An outstanding debut from a new name, the abstract electronic album Ten Minutes to Midnight is billed in its brief press release as “a masterwork of subtraction.” There wasn’t much else context for this description, so I tried to go straight to the source.
You won’t find much information about who Canva6 is through a Google search; I had to email the label, Presto!? Records, who patched me through to the man himself. It turns out Canva6 is the sound project of Marco Farina, a 27-year-old from Rome who moved to Milan to study sound engineering but stayed after becoming enamoured with the city’s cultural scene. Music production is a priority for him. “When I don’t make music I try to find some ‘fast-jobs,’” he explains. “It’s not something stable, but it’s enough to pay bills, take bae out for dinner, and buy instruments. There are some people who say that I should get a normal, stabler job, but this modality is the only one that can make the creation of music possible. Making music can be a slow process sometimes, I need a lot of time.”
Farina recalls being nine or ten years old when he discovered his friend’s brother’s copy of FL Studio, a computer program used to produce electronic music. He and his friend used this software to create his first-ever “techno track” at which point he became hooked. It was in his early twenties that he discovered experimental music, which was liberating; he was no longer restricted to the conventions of dance music. “When you do experimental music, you are free, there are no rules, it’s just to create something that sounds good to my ears,” he tells me.
He explains that his record is billed as a “masterwork of subtraction” because it is the product of a process of decluttering his music. (Though I get the sense this turn of phrase was the work of his label, not him.) “I started to feel this need for precision in my work when I started to subtract elements,” he explains. “Before this practice, the message that I wanted was not clear… It was messy, it wasn’t clear where the tracks were going, so I said ‘OK, let’s stop going around it, let’s get to the point.’”
Conceptually, Ten Minutes is one of a growing line of pandemic records, what Farina calls “something a bit tragic.” He recounts crafting this album in the early days of lockdown while Italy was getting hit exceptionally hard. At the time, he travelled to his girlfriend’s place with just a laptop and keyboard. While stuck indoors, he developed a strict routine: he would go to bed early, wake up at 6 am, then sit down to produce tracks on his computer and take piano lessons online until roughly noon. (His girlfriend, a night owl, would join him later in the day.) After the first lockdown wound down, he took the resulting tracks back to his home studio to test them on a proper sound system but found the work “really bad” when subject to scrutiny. He diagnosed the problem as the fact that the record was produced using computer software alone; after saving up some cash, he was eventually able to purchase some used audio equipment, then used this to produce a superior product. What brought Ten Minutes to its final synthesis was Lorenzo Senni, the founder of Presto!? Records and an electronic producer who Farina considers an inspiration. Farina had been accepted to the label after submitting a demo, with the proviso that it required a lot of work – with Senni’s guidance, the final Canva6 record emerged, and was came out on the label.
A record forged during the early days of the pandemic, Ten Minutes is, according to Farina, a combination of memory and futility. “I rewound a lot of my life and my experiences. This caused an intense need to escape… but where? I didn’t know what was outside those days!” Take, for example, “Still Cry at High Speed,” a track which is built upon a massive chord progression played using the “chorus” feature on a Roland Juno 60, an analog synthesizer produced between 1982 to 1984. (Farina explains that this synth produces “a huge spreading sound like a hug from your father when you’re a very tiny child,” before apologizing for the simile.) This sound was augmented by superimposed sounds concocted experimentally in a computer program called Massive, reflecting Ten Minutes’ amalgam of analog and digital methodology.
“Still Cry at High Speed,” like many of the tracks on this record, is both pretty and momentous, yet interestingly Farina describes it as the product of a sense of restlessness. Reflecting on the lockdown period in which this track was composed, he explains the track’s inspiration: “In a static time, I want to run, I want to drive fast, I want to be on a rollercoaster, I want to feel the fear when it’s taking me up, but when it’s taking me down I would cry for that feeling of speed, I still cry with that. It’s what I needed at the time… and of course every day of my life.”
Ten Minutes’ artwork is a photograph taken by Lorenzo Senni, the Presto!? Records owner. It is a photograph of a popular Milan palace in San Bibila; pictured is a clock at, you guessed it, ten minutes to midnight. Though it’s nighttime, there is a brightly lit banner depicting a sunset above an ocean, part of an advertisement out front of the palace. Farina was drawn to the juxtaposition between the dimly lit city and the bright sunset, comparing it to Blade Runner. “When I saw it I just said, ‘OK, let’s use this please. I don’t want to see the others.’ I think it was identical to my feelings in those days stuck at home.”
Lurking in the depths of streaming music services is this strange record, named Hurt, by the oddly named Peristalsis Intestines. (Grammatically speaking, it’s also an odd one — “Intestinal Peristalsis” would have had made more sense.)
It’s a low-key and not unpleasant album’s worth of brief, electronic instruments set to a hip-hop beat. Each track is around two minutes in length, and most combine a stereotyped beat to a restricted set of synthesizer timbres.
The entire record can be found on most streaming sites, including Soundcloud:
There is no information about the origin of this album online. The only webpages associated with it are places to buy or stream it (e.g. Spotify, Amazon Unlimited, KKBOX). The artwork appears to be a from-above photograph of a woman digitally modified to look like a painting:
I was wondering if this was a stock image; a Google image search reveals no such leads, as the only instances of this image appearing online are linked to Peristalsis Intestines. It is possible that it is a stock image that has been modified in Photoshop to take on its current, painting-esque form.
The song titles, like the artist name, seem to be the product of a random word generator: “Blaxploitation,” “Confesses Criticize Adopt,” “Varsity Service Break,” “Myself Advancement,” “Inlcusive.” With that said, certain titles give off a vague Aphex Twin vibe: “Brush Wash-off Eddies,” “Acotyledon Ironworks.”
It is possible this is streaming music spam — an album created and given an unusual name to attract errant streams, and therefore accumulate gradual royalty payments. But the fact that it has only accumulated one monthly visitor on Spotify suggests that, if so, this strategy isn’t working too well. I do wonder if this album exists, in identical form, with different artist, album, and song titles. (There have been instances of other Spotify spammers who submit identical records under multiple different names as a way of slowly absorbing royalties from curious streamers searching random keywords).
Interestingly, when this album concludes in Spotify, the next track the algorithm queues up for me is from another bizarre, faceless album, COHANDE by SUNCOTK:
I have sent a message to the Peristalsis Intestines Soundcloud account, but have not yet heard back. I will update this if I do.
Do you know anything about this strange record? Are you Peristalsis Intestines? Are you a better internet sleuther than I am? If so, please get in touch so we can solve this mystery!
Superpang, a record label named after an obscure Super Nintendo game, is all about exploring strange musical concepts. Famous for their distinctive, text-only covers, this Rome-based netlabel has produced a sprawling discography since their 2020 debut, Guy Birkin’s Liminal Kicks. That unique record was a collection of algorithmically produced club tracks driven by supraphysiological tempos that shifted in exponents according to the Golden ratio, reaching a ceiling of 300,000 beats per minute!
Phantom Acid is yet another experiment from the Superpang clan. Twenty-four tracks, each one precisely 90 seconds in length, make up this unusual disc – which is described, in its press release, as post-human. In truth, this is the work of two producers, each with their own aesthetic, and each armed with their own digital tools.
Eric Frye is known for his audio experiments with the human voice. For example: Obfuscation Morphologies, an album in which he used software to alter recordings of speech, stripping them of their actual words. Deprived of verbal content, the voices became vague and unnerving utterances divorced of identity and context. In an interview with The Wire, he described this as a comment on privacy in the digital age. He sees his musical use of the voice-stripping software as a way of subverting the typical use case for these computer programs, which he believes are destined to be co-opted by big companies to nefarious ends. “I feel like I’ll find something like this voice obscuring process and I’ll be so happy to use it to see what it does,” he explained then. “These processes have a lot of power, and they should actively be shared with artists and musicians, people who are a wider audience in general. It shouldn’t just be relegated to a corporate structure, that’s going to take this and implement it into a smartphone or something, and have back doors to it or whatever.” In their corresponding notes, Frye’s productions will credit the programmers responsible for creating this software, and reference articles from linguistics journals – clearly, his sonic output goes hand in hand with the highly technical process he makes use of.
On Phantom Acid, Frye’s voice manipulations are fifty percent of the equation. The other half is the work of Jung An Tagen (born Stefan Juster), who turns the deconstructed phonemes into loops and converts them into strange approximations of rave music. Tagen, a veteran producer who has explored many different avenues of sound, lately has been focused on computer music – borrowing processes from ‘academic’ music and using them produce strange deconstructions of electronic dance music.
The ideas behind Phantom Acid make reference to other sound work. Psychologist Diana Deutsch used to run experiments where she would play looped recordings of single words to study participants, offsetting the left and right speaker channels. Eventually, the subjects would hear “phantom words” in the din: new words, made up words, words in foreign accents, etc. The same effect is embedded in Phantom Acid, both the work and title. But Phantom Acid’s most proximal connection is to their labelmates, EVOL, a hyperproductive duo who have concocted a whole host of sonic experiments and who claim to create “computer music for hooligans.” One of EVOL’s recurrent projects has been their spoofs on rave music, dubbed “rave synthesis,” in which they use computers to take sonic signatures of dance music and turn them on their head. To wit: their 100 Variations For Solo Hoover, which took a synthesized sound that was a mainstay of 90s rave music (the custom synth tone known as the “Hoover sound,” in reference to its auditory resemblance to a vacuum) and dissected it stochastically into one hundred separate compositions. (It was released in an edition of 100 CD-Rs, each copy containing one of the different variations such that no two were identical). You can imagine what their 2009 cassette, Fart Synthesis, was all about.
Listening to Phantom Acid is a jarring experience – the fragmentary tracks are punctuated by blebs of white noise, resisting the tendency toward passive engagement that often occurs with electronic music. Even the simplest tracks – e.g. a simple phoneme, looped – are undeniably rhythmic. Jung/Frye’s experiments reach their most sublime when the complexity is upscaled, quasi-melodies and basslines appearing amid the bedlam. Whether it is something to enjoy on a primal level, or merely to be appreciated on an intellectual one, is up for debate.
