavowal and exchange in inzane_johnny’s visual output is a proprioceptive poetics of use value, of utility and phenomenon, of the haptic and the intramural that scribble off the platform and into hands, mouths, arms, chests, esophagi. The radical underbelly of the disaffected antipathy of inzane_johnny’s plunderoptic blue materializes in the belly laugh shared among friends, conspirators, relations. To cling to this anatomical metaphor, the butt of the jokes become the atomized and aggrieved ego whose extractive gaze authorizes and conducts the bitter ironization of everything. So glad I grew up doing this, not this; displeased Drake, approving Drake; chain punk, egg punk; the Venn diagram: the very mechanisms of commensuration and evaluation, in their insufferable pretension and presumption, their mythos of masculine ratiocination and equanimity, their violent regime of why can’t you take a joke?, their panoptic distancing, default when incessant repetition and reproducibility reveal the absolute unoriginality and imagined persecution motivating their invocations. The rapacity of their primitive accumulation, plundering affect and community into the exchangeability of aesthetics, flickers through the cool Clarendon rendering unattributed to whoever submitted the image in the first place.
What is subversive about inzane_johnny is not the account’s penchant for satirizing extremely niche subgenres or skewering Morrissey, but the criminal orientation it asserts to be the only possible ethical relation to aesthetics. In the ludic hands of inzane_johnny, similes swivel and denature: a decomposing, overexposed photo of John Mayer is inscribed with “GERRY [sic] GARCIA” in big block letters; a photo of Brett Kavanaugh with “SWANS.” Mechanisms of equation and equivocation stutter and stumble and crumble on inzane_johnny, corrupting the very authority to make comparison, to devalue, to distance. The tenor and the vehicle of each simile split asunder, snarling, snickering, delinquent.
Like (or as) inzane_johnny, Amnesia Scanner terrorize the simile. Another Life, chameleonic as it is demonic, aggregates its influences and kaleidoscopes them into earworming shards of electronic puncta, a diabolical mimesis whose loathsome grin belies its functionality as dance music. Under the dissimulating surface of accelerationist avant-gardism — the simulation of the simile — Amnesia Scanner carefully construct a somatically accessible sonics whose basic though intricately intercalating rhythm schemes tessellate through the contrapuntal harmonies of the distorted voices squeaking and shrieking and earsplitting all over the place. Rather than articulating a disavowing disidentification with the mainstream, Amnesia Scanner telescope the ironic distance of experimental music into a functional invitation to dance, to channel the molecular movement of sound into the cellular movement of dance. “AS Chaos” is like four notes arpeggiating over each other in a giddy pirouette. In an economy of movement, it’s — quite simply — useful (credit to Jessie for suggesting this idea of use). “AS Faceless” offers one of the most straightforward proposals on the record, its tremendous tremolo churning out marching orders with a galvanizing kick. “AS Unilinear’s” four-note minor key melody, cut out or muffled for most of the song’s Transylvanian tension, likewise condenses both its instruments (each note sounds a myriad of overlapping overtones) and its rhythm into a distillation of jacked up use value. “AS Another Life” swings across the poles of the stereo, its explosive hits and breaks torching the possibility of passive listening in its incendiary unfixability, its literal bounce across its sites of enunciation.
Vituperating the pomposity of simile and its authorizations, Amnesia Scanner suture and huddle, practicing an ethics of hapticity and proximity, of embodiment and conjugality ungovernable by the logics of comparison. The amnesia scan they enact derides the unfuckability of irony and catalyzes the saturnalia — the chaos — of identification and cohabitation. Rewilding the horizon of experimental electronic music, Another Life stages a coming-together that stays unmappable, unfuckwittable, fugitive. All around you, it’s just chaos: the intimacy of criminality collapses hamstrung armcrossing into arms strung and slung and hamstrings flung. Principles of taste divided into the undefined: Another Life exhumes the remaindered intensities uncaptured by the catastrophe of aesthetics and gorges us on them.
To end where Another Life begins, “AS Symetriba” sounds almost like the pixelated sound emanating from that notorious video of cyber goths dancing under a bridge, their tassels twirling over the neon gas masks and jet-black goatees. The devious gesture Amnesia Scanner are making in this sonic contiguity here — and more generally throughout Another Life — is a wry one, at least as old as Duchamp: a mockery of authorship and a robbery of the value that it conducts between concept and object.
