Authenticity Vs. Novelty & A Newish LP

Posted on August 10th, 2020

Filed under: General,Music News — Karl Olson @ 6:47 am

Time for another reaction blog to a great YouTube video that muses justifiably on the difference between Anime Rap and Nerdcore as thematic approaches, and yet again, what started as a YouTube comment became a blog post.

After all, even in Nerdcore itself, there’s been a long-running debate between what’s “Book Report Rap,” where someone is writing in character or summarizing a story vs. nerdy/otaku-centric media and topics as a referential lens for rapping about personal experiences vs. perhaps still nerdy personal experiences (cons, coding, hacking, etc.) as the topic. It’s debated because those differences may determine what’s more explicitly commercial rather than being artistically minded first, or rather, what’s being made out of novelty versus what made out of authenticity (assuming such separation can ever be made.) I don’t think that debate has ever settled out.

Many successful nerd/otaku-adjacent artists, regardless of their self-applied label of choice, really work over a spectrum between the various extremes depending on the song or project. Where they usually land on average has less to do with their level of admiration of Rap as a creative artist as the video implies, (though yes, some folks are really just trying to pander to nerds first,) but more to do with their personal processes and experiences. I think anyone trying to make a polished, professional track probably loves rap in the same I’d a say a Backpacker and a Trap artist both love Rap, but they each express it very differently. Maybe the purely novelty artists are consistently identifiable, but they don’t seem more common under any given label.

Still, it’s understandable how tremendously unsatisfactory that vague conclusion is when artists are trying to brand and market their work, as unclear scene boundaries and labels can result in the dilution of search results and listener confusion. When listeners craving novelty and levity suddenly encounter something more challenging, they get very upset because as the video alludes to, they’re not always genre fans, they’re fans of some medium (anime, comics, video games, etc.) first. Conversely, when someone who likes the tone to be serious encounters the slightest novelty, it can then scan as cornball and can sour a scene name or brand or genre or whatever forever to them. This creates legitimate tension in both directions – no one wants their plans undermined by another artist’s vision or aesthetic.

Alas, even decades into this, I don’t have the answer for where novelty stops and authenticity begins, because it is so personal and variable. As I note in the header, I’ve got a newish LP out, based on an EP mixtape that was originally very anime-themed and even had samples from those works. In turning it into an album, I pulled out the samples and pulled in some remixes of songs that also thematically fit because they were also very anime-themed. Now, on one hand, it’s probably rather novel – there’s lots from the perspective of anime characters covering many of their respective series’ plot beats. On the other hand, my love of those anime and of Rap is very core to me. It’s nothing if not authentic, and it can’t be helped in the slightest. Further still, there’s an aspect of simultaneous, shared perspective in a lot of those songs too, making distinctions of novelty and authenticity that much murkier as it’s not a question of writing in character or as myself – it’s very intentionally as both because the experiences are that close, that relatable.

So, I guess can’t and won’t blame anyone for saying what I do doesn’t fit their vision for a given signifier regarding Nerdcore or Anime Rap or whatever. It’s only natural in the absence of strong sonic boundaries to look for thematic ones, but those by definition are going to be very personal. Still, I think all we can do is trust that when an artist applies a signifier on themselves, that they’re doing it from an authentic place, especially in heavily independent scenes and genres.

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Genre vs. Scene vs. Hobby: Redux Final Z

Posted on July 23rd, 2020

Filed under: Music News — Karl Olson @ 2:34 am

An internet acquaintance of mine tweeted the following video with a quick nope, which I generally agreed on…

…however, after watching the video and finding the points and issues to be mostly agreeable and too familiar (probably because I’ve been doing this whole internet music hobby thing in various scenes and genres since the dial-up era,) I wrote a big effort post about what Anime Rap (and Nerdcore, and any other thematic content-based scene that’s not sonically distinct enough to be a sub-genre) is/isn’t relation to genres in the video’s comments, and after realizing that was a clean 700+ words, and knowing I don’t blog enough, I’ve done the ol’ copy/pasta with some polishing here, if I only because I bet in another ten years the same questions will arise again for who knows what future scene, and I want to just paste a link in future when that happens. Maybe for V-Tuber Rap or TikTokCore or whatever else the future holds:

tl;dr: I agree with the video generally, but I’ll talk more on it because I’m washed & old AF by rap standards, so I have seen some things including history repeating, and I want to see anime rap win.