First of all, I want to apologize for how quiet Anomaly Index has been over the past while. I have been hard at work on an upcoming very big project: a book, about extreme and obscure music, which will be due out in November of this year. I will post more about that later.
Today I focus on an obscure CD-R label that ran from 2000 to 2008, responsible for some truly strange relics in the noise and dark ambient space. That label was Alarming Echo Beats:
The origins of AEB are a little opaque, but information can be gleaned from the archive of its website on archive.org, which includes a link to a brief interview with the founder, who is known as The Rev, which is short for the Reverend Samekh Anubis Amoun-Ra.
Prior to running AEB, The Rev was a teenager fascinated with the noisecore / shitcore / shitnoise scene: a grindcore-adjacent scene devoted to ultra-short blasts of noise. Canonical bands in these scene include Anal Cunt, Deche-Charge, and Seven Minutes of Nausea, the latter known for releases like a seven-inch record with 293 tracks on one side.
The Rev started putting out tapes under the name Fecel-Cide, a “semi-political noise band” whose primary orientation appears to have been anti-authority. Very little Fecel-Cide content remains easily available today, but here’s a brief track from the Audio Terrorism tape compilation:
In 1991 The Rev started his first label, Fecal-Matter Discorporated, an imprint and distro dedicated to unleashing tapes and CD-Rs by Fecel-Cide and other artists who fit under the rubric of “harsh sick sexual deviant style noise.” His first tape was a split cassette between the band Flush (a one-off Rev project) and Palagi (another one-off of unclear provenance), its cover a crass and grainy Xerox job like many of the era:
This first incarnation of Fecal-Matter Discorporated lasted until 1994, releasing 21 cassettes including two compilations named Bored-Core which remain incredibly obscure at this point:
Fecal-Matter Discorporated then lay dormant for six years, re-emerging in 2001 with more colourful imagery, striking out with the album Suitcase Of Mutilated Entrapment by the Japanese grindcore band Basket of Death. It is at this point that the aesthetic becomes less crass and more graphic. The label’s website, which has been preserved in archive form, is lacquered with images of extreme porn, mainly of the coprophagic variety, and there are very few releases whose cover art I could reproduce here without violating my agreement with my hosting service. The front page of the label’s website lists two slogans: “Cum see the shit we have for you!!” and “Where we force the shit in your face,” which should give you a flavour for the aesthetic. Bands with names like Complete Rectal Shutdown, Imbibing Bile, and Anal Gorecum Pissflap Slap are featured. Here is the charming cover to one of the label’s compilations, Now That’s What I Call Shit!:
Alarming Echo Beats, the much less puerile sister label to Fecal-Matter Discorporated, was started in 2000 to release music under The Rev’s new project, Absynth (To His Macabre Angel), a more subdued approach inspired by the occultist Aleister Crowley. His first release was the album Twilight Mind, by The DSA Working, the side project of prog-rock band Yeti’s bassist, Tommy Atkins.
The Alarming Echo Beats focus was on “occult and magick type genres of musick,” and the discography is a bizarre one. An especially peculiar release is the 2003 compilation He Came to Set the Captives Free, a concept release based around a controversial 1986 Christian book of the same name. That book was published by Dr. Rebecca Brown, and was billed as an exposé of an underground Satanic cult network. In it, Dr. Brown tells the story of her roommate, Elaine, who was recruited as a child to a Satanic cult called “The Brotherhood,” only to eventually ascend to the rank of high priestess. Dr. Brown, while starting her career as a doctor, rescues Elaine and sets up an “underground railroad” for escapees from the cult. According to reporting, in reality, Dr. Brown — whose real name was Dr. Ruth Bailey — had lost her license for misdiagnosing patients with actual diseases as having demonic possession and treating her patient, Edna Elaine Moses (the “Elaine” from her book), with massive quantities of opioids and sedatives, such that she had to undergo inpatient detoxification for withdrawal. She had also been self-administering opioids to herself regularly. From an Indianapolis News article:
“Testimony for 19 witnesses revealed that Dr. Bailey, a former registered nurse, began an impressive medical career in 1979 after excelling in medical school. Over the last three years she deteriorated into a woman plagued by drug addiction, religious extremism and a belief that patients and colleagues were possessed by devils, witnesses said. Several witnesses declined to reveal their current addresses saying they feared retaliation from Dr. Bailey. The physician carries a handgun and has threatened to harm people she claims are possessed, they said. ‘Her diagnosis was that I was possessed by many demons, including one like an octopus with long tentacles…’”
Despite this, Dr. Brown’s book has found a niche in the evangelical Christian universe. Alarming Echo Beats’ compilation includes music by several experimental artists, most notably plunderphonics act The Bran Flakes and DJ Spooky collaborator Totemplow, overlaid with excerpts of an audiotape version of the controversial Christian book.
Even more bizarre is the album Necro Audio Forensics: 13 Stairs Palo, Iowa, which bills itself as a series of recordings of EVP, or the electronic voice phenomenon: a belief that disembodied voices can be heard amid the buzz and hum of electrical interference. (There is a key compilation on the Touch label, named The Ghost Orchid, which collects EVP recordings).
According to the label copy, Necro Audio Forensics was created from tapes that were recorded at the supposedly haunted Pleasant Ridge cemetery just north of Palo, Iowa, which is nicknamed “13 Stairs” due to the distinctive staircase leading up to its hilltop locale. According to local lore, this cemetery is a prime location for supernatural phenomena: it is supposedly a hotbed of ghoulish EVP voices, and is also home to a red-eyed ghost dog that materializes occasionally.
The Necro Audio Forensics CD-R is attributed to Ichabod Crane, the alter ego of Kristian Day, who now is a successful film and TV producer who has also composed scores for horror films. The CD-R features recordings made at the cemetery, purportedly of EVP, augmented with samplers and sequencers to create the creepy final product.
Day, who corresponded with me briefly via email, explains that he was sixteen when he created Necro Audio Forensics. He is now 35. “Palo is probably the first haunted space I have encountered,” he tells me. “I remember taking the tape recorder out there and it kept stopping. When I finally got it home the sounds were not super audible but there was definitely something there.”
The rest of Alarming Echo Beats’ respectably sprawling discography spans drone, extreme metal, and power electronics. There is a split release (Cththonic Cat Cult, AEB-022) dedicated to an H.P. Lovecraft short story in which a cat killer is eaten by a swarm of felines. By 2007, the label’s discography becomes even more fringe: Qlippothic Kommandos was a bizarre compilation dedicated to the theme of “Satanic psyops,” featuring a number of controversial contributors.
The exact origins of the person behind Alarming Echo Beats — The Rev, as it were — are quite obscure, seemingly deliberately so. I found numerous email addresses associated with The Rev and his various projects, but multiple queries sent to all of them yielded no response. Based on some sleuthing involving caches of the websites for Alarming Echo Beats and the Absynth music project, I suspect that the person responsible is from Texas and is named Sean; at one point he appears to have been an avid collector of Godzilla memorabilia. (The power of the internet, right?) Digging deep online, there is also a possible association with a briefly-existent racist CD-R label, which I will not name here, but I cannot confirm overlap in the absence of concrete evidence. I will also note that the He Came To Set The Captives Free compilation and one other AEB release also seem to have been reissued by another label (not the racist one named above), which also released two albums by groups associated with racist themes.
At any rate, around 2008 the trail goes dead. Copies of AEB releases appear to be exquisitely scant, with only a small handful available on the secondary marketplace, and digital uploads also seem to be absent. One wonders how many of each release were produced, and whether a full archive exists somewhere.
As a whole, Alarming Echo Beats is emblematic of the many productive but briefly active experimental music CD-R labels that existed in the 2000s. By and large, this body of music remains under-documented and under-collected, with incomplete Discogs listings representing the best quality information about many of these small labels. Many mysteries remain, but as time passes, the details fade further and further into obscurity…
Do you know more about the Alarming Echo Beats story? If so, please leave a comment or get in touch! I’d love to fill out this story.
If you were alive, conscious, and capable of absorbing pop culture in 1996 and 1997, you will probably recognize “Nightmare” by Brainbug, if not by name then by sound:
A worldwide dance hit, this single spawned a momentary obsession with synthesized pizzicato strings. It was a mainstay at sporting events, and turned up on the soundtrack to major feature films. It plays in the background of a scene in Night at the Roxbury as the two main characters, surrounded by floral bouquets, argue until they come to blows.
Despite the cultural ubiquity of this track, Brainbug’s identity remained somewhat opaque. Behind the moniker was Alberto Bertapelle, an Italian producer who recorded one-off releases under a variety of different names. Although there is an incomplete list on Discogs, his full oeuvre remains uncatalogued to this day; sadly, he died in 2016 during a live performance with Abbalive, an ABBA tribute group that co-founded, and for which he played guitar — a strangely non-digital footnote to his musical career.
Dance music is notorious for its complex nomenclature and its interconnectedness. Poring over what we know of Alberto Bertepelle’s full discography, the interesting aspects are in the details: lists of faceless pseudonyms, poorly-documented collaborations with other Italian names, releases on various record labels, sub-labels, sub-sub-labels.
1996’s “Nightmare” was the first single under the name Brainbug, a track that has gone on to define a certain strain of trance music that used synthesized strings instruments and other orchestral sounds. (Indeed, the most popular permutation of “Nightmare” was its “Sinister Strings Mix,” one of countless whimsically titled remixes, tweaks, and alternate versions that appeared: the “M.D.L.P. More Pumping Mix,” the “Burger Queens Remix,” the “Club 69 Meets DJ Wild From Paris Remix,” etcetera.) Buoyed by his international success, he followed “Nightmare” up with several tracks in a similar mold, likely aspiring to cash in on the public’s appetite for dark, symphonic trance and pizzicato strings.
“Benedictus” came out the following year. It uses choral vocals sourced from an aria and all manner of orchestral hits and strings, but ups the ante with an even more cavernous sound than “Nightmare.” In comments sections on YouTube, some Brainbug enthusiasts have argued that this is a superior track to its predecessor, though its chart performance was significantly weaker Whereas “Nightmare” rose to #15 on the UK singles chart, “Benedictus” only reached #25. The disparity was greater in other European countries.