But this is a shitty simile — and Amnesia Scanner know it. While Duchamp’s toilet stood on a pedestal in a gallery unused and unusable, Amnesia Scanner’s toilet invites us to dance like those goths and their fingerless gloves, invites us to use it, invites us to shit in it. If the art kids with the bowl cuts and the dangly earrings don’t want to let loose when the beat explodes into clattering syncopation and flanged exuberance, then let them keep their distance, let them hold it in, let them shit their pants while the toilet bowl gleams right in front of them.
Many things in life can be informed by quotes from The Simpsons. In one of Homer’s unlikeliest of Zen proverbs, he tells Bart at an auto racetrack that “a watched car never crashes.” Of course, that’s exactly what happens the moment he takes his eyes from the track.
True to the bald patriarch, Amnesia Scanner’s latest video, the PWR Studio-directed clip for “AS Too Wrong,” takes this to the extreme. Inexplicably, a car rotates around and around, but fails to bite the dust, as if the world were placed in a perpetual anticipatory loop, expanding those few seconds before rubber twists and ultimately gnarls before connecting with grey, hard concrete. Is it trickery of motion graphics or something much more sinister? Judge for yourself above.
But first, the particulars. “AS Too Wrong” is the third single to surface ahead of Amnesia Scanner’s forthcoming album Another Life, available September 7 on Berlin label PAN.
Since 2014, we here at TMT have been patiently awaiting the first major statement from the cryptorave mediators/technological fetishists known as Amnesia Scanner. Of course, that didn’t stop us from including the Berlin-based duo’s music on a bunch of year–endlists, but now, at long last, Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala have announced their debut album.
Titled Another Life, the new album sees the duo exploring human and non-human voices within more pop-oriented structures, including a disembodied voice called Oracle that “represents the sentience that has emerged from Amnesia Scanner.” Pan Daijing, another TMT favorite, also guests on two tracks, one of which we heard earlier this year.
Another Life is due September 7 on PAN (if you might recall, label owner Bill Kouligas collaborated with AS back in 2016). Pre-order the album here, and watch the video for the album’s latest single, “AS A.W.O.L.” (dir. PWR Studio), below.
Another Life tracklist:
01. AS Symmetribal
02. AS Unlinear feat Pan Daijing
03. AS A.W.O.L.
04. AS Another Life
05. AS Daemon
06. AS Too Wrong
07. AS Spectacult feat Oracle
08. AS Faceless
09. AS Chain
10. AS Securitaz
11. AS Chaos feat Pan Daijing
12. AS Rewild
Amnesia Scanner and Pan Daijing go together like heat and gasoline. The result is an unstoppable chemical fire, destroying everything it touches, confident in its domination. It spreads at speeds faster than the predicted speed, stealing our attention for longer than we would like to admit. Speedway goes up in flames and everyone smiles internally. Where’s it going next? Go get town hall. Knock it out. A primal surge takes hold of all the witnesses, no one has felt this excited in a long time. Chaos. Maybe it’ll burn down your house. Imagine being the center of all that attention. A lifetime of memories gone instantly. Isn’t that breathtaking?
Watch “AS Chaos (feat. Pan Daijing)” above via PAN.
Fakeness is everywhere. Earlier this year, Vulture’s Adam Raymond reported on a number of stunts designed to game the Spotify system for a decent payout. Amid full-length silent albums and something he’s calling the “Happy Birthday” gimmick, Raymond discovered that the streaming giant was actively giving some of its most highly-coveted spots on playlists to allegedly “fake” artists. “The first song on Sleep, a playlist of calming, instrumental tracks with 1.5 million followers, is by Enno Aare, a band with three songs on Spotify and no footprint outside of the streaming service,” he writes. “The band Evolution of the Stars has only two songs on Spotify, but both are on the Deep Focus playlist and they have a combined 15 million streams.”
This absence of any footprint beyond its strategic existence in the Spotify ecosystem has led many to take a closer look at the politics of the platform. At Watt, Liz Pelly traced companies like Filtr (owned by Sony), Digster (owned by Warner), and Topsify (owned by Universal) to their source as firms funnelling resources normally gambled on branding and publicity into a network of playlists promising similar successes in the music industry. In the same way that major labels have spent decades developing a direct pipeline to the public via commercial radio, the barrier for entry into the streaming economy, to the surprise of very few, increasingly reflects the monied interest of the industry.
