The latest Dance: The Drop is all about Music and Algorithms, plus Recommended mixes, shows, plus Artist of the Month

With Niamh McCool

Recommended for you: Music and Algorithms 

Edited image created by combining image of a Porcelain Vase from the Kangxi Period and Iris Van Herpen’s ‘Synatopia Dress’ in Machine learning program: ‘Deep Dream Generator’

The current state of piracy, mega-corporate streaming services, and algorithms that create pop stars have left some people apprehensive about how technology is affecting music. With any technological advancement comes positive and negative elements.

I’ll be looking at two online audio platforms: Soundcloud and Bandcamp, that have dramatically changed music distribution and music itself.

Recommended Mix: https://soundcloud.com/thickowens/i-forgot-my-mantra

I grew up using Soundcloud, so I feel a warm nostalgia towards the platform, and amongst other things, it has shaped my relationship with music and in particular my interest in electronic dance and experimental music. The biggest appeal of both Soundcloud and Bandcamp is the feature that any artist can publish music which is accessible all around the world. 

You don’t need an agent, record label, expensive recording studio or production gear. All you need is a laptop (even just a phone) to publish music.

This led to a democratisation of music production and publication. Music is more diverse than ever. Now, this newfound ability for your 6-year-old cousin to publish mumble rap covers has led to some preaching ‘oversaturation’.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the ‘oversaturation’ stance. The more people produce music, the more diverse it becomes. The quantity of music being published daily propels music forward at a rapid pace; there is more innovation, resourcefulness, pastiche. More growth. Genres become distilled. Genre tropes are continually used over and over, certain samples become genre shorthand; a soundbite of a couple of seconds can develop multi-layered meaning through all the prior work that it refers to. Referentiality is a key attribute of ‘internet music’. 

This referentiality, along with the internet being a music distribution system in and of itself, has led to the blossoming of niche genres, and decently ‘internet’ flavoured genres.

The most obvious, and well-trodden ‘internet’ genre of this kind is, of course, vaporwave.

Vaporwave is in a unique position, in that it’s a genre that we have observed coming out of, and living its course on, the internet. Forming in the ’90s, there is now a decent amount of well researched literature on the matter. Musician and academic Laura Glitsos’s ‘Vaporwave, or Music optimised for abandoned Malls’ discussed the particular nostalgia that the genre evokes. A core part of vaporwave is its immersive world-building quality; world-building is a common thread in contemporary internet genres.

On Bandcamp, the Sydney formed label Eco Futurist Corporation focuses solely on ‘Eco Grime’, being an experimental multi-disciplinary genre focusing on a Utopian vision of ecological and digital symbiosis. Often featuring low humming frequencies, samples of water falling, insect chirping, and birdsong married with a more abrasive digital kicks and basslines.

The Eco Futurist Corporation coined ‘Eco Grime’. Bandcamp enables labels to curate music and carve out their own distinct genres.

Tagging also encourages the development of extremely specific sounds and aesthetics. If you browse the breakbeat tag on Bandcamp you get hundreds of vastly different artists, which is a great way to find diverse sounds. Sorting through more niche tags like breakcore, digital tribalism, or Chernobyl, you’re likely to find music that focuses on a particular theme and/or aesthetic. 

Image from Beauty_Gan, an AI algorithm that creates artificial images using photos of make-up as its input information

There is, however, a side to SoundCloud, Bandcamp and music distribution as a whole that is out of our control, namely the algorithms that suggest and promote music to listeners.

Soundcloud has recommended artists, ‘radio stations’ composed of songs in the same vein of songs you have liked, and a weekly playlist based on what you listen to. All this is created by computer algorithms. The fact is that every time we listen to music now, we are sending off a stream of data straight into a computer system to be analysed, which then feeds back what it thinks you like.

It can feel… strange.

It does have a slight neo liberal, AI-fuelled dystopia feel, and it does raise questions on privacy and what rights we have surrounding data. Is it wrong that a machine learning system is telling us what music we should listen to? 