Meanwhile, a follow-up that came out the same year, “The 8th Dwarf,” was a chart bomb. It featured a similar formula, but is centred around a minor-key violin melody that is more melancholy than foreboding, sort of like an Eastern-European folk song:
Bertapelle released his last Brainbug track, “Rain,” in 1998. On it, he combines his favoured pizzicato strings with the honey-dipped vocals of fellow Italian Nadia Casari, a one-off singer whose social media presence continues, to this day, to reference her association with this track. This song seems to have been ignored in Europe, but ended up faring well on US dance music charts. While “Benedictus” is Brainbug’s most powerful track, this one is a perfect marriage of “Nightmare” gloom and sterling pop.
Bertapelle trotted out the Brainbug moniker for a handful of remixes of other artists’ tracks, but after 1998, there were no further originals. In 2004, “Nightmare” grazed the charts again following an opportunistic re-release.
Though the Brainbug story commands the marquee, the most intriguing aspect of Bertepelle’s career is his labyrinth of pseudonyms. His first production credits date way back to 1994, two years before “Nightmare” came out. At that time, he was producing and mixing music under the name Dr. Albert and running a productive recording set-up known as Dr. Albert’s Studio. His fingerprints are on a number of songs from that era, all within the Italodance template: four-to-the-four beats, exuberant synths, vocals upfront. Under the monikers B.B.W., Whykiki, S.L.A.M., and L.A. Woman, he produced a number of would-be hits, many on a label called Great Dance, whose logo was a silhouette of a Great Dane. The standout is “Hold Out” by L.A. Woman, with its infectious diva chorus and euro-dance keys:
It is hard to know how successful these songs were in Italy and abroad. Many tracks were licensed to dance music compilations, and today they seem to be hot collectibles, selling for over $100 per disc. Scant descriptive information exists about the Great Dance label at this time, although a producer named Bruno Rosallini is credited as the executive producer on many releases put out by the label.
In 1996, the year of “Nightmare,” Bertapelle’s musical direction shifts radically. Gone are the exuberant, radio-friendly sounds of his various Italodance productions. Instead there is a network of dark, even minimal singles, a number of which came out on sublabels of the Italian label, Dancework. Mammut, a sub-imprint dedicated to techno and progressive house/trance, put out his “Space” single, released under the name Space Christ. Emblematic of his sound at the time, it’s a low-key and subtle track, without a major melodic hook:
Mammut also released a hard trance single by Bertapelle under the name Evil Trax, which features two mixes each of the cuts “Evil Trax” and “Thrasher.” Darker than his Brainbug work, and vastly less melodic, this single leads with the “Bould Mix” of “Evil Trax,” which is its strongest selection:
Another Dancework single, out on the sublabel Joop, is a progressive trance single that was released as a transparent pink 10″ record without a centre label. This one includes two versions of a track called “Lift Up,” and is credited to the name Drumscape. Both are fairly typical progressive trance from the era, the “Sun Version” marginally more appealing than the “Maestro Version.”
“Humdrum” by Humdrum, a faceless 12″ on Mammut, is another typical Bertapelle record of the time — oddly minimal and generic. Scant mentions of this disc appear online, although one record dealer has put up a couple clips of it on YouTube:
Part of the single was also included on a live compilation from the era:
Some of Bertapelle’s music takes inspiration from acid house. Under the bizarre name Corn on the Cob, he released a lone single, “Anorexia,” which is reaveled to be a raging techno track punched through with glorious acid synths. It is one of his finest records of this era:
And spinning more nomenclature off from the DSM, Bertapelle is listed as the person behind the name Alzheimer, responsible for a lone single, “Ictus,” in 1996. This one, a trance track with a good dose of acid, came out on the prolific Italian label PRG. The official credit on the record is listed as “Notator,” which seems to have been a Bertapelle alter-ego.
In 1998, two years after the worldwide success brought by “Nightmare,” the Bertapelle trail inexplicably goes dead. After two years spent releasing a flurry of singles under several different names — and doing a whole bunch of production work — his credits dry up entirely. It’s the strangest thing.
The only exception is a non-descript 2003 single released in Bertapelle’s typically esoteric style. “Zulu” is the only track credited under the name Deep Deed. The only current record of it online is a Discogs listing, which includes a tantalizing generic centre label:
Spending a good hour wading through the archived versions of the website for Clubbin’ Records, which was a label run by dance producer/mogul Joe T. Vannelli, I was able to track down a listing for this record, but it offers no real additional info, except that the correct nomenclature is “Deepdeed”:
It is amazing to me that labels like Clubbin released enormous catalogues of singles (“Zulu” is number 55 on Clubbin’!) only to disappear nearly entirely just a few years later, a testament to the sprawling (and poorly archived) nature of dance music of this era. Trying to gain some clarity on this anomalous Bertapelle artifact, I emailed Vannelli asking for details, but came back empty-handed.
After Deepdeed, we get nothing further from Bertapelle. He produced, in short order, a large body of dance music in various styles, culminating in international success — then disappeared a few years later, only bobbing up once for one mysterious comeback record before sinking into the depths again.
According to a translated biography, at some point Bertapelle started up a sound engineering school called the Help Music Academy. In 2006, he founded Abbashow, a touring Abba reunion group that seems to have been his main source of income from then on. He played guitar in that group and some other revival spin-offs, but there is no record of him being involved in dance music after the Deepdeed single.
Desperate for any flake of information, I tracked down and contacted Nadia Casari, who provided the vocals for Brainbug’s “Rain” single. She explains that she first came into contact with Bertapelle in 1997. “My cousin told me that a top dance music producer was looking for a singer,” she recalls. “In that period I didn’t like ‘dance’ Music at all, so, I told my cousin, ‘I’m not interested.’ But he persuaded me as he thought it was a great idea… Together we went to Alberto’s recording studio and I did a sort of audition. After about a week, he called me back to record ‘Rain.’
“During the creation of ‘Rain,’ the first thing that we did was to understand which notes I was able to reach, which were the best… We tried different melodies, he wrote the words and finally he made the arrangement.”
In 1998, he told her that ‘Rain’ would be released with her voice on it — which was apparently a challenge because the label, EMI, had wanted a singer for whom English was the mother tongue. “Our press release for the new track claimed that Alberto was standing on the Bridge of Sighs when he heard a beautiful voice,” she explains. “Upon looking down to the water, he saw a beautiful woman singing in a gondola. Alberto was overcome with excitement and yelled, in true Italian fashion, a greeting and proposed rendezvous. Our record company romanticized the whole thing.”
In reality, it was through an audition that Casari was selected, though Bertapelle reportedly said in multiple interviews that he was uniquely struck by her “soft and mysterious voice.” Craving a sense of sadness in the sound, he would reportedly urge her to tone down the cheerfulness of her singing while they recorded. “He used to tell me, ‘Nadia don’t be so happy, please! You need to be sad, if you’re not able to do it I can help you, I could stamp your feet!'”
She remembers working with Bertapelle fondly. “We used to laugh a lot during our sessions in studio. He was very patient with me and he taught me a lot of things. Working with him was so incredible. It was the best period of my life. In those years we tourned in U.S.A. (New York, New Jersey, Boston and Chicago) U.K. Germany and Australia (Brisbane, Adelaide and Sidney).”
There are a few other Bertapelle-Casari collaborations. She added some vocals to the Brainbug remix of Age of Love’s legendary “Age of Love.” You can hear her ethereal backing tracks near the end of the single here:
Even more noteworthy, she mentions that a Brainbug LP was in the works, and that they recorded 3-4 more tracks for it – but the whole thing was never released! Somewhere out there, this body of unreleased Brainbug material may be sitting on a shelf. (Casari tells me she does not know what happened to them.)
After 2001, Casari moved to Rome and fell out of touch with Bertapelle — she went on to do some recordings at Italian recording studios, including a single called “Mystic Joy.” She can’t tell me anything more about his recording career.
Perhaps his story isn’t unique. Dance producers commonly accumulate lengthy discographies of singles, though few of them enjoy the success that “Nightmare” earned Bertapelle. Even the Discogs hivemind can’t measure up to the sheer mass of electronic music that was produced in the 90s and 00s: though many records are catalogued, the hypercomplex webs that connect them are incompletely documented, many details perhaps lost forever. Back then, records were cheap to produce, and the market favoured the release of scads of discs to a ravenous audience of DJs and clubgoers. The history remains largely unsorted.
And though Discogs is an attempt to compile the records and their metadata, even more obscure are the stories behind the music. Instead, we have tales like Bertapelle’s: gap-ridden mysteries, with little to go on but scans of centre labels and the music itself, which is seemingly just as enigmatic as the pseudonyms and song titles.
Other mysterious Bertapelle productions:
Afrikan Style “Ayee” 12″ (PLM Records, 1995) Kikka “Could It Be Love” 12″ (21st Century Records, 1996) Ice Cube “Involution” 12″ (Mammut, 1996) Chris J. “Get My Way” 12″ (Club Jam, 1996) Young Power “The Progressive Theme” (Strike Force, 1996) Tandoori “Incense Glow” 12″ (Strike Force, 1997) Scum-Bum “Ora Et Labora” 12″ (PRG, 1997)
While plundering for bizarre musical phenomena, I had the pleasure of discovering this wonderful list of “Wonders of Digi-Art,” as compiled by a prolific RateYourMusic user named strugatsky. That user, who has an affinity for weird and wonderful cover art as well as esoteric strains of doom and black metal, has put together a fascinating list of deeply obscure records with charming covers featuring the latest & greatest in cutting-edge graphics software, to wit:
What makes this list especially gripping is how profoundly obscure it all us. It’s a fiesta of whimsical cover art, with not a familiar name in sight. Self-releases, micro-label treasures, and pop chart near-misses are all featured, each treasure decorated with garish Photoshop effects. In most cases, scant information survives online about these magical records.
Below are some highlights of the very first part of the alphabetical list — spanning numbers and the letter A — complete with the stories behind the music, as far as I can recover them from the ever-diminishing annals of history.
4 Tune Fairytales – Fantasies (1997)
A half-smile superimposed on a virtual sandscape: what’s not to like? And yet the public at large could easily have never seen this beautiful image, since Fantasies was never actually released.
