Post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-rock... to every movement there seems to be a 'post' and the online era is no exception. In this article we explore the post-Internet generation of musicians who use the virtual world like no one else.
Reading the term post-Internet superficially, it would seem to imply that it comes after the Internet; an evolution past the Internet to a new field. It is quite the contrary in fact. Just as with post-modernism, post-rock or post-everything the use of ‘post’ entails a critical framework around the concept that is being, well… post-ed. ‘Post’ not only means that it comes after, but implies an awareness of its medium, sources, audience and its limits. The movement then takes this self-awareness as its new subject. The result is a metastate of looking and is sometimes criticised for being disconnected, too difficult for the general public to understand, and maybe even be too devoid of actual meaning due to its excessive self-contemplation.
As an art movement Post-Internet follows up on the concept of Internet art or ‘net.art’ which was more of an exploration of internet technology. Through (mainly) the second half of the nineties the internet was slowly, say 56Kb slowly at first, finding its way into our daily life and eventually began altering our perception of reality. In the post-Internet era, being online has become so much of our daily life, that it is impossible to think of how we would interact, gather information, work or play without it. Post-Internet art is not about the Internet as a medium anymore, but more of an examination of this virtual world and its impact and relation to the real world.To put it simply: not merely made on the net, but about the net. Influenced by art movements of the past like Dadaism and Fluxus, net-aware art is not to be seen as a solid structured group, but more of a playful, fluid and conceptual form of art.
The advent, rise and eventual ubiquity of wireless technology, means that we’re always online, always looking, always sharing. Our eyes locked on the blue light screen where the virtual surpasses the real in terms of meaning. This new condition has an impact on the way we consume media.
In the last couple of years there has been a surge of musicians whose creative output could be seen as post-Internet. The one thing that runs as a thread through all of these artists is their relationship to the Internet. They regard it as a source of inspiration and at the same time a quarry. The fact that the Internet has allowed for artists to find an audience on a global scale has definitely had an impact on the music they produce or the commercial value of it. As information is only a few clicks away the Internet has also offered them the opportunity to feed off of things happening across the globe.
There’s a duality embedded in this kind of music, as a lot of these artists came up through club culture, be it in New York, London or Berlin and so are influenced by genres like techno, house, juke, grime, hip-hop, R&B or even hardstyle. Building on the legacy of the likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre, Fennesz and others who trail-blazed experimental electronic music from the nineties onward, this new generation of iconoclasts have created something intricate and well designed, so that their music is more like an artwork than a consumption piece.
So, what do all these post-Internet aesthetics sound like? To say it is not an easy listen could be an understatement to some: it can be abrasive, unnerving and at times chaotic or uncentered. The feel of it is very technological; as if the beats and textures are a direct audible translation of electronic pulses passing through a bunch of network cables all twisted and bundled together. Below you’ll find a selection of artists who are associated with this scene to give you an idea of what post-Internet music could sound like. It is by no means an exhaustive list but more of an introduction, a 101 if you will.
One artist who took the lead in this field, especially in terms of achieving mainstream exposure, is Arca (AKA Alejandro Ghersi). Noted for working with Kanye West on several tracks of Yeezus, producing Björk’s latest album Vulnicura and collaborating with futuristic pop queen FKA twigs. While living in New York he became part of the GHE20G0TH1K scene. Spearheaded by Venus X, these underground parties were about breaking boundaries, tearing down walls between all kinds of genres, about embracing queerness and liberty and leaving prejudice at the door.
Ghersi has released two full length albums under the name Arca so far. Both of them are rather different than his previous EPs, trading in R&B style influences for more abstract soundscapes. He has seemingly left behind vocals to become machine-like whilst encapsulating a form of sensuality and softness. This interaction and juxtaposition of the hard and cold tech beats and glitches in contrast with softer more melodic lines is very typical to Arca’s sonic imprint.
A characterizing trope within the post-Internet movement is the use of samples, or better yet micro samples. These sound bits are highly distorted and hardly recognizable after being been passed through all kinds of filters and effects. It is this excess of distortion that brings to the foreground the use of the technique itself as a way of processing the real to make it more virtual. What Photoshop is to our visual culture, Ableton is to contemporary electronic music. Similar to how PC Music turned the volume on the visual codes and strategies employed in pop and advertising imagery to show its own bubblegum fakeness, you could say post-Internet musicians employ Ableton (and other software) to make their own kind of hyper-saturated music, laying bare that what you eventually hear is miles away from its origin.
Another post-Internet forerunner is Holly Herndon. Her approach is a little more intellectual, ‘cleaner’ and less dystopian than most of the other artists that we’ll be discussing here. Currently a doctoral candidate at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Herndon fuses her classical music upbringing with a harder tech-based sound design. Herndon’s work revolves around humanness and technology, providing social commentary on the way in which we communicate and interact with each other over the net and how it is inherently different from the IRL experience. Not only is the medium different, but the language, the expectations and the interactions themselves are literally framed and mediated through our screens. Herndon challenges the idea that online life is of less value than real life in the same way she opposes the notion that the laptop is of less value as an instrument than say the contrabass or piano, something she explains via Pitchfork.
Seeing this artist perform live proves that the laptop really is a viable instrument. By watching the video below, you’ll see that Herndon is actively engaging with her instrument. There’s a direct correlation between the visual and audible, what you hear is what you see her do, just as with a traditional instrument. For Herndon the laptop is the most personal instrument there is, it has everything related to her on there; her contacts, her (un)finished projects, her emails...
