this is what alienation sounds like

cw: some descriptions of violence, references to suicide attempts

The internet is impossibly large and a bunch of useless-seeming algorithms determine how we interact with it – a majority of what we see on the net is purposely targeted to us based on our past actions and it’s scarily easy to not realize how surreal that is. I think I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that these blog posts are heavily indebted to Spotify’s recommendation algorithms – I’ve discovered half of the albums that defined my lockdown due to them popping up on my home screen as an album ended and the other half initially entered my life through the rabbit holes these algorithms enable. The space in my life that was once occupied by a certain music forum has been substituted by a piece of software trained on the exact same people I actively chose to stop paying attention to and there’s something morbidly interesting about that to me – there are people out there with nearly the exact same musical tastes as mine and I’ll probably never interact with them. Any (largely flawed) sense of community created by shared fandom has gradually been sidelined as the death march of communicative capitalism (and the world pandemic we’re still living under) atomizes us further and further – the coronavirus outbreak may have accelerated this process but it feels as if we’ve made a major shift over time from the shared, communal spaces of record shops and concerts to the finely-tuned desert islands created by these algorithms. We’re still all connected in a certain sense, just not in a way that lends itself to meaningful interactions – whatever data we generate online is constantly being compared to those around us but these algorithms actively obfuscate that fact, tricking us into assuming that we’re isolated individuals with genuinely unique tastes. This week I’m going to try (and presumably fail) to write about an album that the Spotify algorithm shoved in my face, if anything just so I can pretend to fully understand it.

At first I assumed that ‘Teenage Poetry’ was going to be a really bad vaporwave album. Something about the combination of the record’s cover and title drew my (largely morbid) attention as I sat there endlessly scrolling on my phone, debating which one of the same three albums I’d loop again. I didn’t know what exactly to expect and I think that’s why the album had such an impact on me – I essentially just went into the thing blind, hoping I’d have something to be mildly snarky about as I waited for someone to text me. Heaven’s Emperor is the former alias of Glident, a Canadian producer who makes beautifully amateurish drone music for people who desperately need to get off the internet. One of the most interesting things about this album is how utterly dissonant it feels – a lot of the samples utilized in this album are ripped from sources typically ignored by pretentious drone musicians (read: YouTube videos from five years ago) and for a reason that still eludes me the musician chose to sandwich two full-on mashup tracks between some of the more depressing drone pieces. The album doesn’t make coherent sense but somehow works – I never thought I’d see a drone album that somehow samples Kanye West and BROCKHAMPTON at the same time but there’s something really endearing about seeing someone pull it off, even if that’s a genuinely absurd sentence to read without any context. This project messes with nostalgia in a way I find extremely interesting – random moments uploaded to the endless digital void of the internet are taken out of context and used to capture a larger feeling common among all four people online enough to recognize whatever was sampled, creating something that barely makes sense to everyone else in the process.

‘Teenage Poetry’ begins to click when you imagine the solitary bedroom life that presumably inspired it. The music Heaven’s Emperor released plays with the very atomization I was trying to rant about in the first paragraph of this post – their work heavily samples ephemera solely remembered by the extremely online and the alienation necessary to seek out half of these largely-depressing samples would probably be explained away by all the references to never leaving the house. To an outside observer this album would probably come off as fairly melodramatic, a description that’s admittedly quite apt (I mean it’s genuinely absurd to have recordings of the impact of police brutality on one track and a lad being shouted at for being a hikikomori in the next one) but misses the larger point of this record. If you’re able to fully relate to this album your sense of reality has presumably been fried a bit – the human brain is scarily adept at normalizing objectively horrific things and if you spend all your free time watching videos on BestGore that process is presumably accelerated. Objective tragedies eventually just become WEBM files sitting on your manky-seeming laptop, anything beyond the four walls you’re stuck between feels like surreal entertainment, and death becomes this distinctly unreal thing you can loop over and over while considering your own. Actual tragedies lose any real meaning, just becoming something that autoplays as you lie on your bed sideways staring into some screen. I think in order to fully enjoy this album you have to view it as an unsettling glimpse into the thought process of the kind of person who finds a warped sense of community in the seedy underbelly of the internet. This is what alienation sounds like, and alienation is not particularly pretty.

It took me around ten minutes to decide that this album was worth trying to write about, bringing me down a rabbit hole of internet drama as I tried to find any information on the musician. Heaven’s Emperor had zero presence on social media, something that piqued my interest and lead to me presuming that the album I’d just finished listening to was some kind of side-project. Something about my “research” you should note is how utterly inept it was, I’m used to being able to rattle off anecdotes from old Oneohtrix Point Never interviews or the memories associated with some random Xiu Xiu album but my past attempts to trawl the internet have always been a bit dodgy and I’m not going to claim that my interpretation of events are in any way accurate.

