Lo-Fi

Sluggish Shady ‘Volume Ø “Siberian Dungeon Rap Mix” (Tape Rip)’

Legend has it that a team of Russian engineers led by ‘Mr. Azakov’ drilled a borehole over 8 miles deep in the Siberian wasteland and breaking through to an unforeseen cavity. Lowering a heat resistant microphone into the newly dug crater revealed audio of a terrifying wail of screams and howls that reverberated around the abyss with chilling intensity. Man’s supposed reach into the literal bowels of Hell has been an enduring piece of internet folklore since the nineties, even being attested on the American Christian Trinity Broadcasting Network as proof of the eternal inferno which awaits the sinners who have yet to ‘see the light’.

Hip hop, Scandinavian black metal and medieval aesthetic have been crushed together by dark forces creating the murky world of dungeon rap, a lo-fi swamp of muffled beats and fetid gangsta whine clotted with sludgy flow. Acts like AKABXS, Chemm Doggy Dogg and the many doom DJs and occultist MCs which make up the Manchester Natural Sciences label have pioneered the dungeon rap sound: dank and putrid corpses of old West Coast G-Funk tracks left to rot in the Compton sun.

From L.A. to the icy desolation of Siberia comes Sluggish Shady. As the name suggests, a potent mixture of languorous breaks and a possible affinity with Eminem’s darker alter-ego hangs over his smoggy contribution to the dungeon rap underworld. Allegedly recorded in 1999, Shady’s new album Volume Ø “Siberian Dungeon Rap Mix” (Tape Rip) takes thematic guidance from the local ‘well to hell’ legends to conjure an inspired dirge of demonic possession in da hood.

The seven tracks across the tape all prowl down the back streets of broken needles and used rubbers like the gangs hunting for blood sport in Rockstar’s controversial video-game nasty Manhunt. An earnest warning from a concerned televangelist or Pentecostal pastor introduces Volume Ø…, the Siberian mouth of hell opens to a brief foray in the martial pomp of dungeon synth mired with tape hiss and analogue decrepitude. Second track ‘Dungeon Selection’ stalks along like a seedy curb crawler with acidic menace, foggy synths and stretched vocals bleed together like rancid horrorcore. The ubiquity of police sirens and gunshots as heard on Old School N.W.A is given a nod on the eerie ‘Tha Devil Sees Us’, expert drum machines snap and groove around creepy keys with the ramblings of a hypeman taken over by evil forces at its centre. A shade of Afrika Bambaataa electro percolates against gloomy vocal choirs on the morass of ‘Falling Castle’ before ending the album with the final descent into hell: stinging wind and evil incantations twisting with Wurlitzer organs into a whirling crescendo of torment.

Deftly balancing the arcane introspection of dungeon synth with a sound understanding of hip hop production, Sluggish Shady proves as much as any of his peers the unique way in which the genre’s best examples simultaneously has it’s cold, death grip in the streets of a world spiralling into poverty and violence, and the spectral residue of our corrupted forefathers that fester in the ground as the underworld hits, deals, and shoots-up on top of it.

I Know I’m An Alien ‘Chair of Cola’

It’s not just the dwindling economic opportunity, climate inaction and the greatest disparity of wealth in human history which makes late-stage capitalism the unrelenting black hole of hope it most definitely is. It’s the fucking mediocrity man. The inexorable descent into a hellscape of focus-grouped music and recycled film franchises wrung of every shred of creative potential and risk by the necrotic death grip of market research. Wading through a toxic miasma of a town infested with property developers, you pass the 17th Tesco Metro before enduring another pointless meeting in a pointless job in a boardroom of office middle-manager types so fucking vanilla and tepid you have an out of body experience, your soul screaming at you with condemnation: “THERE HAS TO BE A WAY OUT!!!” The only way out appears to be the one open window of the fifth floor you’re on. Just one jump, and it’s over…

“We live in a world where there is more and more information and less and less meaning,” wrote Jean Baudrillard in his seminal Simulacra and Simulation. The nagging feeling that culture and society is dictated by capital instead of ideas is a recurring theme in the string of releases by I Know I’m An Alien. An art-punk outfit from London with a keen socialist rigour in their synthpunk mischief, the dadaist trio have been taking a flamethrower to the bloated vacuum of neoliberalism with a fizzy mix of Residents surrealism and Devo subversion while sporting oversized, paper collage masks. Changing pace from their prior avant-pop offerings, new record Chair of Cola introduces Lumpy Gravy style tape collage experimentation to explore the modern day alienation of the overworked and underpaid.