Her sophomore album Platform explores different ideas of community (like the ASMR community on Youtube), communication, identity and information gathering and is characterized by the juxtaposition of beats, clicks and glitches against the human voice. The vocals are reminiscent of choral music and often sound very angelic even though the lyrics themselves can be very mundane or politically and socially engaged. The song Home is a direct response to the NSA saga. “I can feel you in my room. Why was I assigned to you? I feel like I'm home on my own. And it feels like you see me.” The anonymity of the Internet is not what we thought it was, there are eyes watching us, monitoring us, our personal data is being collected and stored somewhere. It would have been easy to translate this idea into something dystopian, but Home feels more like a love note to her NSA agent.
“Now that experimental music is in the club, what does that mean politically?” Holly Herndon asks herself. “Will we just hear weird sounds and then get drunk and dance, or are we now able to discuss the values that experimental music can conjure up in those scenarios as well?”
One of the acts Holly Herndon collaborated with for her second album is Amnesia Scanner. There’s not a lot of information to be found on the Internet about this name. (Oh, the irony). Their Last.fm bio states they have worked as a producer for Mykki Blanco, and that’s about it. However, as Angels Rig Hook is one of the most interesting things I’ve heard - ever - I couldn’t help but share this track/mixtape. The little over 14 minutes track is a collage of stereo sounds, with lyrics written by internet persona poet/visual artist Jaakko Pallasvuo, amounts to a jarring exploration of the limits of what to some would still be deemed pleasurable.
M.E.S.H. is another one of those artists whose influence within the community of netaware artists is not to be underestimated. Hailing from Santa Barbara, he moved to New York and later to Berlin where he became part of the Janus collective, which offered a platform for musician-producers to test out their music in a club atmosphere, linking them with like-minded people and fostering talent such as Lotic, Renaissance Man and KABLAM.
M.E.S.H.’s sonic world sounds very much like a skewed and dragged collage; shattered glass, broken beats and ominous disruptive melodies joining in from afar. The result is a dense immersive angular soundscape, pulling inspiration from a wide range of genres including noise, grime, hardstyle, Musique Concrète and even Baroque and Renaissance music. Even though there are many references to the past, the result sounds very cyber-eclectic and could easily be called futuristic, a notion which he told The Fader he had rejected.
His approach to music is very much about sourcing sounds on the internet and has a distinctive use of postproduction techniques. Duality is never far away for this one, be it the foreground-background dichotomy, the antithesis of a clear production over the use of dronelike soundscapes, or the pairing of two divergent patterns playing against each other. Talking about the song Epithet with FACT he notes:
“[...] made from two very different rhythmic speeds played on the same grid and made to fit together through syncopation, [...] I wanted to create a sense of focus that can come from following two divergent lines of thought that eventually converge again in unexpected ways.”
Even though M.E.S.H.’s musical patterns come across as those Ableton rectangles, they’re mostly hand played, which to the fine tuned ear will make these elements sound ‘sloppy’ as he puts it in the Fader. For this artists, it is a way to bring the humanness back into the machine or the computer generated.
Similar in terms of style to M.E.S.H. is the Houston-born but Berlin-based J'Kerian Morgan aka Lotic. Equally disruptive and skewed as M.E.S.H. but tends to be more aggressive at times and more reliant on R&B, house and IDM patterns. Listening to Heterocetera EP, you’ll hear Lotic’s signature balancing act between the aggressive turbulence and anchor points referencing the known. Once again, a tension of chaos and the familiar is present here: a carefully constructed visceral cycle through raw assaulting rhythms that tend to fall apart to become something new again. It is this dynamic and fluid soundscape that gives the feeling of ever pushing forward to the boundaries of the now towards the future that is characteristic for post-Internet music.
His EP Agitations, released on Janus reads more like a mixtape than a collection of separate tracks, and therefore defies the bite-size ready-to-consume commodification prevalent in our Internet culture. When we encounter unconventional examples like this, we have to wonder, is the post-Internet movement also contra-Internet?
Taking aggressiveness to even further is TriAngle signee Rabit. According to a press release from the label, his album Communion is “inspired by issues relating to sexuality, gender, ownership of our natural bodies, societal and governmental injustices, and media manipulations.”
Album track “Pandemic” is as unnerving as it is cataclysmic. Throughout the record, Rabit’s genre hops as he turns to grime for 808 kicks and shattered glass, looks towards industrial for granular drone tones, and video games provide machinegun beats. Particularly unsettling is the pairing of gunshot salvos with the abstruse sound of children in distress, adding a human aspect to the harshness of the composition.
As mentioned before, this movement is more of a conceptual fluid current within experimental electronic music. There’s no manifesto, no rules, no checklist. It would therefore be dangerous to call post-Internet a genre. Sure, there are idiosyncrasies between the artists associated with this movement but that might be pointing more to a symptom of our time or culture.
There’s no denying the Internet has had a profound impact on these musicians. The global network allowed them to push boundaries more than ever before with a vast audience just a few clicks away. Cross-pollination across space and time has led to forms of music which are saturated with references ranging from high art to pop culture, from clubscenes to intellectual music, from gunshots to Renaissance instruments. The songs are collages pulling inspiration and elements from everywhere and anywhere.
The dramatic pleasure derived from these auditory post-Internet tales comes from the immersive effect they have. From divergent to convergent, from tension to relief and the dynamic interplay of all these different familiar and unfamiliar patterns and references challenge the expected. There are elements to it that sound familiar: riffs that transport you to a club scene to sound effects reminiscent of anime coupled against a nonstop feeling of disorientation. There’s no telling where we’ll end up. From divergent to convergent, from tension to relief and the dynamic interplay of all these different patterns and references challenge the expected.