“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”
― Oliver Sacks
【Ｏｒａｎｇｅ Ｊｕｉｃｅ ｆｏｒ ｔｈｅ Ｅａｒ】
Imagine loneliness as a house situated somewhere quiet and romantic, like a forest in upstate Montana. Then, imagine you’re twelve years old playing video games on the frayed carpet of that same old house, waiting for someone you love to arrive.
The best music makes me feel nostalgic for a world I’ve never actually experienced; a kind of fantasy-enablement. When it comes to mainstream music, if we are not fed a steady stream of pseudo-emotion, it seems the lyrics will instead refrain from reality with a series of ideological assurances regarding the high life as the ideal destination of the rich and famous.
At the same time, I think it was David Foster Wallace who suggested that real music could be used as an anesthetic against loneliness. Although we might keep trying, it seems genuinely pathetic to consider music as a cure to the problems of our 21st-century modernity. In fact, we seldom bother with these considerations anymore. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll is the slogan that encapsulates today’s societal mentality, where music is used to forget the human condition, rather than face it. To add emphasis, let me refer to Slavoj Žižek’s Trouble in Paradise. Here is a short paragraph referring to 2012’s Gangnam Style:
“On 21 December 2012, [Gangnam Style] reached the magic number of one billion views – and since 21 December was the day when those who took seriously the predictions of the Mayan calendar were expecting the end of the world, one can say that the Ancient Mayas were right: the fact that a ‘Gangnam Style’ video gets a billion views effectively is the sign of the collapse of a civilization.”
It is rare, I think, to find contemporary music that does not revel in self-satirical meaninglessness, but instead grasps an unfashionable sentimentality; the kind of feelings you might even describe as lonely or wistful. Eevee is a beatmaker from the Netherlands, whose music is imbued with this kind of contemplative, forlorn, lofi sound. It is the music of dreamscape hypnagogia and rainy cities. A music so painfully pensive it might even inspire a sort of low-key transcendentalism.
Going into 2018, I asked Eevee what she thought about this kind of interpretation. The loneliness in her music, she said, came from the ‘things that happened in my past that I struggled with.’ Discussing her process, she continued by saying, ‘I make music on my mood, so sometimes it sounds a lil sad or melancholic.’ Through our exchange, Eevee acknowledged that ‘a lot of people feel alone’ and whilst the interpretation of sound was always different, we both agreed that music could be therapeutic in a society where epistemological loneliness was a fast-growing cultural phenomenon.
I have listened to Eevee’s music in the bath when I am hungover. Even at my quarter-life, I have the worst kind of hangovers, the kind where I can feel the serotonin draining from my body like oil from a car. Even the vivid cheerfulness of a yellow duck is not enough to stifle the disappointment I feel for the world. This is not to sound characteristically intense or self-indulgent, but to understand how this music can genuinely operate as an anesthetic against loneliness.
In our growing landscape of ideological uncertainty, lofi hip-hop occupies a transitional space where experimentalism can inform a penetrating, dreamlike experience. To borrow a term from Žižek, in its purest sense, experimentalism can operate outside of a complete ‘ideological container’ making it a useful tool in the artistry of music.
Originating from Denmark, Axian promotes this kind of underground experimentation, where phantasmagorical sounds offer another fuck you to the corporate hegemony of music as a disseminated product, with beat tape communities pushing for a more liberated aesthetic. It’s the sound of low fidelity meets hip-hop turntablism, a vision that breaks free from the editorial constraints of commercial saleability; where the dominant philosophies of our time inevitably end up at the back of the queue, and at the bottom of the playlist.
Even so, Axian worries that hip-hop has become an increasingly overlooked genre of music; going the way of once predominant musical genres like jazz and blues. It’s an anxiety we both share, but an anxiety that feels reconciled nonetheless; especially when we consider these alternative movements blending hip-hop with low fidelity production.
Despite this, we both see the detrimental correlation between the music industry and its hazardous effects on emerging artists. Axian concluded this idea by saying, ‘these days everything’s gotta be fancy, and it’s gotta be about money, drugs and sex to make it in the mainstream, and I think a lot of people are conforming to the belief that that’s the way things should be.’
Axian believes this corporate philosophy of material hedonism has turned music away from what he calls, ‘the language of feelings’ – a statement that seems imbued with the Schopenhauerian sentiment for how music should be: a transcendental experience. At the same time, he locates his promotion of these underground artists within a growing ‘revolution against over-polished music’ where conformity is about creating ‘products rather than music.’
In the essay, ‘Music at Night’ Aldous Huxley conveys the idea that music, at its most integral reduction, is the equivalent of some of humanity’s ‘most significant and most inexpressible experiences.’ During our conversation, Axian expressed a similar notion, forwarding the idea that creating music is ‘all about conveying your feelings or emotions into something tangible.’ Whilst operating under the hegemony of ‘money hungry labels’ he sees the wider industry as largely formulaic, operating through an absence of creativity. This paradigm stands at the opposite end of an artistic vision based on the principles of conveyed experience, through which audiences can learn to understand the world and their place within it.
This essay was originally published as two separate entities at Public Pressure.
Read them in their original format:
Image Credit: Anime Scenery (obtained via Google Images)