Chair of Cola is the aural noise that lurks in the psyche of every confused millennial. A congealed slop of shit Saturday morning cartoons, the same fucking Boston song aggressively sold to you by a boring rock ‘heritage industry’, PlayStation start-up jingles, daytime commercial slime, smartphone interruptions, warbling 90s Disney VHS’s cynically vying for your nostalgia. A cudgel of media noise breaking your face and brutally reminding you that you ain’t no generation, you’re a target demographic. Is it any wonder that the opening track is called ‘Breathing Challenge’, cos we’re fucking suffocating.

“No apologies to the artists whose songs we ruined!” the band exclaim gleefully on their Instagram. Their puckish sense of fun keeps the album from being a draining endurance for the listener. Sudden goofy moments, like the Nokia Gran Vals tune chiming in or the sped-up desecration of Dolly Parten’s Jolene, tells you that their elongated, alien tongue is firmly in the cheek. The occasional detour into eerie lo-fi makes intriguing diversions from the otherwise busy record. ‘Wedding of the Anything’ is a weathered and muffled chiller of white noise and analogue tape decay, and the finale ‘Let’s Make a Living in Music!’ is the last word on biting self-deprecation: a track consisting of nearly two minutes of laughter. With the arts sector and creative industries facing great uncertainty in the face of Covid-19, the guffawing mirth stings with acidity.

When Alan Clarke began to tackle the issue of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland for his 1989 BBC short Elephant, he decided that instead of some trite, moralistic posturing or po-faced lecture on the enormity of the subject, he instead simply showed the violence, nothing more, nothing less, appealing to the gut and our visceral senses over intellectual pondering. Chair of Cola similarly presents to us a soundtrack to the troubled navigation of a world geared by untrammelled free-market dogma and shows us exactly how it is: mad, unrelenting, and seemingly impervious.

Dummy ‘Comedy Rock!’

If you don’t laugh you’ll cry. Us 20/30 something’s are a stretched, inside-out bunch, pulled apart by unending labour extraction, fascist ascendancy and certain environmental catastrophe, we’ve developed an uncanny ability to have a good time in the face of such nihilism. Throw an unprecedented, global viral pandemic in the mix and our last recourse is to usher in the new wave of weird, warped and slimy egg punk for the topsy-turvy end times.

Comedy Rock! is the second release from Dummy, being one of the many projects of Minnesotan Sean Albert including Belly Jelly, QQQL and Skull Cult. Taking lo-fi DIY to its nth degree, primitive drum machines, atonal keyboards and fuzzy guitars are all handled by Albert himself, all buzzing together in a fizzy bottle rocket of corrupted energy.

Fervent punk vigour is firmly established on first track ‘Personal Panopticon’, riff attacks hack and slice then switch to jerky picking all saturated with a goop of unintelligible vocal gunge. This fungal fusion of punk urgency and psych effects course throughout the tape but Albert’s musical dexterity allows for other flavours to keep things from being one note. ‘Nights’ is a gloriously upbeat number, tinny rock infected with poppy synth melodies sound like a Cars or Cheap Trick song were it desecrated beyond recognition. Alien slacker warbles and squeals on the distorted ‘Insulated’, D.C. hardcore pummels in the fog of loops and trickery straight out of the more aggressive end of Locust Abortion Technician.

Bent, broken, and crooked, Comedy Rock! is the perfect soundtrack to our collective navigation of a world growing more farcical every day, channeling the pervading confusion in its pulverised compositions and offering a streak of cathartic verve deep within the sputtering pulp.

Elizium ‘ELIZIUM’

Subtly operating off the L.A. radar is lo-fi post-punk outfit Elizium, consisting of rather obliquely named duo WL and SM. With little social media presence and scant information of the band, Elizium quietly slipped their self-titled demo EP to little fanfare, although one could mistake its demo production with characteristic tape hiss. The quiet release of ELIZIUM and the semi-anonymous nature of the band belie just how fantastic the EP is.

The urgent snap of steady snares and grooving bass swirl against WL’s muffled vocals and synth lines on opener ‘Monotonie’, the motorik drive given greater acceleration with tight punk riffing. ‘Reflection’ is a wistful and slightly sombre wander through foggy keyboards and damp drum machines held together by rich synth-strings before the cavernous crunch of ‘Promises’ takes the EP into more menacing electro territory. EP closer ‘EZ’ ends on a note of dreamy shoegaze punctuated with the industrial chug of abrasive percussion, the whispers that percolate within vying for attention.

WL and SM have hinted at an intriguing and infectious future of psychedelic punk with ‘ELIZIUM’, a promise of an exciting path ahead of tripped-out grooves which bites as well as soars.