Jaime Brooks is a Portland-based musician and writer. She has performed as Default Genders and as a member of Elite Gymnastics, a band which she revived last year, along with her partner and collaborator Viri Char, after more than a decade-long hiatus. In October, Brooks released her debut album as Elite Gymnastics, snow flakes 2022, featuring contributions from Conrad Tao and Chloe Hotline. Like much of Brooks' work over her career, multiple songs on the album are dedicated to reimagining and recontextualizing her previously-released music.
As a cultural critic, Brooks publishes the column "Streaming Services" at The New Inquiry, where she unpacks the complicated social and economic dynamics of the streaming era, and what they reflect about the world we live in. Although she has some formal bylines, she also writes regularly as a true-blue Internet poster, with histories on Tumblr, Twitter, Discord, forums, and elsewhere.
I spoke with Brooks over the phone for about three hours back in October. The conversation is ostensibly 'about' the making of the album, which I love, despite not having much of an ear or context for the early-10s indie-electronic sensibility that is its background. As I had hoped, though, questions about the project quickly spun out into comprehensive conversations about everything else.
How has it been to finally have the album out in the world?
I'm doing a bunch of research on things and trying to get back into my hobbies, but I feel like a large bean bag chair a lot of the time that is just sorta sitting in a space, and just, existing.
How long do you think it took you from, like, conception to completion?
Sometimes that's hard to explain, because there's all this overlapping, you know...old things being brought back, old things being remade, new things being inserted in the middle of a bunch of old things. But with this, it's not super complicated, because the process began in earnest probably around like late 2020, or early 2021. My old bandmate from the previous incarnation of Elite Gymnastics, we were talking about something, we were trying to get through some kind of business, and he just had some kind of epiphany, I guess, about what he needed to do in his life, and he was like, "You know what, I'm out. Just go do whatever you want with it. Go try to work with some people from Discord or something. I don't need to be involved with it anymore, I'm gonna go focus on my own stuff."
And that was a huge change from how it had been from the previous years, where it was a situation where we were talking to each other, discussing possibly doing projects, but we also just hadn't been friends, hadn't been around each other, hadn't been having regular conversations about our creative practices, for so many more years than we were doing those things, that it didn't make sense for either of us to turn around and tell all the other people in our lives, "OK. I'm gonna start focusing everything on a new project with this person." So we tried to figure out something that worked for where we were at, and we never really did, which was fine with me because I was just happy to have a weird person to talk to about this stuff, which is the real prize of all of this.
In any case, that was early 2021, so the short answer to your question is early 2021 is when I started working on it. For a good amount of that time, I was kinda working on it every day in some capacity. I would get up in the morning, I would start working on it if the day was free for that, and I would work until the evening, then make dinner, and do the other things I have to do during the day. So it was a very regular creative practice for a very long period of time. And it finally just finished, so it was taking up a huge amount of space in my brain. Now there's just space there, which is alternately nice and really scary.
So how were you getting by, if you were devoting so much of yourself to that? What were you doing to, like, make rent, and keep afloat?
Ugh...that's been difficult. I guess the answer to that question is that when I started working on this, I was in a pretty different situation, I was living in a different place, I had a job that was relatively chill, so I had the space to do things that are harder to do now, to take on big creative challenges just because: "It seems important in my life that I figure out how to confront this type of big creative challenge!" And, you know, I could throw money at people's GoFundMes and stuff, because I had the extra space in my budget or whatever to be able to do that.
And then over the course of the making of this thing, my circumstances changed a lot. Me and my partner Viri, who's in the band now, we moved. We moved across the country, so now we have a different living situation, we have a different financial situation, and so the process of making rent while I was making this thing was...part of it, Viri was working, part of it was selling things, trying to get rid of stuff to make up the extra money. It was a really kinda chaotic scrambling process that could interrupt the creative process at times. But Viri is as invested in it as I am, which is really nice, and allowed for it to be finished in a form that I'm happy with, and that they're happy with.
So it was hard. I'm not sure that I could do that again, with the current circumstances being what they are, which is kinda part of the motivation for taking it so seriously. I like albums, you know? If I go back, and I look at the story of my life, and the story of how I was able to make it through the things that I've been through, there are albums that are part of that story. Inexorable, deep, important parts of that story. I could probably go ask my mom about all the worst times in my life, and ask her "do you remember what I was listening to while that was happening?", and she probably remembers that better than some of the actual details.
So I wanted to make a great album, and I never had, I felt. I mean, main pop girl 2019 is a great album. It's a very good album, I'm very satisfied with it, but there was stuff that I wanted to know how to do, and feel like I'd done, that went beyond that, that I really wanted to try while I still had the ability to. Because when this album started, I was in more comfortable circumstances, so I was able to spend all this time feeling things out and conceptualizing stuff, and trying to figure out: what do I really wanna do? what do I really want it to sound like? A lot of expensive thinking, the kind of thinking that you can't necessarily do when material concerns are right up, you know, breathing down your neck. And so it became sort of about just trying to protect all the thinking that I'd done, and all those realizations that I had made, and all the music that had come out of it, long enough for them to finish being realized.
Yeah, so...that's what it was like.
It's interesting that you see the new record as being essentially different from the main pop girl stuff in some way. What is it that makes an album "a good album"? I know that's kind of an open-ended question.
Well, main pop girl was sort of...I was at a point in my life where I was starting over, in a lot of ways. I had transitioned, I was, you know, hanging around with a bunch of famous people, and I was in their world, and I was in the 'regular' music industry, despite being sort of a peripheral figure that was never really welcome there. But it was a very different life that I was living, and a very different relationship with music. Both as a creative practice and as a social thing, it was very different.
With main pop girl, I sort of realized through transitioning that I had to reconnect with music, because it had been very hard to maintain my connection with music while I was around all this industry stuff, because I was around all of these people that prioritized things about music that were very, very different from what I prioritize. Famous people and industry people, they're very sensitive about certain concepts. They're very sensitive about the concept of 'authenticity', and the concept of 'quality'. So if you're in mixed company around these people and you start talking about something really anodyne and banal, talking about, like, "I think Taylor Swift is a really good songwriter!" That's the most lukewarm take you could possibly have. But if you're in a room full of industry people, those people are gonna hear it as, "does that mean that I'm not a real artist, because I don't write my own songs, or because my songs aren't intellectual like that?"
In that environment, it became extremely difficult for me to continue caring about the things that I cared about, and it became extremely difficult for me to invest myself in music that I expected other people to hear, because I came to realize that my music, and my relationship with music, and my thoughts about it, were not the utility that I had to that world. It's not why I was being kept around. And the creative stuff was like a liability, especially after what happened with the first Default Genders record. I came to realize that I had thrown in with a world that cared about whether or not, like, Pitchfork thought my record was good, or whether or not hip people thought I was onto something. I didn't necessarily value that stuff about myself; I take music more seriously than that.
But I was around a lot of people who just didn't understand that. I'd be sitting in RocNation management talking to people who, you know, were lovely people that I really liked, but if somebody mentions, "oh, didn't you just put out a new record?" everybody would cringe. Everybody would be like, "oh, God. This is gonna create problems."
So with main pop girl, it was like trying to find way back to how I felt about music before, and it was mostly a collage of things that I had recorded, ideas that I had kind of initiated during all that, kind of in secret. I would just go into a little room far away from everything else and just try to make something that I was excited about, and not show it to anybody. And main pop girl was me sort of being at this point where I'm starting over in life, and I'm like, "I've gotta show people that stuff. I've gotta show people all this stuff, I've gotta figure out how to not be afraid of doing that again."
It succeeded — I love that record, I think it's great — but it was collaged together out of things that I had made years ago. Most of the vocal recordings on that were made with nicer microphones than I have access to now, that I borrowed from other people, and they were from 2015, 2016. I made the best record that I could make at that time, but I was also really constrained by what was available, because I didn't really have the resources to initiate new things, or to come up with concepts that the old recordings and the old song ideas didn't get into.
So this time, it was like: I have a better microphone, I've got a guitar, I've got a MIDI keyboard, I've got my partner who really loves the music, and wants to be part of it, I've got Conrad who sent me some incredible stuff, I've got Chloe, and so it felt different starting it. Maybe towards the end, packaging it all together was similar to main pop girl. But the part of staking it all out, and figuring out what I wanna do, and initiating it all from scratch, and being able to think about how I wanted to sound, where I'm not just trying to figure out what works with an old recording that I'm stuck with. There were possibilities that were not available on main pop girl that were this time.
So it felt like a bigger swing, I guess, from my perspective. And as I started to finish the music, it felt really satisfying and validating to hear how those big swings were coming out. Making music like this, or making music in any way, or participating in music generally, you learn about yourself, and you learn about the people you're doing it with, and you learn about the place you occupy in the world, or the place you wanna occupy in the world. And that aspect of making this record was extremely, extremely satisfying. I feel like with main pop girl I was trying to figure out "who I could be," and with this record I was trying to figure out "who am I, who am I going to be. What is the point of me."
I feel like you're getting at sort of the fundamental contradiction of being a music person, which is that it's this majorly social and communal art form, more than lots of other art forms, and it's also this intensely personal, idiosyncratic thing.
Yeah. I wonder to what extent the isolation that we kind of associate with "producing" music — I feel like that's the language people usually use — I wonder to what extent that's gonna be a permanent thing, or if it ever was a permanent thing. Or if it's gonna be something that we look back at from this era, from like the 2010s, and probably the 2020s is gonna be defined, at least in part, by the fallout of this idea.
