Of Upside Electronic Music

Assembling itself from the dregs of Hip-Hop, Garage, and Punk along the clandestine tracts of pirate radio, UK Grime is an electronic music more martial than danceable, distilling rhythm to a jagged minimalism of synthetic clicks and guttural bass that adheres to a singular current of coldness within the domain of futuristic speculation by way of sound. As of the early 2020s, Grime continues to be the latest wave appropriate to the post-cybernetic phase of a longstanding cultural war produced by Atlantic history, with interest in the genre having experienced a resurgence in the late 2010s. The name “Weightless” has proven itself perseverant in tagging that subspecies of UK Grime productively specialized upon the subtraction of percussive elements.[00] In a world where, famously, “all that is solid melts into air”,[01] this obviously renders it one of those electronic musics that tangibly carry the futurity of their present, filling the same niche as Jungle and Dubstep did in the acoustic ecosystems of the '90s and '00s, respectively. Yet this is also where the resemblance of Weightless Grime to the machine-brutalism grinding away in both of the latter ends. Compared to their conjurations of explicit darkside dread, its suspension of the mix in mid air is freakishly light — attuned to a moment that shifts the meaning of “Industrial” from steel behemoths to cloud tech. Even a relation to contemporaneous experiments in sonic fluidity betrays precarious unease at best. Abstractions emerging from the GHE20G0TH1K series of club nights,[02] and under such barbarous names of evocation as Fluxwork,[03] may be similarly immutable, yet Weightless is still best intelligible as a volatilization of their viscous sludge.[04] Though if modernity discovers anything, it is that intelligibility — what appears to the senses — is always just that: appearance, camouflage.[05] The sound of the time expressing itself in such superficially amicable poise may well be due to, rather than despite of, a drive towards disintegration inherited from its more outwardly ominous predecessors. It is in fact to be expected that any process subject to selective pressure (whether biotic, cultural, techno-commercial, or arcane) eventually intuits that alliances won amicably are far easier directed to act in opposition of their instinct for self-preservation than those achieved by intimidation.[06] In the same vein, it is from the seething single-mindedness of its constituents that the pliable flexibility of a locust swarm emerges, and makes it a particularly effective plague. Once bubbly natures are recognized to be a froth that masks a lushness only of the pestilent kind, what was once “rich atmosphere” is reconfigured to have always already been heavy swamp air, and the natural forces propelling cultural development are too finally stripped of all residual anthropomorphism. Traversing the outermost edges of this newly unveiled marsh, it reveals itself to be teeming with insectoid suggestions simultaneously triggering pseudo-memories from the deep nervous system and assembling visions of impossibly advanced nano-warships. Trouble is in the air, as is the mechanical foundation of music, so it is apt to get prepping.

Visionist, 'Safe' (Bandcamp upload), 2015, digital track, PAN.

Preppers and swamps are of course already well acquainted. The latter often draw in the more extraterrestrially invested of the former by harboring apparently favorable conditions for atmospheric light anomaly.[07] These ghost lights, bathing as many pagan folklores as urban legends in their incandescent mystery, provide the model for a visuality that does not shed light on anything. So, too, does a marked shift towards glaringly bright — even mostly white! — color palettes, as it arises with the visuals of Weightless, not make the slightest effort to illuminate the impenetrable labyrinths that darkside Jungle and dissonant Dubstep had previously taken cover under. By way of paradox, the unanticipated luminescence only reinforces an involvement with aberrancy, breaking with even that murkiness that is expected of an aesthetics of unknowing. So, against the exotericism and accessibility that would invite description as “lightsided”, the definitively eccentric glaring-darkness of Weightless rather warrants application of the “upside”, phrasal resonances of which oscillate between the odd couple of “on the upside…” and “upside down”. It is a photonic analogue to Nietzsche's saggital model of how thought sprawls out: as an arrow, shot into the dark by nature without mind, inevitably faltering, and eventually picked back up to be thrown along some other way.[08] Epistemics — for the visuals of Weightless as for Nietzsche — is a vector of transmission escalating ever further into the unknown, feeding Mother Oblivion in the process. Enlightenment hence discounted as efficient cause, the vapor trails of Weightless' anomalous lightness lead to a singularity in the domain of visual culture: the digital arts of graphic design and 3D modeling maturing into automation, attested to by trends towards aleatory and procedurality in each. Both thus become permeated with a sense of relief that is downright hydraulic, as well as the hype-soaked excitation that the promise of productive optimization invariably brings with it. Whether already effective, or mimicked through manual methods of effortless complexity, there is a machine-romantic conviction that the automatic drive of nature in the absence of law — coincidence — is the sole and rightful sovereign to rule over all (the positivity of anarchism and the death of god). That is also why pattern, when it does unveil itself in these tactics of randomization, inspires nothing short of cultic awe. It is aesthetic Wow! signal.[09] From here on out, whatever shows up can only be establishing an occult line of communication between visuality and that which makes futurity so cosmically invisible.

Yannick Val Gesto, cover for DYNOOO's 'These Flaws Are Mine To War With', 2014, 3DCGI.