I think there’s an important middle ground on what Anime Rap is that’s between “legit genre” and “something fun,” and that is that it’s a defined scene with specific thematic content, but sonically isn’t different than most Rap/HipHop. At least it doesn’t have to be any more different than is a fit a for a given artist. That aspect of Anime Rap is actually totally to it’s advantage. Even 90’s Gangsta Rap was more scene than distinct genre, if only because Puffy & Dre had some very divergent sonic choices, and both produced for more pop artists as well (suggesting theme rather than sound was the connective tissue, which suggests a musical scene.) However, since Anime Rap is more scene than genre, that means the limits on it are, as noted in the video, on the artists, and it’s not just on mainstream artists borrowing the aesthetic. There’s nothing keeping an Anime Rap song from being as catchy and popular as a mainstream rap song, but that’s much more about Anime Rap artists themselves networking outside of their scene while also building their scene, which was touched on in the video, but I want to stress it here.

That internal building is important because the more anime rappers network and build a central gravity, the easier it is to build the reputation of the Anime Rap scene outside of it. A strong internal scene lets folks bounce things off each other before release, helps recommend reliable producers, managers and promoters, gets videos made, gets local promo done faster and better, passes opportunities to each other when they aren’t an immediate fit for whoever was offered it initially, and helps big up the folks internally who are driven to succeed and put the best foot forward such that the folks who are still levelling up can hang back and get good while the banner is carried high by folks who can deliver. With that locked down, the easier is for Anime Rap talent to fill a bar, then a club, then a con, then a tour, etc. because the scene, the brand is strong, even if the “genre” and “sound” aren’t their own draw. That scene branding even makes it easier to sell merch online, at shows and in artist alleys. And to be fair, the video gets at that point with the music video thing, but it’s broader than just that; it’s just the visible example – one part of a whole of music as career rather than hobby that pays for itself.

That internal building is also crucial because yeah, big artists will bite at whatever aesthetic is hot from the top down, but they’ll rarely bring anyone up, sometimes especially because a scene can be seen as too niche, and they’re aiming broadly because A&Rs are on them to do so. It bites to see history repeat and to see today’s big artists pass over Anime Rap as they did when everyone started sampling 8-bit stuff in the mainstream during the mid/late-00s, half a decade or more after Nerdcore and Chiptunes folks were doing it from a more heartfelt place. However, rather than worrying about a lucky chance from above, build something so visible from below that ignoring it looks out of touch.

To be fair, I’m already seeing all that with today’s Anime Rap scene and it’s many sub-fragments. Y’all are working together in exactly the ways that turn “something fun” into an important, vibrant scene, sonic distinction worth a sub-genre or not. Lively, talented scenes like that draw in attention over time, and those bigger opportunities start to come along one by one. Now, that can take years to build, maybe more so when it’s not a full time job, but the transition can be gradual yet happen so long as that’s the goal of the artists in the scene. It doesn’t have to be a day job from the jump to be serious – it just has to be a goal on the vision board or whatever to be serious and something that you’re taking conscious steps towards.

Go forth and become legends. Don’t sweat the labels of genre or novelty. Real recognizes real and all that.

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Some Limited Edition Flavour

Posted on July 3rd, 2020

Filed under: Music News — Karl Olson @ 6:38 am

Yes, another free Drum n’ Bass LP, Limited Edition Flavour. Now live on my bandcamp, which until July 5th has a 95% off everything code, “95off”.

Also on Spotify, iTunes-Apple Music, Tidal, Google and more.