Beyond Spotify, streaming platforms like YouTube, SoundCloud, and Apple Music have each monetized their respective media through a series of gestures that prioritize their platform’s continued relevance in the pop cultural conversation, often at the direct expense of counterculture. From genres like SoundCloud rap and lo-fi house — which each largely owe their recognition as isolated genres to trends within networks — to the outgrowth of platform-based styles like “type-beat” rap productions and Billboard-charting YouTubers, it’s clear that we’re in the midst of a strange upheaval, if not in the way that music is made, at least in the conversations we’re having about its structural continuity.
In a time when American partisan politics means a decision between unchecked monopoly and outright fascism, consumers might feel like the only option is to align themselves with a vision of tech progress largely bent on the consolidation of corporate wealth. And with the FCC again calling net neutrality into question, it seems like the right to an open internet is one of few remaining links between far left and far right ideologies. But could it be that the platforms that make up most internet use today are already a lot less neutral than users seem to realize — already subjected to more invasive surveillance and data management practices than most users can even comprehend? Is the concept of “net neutrality” as it stood even 10 years ago enough to account for all the ways in which these platforms have completely changed even the most basic media and communications access across the globe? What sort of transparency do we really expect on the web in 2017, and what, if anything, has really been lost in the shift from simple sites and MP3 blogs to something overwhelmingly dominated by platforms?
The stack, the most outward unit of planetary-scale computation, becomes a useful metaphor when talking about the streaming economy. As John Herrman pointed out earlier this year in The New York Times Magazine, “For many companies, the organizing logic of the software stack becomes inseparable from the logic of the business itself. […] A healthy stack, or a clever one, is tantamount (the thinking goes) to a well-structured company.” In a clear nod to Benjamin Bratton’s The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, Herrman notes the ways in which stacks flatten the functional logic of business into the smallest unit of digital transaction in the direct service of capital. The platform, itself a matrix of intersecting stacks, operates in accordance with this logic. Elsewhere for the magazine, Herrman continues:
Platforms are, in a sense, capitalism distilled to its essence. They are proudly experimental and maximally consequential, prone to creating externalities and especially disinclined to address or even acknowledge what happens beyond their rising walls. […] Platforms provide the substructure for the “gig economy” and the “sharing economy”; they’re the economic engine of social media; they’re the architecture of the “attention economy” and the inspiration for claims about the “end of ownership.” […] Platforms seek total control even as they abdicate responsibility. In other words, they’re perfect.
As music discovery is increasingly mediated by the logic of the stack (and later platform) economy, independent musicians become precarious platform laborers, digital service employees given fractional cents per stream in a system designed for their own exploitation. Like the contract workers of Uber, Amazon, and TaskRabbit, cognitive creative labor is now mined for utility, scrubbed to its essence as data in service of the platform, only to be presented back to the public through for-profit means. As longtime Wired contributor Bruce Sterling put it in his SXSW closing lecture, “People like to say that musicians reacted badly to the digital revolution. They put a foot wrong. What really happened is that the digital revolution reduces everybody to the state of musicians. Everybody — not just us bohemian creatives, but the military, political parties, the anchor stores in retail malls, academics subjected to massive open online courses… whatever happens to musicians happens to everybody. Including you.”
More of a state of mind than any actual stylistic genre, Stack Music embodies the contradictions of the current moment in capitalism, where working harder doesn’t mean breaking even, even as Silicon Valley continues to profit like never before.
Of course, digital labor is really nothing new. In an industry in which advances in recording and distribution tools have routinely signaled new possibilities for progressive creative models, innovations from Napster to LimeWire to The Pirate Bay and beyond have left many struggling to determine the value of their labor in the creative workforce. Where physical media came with clearer (if, at times, certainly exploitative) lines between artist and industry, cognitive digital labor is endlessly reproducible in one-to-one copies and impossible to monetize directly. As French economist Yann Moulier-Boutang writes in his book Cognitive Capitalism, “We are leaving an old world where the production of material goods took up the bulk of investment (a lot of capital for machinery, and a lot of low-skilled labour) and was the basis for the accumulation of profit. And we have very much entered a world in which the reproduction of complex goods (biosphere, noosphere or cultural diversity, the economy of the mind) and the production of new knowledge and innovations […] require a shift of investment towards intellectual capital (education, training) and a large quantity of skilled labour, set to work collectively, through the new information and telecommunications technologies.”