I was watching this documentary about the Byrds the other day. They were this folky, poppy-type band that was trying to capitalize on the success of the Beatles. They got a hold of a demo of Bob Dylan's song "Mister Tambourine Man", and somebody was like "This sounds like a hit! You're gonna record this!" And ultimately, I'm pretty sure in the final recording there's only one or two of the actual Byrds on the record. The rest of it is The Wrecking Crew, the Capitol Records building's session players that played on a bunch of pop records back then. That's how pop music got made. You compare The Byrds in the '60s to people that were making music in the 2010s, and it's completely opposite situations. The Byrds didn't have to write the song, they didn't have to figure out how the record was going to sound, they didn't have to get the rhythm track right, they didn't have to put all that work into practicing their instruments and playing together so they could get that level of cohesion in the final recording. All of that stuff was handled by a much larger group of people.
Whereas in the 2010s, it's like, somebody that's blowing up or going viral might have, written, produced, performed, mixed and mastered the track by themselves. We used to have this infrastructure — and I'm not saying it's good, but we did have it — for making records, for making pop records especially. And in the 2010s, it's like we had these new tools that democratized it, but it puts an onus on the artist themselves to figure out all these things that it used to take an entire group of people to figure out. Now if you want a good song, you either have to find it yourself, or you have to write it yourself. If you want a cool production sound, you wanna make sure that your song has the right aesthetic, then you have to figure that out yourself.
And so each one of these recordings that got produced this way in the 2010s, it just represents hours and hours and hours more work than anything from the boomer era does. In the old days, those hours would have been spread out amongst more people. I wonder how fundamental the isolation that we now associate with producing music is to the appeal of music, or to the process. I wonder if the things that I realized about myself while I was making the album...I mean, first of all, the contributions that I got from other people were extremely significant moments in the conception of it. When I got Chloe's track back, and I saw the call-and-response stuff that she was doing, the backing vocal, in the breakdown especially there's this beautiful moment where she's kind of singing back-and-forth between two different voices that she does. It taught me something about the song that I didn't know. Same with the stuff that Conrad did, the strings that he sent me on the first track. I didn't see these things, but when I was conceiving them, it felt right. These takes that people who had known me and followed me for years and years were having on this music, it really helped in that process of self-discovery, or self-invention, or however you wanna look at it.
So I think we would all be better off if we were doing these things in a less-isolated way. Sometimes having a conversation with other people, or just the experience of playing music with people, or getting surprised by an idea that somebody else has about your song, I think those moments are magical, and can speed up the process of getting to where you need to go. I think that the isolated version of it, where you're doing everything yourself, I think it's not ideal. I think it just fits the economic and material circumstances of how you have to make music now. So I think that contradiction, it's not necessarily a characteristic of music itself, just music under capitalism. And it's the type of contradiction that...comrades must struggle to resolve.
In that isolated state, so much of music-making ends up being trying to create that communal feeling, even when you don't have it on hand. Whether it's sampling, or using different people's kits.
That's always the relationship I've had to sampling. I'm trying not to have too many entry-level thoughts about the work that I'm doing. I'm trying to come up with ideas that are more surprising, and more exciting, than the entry-level stuff. That's why I would seek out samples, for exactly the reason you describe. It's like taking a snippet of somebody's work who's at the top of their specific niche, and riffing on that, trying to simulate this situation where I'm actually in the room with that person, and I can actually bounce an idea off of them, or have them bounce an idea off of me. It is definitely trying to simulate those conditions. That's why I have this fixation on how I wish more stuff was in the public domain, because I feel like if people had more access to songs that they know and love, if they were able to twist that stuff up into their own experiments and use that material as a way to get through the overwhelming barrier of everything you have to know now to do it properly on your own, it would be really good for human beings in general.
It's so tough. The problem of trying to simulate community, or trying to find community through this isolated process of making digital music and posting it on the Internet, it's just so...the rent is so high everywhere. There are all these laws that the boomers didn't have to deal with, stopping people from having live music events in various places. I've had this fixation on jam bands and the Grateful Dead lately, and sometimes I like to go back and look at their old tour dates and just figure out: where were they playing? There's a well-known documentary of the Grateful Dead where they're playing somewhere in the 70s, and it's just this beautiful outdoor show, and it's excellent, and I saw a snippet of it somewhere and I was just like — what is THAT? Why am I not going to shows like that? Where's the stuff like that happening?
And I go back and I look into it, and that place where they had that show is a big thing now. There's a fair that they do on those grounds every year, and if you wanna play there you've gotta interface with all the people that own and license that, who are so, so much more powerful now than back when people first had the idea to do it. The isolated production style, and trying to seek out community through doing this isolated music production work, it just feels like an expression of pain. A collective expression of pain and desperation. In response to all the fucking landlords, and all the fucking rent, and the stuff that is stopping people from being able to do what past generations are so proud of themselves for being able to do, which is gathering peacefully in a place to play music and hear music together.
Do you see your music as being cultural criticism, almost? Does it have that polemic element to it?
That's a good question. You know, obviously I'm a big fan of Terre Thaemlitz, who does their work as...err, her work as a form of cultural criticism. Which he has talked about...it's so weird to do this (with Thamelitz's alternating pronouns) over voice.
I do talk about this with my partner sometimes, but primarily the experience I have with trying to respect Thamelitz's instructions about how to talk about them, it's weird to do it out loud.
I get it, yeah. (laughter)
But it's cool, I'm going to keep trying until I nail it. I don't think I see what I do as cultural criticism, necessarily. I don't think I was even really all that good at cultural criticism five or six years ago. I was focused on other things. Even maybe three or four years ago. Around the time pandemic started, I really started spending a lot of time trying to fix the way that I write and articulate thoughts. It can be challenging for me because — I don't know how much this is a real thing or not, but I've had conversations with people about this, and I don't have an internal monologue? So, like, my feelings don't have words attached to them when they're happening. The words don't exist until I try to describe what the feeling is, and the feeling does not prefer to be described in a specific way. So cultural criticism and writing about music is very difficult because I have all these feelings, and all these memories, and all this knowledge and life experiences that contribute to my understanding of why things are the way they are, but I hadn't put a lot of work into trying to express that to people through writing or any other way.
So I spent a lot of time doing private writing projects, just writing things out and trying to get used to articulating myself about concepts that used to intimidate me. That feels like more of a recent development, whereas the music is something that I've been doing since I was 17. So I think what I am generally trying to do with the music is not criticize anything, but just sort of contribute to the force that I feel carries me through the various hard times that I've gone through that music helped resolve in some way.
There's more reasons that I do it besides just that. There's social reasons. When Elite Gymnastics was happening the first time, there's this song that I wrote in the context of the old Elite Gymnastics music that was called "Here in Heaven". There are other versions of it that were more popular than the original version. But it was a song that I wrote about intimate feelings, things that I don't know that I had ever tried to express to anyone. And because the feelings don't manifest as words within, it's like I had to try to use sounds and language to try to get that feeling across in a way that other people might understand. I had never done that before. I had been making music for a long time, and I had been trying to get good at it for a long time, and my music had always been really intimate, but that was the first time that I expressed something private and other people got it.
Lots of other people got it. Conrad, who plays on the new record, I first discovered him because he posted a video of himself covering that song on Tumblr. I didn't know him, you know, I didn't know anybody who knew him. It was just something that happens on social media, where this came up in his feed and he connected with it. He knew what I was talking about. And that was wild to me, you know? Because I had gone through my whole adult life up until that point feeling like it was a locked-in certainty that nobody would ever wanna hear this stuff from me, or nobody would ever understand it, and I was always going to have to live this extremely compartmentalized life. Because there were only certain parts of me that other people could handle or enjoy being around.
Once I realized that I could talk about these things through music, and I could put them on the internet, and I could talk to other people who understood these things that the people around me didn't understand, that's like one of the bigger reasons that I do it. I don't know that I am really focused on having the power to affect culture. I am not concerned with what my music may or may not have influenced, I'm not really concerned with whether other things that are popular sound really good or not. There's a lot of stuff like that that I hear other musicians talking about all the time that doesn't make any difference at all to me. What I care about is the capacity that it has for communication, and the capacity that it has to help encourage bonds and understanding in the midst of a world where those things are really hard and difficult to get.
So, yeah. The cultural criticism is like...I do think about what's going on currently, what my peers are up to, what the kids are up to, and I like to respond to that stuff, just because I think music's fun and I like to have reactions to it and have feelings about it. But I wouldn't say that's a huge part of it. I would say that my critic brain and my artist brain do feed into each other, and they make the other stronger than they would be otherwise. But the music is about different things primarily.
It's funny that you say you have difficulty communicating, because from my point of view you're being super forthcoming right now in a way that would be very difficult for a lot of people.
Maybe it's just that I've been trying to figure it out for a long enough period of time. I think the reason a lot of people, especially artists, don't enjoy being forthcoming, or don't enjoy trying to talk about difficult things, is because they are afraid. One of my favorite things to complain about these days is how 2010s culture, millennial culture, however you wanna describe it, seems so unhealthily fixated on cosigns and establishment backing. It was this era of trying to figure out who the people who had the juice were, who the organizations that had the juice were, and positioning yourself according to that to try to make it seem like you were aligned with the right people. There's a really advanced version of that mentality going on in the crypto world, where there's really not that many people that are putting money into it, so everyone is kind of trying to align around Andreesen Horowitz, and...you know, that might be it at this point. Because that's where the money is coming from, that's where the juice is coming from. I feel like in the 2010s, the people who were successful were the people who don't have any compunctions about doing that, trying to position themselves next to who has power. Even Kanye West has been trying to do this. He made decisions about who he thought had the juice, and who he wanted to position himself next to, and it's not working out for him. He is learning the limitations of that worldview.