The dance group 4 Tune Fairytales emerged from Amsterdam in 1996 with a debut single called “My Little Fantasy.” It became a real hit in the Netherlands, reaching number 17 on their local top 40 chart. It even had its own music video, a charmingly low-budget digi-art time capsule in itself:
The group emerged from the then-booming happy hardcore scene, a splinter of the Dutch gabber scene. Both gabber and happy hardcore were pushing dance music tempos to previously unmatched highs, but while gabber was dark and menacing, happy hardcore was defined by its peppy melodies and relentless jubilance. The group was fronted by singer Lilian Van Sonsbeek; the line-up was filled out by a rapper and two dancers. Following “My Little Fantasy,” they released two further singles, “Take Me 2 Wonderland” and “Ding-A-Dong,” the latter a remake of the Netherlands’ winning Eurovision entry, “Ding dinge dong.” Neither song so much as grazed the Dutch music charts, which is how their debut album found its way into utter obscurity.
The Fantasies album was produced, recorded, and, according to a YouTube comment apparently authored by group member Richard Van Enteren, it was scheduled to come out on ID&T, one of the major gabber labels in the Netherlands at the time. However, Van Sonsbeek et al. were unhappy with the quality of the many remixes that the label was planning to include on the disc, reportedly without their knowledge. Therefore, they demanded the label pull the plug on the CD. According to a comment attributed to Van Sonsbeek, only a handful of promotional copies and copies for the group were ever produced. Copies of these scant few CDs have subsequently sold for over one hundred dollars apiece to desperate collectors, with discs only emerging sporadically (the last Discogs sale occurred in 2015, and none are currently on offer).
Fantasies itself is a fun albeit repetitious listen. It has seven real songs on it, plus an intro and six remixes of said songs. A lowlight is a dismal cover of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” A highlight is the A.K. Jungle Remix of “Melody of Love”:
The cover art on this record is attributed to Victor Feenstra, a prolific Dutch visual artist known for producing artwork for the Thunderdome franchise of gabber parties and CD compilations. Feenstra recently compiled much of his cover and flyer art into a book, despite the fact that many of the originals were lost when a shaving mirror sitting underneath a window in his mother’s attic magnified sunlight onto his files, incinerating the entire archive!
Aastyra – Aastral Projections (2007)
The black metal scene in the Northern Ontario city of Sudbury is quite the tangle, and this one-off side project may be the strangest offering to emerge from the area. Aastyra was primarily the work of Darren Favot, who also went by the stage name Fraust. His main project at the time was the band Wolven Ancestry, a melodic black metal band whose other member, Lord Defiler, now produces documentaries about conspiracy theories.
Aastral Projections is noteworthy not just because of its cover, nor the abundance of the letter ‘A’ — it is also a peculiar pastiche of epic black metal, ambient music, and Hawkwind-esque space- and prog-rock. The best moment is the nine-minute ambient epic, “Wanderer of the Post-Apocalypse”:
Details about Aastral Projections are hard to come by. In interviews, Favot hasn’t seemed discuss the record much, and it appears to be a largely forgotten artifact of Sudbury’s extreme metal scene. Favot is now better known for his part in two different bands. He uses the name “The Bard” for the doom/black metal band Finnr’s Cane, which has been their scene’s most successful export, signed to the German label Prophecy Productions and distributed internationally. Their trademark is heavy use of cello:
Favot also participates in an experimental black metal band named Fractal Generator, where each member is referred to by a sequence of numbers. (Favot is assigned the integer 040118180514.) They, too, are no strangers to the wonders of digi-art:
Aereda – From A Long Forgotten Future (2000)
Look at that cover! Evocative of the Myst computer game series and the works of other cyber-new-age acts, this disc sounds exactly as you expect it to. The File Under Jurassic Rock guide to progressive rock considers it “probably a cash-in project after the success of ‘Adiemus’ and Enigma, blending Gregorian chants, new age, dance and ethnic elements.” You be the judge:
Aereda was a Dutch music project organized by a producer named Martin Scheffer, a founding member of a progressive rock group named Taurus, for which he played guitar. Despite a debut single released by Mercury, mainstream success eluded them, perhaps because their music already sounded dated by the time their debut album, Illusions Of A Night, surfaced in 1981:
Scheffer has proven a versatile studio producer. His 1997 debut under the name Aereda was a modest success (number 55 on the Dutch album charts), likely because it doubled as the official soundtrack to a popular television production at the time, a documentary about the Netherlands’ expedition to the North Pole. That record, The Arctic (The Journey Begins), also features a swell cover:
From a Long Forgotten Future, which wasn’t tied to a television production, managed to reach number 63 on the album chart. It was produced by Dan Lacksman, a Belgian producer who was previously a member of the legendary group Telex. Telex were noteworthy for their embrace of the experimental end of synth-pop; in 1980, they were selected by Belgium to record a song for Eurovision and, reportedly with the goal of finishing dead last, they submitted the ironic single “Euro-Vision” which was performed deadpan with deliberately banal lyrics. (It came in third to last).
From A Long Forgotten Future, in true Y2K spirit, came accompanied with enhanced content, including a screensaver and a digital menu. In a Dan Brown-esque move that matches the cover art’s aesthetic to a tee, one of the album’s tracks is based on the manuscripts of Thomas Aquinas. And the front cover is just the tip of the iceberg — everything else about this record’s design is magnificent:
From prog guitarist to new age programmer, Martin Scheffer has proven himself a versatile producer. Through his studio, MBS-Moebius Studio, he architected a number of albums at the turn of the millennium. He created a CD trilogy, The Ambient World, which is more trite new-agey chillout music, each disc themed to a different continent. The seemingly unironic Mysteries of Africa wields an on-theme inattention to linguistic detail, its tracks including “Savanah [sic] Song,” “Serengetti [sic] Sunrise,” and “Wilderbeest [sic] Stampede.” The latter one is all the more perplexing, given that the word “wildebeest” is of Dutch origin.
The “Mysteries of [continent]” series has been repackaged wholesale in a number of forms. Mysteries of Africa and Mysteries of Asia were both put out, the same year, under the auspices of a different series: World Flavours. (Which seems to better capture the spirit of cultural appropriation.) Therein, the music is attributed not to Scheffer but instead the ethnic-sounding K’Zula. In a great bit of postmodernism, the music is still pinging around, divorced from its origins — in 2019, a faceless label named “Master Street” licensed the entire album, this time attributing it to the artist Dogo Jelani and coining the mouthful title, From the African Savannah to Kilimanjaro – A Mystical Musical Odysee. The cover art appears to be a rather refined bit of digi-art: a synthesized valleyscape, perhaps royalty-free, which has been repurposed widely:
But Scheffer was not satisfied with Mystical new age schmaltz nor by-the-continent appropriation. The following year, he is credited with two CDs using the moniker Chevy Martin. This time the aesthetic is early-aughts wine bar music. Indeed, the records, generically titled Just Lounge and Classic Lounge, sound fresh from an Absolut ad. I am partial to the smooth “Everybody Dance,” which manages an uncanny valley-esque surrealism. First of all, despite its title, its languid tempo leaves one to wonder: who on Earth would dance to this? And it is somehow both generic and exquisitely askew — it (and many songs on this record) sound like they could be from the soundtrack to Lost Highway.
Ambient Theology – Self-titled (1996)
Perhaps the finest work on this list, this one-off project was the work of Stefan Nelson and Greg Young, better known as the electronic act Virus. Ambient Theology was named to be distinct from Virus, with the focus on soundscapery rather than beat-driven techno. Befitting the name, this is a vaguely Christian release, released on a Christian dance label named N*Soul. Being an instrumental record, however, there is nothing explicitly religious about the music itself, as far as I can divine. It is a charming ambient journey, all synthesizers and sound effects. Young has generously made the record freely available on archive.org.
The N*Soul label was an interesting story itself. A Christian dance label started by an early Christian DJ named Scott Blackwell, it featured a variety of different artists producing different varieties of dance music, in many cases UK artists licensed to the US. Manchester’s Preacha produced exuberant house anthems fueled by Christian messages. Faith Massive were an LTJ Bukem-style liquid funk act with an apostolic twist. Nitro Praise was the label’s roster performing electronic covers of worship songs. N*Soul’s goal was to break these acts to the secular market although that never ended up happening. Instead, Blackwell handed over the label at the turn of the millennium. Thereafter, it has been claimed (on Greg Young’s website and on the N*Soul Discogs entry) that the label eventually started selling CD-R versions of their catalogue without compensating the artists.
ARZ – The Magi (2005)
ARZ started as the solo project of Portland, Oregonian guitarist Steve Adams. It was originally to be named ARS (an acronym consisting of his and his brother Robert’s initials), but Adams tweaked it because he thought it was too close to the British term, arse. (I am not making this up.) The Magi is an instrumental prog concept album, meant, according to Adams, “to capture a state of mind or ‘feeling'” as well as to tell “tales of ancient mythos and future worlds.”
Ultimately, this one-man production is a skillful lesson in the art of overdubbing, the centrepiece being the one-two punch of “Ur” and “The Magi,” together encompassing nearly 40 minutes. I believe the cover art is meant to depict two magi summoning a spirit through music; the album itself captures that vibe acceptably.
ARZ continues today, having picked up a second member, Merrill Hale, in 2007. (The two met while playing in a local Yes tribute act.) They continue to churn out excellent cover art:
Aska Temple – Hosanna (2001)
This CD-R release is such a deep cut it hasn’t made it onto Discogs. (As a result, only a low-res image exists). A krautrock-obsessed Japanese guitarist named Muneharu Yuba adopts the stage name John Übel, “assembling” the one-man band Aska Temple as an obvious reference to Ash Ra Tempel. The record has been scrubbed from the internet, but a contemporary review salvaged from an archived version of Yuba’s old website (he died in 2012 at the age of 46, sadly) records that this was exclusively composed of overdubbed synthesizers. Elsewhere, it is described as resembling early Popol Vuh.