As previous barriers to entry have given way to new production and distribution models, more and more amateur musicians have entered this creative workforce, continuing to oversaturate (and perhaps deflate) the artificial valuation present in past models. With no limit to how little they expect in return, independent musicians now have more in common with the cognitive workforce behind Amazon’s Mechanical Turks than most indie artistry of the past, now as precarious wage laborers — cognitariats, to borrow Moulier-Boutang’s word. Thanks to advances in algorithmic listening patterns and natural language processing, music is treated as a neutral commodity to be mined as data, which platforms use to ascribe utility to the products within their system. In the same way that YouTube videos (of course also a space for music) are scoured for details about content and category to generate thumbnails and subtitles, data mining prioritizes the utility of this content at the smallest level of the bit to generate useful observations about its potential value. As Kaitlyn Tiffany recently wrote of Spotify’s “more adventurous” Fresh Finds playlist for The Verge:
Fresh Finds is one of Spotify’s prized products, a weekly playlist crafted from a combination of two different data inputs: it identifies new, possibly interesting music with natural language processing algorithms that crawl hundreds of music blogs, then puts those songs up against the listening patterns of users their data designates “trendsetters.”
As more and more content is uploaded every second, the biggest challenge facing platforms in 2017 is how best to reduce each piece of content to the level of the “thinkable” to help listeners draw connections between related artists. Where once blogs and zines helped contextualize scenes and communities through interviews, reviews, and other cultural criticism, the move to algorithmic processing and NLP sentiment analysis allows data to be monitored on a scale much larger than even the biggest team of writers can account for. Scenes and communities already look very different through a macro computational lens; though, beneath the surface, there’s also undoubtedly some degree of human agency involved throughout this whole process.
As the emergence of these “fake” artists clearly distinguishes, platforms aren’t treating all music as neutral; the existence of sponsored playlists and “fake” artists affirms the ways in which a carefully-constructed hierarchy has already emerged in the shadowy relationships between platform and music industry. And with new advances in artificial intelligence increasingly seeping into music production, it isn’t hard to imagine a future with these “fake” artists replaced by new bots and algorithms, where platforms wouldn’t have to pay out to anyone.
As much as the industry changes, there will hopefully always be an interest in fringe music, and for a new subset of artists, this future has become a source of fascination, not fear. This year, Konrad Springer turned Euclidean algorithms into kaleidoscopic loops of computer-controlled electronics. David Kanaga built an entire world around the “cognitariats” of video game design. And an increasingnumber of musicians found new worlds in the emergent aesthetics of YouTube.
While digital labor in one way or another surely went into everything covered on this site and others, the politics of the internet — especially the exchange between the open net and something mediated by the monied interest of platforms — became a bigger issue than ever before for independent artistry. Despite the Invisible Hand of the Algorithm at play beneath the surface, lo-fi house proved that there are still heaps of incredible dance music just waiting to be uncovered, as YouTube channels like Slav and Hurfyd are still excited to prove near daily. SoundCloud may have laid off 40% of its staff as it approached bankruptcy and changed CEOs, but it still found a way to help a new generation of rappers like Lil Pump and XXXTentacion find audiences arguably bigger than ever before, even if perhaps less conducive to celebrity.
With platforms now mediating nearly every aspect of modern life, it’s hard to think that the culture industry would be immune. Yet even in the face of uncertainty, no monopoly in history has ever been as big as that of social media. Beneath its glossy interfaces, platforms are the scaffolding of all of this, the structure by which the “gig economy,” “sharing economy,” and “attention economy” each take shape, but it’s also the underlying architecture for so much human interaction that it’s hard to imagine living without anymore.
Yet even as sites reach unparallelled levels of convenience and full-catalogue access, it’s important to recognize the politics at play beneath the surface. With immaterial labor, creative or otherwise, becoming an even larger driving force behind cognitive capitalism, digital files certainly become more accessible, yet adequate compensation and ownership rights still most often favor corporate consolidation. If anything, digital platforms so far have only seemed to intensify and accelerate preexisting strains on the workforce, trading whatever achievements were made in productivity gains and remote labor possibilities for a visibly declining quality of life. Although precarity has always been the case for struggling musicians in some form or another, its noticeable rise across an entire class of cognitive laborers and beyond signals profound changes for the future of work.
Platforms are changing everything. If whatever happens to musicians really does happen to everybody, then the workforce has no choice but to resist.