I think that artists who came of age, or entered the industry, in that era in the 2010s, they are too scared of any kind of backlash, because they're scared of who they might alienate and what doors that will close, and I think that they're scared of being perceived as somebody that is unpopular or problematic or controversial. I think that even though I see how overexposure has traumatized a lot of artists and people who are in that position, I also, as a fan of music, and as a student of music, it bores the shit out of me. It's sooooooo boring how few swings anyone will take. Everybody just wants to stay hidden behind these barriers that they think are gonna protect them from criticism.
It's just so dull. It's especially dull in the context of music, because it's not like, fine art, you know? There's not ten guys in rubber gloves standing around each artwork being super concerned about how it's being treated. If somebody throws a can of tomato sauce on a pop song, nobody's gonna be wringing their hands about "What does this mean?" Music comes from the underclass, especially what people call "pop" music. The stuff that the underclass is worried about and concerned about and feeling, if you're afraid of that, you're not gonna be able to do that job. I feel like I have an obligation, if I'm going to write songs and sing them in front of people and post it on the internet and ask people to give me money for it, I have an obligation to not be afraid. I have an obligation to make decisions creatively and in terms of what I'm gonna communicate that are not fear-based decisions. I have to be more concerned about what's good for the art form, and about the experience that the listener or the reader is having, and whether or not they're entertained, or whether or not there's anything to chew on.
I guess I came to that point of view through experience, because when I first started doing Elite Gymnastics 11 or 12 years ago, or whatever it was, I, like everybody else, was more concerned about positioning. I thought it was gonna work out for me if I played my cards right. And I went through a whole arc with that where I learned about how it all really works. People who are just coming into it now, they don't have the same perspective. It's easy for me to sit here and complain about how boring it is to watch people be scared to talk about basic stuff. But I've also just been through it all. I've had the bad articles written where people call me problematic. I've got the bad search results. I've got posts on grungy subreddits speculating about my personal life. Whatever people are afraid of summoning into their life is already in mine. So I might as well just put 100% into everything I do.
What do you think a young person who has never known a time without the current social internet should do with those fears and those feelings?
I wish it was easier to just get to the same place. When I was in my, like, early 20s, in Minneapolis I posted things on Craigslist about wanting to start a band. and I would post these comically obscure lists of influences. I might have actually posted DJ Sprinkles as something that I wanted to meet other people who liked so we could start a band, back in whatever year that album came out. And it worked! I met people that way. I made friends with the people in Minneapolis who were interested in that type of music, and somebody started a club night, and then, you know, I was out every weekend. I was out experiencing music with people every weekend. There was this big, open, weird, chaotic possibility space that I felt like I could tap into by really giving myself up to the music, and the cheap beer, and the party drugs, and whatever else was going on. And it was a communal experience. I experienced that with people, and every time I was having some kind of significant experience with music, I would look around and I would see the looks on everybody else's faces, whether positive or negative.
I think everyone should be able to access some version of that, or I wish everybody could access some version of that. I wish people could access even better things than that. I wish people could just get in rooms and play instruments together and sing together and dance together. Especially all of the people who are getting into music through these communities right now that, for whatever reason, can't participate in live music situations the old way. Like, maybe because some kind of chronic illness, or any of the things that could keep people outside of conventional live music experiences.
Those people can watch Twitch streams, and they can be valuable on Discord servers, which seems like, in the music industry, a really important job that they're going to be paying as much for as they currently pay social media managers. Or regular managers! There's people who are part of the old stack, the pre-internet stack, that are still active and powerful in the music industry that are much less important to the process of cultivating and maintaining a fanbase than Discord mods are. There's a lot of potential, I think, in what the internet has allowed to happen in terms of connecting people together and giving people this idea of what their community is, that they can realize in some of these Minecraft events or whatever. These digital concerts that people were throwing in the early part of the hyperpop era, and even before that, with Jack Radio and SPF 420 or whatever. I think that there's so much potential in terms of what getting together in rooms to do music stuff together would do for people like that who are invested in those things, and who find all that stuff appealing. If we could have these communities that only exist online start to establish a base for themselves, where somebody's got like, a club night that's successful enough that they can start flying people in from other cities and forming a network, and people can start building an audience and making money that way.
It's like everybody is listening to all these different records that are coming out, and they're trying to interact with these online communities, but the online spaces are corrosive by nature, and you can see that with how quickly these communities often collapse or turn on one another. It doesn't seem to end well, this type of enthusiasm. It seems like every time you get a bunch of people all getting invested in a particular scene or vibe or whatever, there's a 50/50 chance that in a few months..."The leader was a sex pest!" or, you know, "Warner Bros. Records bought it and tried to turn it into a label and fucked everything up!" The vicegrip that music is caught in, where it's like, in order to bring this stuff into the real world where it can start really healing people and making things happen for them, and ideally providing a source of material security, it can't happen, because the rent is so fucking high everywhere.
So it's a bad situation. I don't necessarily see a way out of it presently, but I think that the more it could be happening in real life, and the more that people could have the resources to start thinking about what the real-life version of these online things should look like, or must look like, the more that people would be able to build that, the better it would be for music, the better it would be for everyone's culture and mental health. It would just be a great thing. But it's really hard to thread that needle, because everybody's broke, and the only money is usually being dangled like a carrot to get you to join up with toxic, predatory systems that are just gonna make things worse.
(laughing) But yeah, your question was like, "What should a young person do?"
From my standpoint, all these digital culture spaces seem like the extreme version of that positioning-based milieu you were talking about. Where the only way to make sense of the networks is through actual, quantitative positioning, and worrying about metrics. And that can disassemble a lot of these cool things that are happening.
Yeah, and that's part of the problem with social media writ large, is that everybody's so trained to look for loopholes. Everybody's so trained to try to figure out where the attention is flowing, where the power is flowing, and every time there's an opening to attention or power that opens up, everybody swarms to it, like...termites to a light in the nighttime. That mentality is really corrosive to these communities that exist, and maybe this is not the most advanced response to that problem, but I do honestly think that it would get better if more of it was happening in real life and more of it was revolved around people doing music stuff together, rather than doing it in isolation and then going fully into "I'm my own manager, I'm running a business, I'm an entrepreneur" mode once the shit is actually out there. Because the zero-sum thinking, where if you spend all this time working on something in isolation and you put it out and somebody else's things do better than yours, and you start to think "I need to take it from them. The attention and the power, there's only so much of it, and this person's taking too much of it. It should be mine!"
These types of mentalities emerge in this context, and what I think would help is people playing music together. I think there's a transformative thing that happens when you have people experiencing music together, and having a shared investment that can be felt in the moment. That counters some of these other impulses that the platforms are imposing on us.
And I think part of the reason things got so bad in the 2010s as far as this type of mentality goes, and for music especially, is that music was so hard to monetize relative to other types of content. It wasn't allowed on Twitch, it wasn't allowed on YouTube. The fuckin' streaming thing got rid of recordings as a viable source of revenue, the consolidation of radio station ownership got rid of radio plays as a source of money for people. Recorded music just became so constricted by the legal situation around it, by the lack of a good compensation structure for it like we had with radio or television, that it made success in music much more driven, for a time, by cosigns and establishment backing. And I think people had a hard time telling the difference between when people are actually excited about something and when it is receiving a push from public-facing institutional forces like labels or publicists, or publications, or whatever.
I think that if people were just doing it more in-the-room together, if that wasn't so difficult and expensive to make happen. If people were doing that part of the process in school consistently, before being turned loose onto social media as an aspiring teenage producer or artist or whatever, I think it would be better. I think we would have better communities, and we would have more fruitful scenes and more stuff going on. I think the rent issue is the biggest thing keeping that from happening. It's just too hard to physically get space for people to be doing this, and still be able to make money off of it, if it's a show or whatever.
In the making of this new record, you re-worked a lot of your old songs, and had to consult all of this old work you'd done. And I was wondering, how do you feel listening back to your old music, since so much of it a place-and-time, spiritual process for you?
At the beginning of this process, when Josh kind of handed the reins back to me, I hadn't really spent a lot of time with the old Elite Gymnastics music. After he and I had our big dustup back in 2012, and the partnership as it existed up until that point was fractured, I just sort of started focusing on new things, because legally doing anything with the old stuff felt too difficult. It felt like I was asking for trouble if I started thinking about that music too much, or focusing on it too much. So I just tried to focus on the new music I was making, and then after that kind of became a catastrophe, I started focusing on what I could do for other people in music that I thought were good and deserving of some kind of boost, that I thought I could help, with my position in the industry at that point. So I really wasn't thinking about this stuff until I started working on this record. It was an intense experience, to go back and allow myself to reconnect with it.
I had the same complicated feelings about it that I feel like any trans person would have about extensive documentation of a pre-transition version of them. And so at first, when I was trying to figure out what new versions of the songs I would do, it felt like I was thinking more about people who were just still fans of Elite Gymnastics, people who had been fans from the old days. I was just like "ah, they've really had a rough go of it!" (laughter) Their investment in my work, or in this band's work, has not necessarily been a consistently rewarding pursuit, because of all the things that were happening that were not so great for me, or people's perception of my work.
So I was thinking more about, what kind of fanservice can i put in here, how can I update this stuff in a way that will feel appropriate to the taste of the people who have this long-term investment, how can I make the dangling plot threads resolve in a satisfactory way. But as I was working on it more, I started thinking less and less about that, and I was thinking more about: I wanted to do new versions of these songs, because reconnecting with them was such a personally exciting and satisfying thing for me, and I wanted to put that back into the music.
