your struggle isn't new - yoñlu, alienation and the internet

picture of yoñlu i grabbed from last.fm

content warning: mental illness, depression, suicide

I first stumbled upon Yoñlu’s music in September of 2016 through a review on rateyourmusic. I listened to his record “A Society in Which No Tear Is Shed Is Inconceivably Mediocre”, read one piece about him in PASTE magazine and then I pretty much forgot about him. That was until February of this year, where I randomly revisited his work while bored on Spotify only for his music to click. I then spent roughly two weeks obsessively listening to the same fourteen songs, bringing the topic up when talking to friends, constantly browsing the English-speaking side of the internet for information and refusing to shut up about Yoñlu’s music. This article is pretty much the result of this conflict - an attempt to put this topic to bed while sounding vaguely interesting.

Yoñlu, born Vinícius Gageiro Marques was a sixteen-year-old extremely-online musician, photographer and blogger. His work was obscure with his main audience online being the creative board on RLLMUK, a British gaming forum. Growing up in Brazil and France he had taught himself how to read and write in English through a constant stream of movies, television shows, albums and websites. Yoñlu basically just used the internet as a way to make up for his lack of offline friendships through constantly making art and constantly talking to people digitally. His music, which is very lo-fi, very emotionally raw yet insanely accessible has been described by others as sounding like “Brazilian Nick Drake” which I feel is very apt.

According to PASTE Magazine since childhood, Yoñlu had been getting help for what his parents described as a “chemical imbalance”. Online this was no real secret, Yoñlu was extremely open about his depression in his various online postings to the point where it verged on being melodramatic humour. “Quick, someone say something really nice about my songs before I decide to KILL MYSELF” he posted on RLLMUK while promoting his music. In songs such as “Humiliation”, “Suicide” and “Phyrgian” the lyrics directly deal with this depression in a way that is simultaneously simple, poetic and tragic. “It’s pretty sad if you ask me, I don’t think I will be around to see your face again”. he sings from inside his bedroom. There’s something insanely personal about these songs - it feels as if they only exist for Yoñlu himself and for his close online friends and as if by listening to these songs you’re invading their small online sanctuary.

On the 25th of May 2006, Yoñlu made a post on the Usenet board alt.suicide.methods in which he asked the board to review his suicide plan. He initially planned on either jumping from the rooftop of his apartment or immersing himself in a pool of kerosene then lighting a match. Throughout the next two months, he occasionally popped into the board giving updates on his suicide plan. He settled on trying to die through smoke inhalation - using barbecue grills locked in his bathroom. He quizzed his science teachers about his plan, purchased two grills and told his family that he was planning on holding a barbecue for his friends. He was ready to set his plan into motion.

On the 25th of May 2006, Yoñlu made three posts to the Usenet board under the subject “URGENT HELP NEEDED”. In the first post he talked about the method he was using, shared pictures of the grills (which are now unavailable) and asked if he had enough charcoal burning for it to work. Around half an hour later he returned to the thread to complain about the heat in the bathroom and to ask if he should drink something to pass out, ending the post desperately with “Please help me, I don’t have much time =(“. He made one reply to someone asking him a question roughly twenty minutes later only to never log in again. A Canadian friend of Yoñlu who had found out about this attempt rang the police and told them about the attempt. They arrived at his apartment and cleared the smoke engulfing the apartment only to find his body.

Yoñlu had left his family two things - a note in which he thanked them for their support and attempted to absolve them of any guilt as well as a CD-R containing all of his music. His parents, who leafed through his computer after his passing eventually discovered the mild success he had online and eventually released “Yoñlu”, a 23 song compilation of his work on the Brazilian label Allegro. This release drew the attention of David Byrne of Talking Heads fame and his record label Luaka Bop, which mainly specializes in promoting Brazilian music to an international audience. This attention lead to the label releasing “A Society in Which No Tear Is Shed Is Inconceivably Mediocre”, an album which cut the tracklist of “Yoñlu” down to fourteen songs.

Something that struck me as I was in the process of researching this blog post is how Yoñlu’s online presence had gradually vanished over time. In the thirteen years since his passing his blog has been taken down (supposedly as his family were uncomfortable with pictures of them being online), all the images he uploaded now 404, the archive of his music on RLLMUK leads to an expired domain and alt.suicide.methods was removed from Google Groups. In order to find Yoñlu’s a.s.m posts I had to trawl through a Usenet metadata archive posted on archive.org, sign up for free trials with multiple Usenet providers, find the one that actually retained his posts on their servers, sort through over a decade worth of spam and manually download each thing he posted with Thunderbird. It’s very likely that if I hadn’t done this eventually these files would have been lost - after all the Usenet provider I found his posts with only guarantees five years of retention. We’ve all been raised to assume that everything posted online stays there forever - your facebook pictures of a party will ruin your job interview, your tweets will deny you a visa and your reddit posts will ruin your marriage. The reality however is more mundane. Companies fold, domains expire and servers fail. Unless people take an active interest in archiving your online presence it’s eventually going to fade into the digital void - only to be replaced in a polite 404 message. Nobody is going to be able to read these words in five years and that’s oddly comforting.

The biggest lie that we tell ourselves is that we’re the only people that feel the way that we feel. Our brains make us all think that we’re the only ones in a situation like ours, ignoring the fact there were people in similar situations before us and there will be others facing something similar in the future. Your struggle isn’t new, despite what your brain constantly screams. We’re not the first generation to grow up alone and online and we’re probably not going to be the last (well I mean ignoring the impending climate catastrophe). I feel like Yoñlu’s short life was so fascinating to me just because of how relatable it was thirteen years on. His online presence just reminded me of some of my stupidly talented internet friends who don’t smile much or leave the house often. His lyrics reminded me of the stupidly angsty things we would text one another at four in the morning while trying to ignore how bleak everything seemed. I used to think that the situation that these friends and I faced was something new - something formed as a result of hyper-capitalist alienation, an epidemic of mental illness spurred by a bleak society, the constant pushing of antidepressants by soulless corporations and the never-ending march of consumerist marketing. I used to think that I was uniquely screwed when compared to other people, in a special situation where the only way out was in the form of a locked bathroom. I didn’t think that living past a certain age was actually viable, didn’t think I would be able to make anything of any value. Now I don’t necessarily know if the process of writing this article has fully changed this view but it did make me feel like a part of something larger. We’re not as alienated as we think and barbecue grills won’t stop the next person from having to deal with this sadness. When Yoñlu posted “Waterfall”, the last song on ASIWNTISIIM and the last song he wrote before passing he remarked that he should have made something that was more meaningful. However, this song which lacks any lyrics serves as the perfect metaphor for Yoñlu’s art and life. It was short, beautiful and I wished it lasted a little longer. In the words of galorr, who posted on Yoñlu’s RLLMUK profile on the 7th of May 2015, “Thank you for having existed. FUCK YOU for having succeeded.”