Album Cover: ЧЕРНОБЫЛЬ by Thug Willow. I discovered this album browsing the discography of Manchester based label PURE LIFE on Bandcamp

Perhaps it’s because I grew up on the internet, but seeing what the Soundcloud algorithm brings out of the odd recesses of the internet is fascinating rather than frightening to me. I have found some of my favourite music this way. Algorithms have changed the way music is made, how it is promoted and distributed. While some people may find this concerning, I don’t find there to be much difference from a friend suggesting a song to me.

Sociologist John Law’s Actor-Network Theory suggests that non-human objects (like the Soundcloud Algorithm) can be considered equally relevant to humans in a communication network. In other words, you can view interacting with hard and software the same as two humans communicating together. Maybe Law’s theory is a bit out there, but the future of algorithms and advancements in communication technology is sure to have an interesting effect on music. 

‘Recommend for youplaylist: https://soundcloud.com/niamh-mccool/sets/recommended-for-you-a-playlist 

Partiboi69 giving it to us on the recorder

Speaking of the future, the immediate future of Canberra holds some pretty delightful electronic music events. 

Infamous internet icon Partiboi69 lands on Sideway’s dancefloor on Thursday, 13 February, featuring the ’90s visuals, sexual innuendo, ghetto house that gained him is acclaim in the Aus underground scene.

On Valentine’s Day – Friday, 14 FebruaryIt’s a London Thing shows us some love with UK based grime and garage DJ Barely Legal.

On Friday, 21 February Queer party THROB returns to Sideway with dynamic techno duo Tama Sumo and Lakuti, having earned their DJing stripes at no Berlin’s Berghain no less.

Continuing the amorous vibes, on Friday, 6 March Fleetmac Wood present the Sea of Love Disco at Mr Wolf – a plastic-free party with $1 of every ticket going towards the Sea Shepherd Global. Then on Friday, 13 March, Kinetics & Mr Wolf present Quebec-based Project Pablo, a man who oversees a string of labels including ASL Singles Club, SOBO and Verdicchio Music Publishing.

Co-founder of the legendary Hessle Audio label, presenter of the longstanding Hessle Audio show on Rinse FM, and universally praised selector, the disgustingly young Ben UFO comes to rave up the cavern at UC Hub with a very special sound-system and production to boot. Described as having “the combination a diminutive demanour and tender manner, but ruthless, encyclopaedic artillery of UK bass music”, the Canberra House Social crew are set once again to bring the noise in the best way possible.

At Fiction, prolific house and disco producer Folamour comes to Canberra on Sunday, 8 March (who solidified his name in 2019 with a viral video of him dropping some ABBA, no less), and will be joined by Cloonee and his tech house slammers.

And last but by no means least, also on Sunday, 8 March, co-founder of the legendary Hessle Audio label, presenter of the longstanding Hessle Audio show on Rinse FM, and universally praised selector, the disgustingly young Ben UFO comes to rave up the cavern at UC Hub with a very special sound-system and production to boot. Described as having “the combination a diminutive demanour and tender manner, but ruthless, encyclopaedic artillery of UK bass music”, the Canberra House Social crew are set once again to bring the noise in the best way possible.

Hei Zhi Ma 黑芝麻 

DJ of the Month: Hei Zhi Ma 黑芝麻 

Hei Zhi Ma 黑芝麻 is a master of building emotion and narrative in her sets, weaving spoken word, poetry, and film samples into breakbeat, techno, trance, and jungle. I find her radio show Tian Dian 甜点 on Nomand Radio a particularly fascinating listen.

Recently playing with experimental group Tactic, supporting Rainbow Chan, spinning at HICCUP sustainability party, graduating FBi Radio Dance Class 2019 and featuring on Radio Show Bleus. Hei Zhi Ma is intimately involved in underground scenes that keep the culture moving.

Plenty to check out in the month ahead, so be sure to get your headphones on, and your dance feet a-shufflin’.

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