So I started thinking about it more like...if the music "transitions" too, what does that sound like? How can I reflect how I've changed — and not just me, also, but with the theme of the guest appearances as well. With Chloe, her song, one of the things Elite Gymnastics did was the Adult Swim singles series in 2012, where they give you a bunch of money to premiere a song exclusively with them. And so there's an Elite Gymnastics song called "Andreja 4-ever" that was like a weird tribute to Andrea Dworkin that was part of that. And so that's how Chloe first heard Elite Gymnastics, and she got into it after that, and I first discovered her on SoundCloud several years ago, when I heard a song she did that had an Elite Gymnastics sample in it, and I was like "this is cool!" And so with her version of "Andreja 4-ever", which is called "Chloe 4-ever" now, she's singing about where she's at in her life now, while reflecting on what her life was gonna be like back when she first heard that song when she was 9, back in like 2012. Conrad did his own version of "Here, in Heaven" back in 2012, now he went through this whole experience of trying to re-interpret it according to where he's at now, and the emotion of that comes through in his version of that song. So it became more about that, where I was trying to reflect all the growth that had happened, and I was trying to reflect who I am, and how I see the world, and how I feel about music now, through these songs, as a way of showing things that it would be hard to represent otherwise.
The whole concept of transition, like...I understand it. You understand it. People who have been through it have our own understanding of it, but with this record, somebody who has listened to the old Elite Gymnastics music and has some kind of attachment to it, or somebody who maybe hears this record and then becomes curious about the old record and goes and checks it out. I'm pleased with the feeling of progression between the two things. I feel like I did bring together a bunch of dangling plot threads into a satisfying resolution in a way that felt honest to the journey that I was actually on. So I was trying to have all of that in there. I wanted people to be able to have a sense of that journey by the end of it, and I also wanted the catalogue itself, you know, it had been kinda cast off and discarded by me, and then when I pulled it back up into my arms again, I was like "Oh! You've been very neglected, you need some care, I'm going to spend some time caring for you, and trying to make sense of this mess that I left you in."
Obviously I'm a much younger trans person, and it's a perpetual process, but I find what you said about transition really apt. I feel like, once you start looking retrospectively at yourself and your life, so many things that don't feel strictly connected to 'gender' as it's understood, they all sort of become this bundle of pre- vs. post-transition, that gets you to look at your life in a new way. A hard way, but a kinda generative way.
Yeah. It's like this other context. And I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, so I'm always missing context. I'm always so focused on one facet of what's going on that the way that I screw up when I screw up is that there's usually just some context that other people are seeing that I am missing. It creates a situation that people who don't understand that about me, it looks like something's not adding up, because 'why can't I see this thing that everybody else can see?' So it was wild, going through transition, because it had always been there. And I just couldn't describe it, it was part of the weird wordless symphony that my heart was playing for me, and I couldn't put it into words, I couldn't grab hold of it. It was there behind all the other noise, and all the other sounds. But I couldn't grasp it. Then, when I transitioned, it was at this point in my life where I was starting over in a lot of ways, and I was trying to figure out: what do I do? Why am I here? What is the point of me? And something happened that made the gender stuff click for me in a way where I could finally start that work. I mean, there had been false starts, and it's a messy story for a lot of people, and in my case I think it seems like a messy story sometimes, especially from the farther-out side of my immediate social context, the observer's side.
But yeah, it's like I could see this other context for things that had happened in the past. I used to be conflicted, in the old days, about who I was, and why I was interested in the things I was interested in. Like "why did I choose to do this?" and "why can't I get myself to consistently do this properly?" It was like, torturous. It gave me so much anxiety, and I would get so depressed, and it was so hard to get anything creative done, because I was so unable to keep up with the belief that it was worth doing, or that there were things within me that were worth expressing, or that I was a person that was worth getting to know and worth caring about.
My life was driven by those types of contradictions back then. The old Elite Gymnastics music is really angry about it. I think the lyrics on the RUIN EPs especially are these arguments between different parts of myself, about what I should be doing and what I should believe. And as I was transitioning and starting to think about this stuff, I started to see context that made it make sense. It softened the pain of remembering some of those things, and thinking about some of those things. And I guess that's something I was trying to do with this music as well. I was trying to have affection for that person, and trying to find the poetry in the life that I was living, and the contradictions that were causing me so much distress. I feel like music, it's a vehicle through which I can express those things to people who don't understand what it is to transition, and never will, because it doesn't relate to them, or they don't relate to that concept. But through music, chaotic, weird, magical things can happen. And that's what I learned when I started writing about more intimate stuff in the past, is that not all the people who connected with it were people who are in a similar situation as me, but now I have lifelong bonds with some of those people. And so doing it through music felt really good, and worthwhile for me, and I hope other people find it worthwhile also.
One of the advice things that Joshua Minsoo Kim gave me about interviewing musicians was...don't necessarily focus so much on talking about the music, talk more about things external to the music and the reader will be able to glean things about the music from learning about the person in general. But it feels like you've sort of flipped the script here. So many of these arbitrary musical details seem to be these rich texts for you, in a more general way.
I think the conversations that happen about music in public spaces, especially in the prestige zone, where there's PR concerns, I think that stuff has a chilling effect on the conversations that people feel comfortable or interested in having about music. And so oftentimes interviews with musicians are extremely dull, because to them, talking about music is not talking about life. It's not talking about politics. It's not talking about the things that actually consume the lives and the feelings and the thoughts of the people listening. And so I think they're not really talking about music, They're talking about PR, they're talking about what perception they want people to have about the record, because that's gonna help them accomplish specific goals. If you get enough positive reviews, maybe you'll get booked on the Jimmy Fallon Show. If you do a good enough job on the Jimmy Fallon Show, then you'll get booked on SNL. If you get booked on SNL, then Goldenvoice might move you up to the next font size on the Coachella poster. This is how prestige artists in the 2010s, in the age of cosigns and backing and angel investors and whatever, it's how they think it all works. And so music itself is not really part of that. It's more about how people perceive you.
It's about this amorphous idea that I'm always invoking of "prestige". Prestige is like...One of the reasons there's so many nepo babies in indie music, or in prestige indie and prestige techno and the prestige music zone, is because they already have their material concerns sorted out. What they want is for people to see them as important. They want prestige. Prestige is something that's almost more desirable to people that grew up rich than it is for the rest of us, because the rest of us have to figure out how to make something materially feasible first. And that cuts off a lot of creative possibility, because it's this huge barrier that you have to clear before you can even get to the point where you're thinking about, "What would it be fun to make?" So it totally makes sense that he would give that advice, because the interviews he does are usually very entertaining, and most artist interviews are extremely tedious.
I don't like to beat up on artists so much, because especially the ones that are working-class are facing down a really bad situation, and so I don't individually fault anybody for making a lot of fear-based decisions. But as somebody who cares about music as a larger thing, and cares about whether or not people are engaged with it and excited about it, and whether or not it's fulfilling its potential to make the world a better place, and bring about the revolution...It's so boring. It's so boring to click on these pieces where you get sold the idea that, "Oh, yeah, this person is one of the most interesting artists and thinkers of the past decade, let's see what they have to say about, like, the challenges of life, in a pandemic, in a culture war or whatever," and they don't wanna say anything! The whole reason they're there is not to entertain anybody, or actually talk about anything, but to cultivate prestige in hopes that it brings them to the next rung of a ladder that leads to a place that I don't think any good person should wanna go.
So that, I guess, is the feeling that I have about that specific piece of advice. I think it is good advice, but I also think there's just this culture of fear-based conversation about music that is bad for music overall.
In the spirit of that, you have a song on the album called "snow flakes", where a good chunk of it is just listing off your musical diet pretty directly. And so I wanted to ask about some of your experiences with the things you talked about on that song.
OK, yeah! Sure.
So, the Xiu Xiu album, Fabulous Muscles.
That was, um...Are you into Xiu Xiu?
A little bit, I guess.
Probably the stuff that you're familiar with is probably the more recent stuff, like the Girl with Basket of Fruit, or the...The reason I say this is because I'm trying to gauge how much to talk about.
I've heard Fabulous Muscles, I'll just say that.
In those days, I really loved that music. I really loved Xiu Xiu, I really love those first three albums especially. But what was so magical about being a fan of them back then is that the lyrics are about...
Sometimes when I'm meeting people for the first time and I'm trying to get to know them, I talk about the underbelly of the world, whether or not they can see it. Some people, it's like they've never seen it. Some people, it's like if you told them that, you know, in their suburb, if they were to go on Grindr, they would find a bunch of 50-year-old married fathers of whoever on there, trying to hit up their neighbor's teenage kids for God knows what. We all know this stuff is there, people who have been touched by it, people who have been forced to see it or people who just grew up in circumstances where it's unavoidable. There's bad shit happening just under the official reality. One of the first things that I have to figure out, if I'm trying to figure out if I can be friends with somebody, is just: can they see it? Do they acknowledge that it exists? Do they understand that there's, like, a huge fucking incest problem in America that nobody wants to talk about?
And Xiu Xiu was one of the first times that I remember seeing something that was popping off in the indie rock world that was totally focused on the underbelly of the world. There's songs on Fabulous Muscles that are about really bad shit that Jamie Stewart heard about while being a social worker, or something. I don't know how much of that was hitting the indie kids that were showing up for Xiu Xiu gigs, and checking out the records back then. I sorta get the sense that a lot of people thought there was a theatrical dimension to it, or like a fantastical dimension to it, or they just weren't paying attention to the lyrics at all.