It is another favorite among UFOlogist preppers, crop circles, that reveal alien invasion to be warfare that fades indissociably into cryptography — and the sender to have a curious taste for the basic cereals, again much like the locust swarm. A most fundamental sign of takeover by Something Else appears to be the whipping of grains into frenzied clouds. The acoustic realm is no exception: granular sampling is one of the key techniques characterizing the fluid club sound. Its jargon speaks of audio making like the rest of the modern world and atomizing into what are called Grains,[10] fragments 1—50 milliseconds in length, before being stochastically re-arranged into ephemeral clusters, or Clouds.[11] Whether by Grime becoming Weightless, or Grains uploaded into Clouds: the coincidence of the chthonic with the ouranic — so central to all programs of mysticism — is now sidechained to the loosely swung kick of an off-grid percussion pattern.[12] It is in the same vein that the domain which granular sampling populates shifts continuously from the realm of texture, a familiar horizon to art theorists, to the forever untouchable crypt of time. This is to say, yet more abstractly (to get more real), that granular sampling acts as the technical sign of a process by which the stable flourishes of bliss, whose upward currents electronic music finds itself in at increasingly irregular intervals, are luring it ever so subtly in the un-direction of some adjunct zone of aesthetics at the utter limits of intelligibility. At this point, the cultural yields of club music are undoubtedly in full bloom. It samples from innumerable genealogies, laterally intermeshed by those networking tendencies that constitute the most creative of processes happening at the interface of technology and economics. Such diversity is naturally affirmed by the overall progressive politics that is drawn to scenes like it. Only a close encounter with time flips this situation into its unflinchingly uncertain recesses, where productive networks emulsify into viral replication pattern and beauty molts into unspeakable assemblages of unconscious affect. Yet time, as mantric playback of the famous utterance by cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson insists,[13] is only distributed evenly outside of itself, that is: never. So, something occurs between a recognizable emotion of elation and an ecstasy beyond the escape velocity, and a movement derivative of the difference in their midst is increasingly rendered audible. The repressed truth of our diversity veneration is that its object of worship, by way of feature rather than bug, creates extraordinary competition. It is within this pressure cooker that the subtle passageways of trade relations — necessarily transgressive, if their aim is to be extensive — can be followed from tactical advantage all the way to cultural reset. (What is still) electronic music, increasingly attached to little more than outdoing itself in every which way, reveals that it was always already made in the image of desire, time, and capital to a degree that is difficult to grasp, not to mention undo. Beyond the three sequential trials posed by abundance, frenzy, and strife, music becomes open to unthinkable involvements with time, trying all that ever could be tried, and joyously suffering the failure of its bulk, so that only the most adaptive sonic machineries may get out at the end. The truth is, we haven't heard anything yet.


[00] Among the most exhaustive collections of releases captured by the Weightless attractor, no question owing its comprehension to a decentralized mode of assembly: https://rateyourmusic.com/genre/weightless/".

[01] MARX, Karl / ENGELS, Friedrich, 'Manifesto of the Communist Party' (trans. Samuel Moore), section 16. The depiction also provides the title and conceptual springboard for a seminal book by Marshall Berman that treats it as a vision of modernity as incandescent apocalypse.

[02] Often invoked with reference to the post-structuralist technique of deconstruction, a move arguably overestimating what degree of ferocity can possibly be retrieved from endless deferrals: https://daily.bandcamp.com/lists/deconstructed-music-post-club-list.

[03] https://everynoise.com/engenremap-fluxwork.html.

[04] No doubt the slime that Witch House eagerly decayed into: https://wsoeelon.com/genre-retrospective-witch-house-or-w†¢-ωue/.

[05] Immanuel Kant's invaluable offering to modernity: establishing its foundational sense of the Outside by distinguishing between objects in space and time (phenomena) and that which exists without even partial reliance on perception (noumena).

[06] LAND, Nick, 'Fanged Noumena', p. 398: “impending human extinction becomes accessible as a dance-floor”.

[07] One of the main events tied up with '60s Ufomania — a 1966 sighting in the U.S. state of Michigan that Allen Hynek (who formulated the scale that slots close encounters into ordinal degrees of intimacy) got involved in — infamously listed the flaring up of swamp gas as its unsatisfactory official explanation: https://aadl.org/taxonomy/term/9218.

[08] NIETZSCHE, Friedrich, 'Untimely Meditations' (trans. Adrian Collins), section 7: “Nature shoots the philosopher at mankind like an arrow; she. does not aim, but hopes that the arrow will stick somewhere. She makes countless mistakes, that give her pain. She is as extravagant in the sphere of culture as in her planting and sowing. She fulfils her ends in a large and clumsy fashion, using up far too much of her strength”.

[09] A cornerstone of SETI history, the Wow! signal is an extraordinary signal from the Sagittarius constellation received by the Big Ear radio telescope in 1977.

[10] Everything meant by the Marxist term of alienation, the defining characteristics of techno-commercially fitted societies, is a recurring dynamic of disintegration. It describes communities splitting into sectarian clusters as much as it does the mean amount of information transmitted through popular media shrinking. The latter also stands in direct correlation to the compressive telos of shrinking song-lengths and what contemporary media apocalypticism tags “the loudness wars“.

[11] “Maybe the most recognizable feature of this kind of music, granular synthesis is a method where audio is split into minuscule pieces (1-50 ms) and these pieces are then rearranged in what's called a cloud. Think of it as sampling, because that's what it essentially is, just on a very different scale than what you're used to.” https://www.reddit.com/r/futurebeatproducers/comments/3n6bci/organic_signal_processing_or_how_do_i_sound_like/.

[12] Most comprehensively compressed in the now pseudo-exoteric formula “as above, so below”. Mysticism also has a particular affinity for the cloud term as an image that couples divinity to an inherent occultation from understanding, as is strongly suggested by the anonymously authored classic 'The Cloud of Unknowyng'.

[13] William Gibson announces the first verifiable instance of the quote as “As I've said many times, the future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.”, making its origin take on as much a life of its own as its eventual reproduction. The entire ordeal displays almost all tells of misattributed quotation without indicating that this is what is in fact taking place: https://www.npr.org/2018/10/22/1067220/the-science-in-science-fiction?t=1639235756784.