Not too much is recorded of Yuba’s life, although his website references time spent in psychiatric institutions and an enthusiasm for big ideas. From his website, he describes taking inspiration for his 2003 A Night By The Pavane album from multiple sources:
“I read BIBLE in the isolated room of mental hospital.After I went out hospital,I covered VIVALDI,RAVEL,BARBER,CHOPIN,BALTOK,by electric guitar.and I read all through CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON of KANT in English,Les miserables2,HUGO,SADE, BAUDLAIRE,MALLARME,ARTHURE RIMBAUD in French,HEESE in Deutsch.I am reading HEGEL,HEIDEGGER,NOVALIS in Deutsch”
Befitting the orgy of influences, much of his work evokes a whimsical “psychedelia overdrive” mentality:
The cover of Hossana, meanwhile, uses the central figure from Maxfield Parrish’s painting, “Ecstasy,” but suspends it in the sky underneath WordArt-y typography. It’s a good look.
Yuba’s sprawling discography, which includes at least 24 minimally-archived CD-Rs on his Nicht Records label, may be due for a thorough appraisal and perhaps a Numero Group boxset re-release.
Astralasia – Whatever Happened To Utopia (1994)
There are more obscure titles on this list, but this record stands out for its amazing nineties digi-art cover as well as its overall quality. The British act Astralasia started off life in the late eighties as a side project of a psychedelic pop concern named The Magic Mushroom Band, which had been around since 1982. The principal sound architect was a keyboardist who went by the name Swordfish; he conceptualized Astralasia as an outlet for exploring longer-form dub and electronic music. From their 1990 self-titled debut, Astralasia’s ebbing-and-flowing, synthesizer-led music garnered a cult following which would see them overlapping with the growing electronic scene in the UK — though, being journeyman psychedelic artists, they were coming from a bit of a different place than many electronic producers popular at the time. Astralasia’s progressive, build-and-release sound is sometimes considered a progenitor to trance music, and this album represents the start of their golden era. The key referents are ambient and dub, this record having surfaced in the thick of the early- to mid-90s chillout fever, just a few years after The KLF’s Chill Out.
Atlantic Ocean – Waterfall (1994)
This cover is a true beauty, capturing the Nintendo 64 aesthetic to a tee. It is the third Dutch release on this list, in this case the lone album by trance duo Atlantic Ocean: two synth wizards who had a major European dance hit with the album’s title track — something like an EZ-listening take on 808 State’s “Pacific State”:
Atlantic Ocean were Lex van Coeverden and Rene van der Weyde, the latter of whom had a few years earlier released a Dutch club hit, “Deep Inside Of Me,” under the pseudonym TFX. Yet when they came together to record “Waterfall,” it was success on a whole other level. The single reached number two on the Dutch Top 40, even though it had originally been conceived as a B-side.
Following “Waterfall,” each subsequent follow-up single was less successful than the last — though their music videos are quintessential-nineties treasures. “Body In Motion,” their second-biggest hit, is correctly described by one YouTube commenter as “Waterfall” with vocals. These come courtesy of the Surinamese-Dutch singer Farida Merville, who previously was featured in the house/techno act Quazar.
Despite its awkward name, the third single, “Music Is A Passion” may have been their finest work:
The Waterfall album collected these three core singles alongside a pile of filler with generic titles like “On A Journey,” “Move Baby,” and “Beach Party.” Somehow, it is over 70 minutes long.
The cover art for Waterfall was done by Ben Liebrand, a Dutch DJ who had success in the eighties and trained himself to create 3D art after his music stopped paying the bills. His futuristic renderings adorn many a dance record in the mid-90s period, where he seems to have been the in-house graphic designer for the Arcade label. The golden-dolphins motif even recurs:
Better still, a latter-era 1999 Atlantic Ocean single named “Trance-Atlantis” features a Ben Liebrand produced 3D music video, which was contained on the maxi-single CD version as a bit of enhanced content. The terminally bland song didn’t make the slightest indentation on the national pop charts, but the magnificence of its video lives on, dolphins and all, not unlike an underwater level from Super Mario 64:
α:Vout – Trick Theater
“Visual kei” refers to a fashion aesthetic among Japanese musicians in which they adopt an androgynous, flamboyant look inspired by seventies glam-rock. Popular in the eighties and nineties among Japanese hard rock bands like X Japan and D’erlanger, the style was revived in the 2000s on the country’s indie circuit, leading to a booming subculture that propagated on the Livejournal underground.
α:Vout were one of the more obscure exponents of this neo-visual kei scene, a squad of youngsters playing glammy, polished rock as evidenced on this song from Trick Theater:
In this archived interview, they provide largely banal answers to largely banal questions (“If you were to compare yourself to an animal, what animal would you say you were? Please tell us why.”) Yet one member reveals the goal was to create a band similar to Hanoi Rocks, which, I suppose, is as good a goal as any for a gang of youths.
Awenson – Saphonic (2007)
Saphonic was originally a self-released CD-R issued by an obscure synth wizard named Joël Bernard. In this case, the music matches the cover art quite well — not so much in terms of the absurd golden nude, but rather the spacey landscape projected behind her.
Bernard is a disciple of the Berlin School, an extension of seventies kraut-rock that was more about amorphous electronics than rhythm. In a French interview, he describes discovering Pink Floyd as a teenager, then hearing the electronics-forward music of Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, and Kraftwerk at age 15. Yet it was only at age 30 that he purchased his first synthesizer. After releasing his first CD, Shadows, in 2005 (then recording under the name Awen), he expanded his name to Awenson and put out Saphonic. This record is a true treat, perfectly suited to the mid-2000s drone/space-electronics boom heralded by the likes of Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never. Hear for yourself in this brief gem, pulled from a 2012 reissue of the album by the French label Dreaming:
Thus concludes our tour of the highlights of the Wonders of Digi-Art list, up until the end of the letter A. The list is so sprawling that nearly every letter of the alphabet could spawn its own article, telling the esoteric stories behind these many exquisitely designed releases. (Though I can assure you it would be overwhelmingly heavy in progressive-rock and neo-AOR content.)
Listed for over one hundred Euros apiece, this 10-CD set comes in a custom wooden box, and is one of the most preposterous releases in the Gerogerigegege catalogue — which is saying a lot.
The Gerogerigegege is the project of Toyko residents Juntaro Yamanouchi and Gero 30 (a.k.a. Tetsuya Endoh), who have been performing together since 1985. In the past, they were famous for their live performances, in which Endoh, who is an exhibitionist, would masturbate and perform other indecent acts on stage — a spectacle all the more noteworthy given that, when they met, Yamanouchi was apparently just 18 years old, whereas Endoh was in his forties. Fittingly, these first performances took place largely in BDSM clubs.
After releasing a very lo-fi debut tape on Merzbow’s ZSF Produkt label — a collage of guitar noise narrowly ranging from feedback to squall — Yamanouchi started up his own Vis à Vis Audio Arts label, which released the Senzuri Champion LP. That release captured the core Gerogerigegege aesthetic: there is feedback noise, sure, but also a rhythm section, which allows them newly to pound out noisy punk assaults. The release ends with a final jam, in which Endoh is heard moaning in onanistic pleasure over a funky beat.
That aesthetic would be amplified with further exploits, with many critics encapsulating the Gerogerigegege concept with one word: obscene. Indeed, the band’s name is reportedly an onomatopoeia for the sound of someone vomiting and discharging diarrhea at the same time. And yet Gerogerigegege’s approach to obscenity is just as much about subversion as it is perversion. Showa, the follow up to Senzuri Champion, starts with a fuzzy recording of the Japanese anthem before transitioning into 30 minutes of porn audio; the cover image is a profile photo of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. Ai-Jin, a 1988 flexi disc, is a recording of Yamanouchi “singing” over a pop song song by one of Taiwan’s most famous singers, Teresa Teng. (Notably, though 2000 copies were reportedly pressed, almost all of them were burned in a performance at Enoshima Beach, meaning surviving discs sell for hundreds of dollars to collectors.) And 1993’s 0 (Zero) Song EP was a clear flexi disc with no grooves on it: its liner notes insist that “silence is the best music” and instruct the listener to play at “75 rpm or any speed.”
To contextualize this combination of perversion and subversion, look to Yamanouchi’s 1992 interview in RRRecords’ RRReport magazine, which has been transcribed online. There he identifies as a gay man who is in support of gay rights, but not prone to political action. He reflects on the absence of a pride movement in Japan, and argues that “If they try to hide who they are and to avoid associating with straight people, it is kind of natural that they are discriminated and looked down.” Elsewhere, after describing Gerogerigegege performances in which the two of them them consumed one another’s feces as middle-aged onlookers masturbated along, he boils the band’s ethic down to two ideas: “Do not copy others” and “Human feelings.” Aware of Japan’s stigma around queerness, but seemingly comfortable with his own sexuality, Yamanouchi’s goal for The Gerogerigegege appears to involve both iconoclasm and unfiltered self-expression.
The band’s most famous record, Tokyo Anal Dynamite, came out in 1990. Despite its name, it is among the more conventional of Gerogerigegege’s records, albeit perhaps that isn’t saying much: in approximately 40 minutes, the band fits in seventy-five songs. Each track starts with a “1-2-3-4!” count-off and then descends into a chaotic blast of noise-punk. The sound was inspired, as Yamanouchi says in a 2001 interview, by the noisecore scene, an obscure international genre devoted to short blasts of guitar/drum/vocal noise. Specifically, he describes being enamoured with a rare 1986 demo tape by Australian band Seven Minutes of Nausea, which crams in 102 tracks.
Mysteriously, The Gerogerigegege disappeared in 2001, not to reappear until 2016, when a flurry of releases followed. It is unclear if Endoh is still contributing to the project (in a 2001 interview, he was reportedly ill in hospital), though Yamanouchi has issued a characteristic stream of noise assaults and concept records.
Enter, then, the behemoth 不安な演奏 set, whose title translates to Anxious Performance. This is ten CDs’ worth of audio culled from dusty old “ero-tapes”: pornographic audio recordings of men and women engaged in explicit activities. These cassettes were reportedly sold primarily in the sixties through the eighties in the back corners of adult bookstores. According to an essay written by Eiji Yaginuma for a related Gerogerigegege release, these “dark tapes” often featured hand-written labels and were frequently advertised as having been recorded surreptitiously in private locations. In some cases, they were referred to as “eavesdropping” tapes for this purpose.
Here, The Gerogerigegege presents 10 CDs worth of these tapes, seemingly unaltered. The audio is just tape hiss and people’s voices, which are often indistinct due either to the poor recording conditions or the age of the source material.