But I was! And it was revelatory for me to go to Xiu Xiu shows during that era. And it would be like a 200, 300-cap room, and it would be packed! They would play a ballad, and everybody would shut up to listen to the ballad! It wasn't like that for longer than a couple of years. As time went on, this interesting thing happened in their career where there were less people at the shows, and there were less people talking about the records, and so they kinda went off and did other things for a while. They would play Joy Division music at festivals, or they would play the music of Twin Peaks, or something. And then they came back, and they brought all of what they'd learned back into the more straight-ahead Xiu Xiu records. And then that stuff started doing really, really well for an indie thing! The Fantano people, and I think on some level the RateYourMusic people, seemed to really get into it. The people who were sitting around waiting for more Death Grips music got into Xiu Xiu again. It was really nice to see. I really love that there's this whole other wave of people getting into them, especially because the catalogue has so much richness in it.
But for me, the reason it made such an impact on me is because I was at these shows surrounded by people my own age that I didn't know who were just being deadly silent as they were singing "Fabulous Muscles", which is a very, very bleak song that touches on really, really bleak feelings. Or when they played "I Broke Up", everybody would sing along with the outburst in the middle about how 'this is the worst vacation ever, and I'm gonna cut your head off with a roofing shingle.' The idea of sharing that stuff with other people, the idea of experiencing it communally, just absolutely exploded my brain.
I've always been searching for that. My first concert was Lilith Fair. When I was a teenager, it was really, really hard for me to express anything about what I was interested in, or what I was thinking about, to my family, which was necessary in order to ask for things. And the only two things I ever asked for directly were that I wanted to go see Spice World, the movie with the Spice Girls, and I wanted to go to Lilith Fair. And when I was at Lilith Fair, I was afraid that I didn't belong there, I was afraid I wasn't doing it right early on. But by the end of the night, I felt like I'd connected with something larger than myself, and that there was a place in the world that maybe I belonged in, more than the place I actually lived. And so then with Xiu Xiu, it was a more specific and intense version of that feeling, where it was like — you can talk about this stuff and not alienate people! People can bond over these subjects and these life experiences that are, in most cases, too painful to talk about. So it really showed me something about the power of music to be there for that. And, you know, I feel like it's closer to the type of music that I make and that I wanna make than most things are. It's a pop record, or somebody making their version of a pop record, with expertise about making pop records, that is nevertheless very weird and very honest.
OK, let me think of some more...There was "Shining Violence", that's a Chromatics song, right?
It's the name of the album, too, I think...That was another really formative experience for me. The Chromatics broke up recently. Chromatics was a post-punk band back in the early aughts, and then at some point they made friends with this band called Glass Candy that was, you know, an incredible frontwoman named Ida No, and a producer guy named Johnny Jewel. And Johnny Jewel became the main producer of Chromatics as well. And they did a lot of really good stuff together, and if I remember correctly, In Shining Violence was the first Chromatics release with Johnny Jewel as part of the band. So when blogs started posting stuff from that record, there was one song called "In the City" that was kinda the single. It was really wild, and it didn't really sound like anything else. You still had some of the post-punk — I've never really been a big post-punk person — but in this context, it was this spiky, post-punk textures, along with these electronic elements and this new vocalist, and they were kinda trying to make pop music in a way that they had never really tried to do before. And it didn't really sound like anything else. That was the era of bloghouse, and Hollertronix, and, you know, Feist-style Canadian indie music, where there's horn sections and 10 guys banging taiko drums because why not, you've got grants from the government, you can afford it!
The Chromatics stuff, it was novel, and I think that's why people started posting about it on blogs, but it was totally different from most of the stuff we were hearing, or people that were following that music obsessively on the internet were hearing. It's American, you know? Back then, so much of the stuff that was getting traction was Australian — like Cut Copy, other bands from Australia that sound like that — or UK stuff. There was this whole weird boomlet that nobody talks about now of what they call new rave music. Bands like the Klaxons, and Metronymy, and the New Young Pony Club. Then there was the Canadian shit, like Arcade Fire, Feist, Wolf Parade, whatever. There was so much of that shit that there wasn't a ton of American stuff. There was the shitgaze thing that was happening around the South and the Rust Belt, like Psychedelic Horseshit and In the Red Records, and it eventually kinda culminated into wider awareness with a band called the Vivian Girls. Most American music sounded cheaper than music from elsewhere, because the infrastructure in America has been hollowed out, and it's harder to get the resources to make really good-sounding stuff back then, especially because the home tools hadn't matured to the degree that they have now.
So the Chromatics, it was like this whole new idea about where music could go, that was completely independent, that wasn't being cosigned by anybody else back then, that wasn't being backed by a known label or anything. There wasn't necessarily a big PR angle to it. It was just fresh, and exciting enough to get people's attention, but also just different. It just felt different. And at the time, I was so excited about it, and I was so interested in it, but I was also kind of worried about the low sound quality. They had mixed and mastered it themselves, I assume, and if you go listen to that record it's quieter than a lot of other indie records from that time. Especially because it's dealing with dance beats sometimes, and electronic textures, there really was just a big difference between how it sounded and how most of the electronic music that was happening at the time sounded. You know, LCD Soundsystem, that guy was a producer, engineer, for other bands for years, so he knew how to make his stuff sound so professional that major-label projects started to come to him as a producer. Whereas the Chromatics, they were still figuring it out by themselves. I didn't realize how special that was back then.
So there came this time where one of the guys from the Chromatics was DJing at one of my friends' club nights, so afterwards, or before or something, I'm rolling on molly, and God knows what else I was doing to my body at that point in time. And at some point as I'm in my state of intoxication, I ask him, "So, In Shining Violence is like a mixtape, right? So are you guys gonna sign to a label and work with a producer to have the better sound quality? Because sometimes my friends, they complain about the sound quality." And, you know, to this guy's credit, he didn't immediately just let me have it and tell me how stupid a question that was. He just very succintly said, "Nope. That's the album, and it's how we wanted it to sound, and I love how it sounds."
And that was...I didn't understand the signifiicance of that moment at the time. As their music evolved, and after that, they continued to go down their own path in terms of how they wanted things to sound, and nothing else sounds like that. When they came out with the Kill for Love album in 2012, it was just this perfect aesthetic statement that was consistent all the way through and didn't sound like anybody else even though it was full of nods and references to other people and other things. And I realized that the only way you get there is by trying to figure it out for yourself. If you just accept that there's always gonna be some guy in the UK, or some guy in New York, that can do it better than you, or only those guys know the right way to do it and without them you're nothing, it was like the 2010s mentality. To have somebody that I looked up to in music just completely dismantle that mentality for me in that moment was so critical to how I came to understand music in the subsequent years, because I figured out that hiring the same producer everybody else is using, or trying to be on the same level everybody else is on, I realized the limitations of that a lot earlier than I think other people that I was coming up with did.
As someone who has a hard time getting into a lot of indie music, especially of that era — maybe it's just an age thing, or a question of what I prioritize, whatever — I really like Kill for Love, and also In Shining Violence. It seems like it's coming from a totally different place than anything else in its class, at least to my ears.
They really are just incredible records. And, granted, the Chromatics did just break up, so I feel like we're running into the crush between the pressure to do everything yourself in order to get to the level of quality that people will respect versus having to do it by yourself because we just don't have a lot of the infrastructure that would give people other options anymore. Even local scenes, you know, it used to be that maybe there was somebody else in the local scene that could help you resolve a creative problem. But now it's like: you gotta do it yourself. And with the Chromatics, there's this guy Johnny Jewel, who is presumably their dedicated 'locks himself in a room for God knows how long, and eventually the album is good' person. Part of the reason Kill for Love is so much better than most of the other things that were happening at that time, in our opinion, is it's probably because they spent way more time on it than a band that just cuts a record every two years to go on tour does.
So on one hand, the music is so much better, and it's so much more timeless. But at what cost? If I was talking to Adam from the Chromatics now, and I'm sitting here gushing about how good a record Kill for Love is, maybe he would be just as not into hearing that as he was with my stupid questions about production quality back in the old days. Maybe he's realized, from making the music that way, that there's a deep unsustainability to that also. Either way, Kill for Love and In Shining Violence and their way of doing things, and not just them, but Glass Candy — sometimes I think I like Glass Candy more than the Chromatics — that stuff, it's so good and so singular that it just made a huge impression on me and affected everything I did, even if it's still an open question of whether or not it was a chill situation for the people who were there doing the work.
To keep going on this line of questioning, on "snow flakes", you mention the radio station B96.
Just from a Google search, it looks like that's a Chicago pop radio station, correct?
Actually — it doesn't exist anymore — it was the hip-hop station in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Over the course of the 2010s, it went through the arc that i think a lot of corporate hip-hop radio stations went through, where they started adding EDM stuff, when there was more clubby pop type stuff that was coming out in the early 2010s. They started trying to reorient the format around that, they called it 'Rhythmic' or something, like 'Contemporary Hot Rhythmic' or whatever. And then that didn't work out, and now I believe it's a worship station, and it just plays CCM or something. (sighing) A nightmare.
But yeah, in the old days, it was a real hip-hop station. Back in those days, the pre-2008, Bain Capital taking control of iHeartMedia era, there was just stuff in the mainstream that was just fun in the way that post-2010 mainstream music there wasn't. Like, you know, "Tipsy" by J-Kwon was fuckin' omnipresent. The "We Fly High" remix by Jim Jones was on there. Fucking "What You Know" by T.I. was on there. "Stay Fly" by Three 6 Mafia was a song that people I would encounter out in the world, that weren't listening to the same type of music as me had heard of, and had some kind of fondness for. So I was really into all that stuff. There was a lot of rap stuff that was touching the mainstream at that point in time — I mean, fuckin', "We Belong Together", you know? It was a wild time for that stuff.