The musician behind Heaven’s Emperor went on to release another full-length and three EPs in 2019 under the pseudonym, eventually choosing to shift to using the name Hyperbloom for his music. On the 29th of April this year they released ‘This Isn’t Even Real’, an EP that has been completely wiped from the face of the internet (to the point where it isn’t even available on Soulseek). This release drew considerable controversy due to what a majority of people viewed as exploitative sampling – the producer had included audio of a 4chan user’s successful suicide attempt, finally crossing the line they had been treading for their whole discography. The album was removed from Bandcamp, Glide released the following statement in response to an argument ignited by the removal, and their RateYourMusic account was later marked for deletion.

“Nobody harassed me or insulted my character, and I was not bullied into taking any actions. I read a person’s legitimate reaction and criticism to something that I directly put them through and I agreed with it. I appreciate your points, g_crowley, but I don’t think it applies to my current situation. If you’re going to use some contentious samples, you better have a damn good reason for it. Peggy had an extremely good reason that opens up discourse about police brutality. I believe I used contentious samples in previous work properly because they connected dots in a story about my own experiences with suicide. This was just dragging a video’s audio from bestgore into Ableton because I wanted something to fill the transition between songs. It didn’t tell a story. It didn’t add anything to the experience. It was using somebody’s personal suffering for nothing more than a sequence in an EP thrown together than I didn’t believe in at all. That’s absolutely the definition of tasteless to me, and I feel stupid that it took somebody’s genuine distress to alert me that “hey, maybe what you’re doing is garbage.” My comment about continuing music or not had nothing to do with ‘cancel culture’ or any of it’s parallels. I genuinely believe that I ran out of stories to tell and don’t have much music left in me, and I think that review was the first one that saw through my half-hearted efforts to be ‘broody’ and ‘edgy’ by putting some sad samples over some ambient and calling it a day. I absolutely do need to think about what I’m trying to say, because if I just put out some garbage that makes people feel bad for no reason other than my own ego, that’s the worst case scenario”.

I feel in no way qualified to pass any real judgement on this whole ordeal but there’s something morbidly interesting about the conversation on sampling that lead to Glide going dark for a while – at what point does our work go from being subversive to just being exploitative? At risk of sounding like some op-ed columnist droning on about “cancel culture” I find the point at which the line was drawn extremely interesting – how come we were able to gloss over the audio taken from the police murder of Philando Castile utilized in ‘Teenage Poetry’ but not that random 4chan user’s suicide attempt? I don’t really have a clear answer to that question and there probably never will be one (bar making vague gestures to how accustomed we’ve become to compartmentalizing the racist violence necessary to keep capitalism running) – the human brain is scarily good at detaching itself from the brutal reality of whatever we stumble upon and the things that make us snap out of that alienation are fairly arbitrary. This doesn’t necessarily justify the choice to include either sample but just raises questions about the implications of social atomization and how they could be countered – how do we get to the point where we’re all no longer capable of viewing atrocities as minor spectacles or possible samples? Is it even possible to reach a point where we no longer have to actively remind ourselves that the person being captured by a camera has friends and family? I think I became obsessed with this minor internet controversy as there were no real answers – I’d stumbled upon the whole thing a few months too late and whatever crumbs of the drama remained just left me pondering questions I’ll probably never be able to respond to.

I think credit is due to Glide for being a genuine, considerate person – the internet promotes endless shitflinging and it takes a fair bit of maturity to be able to own up to doing something dodgy without holding a grudge about it. This blog post was meant to go up yesterday but I managed to pass out while trying to come up with some form of conclusion to this story, leading to me confusedly waking up at half two in the morning and missing my deadline. I genuinely didn’t know how to tie together all the themes that surfaced during this ramble – I was operating off the assumption that Glide had nuked a majority of their internet presence and it felt weird to essentially compose a weird post-mortem for some random internet musician I only stumbled upon a few days ago. I don’t know the full details of this case (and probably never will) and that’s what keeps on tripping me up as I attempt to put it together in this piece – I’d like to imagine that someone actually involved in this conversation is laughing at me for getting every single detail wrong, even if in reality they’d probably just be fairly offended. The internet is full of these random incomplete interactions you’ll never be able to get a full grasp of, I just had the luck of some Spotify algorithm shoving it in my face and the urge to somehow maintain my writing streak. To a certain degree, I was scared that this would be the definitive “end” (for lack of a better word) of Glide – their creative output is genuinely interesting and the idea of them retreating into the digital void as the music leaves them lends itself well to the narrative arc of this piece but actively bums me out. However I was clearly talking shite before I passed out – the producer has just released a snippet onto their YouTube channel and is currently streaming some Pokémon knockoff as I write this paragraph. There’s probably some deeper meaning to extract from this but I genuinely can’t be arsed at this point – I just want to listen to drone records without seeming like a pretentious arsehole, something I’ve been consistently failing to do since starting to write about music on here.