The box set’s name is borrowed from the title of a book by Seicho Matsumoto, a Japanese detective fiction author very popular in the sixties and seventies. (It appears that the book’s title is more commonly translated as Uneasy Performance and has yet to be translated to English.) The novel itself tells the story of a magazine editor who is investigating several “eavesdropping” tapes recorded at a “love hotel,” only to discover that one of the recordings seems to capture a murder being planned.
As a result of the degraded audio and disembodied voices, there is little about these recordings that is erotic. (I will concede that I have only listened to parts of two tracks.) Instead, they feel dirty and more than a little eerie. Yaginuma, writing about another similar release in the Gerogerigegege discography, observes that the original ero-tapes were not designed to be art; in fact they were deliberately artless. “…there is no such thing as ‘sophistication’ in the existence of the ero cassette,” he writes. “It is simply a vulgar, disreputable, and indecent project that attracts viewers and listeners alike. It is an act of creation that is not pursued, improved, or aimed at in any way, but simply made because it was thought that customers might bite, because it would sell.” For Yaginuma, it was this directness — or, as he puts it, “barbaric”-ness — that makes it such a pure form of expression.
Indeed, the barbaric candidness of these obscure source cassettes is what makes this such a disquieting listen, what Yaginuma refers to as “the creepiness and stench that can appear only because there is no artifice, intentional design, manipulation of information, or any unnaturalness at all.”
The Gerogerigegege would follow this box set up with a vinyl “reissue” entitled “Naomi’s Masturbation and Wakakusa Dormitory Guide,” which was yet another untouched dub of an old “ero-tape,” this one featuring the sounds of women masturbating. Reportedly, he had obtained this tape decades ago, and, upon returning to an erotic bookshop in search for cover artwork, was shocked to find an advertisement in an old pornographic magazine for the exact same (deeply esoteric) tape.
Only 300 copies of the 不安な演奏 box were produced, and they are already sold out from the source. Surely, many have fallen into the hands of collectors who are conscious that other limited edition Gerogerigegege releases now sell for hundreds of dollars. Yet, this is an undeniably true realization of the band’s vision. It is obscene, discomforting, and virtually impossible to take in.
This release was originally available on the Urashima website.
In 2001, Time magazine published an story entitled “Bad Online Music.” Written by Lev Grossman, who has since become a bestselling fantasy author, the article discussed the advent of free downloadable music on mp3.com. But instead of reveling in techno-optimism, it focused on a few songs that Grossman considered especially mediocre.
It’s like watching a car crash–horrifying, yet you can’t tear yourself away.
Lev Grossman, “Bad Music Online”
Two of the songs have since become cult artifacts, representing those early days of home-produced online music.
The first song selected for ridicule was “There’s Nothing in My Dreams” by Girls With Attitude, a cadre of peri-pubescent girls seemingly corralled by a parent keen on marketing them. The singing, lyrics, and musicianship are amateurish to the point of verging on avant-garde, approaching the outsider appeal of The Shaggs, reinvented for the digital generation.
To my knowledge, the members of Girls With Attitude have never resurfaced. A small record label named One Kind Favor pressed an unauthorized ‘reissue’ of their mp3.com tracks onto vinyl, limited to 27 copies, with each disc individually made using a lathe record cutter.
Another band targeted for vitriol in “Bad Online Music” was a UK act named Offwight Radiator, derided by Grossman as “inexplicable alterna-dirge.” Is that an accurate description? You be the judge:
Curious about the story of Offwight Radiator, I used archive.org to track down an old website attributed to them. That website was administered by James Hart, a member of the band who continues to have a web presence to this day. Reached via email, he was happy to tell me the story of Offwight Radiator, whose lone brush with fame was a derogatory article in North America’s most identifiable general-interest newsmagazine.
“The turn of the millennium was a strange one for me,” Hart explains. “After the intense excitement of the Y2K bug, involving late nights and travel across the east of the UK and the birth of our first child the previous August, the discovery of the mp3.com website — the first real ‘public access’ music site, a legal alternative to Napster and MusicMatch — was a real tonic to me.”
Hart, who learned guitar at age seventeen after buying a cheapie from a church sale (“it was like playing cheese wire”), is still making music to this day. “The bottom line is that I was, and remain, a mediocre musician, at best, and until fairly recently (before GarageBand and cheap multitracking software came along) just made do with what equipment I could get my hands on.”
Hart grew up in the eighties, when popular music in the UK was far more diverse than it is now. “How long is it since we could last see that the charts had pop, acid house, goth, heavy metal, indie and Status Quo in the top 40?” he remarks. “I knew that I would never be good enough to make it in any of them. The brilliant thing about discovering mp3.com was that it accepted everyone – possibly the first site of its kind, and the range of music available was frankly mind-blowing.
“Even better — and I wonder if it was the downfall of what was actually a service that was well ahead of its time, given the success of Spotify now — it offered a small amount of payment each time a song was played.”
At the time, mp3.com had a feature known as stations, which were playlists curated by users of the website. Hart came across an station called “The Worst of The Worst!,” among the site’s most popular pages.
“It was eye-opening, inspiring, and a joyful celebration of music that really, really wasn’t very good,” Hart says. “A world apart from the polished pop of the charts, and even more raw than the likes of grunge that had been and gone during the 1990s. I fully acknowledge that it could have been considered snarky or even cruel to knowingly exhibit these songs like musical freakshows, but I’ll be honest, I really felt like I had come home. “
Mp3.com was a goldmine when it came to outsider music. Sadly, the original website is now long gone, and whatever artifacts exist are those that have been preserved by individuals, most of them likely on decades-old hard drives. There are few physical remnants of the website’s enormous database. For a period of time, mp3.com offered a service known as Digital Automatic Music, in which they would burn CD-R copies of their mp3 albums, in jewel cases with artwork, for artists who wanted to make their music available for sale to fans. Those CD-Rs are now a fascinating time capsule.
Hart mentions that he purchased a few Digital Automatic Music CD-Rs from mp3.com, which serve as rare artifacts from this era of outsider music. He owns a coveted copy of Murder in the Recording Studio by PritStik, an old album recorded in 1987 and then uploaded to mp3.com in the nineties, sometimes considered the worst album of all time. Hart also identifies the mp3.com superstar Cyrus ‘The Slammer’ Sullivan as a key example. For awhile, Hart ran a fansite dedicated to this personality, an inept, self-aggrandizing singer/songwriter responsible for racy nuggets like “21 and Legal” and “Sex Worker (Stripper Mix).” (Sullivan has since become a bodybuilder, according to his Twitter account, and is not to be confused with a controversial figure with the same name who runs a website to shame carriers of sexually-transmitted diseases.)
Hart points out that there were some artists on the “Worst of the Worst” list that were consciously producing bad music, among them acts like Pizza Gratis and Doctor Orange. “And [there were also] those who had no idea, like Tammy Swindell and the wonderful Naomi Hall,” the latter of whom was featured on Irwin Chusid’s radio program, Incorrect Music, which specializes in outsider music. Hall, who continues to create music, is perhaps known for her track, “Nothing But Silence,” which is an unpolished yet catchy effort that she later issued on her album, Love Full of Punches. She continues to create music to this day, seemingly embracing her outsider status by promoting herself as “Hello Kitty meets Frank Zappa.”
It was into this cauldron of suspect music that Offwight Radiator entered. Hart tells me he has been creating music since he was old enough to “bellow into a cassette recorder.” Some of those compositions still exist, though he warns me they’re not so hot. But when he met a colleague who shared his enthusiasm for unusual music, they decided to start jamming together, pulling in a few other friends. “Including, oddly enough, my mother-in-law,” he tells me. “And thus, Offwight Radiator was born – a play on words from the faded paint on the heater in the small lounge room where we played, and the fact that we were nowhere near the Isle of Wight, where one of the band member’s ex-husband’s family now lives. Or something like that.” (Instead, they lived in Luton, an hour outside London).
He is careful to add: “We didn’t take drugs, nor, indeed, even drink alcohol when we were making the music – but that didn’t stop it being raw and as expressive as we could make it.”
Their goal was to end up on the “Worst of the Worst!” station. He remembers the night they recorded “Sent Fishing By Your Neighbour” vividly. “The only time we could ever really socialize was when my just-turned one-year-old son had finally settled for the night. We were living in a small two-bedroomed house, and had gathered for what had become a fairly regular ‘Monday night social,’ like an open house for friends, work colleagues and family to come and join us.”
“One week we decided that we wanted to make our contribution to the unusual music that I’d discovered on mp3.com. Those of us who had the equipment agreed to bring a few bits and pieces: three microphones, some kind of effects unit, a Windows PC (probably from work) that could record it, and a guitar.”
Risking waking Hart’s infant son, the band determined to record “something lo-fi and challenging,” bouncing ideas around. He doesn’t think they wrote any of their plans down, but once the concept was sorted, he recalls them all kneeling “in some perverse reverence” around their microphones.
At the start of the recording, you can hear that the gang still isn’t quite ready. “Well the numbers are going up, does that mean it’s recording?,” Suzanne asks.
“You’ve got to sing into the microphone,” Hart responds. “We’ve only got until 11.30 because then I have to take everybody home,” he reminds everyone.
The song itself is a short two minutes of atonal guitar strums, disembodied chanting, and the repeated, droning refrain: “sent fishing by your neighbour.” Think Velvet Underground meets Jandek. “We knew what the song’s basic structure was going to be, such that it was, but the performance was live, visceral and entirely improvised,” Hart explains. “I believe that, during the recording, Ed actually unscrewed the top of one of the microphones.”
Hart recalls submitting the now-legendary “Sent Fishing By Your Neighbour” to the “Worst of The Worst” station’s curator that night. “Like some peculiar audition,” Hart jokes. When the band heard back that Offwight Radiator was accepted to “Worst,” they were overjoyed. Apart from “Sent Fishing,” a few other songs were added to the station, including “Lucy and her Potbellied Pig,” which Hart says was “recorded on a cassette recorder for maximum lo-fi quality,” and “Hoover Guitar Solo,” which he reveals “was performed by my brother-in-law who had never touched an electric guitar before.”