I wanted to try to represent that on that song, although...In the sequence where I'm listing off all these different artists and albums and stuff, I tried so hard to get some kind of reference to the first Rich Boy album in there, that has "Throw some D's" and "Let's Get This Paper". Everybody knows "Throw Some D's", but "Let's Get This Paper" is like, the last song on the album, and it was done with Polow da Don, who was just an absolute, dominant mastermind of pop production. At that point in time, he had done a bunch of the Fergie solo stuff, and he had done "Throw Some D's", which is maybe the best song of that whole decade. But then there's "Let's Get This Paper", which is the one-for-you, one-for-me mentality, where "Throw Some D's" is the fun single for everybody, and "Let's Get This Paper" is the one where they're like, just indulging their own passions and their own feelings, and so it's just this intense, angry song about the economic situation that Rich Boy comes out of in Alabama, and the Iraq War, and the drug war. It's just so fucking good. But it just sounded goofy every time I tried to put a line in there that was like, (in a higher, lullaby-esque goofy voice) "Throw some D's and Let's Get This Paperrrr! There's a reference to Arthur Russelllll!" I couldn't make it quite work, so the B-96 name-drop is all that made it in. I guess people who were there, or who are reading this interview now, will know.
After this interview I'm gonna send you this Jersey club edit — not even an edit, just a total reworking of "Throw Some D's" that SteezTheProducer and a few other people did. It's incredible. It’s just this amazing track. Remind me to do that.
Yes! I will. I do think "Throw Some D's", someone will have a hit sampling it, you know? For as good a song as it is, I don't know if it is in 'the canon' to the extent that it deserves to be. And so, in a way, I think the song represents unexploded ordinance, where there's live explosives still left in that container that have yet to go off. So I'm pleased that Jersey club producers are availing themselves of those beautiful sounds, because I think there's still places we haven't gone as a culture that those sounds can still take us.
Oh, Tender Buttons, the Broadcast album. You mentioned that one.
Right! I saw Broadcast tour that album. It was my first 21+ show. It was at a place called the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis. I don't know if it's there, but it was one of the main rooms at the time. I got to see Broadcast; this is one of the things I love to hang over my haters, because oftentimes people who are not fans of my opinions or music are still people that wish they could've seen Broadcast, and I did, and they never will.
You'll always have that against them.
That's how it should be. (laughter) I remember when I first got into Broadcast — I think it was probably this way for a lot of people — when they first came out, they were on Warp Records, and this was like the late '90s, so at that point in time, not only was Warp Records primarily known for the IDM stuff, but it was like Warp Records was primarily known in America to people who had heard of it six months ago, or a year and a half ago, or something. So as soon as the idea of what Warp Records was could get crystallized in the minds of all these people that were getting into it through Aphex or whatever, suddenly there's this band that has a retro, '60s thing going on, and there's vocals, and it's pop songs, and it's just like "Oh my god, what's going on here!" I remember the conversations that I would see on message boards at the time were kind of shocked by it, and kind of moved by the novelty. And I just kept checking up with their music over the years. I've found that the first Broadcast kinda reminds me of Saint Etienne a bit. I guess, if I was trying to get somebody into those bands now, I would say it's like "dark academia music". There's something about, you know, being in a library, and sampling the types of records you would expect to find in a library — over in Europe, I guess, where libraries are probably better-funded than they are here.
That vibe, I think, has been a vibe that I consistently like. And when I started making this record specifically, one of the things I was doing is I knew that Viri was gonna be singing on it with me, and was gonna be working with me on the artwork, and the field recordings, and this type of stuff. So we spent some time just trying to figure out what our biggest points of commonality were in terms of our lives as music listeners. Viri obsessively checks out tons and tons of music, and makes these super-elaborate playlists of them in order to keep track of it. So she just knows so much about specifically music that nobody else knows about. So it was kinda fun to try to figure out, between the stuff she's comfortable with and the stuff that I'm comfortable with, where does the Venn diagram overlap. And Broadcast and Saint Etienne and other stuff that sort of feels in that vibe like Cibo Matto, or this artist from Minneapolis in the late '90s named Kitty Craft that made Saint Etienne-esque breakbeat twee pop stuff. That was something that we really seized onto that we both really liked and felt good about. So that was another reason why Broadcast was probably front-of-mind when I was trying to figure out what i was trying to put in that part of the song, because it's something that Viri and I both really connected to, and continue to feel good about.
Broadcast feels like the sort of thing where...I'm not gonna pull up the streaming numbers to check, but it seems like the sort of thing where that album could have a second life in the streaming era. It's a specific combination of chilled-out but really texturally weird that could definitely hitch a ride on some algorithmic thing and become a whole thing.
Yeah, I think Trish Keenan's passing, it struck so many people as such an incredible tragedy because...there was still stuff left to do! They had just, at that point in their career, started embarking down...Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher or whatever, that axis of British intellectual guys, they were really absorbed with this idea that they called "hauntology", which was just records that sounded like they came from a haunted library, basically.
The singular fascination with those guys is annoying to me.
(laughter) Yeah. I learned things from reading Simon Reynolds' blog. But also, the music that he was writing about that was new music in like the early 2010s, when you would still see him pop up, it was a lot of people I knew, and a lot of stuff that I was observing up close, and I didn't necessarily get the sense that he was writing about that stuff in a way that was teaching people anything worthwhile about it. So, I don't know.
I have more of a reticence to shitting on music writers than I do to shitting on artists, because I think just socially, I get along better with music writers. It's easier when I can talk about numbers, or opinions about whether or not something is good or bad, without setting off somebody's insecurity alarms, or setting off a big existential conflict between whatever idea I've casually referenced and their business model. So I feel reticent to say "Fuck Simon Reynolds," and whatever. But yeah, I haven't been reading those dudes since then. I found them most useful when what I needed was not necessarily specific analysis, or deconstruction, but just people that spoke a language I understood who could explain to me: what has happened? What happened here before I showed up? Why is everything like this? And ever since I started to develop answers to those questions that I found satisfying, I have less need for these critical guys who were trying to define that stuff.
Yeah, I didn't mean to shit on them, either.
But it's fun! I was talking earlier about the responsibility I have to the reader. And the reader is gonna have so much more fun reading this if I say "fuck this person" or "fuck that person", so on some level I feel an obligation to find good opportunities to do it, because there's probably somebody sitting around reading stuff that is never gonna be interviewed about it themselves that really desperately wants to say "Fuck Simon Reynolds", or "Mark Fisher's pessimism is suffocating, and obscures any good points he might otherwise be making". People do feel those things. And if I'm gonna be up on any platforms, I owe it to them to throw some punches.
I...Simon Reynolds' son is cool. I've had some good interactions with him, so I feel a bit…
He has a son?
Uhh, yeah. Kieran Press-Reynolds.
Whoa!!! I think I've seen that person on Twitter. I don't think I followed them, but that's just because the specific question of "should I follow, or should I not be following", these types of concerns, it shuts my brain down. If I can't decide in half-a-second whether or not I wanna do it, I just don't, and I ignore it, and I go onto the next thing. In the old days, I would follow somebody when I met them in person and could verify in person that they're chill. But trying to sort out the sea of people on social media from the distance that I am from it now, it's just like...ugh, I can't do it.
But, huh. That guy seems nice. I don't know if I'm mistaking him for somebody else or not, but I've seen that name before. Does he write, also?
Yeah, he's done lots of cool stuff. He interviewed quinn for Insider.
Amazing. Did he do something for one of the smaller newsletters? This is probably not stuff I should be talking about in an interview. But OK, I guess I'll retract my earlier "Fuck Simon Reynolds", because raising a child that's a chill person is probably a more important accomplishment...Anyhow.
That's the weirdest tangent I think I've had happen in an interview before.
I feel compelled to talk in this context the way I would talk any other time. And I'll live with the consequences if there are consequences.
To finish up that previous thought, let me think what other lyrics to mention from "snow flakes". "I feel like dying". That's the Lil Wayne song, I'm assuming.
Yes. The main reason I wanted that there, I mean, obviously that's a great song, and it's relative to the stuff I'm discussing, because it's a song that was only available illegally for a long time, because there was a lawsuit from the lady who is singing the hook on it and the people who produced the song, who I don't think had been in communication at all before the song's release, so there's kinda this unique filesharing-era-ness about it that felt like it belonged in a song about road tripping and smoking weed and all these things. But also what I liked about it was that it's the one obvious thing in that part of the song, so if none of the other phrases mean anything to you, I feel like once it gets to that point, it's a hint as to what I'm doing. It's like a Rosetta Stone to help you understand that the other things are probably the names of songs, artists or albums.
And it works just as a great lyric, anyway.
Yeah! Yeah. I was a really big fan of...well, so was everybody else on the Earth at that point. There were probably 4-year-olds in 2006 or 2007 that were fans of the Lil Wayne mixtapes. It was the biggest thing happening in music. If the charts were calculated differently, nobody would be talking about whatever pop stuff was starting to pop up during that time, because I think in terms of what people were actually listening to, the Lil Wayne mixtapes were it. All my friends that just liked the Strokes and Interpol and shit, they were listening to the Lil Wayne stuff. Everybody got into it. It was a huge, huge inflection point.
But also, I was such a big Lil Wayne fan that I went to go see him at an arena show in Minneapolis. The Target Center, where the Timberwolves played at the time. And it was a terrible experience. The crowd was all 15-year-olds from the Minnesota suburbs that were, like...they would get bored when he played the songs that were good. You know? They just wanted to hear the songs that had the hardest drug references, or the most conspicuous repetition of the n word, so they could sing along with it, and shout these things. And so, looking around, it just made me feel like, "Oh, god!", you know? "I don't belong here! What choices did I make that led me to this situation?" At one point, there were these really young girls that approached me and did the whole, "What school are you from? My friend thinks you're cute!" And I'm like, "I'm fucking 25! I don't go to a school! Please...please do something else with your time."