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Breaks on Breaks

Posted on June 23rd, 2020

Filed under: Music News — Karl Olson @ 6:15 pm

So, I dropped a new Drum n’ Bass album, Xerostep, earlier this month on various platforms including Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play and YouTube:

And I will be wide releasing another Drum n’ Bass album, Limited Edition Flavor, at the start of July, so you can either pre-save it, or subscribe to my Bandcamp to get it right now. I also have some more Anime Rap/Otakucore Drill on deck, the first taste of which I’ve already released:

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Serial Experimental Releases: My New LP & More

Posted on April 22nd, 2020

Filed under: Music News — Karl Olson @ 2:14 pm

I have a new album out on Bandcamp, Just You Wait And See. It’s also on Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, Tidal, Deezer, Napster, and YouTube (despite issues with automatic generation) too!

However, the notable thing I tried with this was specifically releasing each song as a single on all of the streaming and download services first before releasing the album to the general public (my Bandcamp subscribers received the whole project way early!) My guess was it’d be some kind of improvement over the traffic dropping a whole album normally does as it’s an excuse to push every song through the social media, Spotify Release Radar and so on. It’s the maximum possible free surface area for attention I figured.

The result? 14% more lifetime plays from the start for the release over Variable Undefined from last year, and that’s without any reviews to back it up. To be fair, the lack of YouTube and Google Play pushes for those single releases due to on-going, widespread issues between my distributor and those platforms might account for some of this. However, 14% is enough more plays that I doubt it was just that. I won’t say it’s for everyone, but I think for me, it’s the move going forward: all singles, then an album.

That said, that project is not the only new music I’ve had on the go recently. I dropped Query Timeout (another Drum n’ Bass LP and those by the way are sticking to album drops). I also quickly produced an EP for my buddy Steve from Death*Star based on ancient unreleased beats of mine I’d given him years ago and concepts he sourced in a contest. Lastly, I have an entry up for Mega64’s theme song contest for their temporary extra podcast, Mega64antine.

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Another Great Review for Variable Undefined

Posted on January 24th, 2020

Filed under: Music News — Karl Olson @ 10:44 pm

Nerdazine has also reviewed my latest Nerdcore album, and while they’re not saying it’s perfect, they also compared my work to a lot of great artists whose I enjoy, and so I’m feeling pretty good about it. Read it over yourself, and be sure to keep up with Nerdazine on Twitter too.

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First Review For Variable Undefined

Posted on January 21st, 2020

Filed under: Music News — Karl Olson @ 10:05 am

(Long time friend & some time collaborator) Steven Kelsey has started a YouTube channel and media critique blog centered around Nerd/fandom culture, specifically the oft under-served music segment of that culture, and it also thankfully eschews the grouchy, “internet shoutman”, hyper-parasocial aesthetic all too many independent critique outlets now employ in favor something more grounded and authentic.

To launch the album review portion of that project, he took on dissecting my latest album Variable Undefined. I think he did an excellent job of breaking down my record, taking time to ask me questions to clarify my intent without robbing every metaphor I bury on the record of it’s mystery. Yes, it helps that he was very receptive to my work here (something I’d imagine our friendship plays into as much as his willingness to listen to try new things,) but on the whole, I hope my listeners don’t just watch and read this review, but also subscribe to his channel. I can tell from how he talks about my record that he absolutely has the chops to critique any media work, and that he’s going to use that insight to really contribute to and grow the discourse around this scene in a way other blogs and channels have yet to fully capitalize on. I’m honored that I could be the first step down that path.

Nerd Music in Judgment Episode 1: Variable Undefined by Ultraklystron

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New Album & A Podcast Conversation

Posted on December 15th, 2019

Filed under: Music News — Karl Olson @ 8:49 pm

My final album of the 2010s, Variable Undefined

Also available via: Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, Amazon, Tidal and everywhere in this link.