Hart is careful to emphasize that “Sent Fishing” was not a cynical ploy for attention, and he distinguishes it from the likes of the British hit “Bring Me Edelweiss” by the band Edelweiss, which was created by carefully adhering to the tenets of The KLF’s The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way). Instead, he says the goal was to join the “Worst of the Worst!” party. “[It was] more to achieve that same sort of feeling one gets when one manages to go live on the air on a radio contest, or has a picture in the local newspaper. We wanted to be on mp3.com‘s ‘Worst of the Worst!’ And we were delighted when we were up there with the rest of them.”
“It just so happened that Time magazine picked up on the cult following that ‘The Worst of the Worst!’ had garnered in that time, and our ‘song’ was listed as an exemplar of the genre. That is the greatest musical success of my life. I have kept, and cherish the cheque for just a couple of dollars that OffWight Radiator made during its brief moment of (very limited) fame,” he says, before realizing he may have misplaced it.
“And then my baby son grew up, my music-loving colleague moved away to Devon, my mother-in-law doesn’t visit any more, and I learned the ukulele, which is a lot easier.” So ends the saga of Offwight Radiator.
Members of Offwight Radiator:
James Hart: “I’m still in Luton (at the moment), and haven’t really done anything nearly as interesting since (…yet)”
Ed: “A broadcast engineer and now IT company owner, working and living in Devon.”
Suzanne: “I’m not sure where she is, but she’s now got a small son.”
Beth: “She’s still married to me. Bafflingly.”
Thanks to James Hart for the interview. Visit his website here.
So that’s the potted history of OffWight Radiator. I’m happy to answer any questions; or, indeed, will understand if the whole thing is just too disappointing and you’d rather write about some of the other fine exponents of Incorrect Music from the Worst Of The Worst days.
Where are they now?Naomi Hall is on Twitter (last posted in 2018) and released an album in 2012Cyrus Sullivan is not the one who runs STDcarriers.com – in fact gocyrus.com links to his PayPal page.. Michael James posted a comment just a on the full upload of Prit Stik’s “Murder in the recording studio” album to YouTube – I’m hoping to get my copy of the CD signed.Tammy Swindell is – as far as I can tell – still producing Christian musicMP3.com is now a brightly-coloured (and long overdue an update) website about brightly-coloured pop musicMe? I’m still in Luton (at the moment), and haven’t really done anything nearly as interesting since (…yet) All the best
In 1999, a small chain of restaurants called Yasai Donburi Vegan Ramen began opening stores in the midwest United States. To try to drum up business and compete with other national chains, they began offering a free demo disc of an in development Playstation game called ‘Devil Cartridge.’ Little did they know the game would get cancelled, and eventually lost due to rumors of satanic content. The backlash from this, led the restaurant to file bankruptcy in early 2001 and disappear shortly after.
We at Frogazi Studios have unearthed a copy of this lost and fabled game and have compiled its eccentric soundtrack through vigorous restoration for release later this month.
So reads the back story for Devil Cartridge: Demo Disc, a 6-song EP that purports to be a soundtrack from a Japanese videogame that ended up stuck in development hell.
What is this strange release, and is there any truth to the tale?
As it turns out, Devil Cartridge is the work of two producers. One of them is 30-year-old Ryan Naglak, a musician and optometrist living in Philadelphia. He creates music under the name My Sister’s Fugazi Shirt; as implied by that moniker, he grew up listening to indie rock, recording “lo-fi bedroom music” and playing in various bands in high school: a noise-rock band at one point, a ska band “for a long time, which was fun,” he laughs as we chat via Zoom.
Naglak also has a keen interest in video game soundtracks, something he became more focused on during the pandemic, when he found himself with a lot more time to game. It was the recent remake of Final Fantasy 7 that motivated him to merge his passions for gaming and music production. “It just hit this nostalgia note in me. That was what kickstarted me — okay, I want to try and make some videogame-inspired music.”
He had toyed with electronics before this, but this was his first entirely electronic project. He found himself coming home from work and producing music for hours on end, operating at a song-per-day tack. This resulted in Nautilus, a full game-inspired album that took inspiration from Final Fantasy 13, a divisive game in the FF series. “I really, really love that one, I love the music in it, and the scenery and the setting,” he tells me, recognizing it is a controversial pick amongst gamers.
Nautilus, like many of Naglak’s recent releases, can be considered vaporwave-adjacent. “I was aware of vaporwave, I knew some of the classic albums. But I wasn’t heavily into the scene or the genre. I was more into videogame music: Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts. And I was into experimental music and electronic stuff; I’ve always been a fan of Aphex Twin and Xiu Xiu and stuff like that. And so that kind of bridged the gap moving into the vaporwave scene, which was a very open scene to newcomers. They’re always ready and willing to check out somebody, even if they’ve never heard of them.”
Nautilus was a hit on the vaporwave scene that uses Bandcamp as a main outlet, successful enough to warrant a cassette release, a vinyl edition on multi-coloured “splatter” vinyl, and even a limited edition LP that is filled with liquid and glitter. There have also been two sequels.
Months after Nautilus, he put out God’s In His Heaven, All’s Right With The World, a tribute to the video game Neon Genesis Evangelion; it, too, attracted many fans and warranted cassette and vinyl versions. “Bandcamp is where I really seem to do well in terms of tape releases. I sold out of 50 tapes in about two hours, and then the vinyl sold out in about an hour and a half — a hundred copies. I was nervous to release the vinyl, because I didn’t know if anyone’s going to buy it. But I should have pressed more. I’ll be repressing it in the spring as well, for more copies.”
The other individual behind Devil Cartridge is Britt Guynes, who produces music under the name Frogmore. Guynes is 20, lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and recalls becoming interested in music through a local classic rock station. He discovered vaporwave at age fourteen, after encountering the music video for Yung Lean’s “Hurt,” which copped the genre’s visual aesthetic.
At 16, Guynes started making music, shortly after a move from Mobile, AL to Tuscaloosa. He discovered Ableton and started experimenting in order to make music that sounded like Aphex Twin. Since a lot of his classmates liked to rap, he started producing trap instrumentals for his friends to rhyme over. “As I got older, I started getting more into vaporwave and electronic music,” he says. “That aesthetic, I couldn’t stop enjoying it.”
After high school, he entered college for graphic design. In 2020, because school went online for the pandemic, he found himself with more free time which he spent playing videogames and making music. He released his first entry into vaporwave, an album titled Midnight Excursion, released under the name Golden Joe. Sick of vaporwave’s often rote formula, he sought to impart a greater degree of craftsmanship to his productions.
“It was kind of a response to how stagnant the classic vapor style had gotten,” he explains. “It just kind of had degraded over time, people were just slowing down some eighties ballad with a little bit of reverb on it, and they call it a day, and then they try to bug some label to do a tape release. Whatever, that’s what you do I guess. I was really sick of how there was just no craftsmanship to it. So I tried to applied the same sort of beat-making ethos as Madlib and J Dilla. I try to chop it up as much as possible, I want to make sure you couldn’t really tell what the sample was originally when you’re hearing it.” That album — produced in around three days total and released digitally at first — ended up getting put out on tape by the Kentucky cassette label Hairs aBlazin’, increasing Guynes’ profile.
Guynes messaged Naglak after enjoying the My Sister’s Fugazi Shirt album In the Capital of Consumerism, billed as “a study on tourism, over-saturation and exposure to advertisements and products.”
“I thought it was amazing, it was so cool,” Guynes says. “So I followed him on Twitter and he followed me back, and I messaged him and asked, ‘Hey, do you want to work on something together?'”
The two found common cause in video games; both are enthusiastic gamers, and as they chat with me they discuss the finer points of the Final Fantasy series. Most of it goes over my head. When it comes to Devil Cartridge, they cite a few proximal influences. Shin Megami Tensei, a multifaceted RPG series popular in Japan, is one important reference. They also talk about the “real-life simulation” of the Persona series of games, particularly Persona 5. In 2020, this game was a necessary simulacrum of “normal” for an era of isolation and stay-at-home orders.
“[Persona 5] was very fitting during quarantine. You could go out and get coffee in it, go out to the movies and stuff like that,” Naglak says. The two also remark on the “full band sound” of that latter game’s soundtrack, jazzier and looser than many other classic RPGs.
These games are noteworthy for the flexibility of the stories and the multiple settings contained within. “There’s a lot you can do with the narratives in those stories,” Naglak says, “There’s the romance subplots, there’s the different locations — your house, the medical shop — there’s tons of stuff you can do with it. We just made it long because those soundtracks are long, too.”
Indeed, Persona 5‘s soundtrack is five hours long, spanning over 100 tracks. “And they’re all amazing,” Guynes enthuses. The game itself last over 100 hours, another experience made possible by the quarantine.
As they worked together, discussing games and bouncing musical ideas back and forth, Devil Cartridge gradually emerged as a concept. The “Demo Disc” version was six tracks long; released first, it served as a taster for the full product, which was a 34-track omnibus designed as the official soundtrack to a fictional game.
The entirety of Devil Cartridge was assembled remotely in 2020 and 2021. They would send each other partial tracks, iteratively fleshing out ideas. Even though they were using different audio production software — Guynes used Ableton while Ryan used Logic — their collaboration felt seamless.
“One of us would send the other one a basic skeleton of a track — a loop or two with maybe a verse and chorus type beat, and then the other person would add on to it, and flesh it out into the full song, and then send it back to the original person who would put the final touches on it,” Naglak explains.
Unlike a lot of vaporwave and vaporwave-adjacent music, Devil Cartridge was not sample-based, apart from a single sample Guynes pulled from the online RPG, Phantasy Star Online. Naglak uses royalty-free loops, digital synths, and drum machines through Logic, and a couple tracks also feature guitar and even vocals courtesy of Guynes. Guynes also uses an open-source synthesizer app called Synth One as well as “sound fonts” from old videogames.
This commitment to craftsmanship is not unique to Devil Cartridge. Guynes tells me about a growing movement within the vaporwave scene that is actively moving away from a sample-driven approach. He is particularly fond of the producer Equip, and in particular that artist’s videogame-inspired record, CURSEBREAKER X, which he considers a seminal album. “Non-sample stuff is kind of on the rise right now,” Guynes says, explaining that some producers will advertise their records as sample-free as something of a “flex.”