It was a really weird, uncomfortable experience. And it gave me a more complicated relationship with...not the music part of mainstream rap music, but the way it exists in the market, and the way it exists in the culture, where when it first started breaking through and my friends first started being open to it, I thought that was such a huge, positive thing, but then when i went to that show, I was like, "Oh, this is way more complicated than I thought it was, and I still don't understand anything about this. I need to learn more, and sort out what these feelings are so I can assign words to them." Yeah, those are the feelings I have about it.
So, The Upper Cuts, which is a house compilation. You mentioned that on "snow flakes".
Yes, The Upper Cuts is a compilation — I don't know if it's available on streaming or not, but most of it’s online — it's a compilation of songs by the French producer Alan Braxe and his friends. Back then, my friends had club nights. Even Josh who was in Elite Gymnastics, he had a club night. In Minneapolis, he had this DJ group he was part of called the Moon Goons and they were kinda the first ones in Minneapolis to do the Cobrasnake thing of: 'we've got a photographer at our party, and if you come to our party we will take photos and post them on our website later', and that was, back then, a really novel thing. So it made people wanna come out to the parties, and it became one of the more popular parties in the hipster-blog crossover lane in Minneapolis at the time.
There was a friend group that was a lot of DJs and maybe one or two producers or people who made music, but mostly DJs, and we were all trying to figure out what our lane is gonna be, and we're all experiencing the history of dance music in our research of trying to find hot tracks to play out, and we're sending each other stuff, and seeing what other people think about it, trying to develop a consensus of what we think is cool, and the Upper Cuts was something that was — and specifically, you know, the French house sound, obviously the reason I mention The Upper Cuts instead of just saying “Music Sounds Better With You” or Daft Punk Discovery or something is that I'm trying to conjure up memories of a time where it felt urgent to hear the other stuff outside of the three obvious songs that everybody knows. So I continue to have a lot of affection for the "In Love With You" by the Paradise, or "So Much Love to Give" by DJ Falcon, or "I Feel Music In Your Heart" by Starzone 33, the Lifelike and Kris Menace remix. It's just like a loop of "Could Heaven Ever Be Like This" by Idris Muhammad, which is a song I think at this point has been sampled many, many times by many different people in many genres. But there was just something about having a sick, looped sample with the filters on it that, it sounded good when I was hanging out with a girlfriend, and we're all smoking weed or doing whatever, and it sounded great when I was out at an afterparty in some warehouse, it was bouncing off the concrete walls, enveloping everybody. It was something that just continued to seem cool and good in all these different contexts, so I have a lot of pleasant feelings about it that I don't necessarily have about a lot of the other dance music of that time.
I feel like there's always this dynamic where — even right now, you see it, with...you know that guy, Fred again…?
Okay, who is Fred Again? Can you please explain this to me?
I couldn't tell you. (laughing) I don't really get it either. I've listened to some of the stuff, and it's whatever. But…
Like, what kind of music is it?
I feel like looking at a press release or something would be more instructive than me telling you what kind of music it is. It's kind of housey, garagey, trancey stuff. It's maybe...music for people who got into electronic music with Burial and are younger than the time when Burial came out.
I sort of get the sense that Fred Again is, like, clubby, and I would argue that Burial isn't.
I'm out of my depth here.
Just in general, I think about the phenomenon of these middlebrow club producers taking up all the oxygen.
Simon Reynolds — not to bring that up again, but I remember when I was still reading his blog, he was really into this concept of "middlebrow" to discuss what I would call "prestige". I think he probably means a similar thing by that to what I do when I'm complaining about prestige stuff. So yeah, that makes sense. Like, it's not like as clubby as Calvin Harris is trying to be, although he's trying to make prestige music in his own way now, too. It has, maybe field recordings or something in it, a textural layer that is maybe not specifically electronic...I probably need to stop guessing what Fred Again sounds like. I didn't start hearing about him until people started talking about a Fred again… Boiler Room set, and I just find Boiler Rooms impossibly tedious, so I am not really interested in what's succeeding there.
I've had to stop using the word "prestige" as much, because I use it too much, and people get annoyed, so I need to find synonyms for it.
It's true. I probably need to find a different word for it also, because it's a word people use, and different people have their own definitions of it, so it's probably going to be very hard to develop a standardized definition of that word that suits my needs. But there should be a word for it. Maybe "middlebrow" is it.
It's so hard, because I feel like with music discourse on the Internet, you always get a cheat code by framing everyone who disagrees with you as being dumb, and too siloed in a specific part of the Internet to get why they're dumb, and just saying that and not offering any evidence for it is a really easy way to win an argument.
I think in the old days, so much...God, how many times have I said that, "in the old days," in this conversation? Anyway, in the old days, I think that the question of what is succeeding with people was harder to answer, because there was less data, and so I think during that time, the people who would have had the best batting ratio as curators, or gatekeepers, or critics, or whatever, these people that are observing from outside and calling shots, I think the people who would have been the best at that would have been people who just develop a feeling about these things by being around it? They would have learned to trust their intuition more than data, because the data, there wasn't very much of it, and what there was was usually skewed by definition towards some power broker or another. So in the aughts, I think intuition was probably the best way to try to figure out what was going on with music on the internet, and the effect it was starting to have on music in the real world.
But now, because of the algorithmic silo stuff, and because of the amount of data that we have from the analytics that these platforms offer and from being able to see how many plays a song has on Spotify, now intuition is much less potent because it is the thing that the algorithms are gaming. They're trying to figure out what feels right to you, or what's gonna feel good to you to see, and they're trying to show you only that stuff. Another one of my big pet concerns is the implications of what happened with Mitski during her hiatus, where the streaming numbers went crazy because TikTok happened, and I think what happened there is there's a great New York Times piece by Joe Coscarelli that I linked on Twitter recently that was like from 2019. And he goes and he asks the program director of the New York alternative rock station: why aren't you playing Billie Eilish? It's so clear that it's 2019 and Billie Eilish is about to blow up. Why are you not playing this? Why are you not playing any of the Snail Mail, or Soccer Mommy, or Downtown Boys, or whatever? And the program director replies by saying, because the station trends 60/40 male, and that means it's mostly men, and I don't know what the next thing is gonna be, but it has to be something that men and women will agree on.
And I think on TikTok, that condition no longer exists. Every platform that an artist like Mitski would have used to get her music in front of people and try to cultivate an audience in the pre-social media times would have been controlled by human gatekeepers, usually men, who are very worried about...They're worried about, will playing too many women on the radio station alienate the male audience. When they look at an artist like Mitski, they're not thinking about it purely in terms of who will this appeal to, but who might be put off by this? And so this algorithmic siloing sort of removes that condition, because now you can show all the people who would be interested in Mitski's music without alienating anybody else, because they're all in their own algorithmic siloes. If all they wanna see is Glass Animals and The National or whatever, then that's all they're gonna see.
So it's like, in that type of environment, the type of person who just feels their way through things and uses their intuition to determine whether or not something is gonna blow up or not, or whether or not something is fake or not, that used to be such a valuable skill, and now it's completely worthless. The data that does exist now is a better indication of what is actually going on. Not like the data doesn't have problems, and isn't skewed in particular directions, in its own way. But the algorithmic siloing has just been so devastating to the utility of that type of intuition that it has basically destroyed it as a force in culture. And nobody has really...people from that era who have had their intuition do really good things for them, they don't wanna let go of it. They don't wanna let go of the idea that we still live in that world, and that these things still matter. But things have changed so much. So I guess that's why i don't know who Fred Again is, is because the algorithms know that I'm probably not gonna care.
I don't know if I agree that the intuition doesn't have value anymore. I almost think it has greater value, now that it's so much less accessible and the learning curve is harder. I think there's still a place for that. Maybe it can't get as many eyes or dollars as it used to, but I think it's still valuable.
I think that intuition is a really good platform for people to launder their own biases and prejudices, and I think the existence of so much data really helps observers determine to what extent somebody who is letting intuition guide their opinions, if you can compare the numbers to the takes, you can see when the takes are somebody laundering their own personal shit as if it's wisdom or insight, when it's just totally divorced from what's actually happening. That has just happened a lot of the time. Part of the reason I'm so fixated on the Mitski example is that it basically proves, in my mind, that all of the non-automated, non-algorithmic gatekeeping that was in the music industry prior to TikTok automating it was actively suppressing this type of artist, was actively seeing this type of artist — femininity, or the type of authenticity that they traffic in — that they were seeing this stuff as a liability to the overall health of radio, or record labels, or whatever platforms that were deciding what was gonna get in front of people before.
I'm furious about that. And I've been furious about it for years, because it was a truth that I was desperately trying to uncover for most of the 2010s, because I was trying to figure out how to help out the artists that I was friends with to help them navigate the industry. And at some point, you run into these barriers that are just "this fucking guy is the one that decides whether or not something gets played on the radio, or gets access to this other platform", and he finds femininity grating. And that has been helpful for him in the paradigm up until this point, because the male audience is so much more desirable to advertisers, things like this. This is the stuff that I was concerned with for most of the 2010s.
And so now that the data is kind of backing up the extent to which people's biases and prejudices were impacting everybody's perception of what was going on in music, it's like...I'm too mad about it (laughs). I'm sure the truth is that going to one extreme or the other is bad, I'm obviously not like, a pro-TikTok, pro-automation, pro-algorithm person. Even just if you look at the data, the examples of artists like Mitski, or Girl in Red, or Phoebe Bridgers or whatever, there are reasons why the algorithm is favoring some of those artists that have nothing to do with the music itself at all. All kinds of bad stuff with the TikTok algorithm.