Not coincidentally, I also just did an interview on MC Lars’ Podcast, which I’ve embedded below but which is also on all major services. I talk about my process, my feelings on being a hobbyist more than a professional regarding music, my reticence towards embracing the modern parasocial path towards a wider audience, on learning to be an art burner the hard way, a little about Nerdcore history, too much about anime and on my admiration for all the people who found a better lane to blend otaku culture and rap culture than I did. Please, take a moment to listen to it when you have a chance, and be sure to subscribe to MC Lars’ podcast and patreon:

PS: Here’s my final instrumental album of the 2010s, which I forgot to blog about the wide release of. It’s called Guttersnipe’s Grimoire and it’s pure Drum n’ Bass:

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Evangelion, FranXX & Near Misses.

Posted on July 7th, 2019

Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 11:14 pm

So, I’ve run into an unexpected side-effect of the renewed Evangelion discourse: kind of reconsidering Darling In The FranXX. I still think Franxx is quite problematic in how and what it tried to say; however, through one narrow angle, I can see better what it meant to reference/respond to in Eva but fumbled at best. Two of the big ongoing themes in Eva are the folly of man in chasing self-perfection to the point of losing essential humanity via exploitation of the young, and the value of continuing to live despite the massive pain of ego-distance that existence can incur. Those messages resurface in other Gainax works – obsessions with hyper-perfection are always folly when that gets in the way of embracing yourself for who you are at this phase of your life. It’s the same for Shinji, Noata, Sasshi & even Nadia, while their villains share that toxic obsession with their idea of perfection with different manifestations.

Which brings me to FranXX. Ultimately, it stands as a rejection of transhumanism as post-scarcity technological immortality when it also sacrifices (very traditional) relationships, the future of the youth & the Earth’s ecosystem as we know it. Missteps aside for a moment, it is trying to lift from if not comment on Eva: to save humanity, embrace flawed existence over the obsession with perfection. Where FranXX loses it, is that it heavily implies throughout its run that valid human existence has a very narrow definition. FranXX fails to get that the exploitation of youth Eva alludes to can include the narrow definition of validity that FranXX elevates at every turn, and that such narrow definitions of validity are in ways their own toxic obsession with perfection. This is to say, FranXX’s over-specific meditation on and response to Eva misses a key point that Eva, most other Gainax bildungsromans and most derivative works thereof make: it’s not the who, but rather the how of connection that matters. Further still, to make that connection, those works often suggest it requires a kind of self-embrace that often means rejecting some norms and/or letting go of the pursuit of those norms if they result in the destruction of self. FranXX implies the who and so dramatically narrows the how of connection throughout its run, then hurriedly tries to broaden its thesis at the finish line with a couple of wordless montages. Eva didn’t have to try to save it at the end because it never boxed itself in to start with & if anything broadened its scope as much as possible given the focus on a solitary lead character.

Ultimately, this doesn’t save FranXX much for me, and if anything, having a better sense of what it didn’t understand in the work it owes its greatest debt to is kind of a bummer, but at the same time, I better appreciate when other works with Eva in their genealogy manage to get it right even when not made by any of the same staff. The Big O, the FLCL sequels and SSSS.Gridman (to name a few) all got Eva‘s point and iterated on it more effectively than A1 did in FranXX.

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A couple more LPs

Posted on April 20th, 2019

Filed under: Music News — Karl Olson @ 12:32 pm

Both instrumental releases, but very different eras of my work.

1. Contemporary Vintage. A Drum n’ Bass LP that I started writing while in the Narita Airport Tully’s Coffee waiting to fly back to Canada, it’s 10 more energetic jams that range from super aggro to almost chill despite never falling below 170bpm. Check it out on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Amazon and Youtube:

2. Brobdingnagian Brimborion. Over the years I’ve done a lot of remixes for other artists, and the ones I’ve done for rappers tend to be such dramatic re-imaginings they can stand on their own as instrumentals because I didn’t use anything but the vocals from the original track. Thus, I’ve compiled 29 of those instrumentals spanning a decade and a half of work. Again, check it out on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Amazon and YouTube:

PS: You could be listening to one more new release right now plus some forever exclusive content if you subscribe to my Bandcamp. It’s like Patreon but for music, and also annual so less money goes to fees.

PPS: Bonus cover!

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