Devil Cartridge‘s high concept is one of its most appealing attributes, and the two producers tell me about the origins of the idea. As they bounced ideas and back and forth, they eventually settled on the concept of creating a soundtrack for a fictional video game. Guynes was immediately inspired to create the cover and write up a plot outline for the game. “We had a whole template for what type of tracks we want,” Naglak tells me. “We needed to have the dungeon themes, the boss battles, the save room theme.”
“And also the life simulation stuff, like the romance theme, your house’s theme,” Guynes adds. “We even took in to consideration like, there’s a cutscene, there’s a cinematic song that would play during a cutscene, what that would have to sound like, what it would have to be called in the context of the game.”
The idea for the “Demo Disc” edition — a titillating post-modern morsel, in my opinion — was inspired by reality. “In the early 2000s, Pizza Hut put out demo discs for the Playstation 1,” Guynes says. “They had like Metal Gear Solid, and Spyro, and Tomb Raider.” Naglak tells me he, in fact, owned several of these demos games.
Britt, a vegan himself, thought the idea of a plant-only ramen restaurant in the Midwest was uniquely clever. And the notion that disc was a demo for a game that never came out was inspired by numerous games that fell into development hell. “I’m really interested in the stuff that was in development and got cancelled,” Naglak says. “The conceptual things that could have been, where a studio went under or they cancel it for whatever reason.”
They bring up Mother 3, a game that was in development for an obscure add-on to Nintendo 64 but never came out on that console; instead, the game was cancelled and released three years later for the Gameboy Advance in a completely different form. Yet before it was cancelled, little segments of the game were exhibited in demo format at industry conventions. (It has been estimated that 30% of the game was completed before it was shut down). Now, looking at screenshots of those early demos evokes the sensation of peering into an alternate universe: unlike the Gameboy’s two-dimensional cartoon graphics, the original version was set in a polygonal universe.
“I find it so interesting,” Naglak says. “It even still happens now. There’s games from a couple years ago that we haven’t heard anything about, that they showed off gameplay or trailers for. And it’s such an intriguing thing in such a big industry, that that happens even still.”
Like other games that simulate the “real world,” Devil Cartridge is set in a real city — namely Chicago. This was chosen as the setting after Guynes visited the city, one month before COVID erupted, for an art conference. (His father is the chair of the art department at the University of Alabama.) “I loved Chicago,” Guynes recalls. “I thought it was the coolest place I’d ever been to…. I’d never been to a metropolis city like that before. I loved the way it felt when you’re there.” The experience of stepping into a “real” record store — including one that carried a record by Equip — was a real eye-opener for him.
In Guynes’ plot outline, the story starts when the main character moves to the big city for college. This plot devise is inspired by Japanese games. “Most Persona games, you’re parents are like hey get out of here, go to Kyoto and leave us alone,” he explains.
Artwork is a big component of the Devil Cassette mythos. Naglak tells me that packaging “half the battle” on the vaporwave scene, and fortunately, Guynes, who is studying graphic design, has made it a major priority. As they were working on the record, he drew up sketches of the cover. The final product includes illustrated versions of the two producers, plus two other characters he derived from stock photos.
Using Adobe Illustrator for the typography and Photoshop for illustration, he assembled the distinctive artwork. The demo version even features an image of a dinged-up price sticker.
The Devil Cartridge: Demo Disc edition was originally released online and was also issued as a CD (which sold out quickly). When the full, 34-track record was released, it was supplemented by a special, 50-copy double-cassette edition, which also disappeared as quickly as it came. (They had to limit sales to two copies per customer to avoid hoarders gunning for the secondary market).
Naglak and Guynes tell me that this collaboration has been so fruitful that they are already looking forward to their next collaboration. “We have some ideas for a second release that is very early stage right now,” Naglak says. “We have a couple ideas and some tracks we are throwing around. But I think we want to get this out before diving into the next thing.”
“As opposed to having a really long album where we’re doing tracks really fast, we want to have a really tight, concise experience where the tracks have a lot of workshopping done,” Guynes says. “It’s a lot more experimental this time, with more of a drum and bass influence as well.”
“We kind of wanted to go inward on the next thing as opposed to outward,” Naglak adds. “And make it very focused. And more complicated I’d say.”
Thanks to Ryan Naglak and Britt Guynes for the interview. Devil Cartridge OST can be streamed and purchased here.
One hundred and twenty eight releases in under two years, each one under 30 seconds long. Such are the boggling statistics of the Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty Records label, whose discography is, to put it mildly, a confounding browse. Releases include:
MOURNHOLD by LIL QWERTZASDF (AkūTr007, 2019)
A Red Score In Tile (William Basinski Cover) by flac.aeyt3eaywsyh4ey (AkūTr015, 2019)
I Had Hella Titles Stashed In Some TXT File But Most Of Them I Think Were Too Offensive For This Label, And I Also Dunno Where That TXT Is Cuz Im Also Hella Awful (Had Some Covers Too, RIP) (19/2/20) by mhzesent (AkūTr117, 2020)
There is even a series of split releases, the Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty Records Three Way Split Series, which each cram three artists together in under thirty seconds total.
This madness is marshaled by an artist named Jacob Levesque, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand. He tells me he currently works part-time “not doing anything interesting,” but spends his free time creating music and art. Since 2015, he has run an experimental music net label called The Dark Thursday, where he has established an irreverent and perplexing collision of post-internet age avant-audio, eye-splitting visuals, and linguistic chaos.
Via email, Levesque introduces me to the concept of “low effort music,” which he says governs the Archiseztsfew-koū aesethetic. “I have always doubted my ability to make ‘serious’ or ‘good’ music because, in a solo capacity, I really only worked on experimental things,” he tells me. “I didn’t know at the time how to apply my sound collage-y skill set to things more people would like or take seriously. So my answer to that, I think, was to double down on experimental and low effort work.”
Levesque tells me that this tendency has its basis in chronic depression, linked to a feeling of low self-esteem in regard to his artistic abilities. Paradoxically, these psychological traits have helped give rise to an enormous body of work. As the label head behind Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty, he has published his own work and attracted the attention of several other artists, many of whom have repeatedly tapped on Levesque’s shoulder to release music.
One such producer is the eclectic Polish producer mhzesent, who has put out (or appeared on) 23 releases. mhzesent’s own discography extends far beyond Levesque’s label, with droves of releases on experimental net labels with colourful names like Genetic Trance, Monolithic Disclipline Recordings, and Centipede Farm. “I haven’t spoken to them in some months, but they would send many releases to me for both of my labels,” Levesque says. “The very interesting thing to me about their work is the variation and how personal it can be.”
Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty’s name is characteristic of the semantic absurdity Levesque embraces. “It just sounded cool,” he says. “It is vaguely inspired by New Zealand’s native language, Maori. It’s a language that I have been around culturally for my whole life, and I like how it sounds and reads as a language. It’s the koū part at the end.”
When he started Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty, Levesque had already become internet friends with several artists through his main label, and this allowed him to rapidly build up a discography for his new project. “I was already running my main label, The Dark Thursday and had run compilations with length restrictions. It was inspired by those and very short form genres like gorenoise and grindcore.”
The goal was to have fun and to establish “a platform for super niche and strange things.” That has involved a number of strange concepts:
Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit - FVEY (Pronounced Five Eyes) Is The Ninth Studio Album By New Zealand Alternative Rock Band Shihad, Released On 8 August 2014.
This release is 28 seconds of an unchanging tone, with a haunting vocal drone over top. It is, peculiarly, punctuated by short spells of silence.
Levesque explains: “The audio is just sine waves, me throat singing a bit (I’m not good), and sampling a very old track of mine from like 2015 (the glassy sounding stuff). It does contain a picture from the wiki, plus some stuff in reference to the band Shihad’s album FVEY. The title came off a bit cringey to me so I just wanted to take a bit from the wikipedia page.”
phonecallsforbedtime – Moing Moing Popular Songs Moing Bmoigf
Sixteen seconds of spooky, industrial-tinged sound collage.
Levesque: “The audio is some weird mouth sounds and some of my old tracks smashed together and chopped up, then coated in reverb. I keep a list of albums i’ve listened to since 2014, so there is a screen cap of that. Then I wrote sleep over the top because I needed to do so. The rest is pretty looking fluff.”
MyrT8. – Su558555551
Twelve seconds of incidental audio and dinky keys.
Levesque says: “I don’t recall where the weird key tones are from, but they are over the top of me crushing something onto my phone, some kind of plastic I think? The photo is of the Wellington Metservice building that I took from the Wellington Botanic Gardens rose beds from when I was visiting Wellington last year. It’s like a 1 hour, 15 minute flight from Auckland and is half way down the country.”
This is an unchanging, tinny drone that lasts exactly 30 seconds.
As Levesque explains, this record “was made solely because of the cover. I saw a miso paste packet and thought adding the word beat and a heart emoji over the top was mildly amusing. A lot of my stuff came about in this sort of low effort fashion. “
W I D E D R O N E – W I D E D R O N E
Despite its hypnotic cover, this is simple an unwavering and unchanging tone that lasts for 30 seconds.
Levesque puts it bluntly, summing up the “low effort” aesthetic: “Nothing more than tone generation in Audacity.”
Levesque is philosophical about what Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty represents — and more than a bit nihilistic. “I guess almost a fundamental rejection that music had to meet certain objective qualities to be called music, that anything can be music. I don’t hold too strongly to that though, part of the point also is that I don’t hold strongly to anything in particular.”
This year, Levesque shut down both The Dark Thursday and this eccentric sublabel. One wonders if the label helped serve as a catalyst for Levesque’s efforts to grow emotionally. As he helps put to words the concept of “low effort music,” he explains that this aesthetic can function as a crutch. “The mental health issues make it difficult to care about things at all,” he reflects. “I don’t usually have the emotional capacity nor did I used to see a point in extending any empathy or sympathy outside of myself and a few people that I’m around. As time has gone on, I’ve realized in working to become a healthier person, empathy and sympathy towards others is important for me personally, so I can start feeling more like a normal human being.
“Despite that I still consider myself a work in progress so to speak. Trying to attach myself to things is still something I struggle with.”
Thanks to Jacob Levesque for the interview. The label’s website is here. Jacob posts his unique artwork here.