The real solution is probably intuition that is informed by, and that incorporates, everything we can learn from the data, rather than one extreme or the other. But at this point in time, I'm really prone to hyperbole about it, because I'm looking at all the people whose job it was to get Mitski in front of her audience, and seeing what a shit job...that they were probably making things worse, for, like, decades, before the matter was taken out of their hands, and an automatic platform caused such a huge difference in how possible it was for that artist to reach their audience and cultivate an audience. I think I'm still gonna be mad about that for a while. But maybe in a couple years I'll have more constructive ideas about how the different approaches can be synthesized.
Someone I talk to who works in the music industry monitors the Shazam charts all the time. That's another example of this dichotomy, where it's about what is resonating with people, enough that they'll Shazam it or whatever, versus what they're streaming. Because those are such different listening modes.
Yeah, and you see that on TikTok as well. Where it's like, people are going to the shows, people are buying the records, the first-week sales for Laurel Hell were markedly different from the first-week sales of the record before that. So there's an artist that's resonating, but you can also find all this data, and all this anecdotal evidence, about how the songs that go viral just by showing up in somebody's FYP as the soundtrack to a dance challenge, or a type of TikTok that people like to make, like a trope that people wanna engage with, those artists are having a harder time building anything out of it other than novelty affection for this weird little thing they made that falls into people's feeds.
In the live music industry, the way that they described the difference between these two types of success is they talk about "hard tickets" versus "soft tickets". A "hard ticket" is where you are buying a ticket to see that artist. The reason that you are paying the money to buy the ticket, and you're arranging transportation to go to that venue, because you wanna see that artist specifically. Their appeal is strong enough to motivate that level of commitment from you, the listener.
Whereas a soft ticket draw, somebody who can sell soft tickets, it's somebody where if you put them in a festival lineup, or if you put them on a bill with other things, they will bring more people to that event than they would otherwise. But, you know, maybe it's just because they're a big celebrity, and you just wanna see what they're gonna do without necessarily being into their music. Or maybe it's like an older band that is playing their whole album in full, and it isn't gonna make you check out their new shit, but you will go check it out if it's an option at a festival that you were already going to. So on TikTok, and every other discovery platform where this stuff is happening these days, you can see a really big divide between people who are developing a hard-ticket draw and the people who are only getting soft-ticket clout out of it.
That's just what's also so...when people talk about TikTok and the impact it's having on music, it's mostly negative. Like, it's mostly people love the narrative that it's creating all these soft-ticket artists that nobody's gonna care about, because they were never that invested in the first place. But it also does rarely generate the other type of success, like it has for these other artists, who are selling more tickets to their shows, and selling more T-shirts, and having more people streaming their album, because they found out about them on these algorithmic social media platforms, where there's just mechanical gates to pass through instead of human beings imposing their own ideas onto that process.
On the artist side, too, there's a lot of frustration that turns to squabbling between artists, where obviously you're inundated with so much data that you have to try and optimize, and then so many people, it can seem from the inside sort of arbitrary who becomes a hard-ticket and who becomes a soft-ticket artist. And I've noticed a lot of resentment comes out of that, and that probably long-term decreases the health of the people making that art.
Yeah! I think that's a phenomenon that we watch happen, and I think that part of it is the isolated nature of the actual creation. An example from my youth that I think of sometimes is stuff like Lilith Fair, or probably the example more people would be familiar with is the “Family Values” tour, where Korn, kinda early on in their mainstream takeover, went on this package tour so that they could play bigger venues, where they brought Limp Biskit, and the Deftones, and Ice Cube. I think that that tour kind of created the idea of nu-metal in the imaginations of all the kids that went, because it was bigger than just the one band. And I think that ideas about music, or scenes, or whatever, that are bigger than just the one band, are better bets to make than just pure individualist success. I think that all the artists in a particular scene or working in a particular milieu are better off if they can find some bigger thing to be part of, some bigger thing to contribute to, where their strengths might make up for somebody else's weaknesses, or somebody else's weaknesses might make up for their strengths. But nobody has the chance to do that, because everybody's just, like, making stuff in isolation, and then when they all release it, they feel separate from each other, in a way that I think playing music together, going on tours together, going to parties together, can fix. Or at least improve.
So yeah, I think definitely it does create divisions when somebody starts to get the hard-ticket draws. What would be nice is if that was a good moment for everybody around that artist. If everybody could see the opportunity that is there. But another thing that happens is that when people do start to demonstrate a potential hard-ticket draw, then capital comes calling. The record labels, the managers, the booking agents, the whatever. They show up, and they want to absorb it into their situation. And that — the culture of those industries — is extremely individualist. Because they are, all of those people who come on board and take a percentage of your income, it's just, those people replace your friends.
Those people replace whoever was doing that stuff for you up until that point. It can't coexist. They have a culture. They have a more defined and thriving culture than artists do, because they're all making money! They all have, like, a lifestyle. There is a culture of the music industry that artists, especially working-class artists, don't fit into. And so when the underclass does what it always does, and creates some exciting new musical idea that everybody's gonna be interested in, it's so hard to bring anyone with you if you decide to sign up with all the people that you feel like you're supposed to sign up to. And if you don't, if you go the other way, then you're going up against this extremely powerful industry that is powerful not because it creates anything, but because it controls things that we all need. It's a protection racket. It's a completely parasitic entity.
What they do is crime. There's all kinds of things that we describe as crime in the world now that shouldn't be considered that way, that should be thought of totally differently, outside the paradigm of crime. But the fucking record labels, that is crime. It should be broken up and dismantled by state forces, and replaced with something else, and there should be laws on the books saying you can't ever have these types of contracts. If you get some of these people that work in this industry alone, where they're not speaking in a public-facing way, they'll say shit like "I can't believe what I get away with!" and "Somebody should probably do something about this." It's not even like those people are living happy lives! It's corrosive for them, too! But there's money in it, so they fear not being around where the money is, and not being around where the approval of the bosses is. And so that culture wreaks havoc, and anybody who signs up with it joins their career to it.
It's just...(deep sigh) a lot of problems.
Yeah, it sucks.
I wish I had more positive things to say about this stuff. I feel like I usually avoid talking too much about these things, to especially younger people. My apologies, because I would much rather be somebody that can offer hope, and reassurance, and advice, rather than just sort of cautionary tales.
You're good. I've heard plenty of this stuff by now.
What video games have you been playing recently?
I've really been having a hard time with this, actually. I started trying to find a new game to sink into after the album was finished, because it was kinda hard to give brain space over to that while I was still working on it. Video games are in the same state of collapse, I think, that everybody's now realizing that TV is, and movies, and music. Most of the big games that are coming out of the big companies, the majority of them over the past few years have just been launching in these increasingly broken states. We're at a situation where your average new release game from a big company looks worse than the similarly budgeted releases from ten years ago.
It's like, a trippy thing that I think is impacting how radicalized gamer culture is becoming about certain things. Like there was such a huge, huge anti-crypto, anti-NFT sentiment in the game world last year, when music was falling for it hook, line and sinker. And I think it's because if you're playing these things regularly, it's become impossible to deny that it's in decline. It just so obviously is in decline.
So, uhh...yeah, I'm not even really sure what the last thing...I mean, Viri is playing through Yakuza 7, or Yakuza: Like A Dragon, it's called. And that game kicks ass, because it's about working-class stuff. It's just, like, the whole thing is this really deep, really generous set of stories about the Japanese working-class existence in a port town over there. There's the different storylines, they're about, like, the struggle of immigrants from China, and the struggle of immigrants from Korea, the specific cultural differences and points of stress that exist between those people and Japan, because of the policies of the Japanese government and the history of the Japanese Empire.
It keeps going places that I don't expect games to go. It almost becomes frustrating playing it. Maybe that's part of the reason I'm having a hard time finding another game to latch onto. It's like, 'I wanna see more games like this! I wanna see more games get into, fuckin', zoning laws, and how that might be having an impact on the people who live in a particular city, or the day-to-day existence. There's a whole, recurring sub-quest about the people who collect cans every morning to turn them in for pennies and nickels and stuff. It's like, that's all dramatized, and at one point the main character ends up in a homeless shelter, and obviously there's some fantastical mob-movie stuff that isn't reflective of real life, but the game is interested in using game mechanics to communicate the things about what it's like to be homeless that would help a layperson understand how expensive it is. That it's not just the absence of an income, there's all these costs that are designed to keep you in that situation. And the game cares about that, and it's trying to tell stories about it.
Even in the situations where it doesn't necessarily nail it, or do it the same way that I would, I'm still so psyched to see this much effort and resources being put into taking that type of swing in that medium. It shows, I think, where there is left for games to go. The tech side of things, the graphical side of things, I think the innovation that's still possible on that side of things, there's not really much territory left to cover. So I think the future is, like, 'what if we started getting people who are good writers to work on these games, and to understand the medium better, and to have conversations with the engineers so we can fix the problems that are keeping better writing, and deeper storytelling, and bigger swings in terms of what people wanna tell stories about, from happening?
I think the barriers that are keeping that from happening in Western games are human barriers. It's not a problem that can be solved with technology, it's a problem that can be solved by what people can bring to these games that they haven't been able to in the past. But that is, of course, how I feel about most kinds of media at this point. I feel like we've reached a dead end, or a series of dead ends, in this idea that technology should be what pushes culture forward. Now it's like: the tech's not gonna do it for us anymore. The engine has broken down. And if we wanna move it forward now, we'll have to join hands and push the thing with our own strength.
Jaime Brooks/Elite Gymnastics on Twitter / Bandcamp / Patreon / SoundCloud
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