Not long ago, we were pointed in the general direction of a Lithuanian producer by the name of Justicious. While that moniker might suggest everything from frozen fruit to Canadian teen stars, a few facts and figures help to nudge things towards objectivity. The young man behind Justicious is Justinas Adžgauskas, a resident of Vilnius who, despite his age (sixteen), already has four years of compositional experience. In order to reach beyond the narrow purview of solo enterprise, he also invests much time and energy in a couple of social projects. One of them is a duo known as The Feedback Loop, which we will showcase tomorrow. The other is Strikeback Records, also stationed in Vilnius.
In essence, Strikeback tags its growing output as beats, hip-hop, grime, dubstep, and glitch. It operates as a showcase not only for Justicious, but also for local figures like Style Mistake, already discussed on this site. The label happily advertises the fact that digital distribution is allowing Lithuanian artists to both engage and attract an audience far from home.
Loving all the music on the label so far! (Soundcloud)
Before those sounds even reach a far-flung admirer, though, the staff at Strikeback are keen to speak of "a totally contemporary, innovative sound - at the cutting edge of music-making. Everything has a chunky, dirty feel. Strikeback hopes to take you on an invigorating roller-coaster ride, back to your youth[!] when you first listened to beats music. We'll take you back to a time full of thrills, spills, and enjoyment." A skull and crossbones t-shirt, however, hints at some additional drama...
That talk of nervous excitement is surely tied to issues of maturation, especially when we consider that Adžgauskas is still at school. He speaks himself of stylistic change relative to emotional shifts. In the third person, we hear: "There's all kinds of heat in these hip-hop vibes, combined with a warm, tropical bass. Everything's full of swinging beats, filthy lasers, and wobbles... when he's kinda mad." These nervous sounds and sensations began, apparently, at the age of thirteen. At that same age "Justicious played his first club DJ set[!], followed by a debut live performance a year later."
For all that professional confidence, though, a note of self-deprecation endures: "Justicious may be one of the youngest [Lithuanian producers], but he's definitely not the worst in the game."
Swinging beats, filthy lasers, and wobbles...
In a similar tone, Adžgauskas recently quipped on Twitter: "I am considering dating Valeria Sokolova." Ms. Sokolova was unavailable for comment. This same teenage experience undoubtedly informs The Feedback Loop, which is advertised as a "collaboration of two teenage friends. They came together after discovering their activities and passions were pretty much the same."
Another of these boyish Lithuanian beatmakers, tied on occasion to Strikeback Records, is Leonas "Napo" Rėčkus, who published a new EP this week, "Summelarities." That recording, whose title is presumably a double pun upon the arrival of summer and one's "similarly" sunny outlook, is introduced with touching brevity and zeal: "Summer vibes for free. Yay!" Tagged as footwork, future garage, glitch-hop, and slo-mo, "Summelarities" is also framed by the kind of ambiguous imagery that might suggest Georgia O'Keeffe. Thrills, spills, and enjoyment return to the stage, in various senses.
Napo is based in Šakiai, a small Lithuanian town whose history is often sketched in a couple of brief lines. An eighteenth-century church first helped to establish a small, yet fixed community - and the following century would then bring a school and post office. Life moves slowly and peacefully in Šakiai. Adventure is more likely to come from private, rather than from public spheres.
Recent PR materials informed us that "Napo's first fifteen[!] years of life should be viewed in terms of rhythm and the depth of his beats..." Apparently the need to imagine oneself elsewhere arose very early. His last publication - "Noelleon" - again conflated the arrival of summer with issues of impending adult life; it was released while the snow still fell across Eastern Europe.
A soundtrack to the coziest, brightest dreams...
"This is a simple blend of glitch-hop, chillwave, and ambient sounds. The result is capable of brightening our gloomy winter evenings. Noelleon will prepare you for the coziest, brightest dreams..." The bonds of empathy and enthusiasm, forged across the web, allow for a greater sense of comfort than whatever ostensible existence can offer. And, all the way from Lithuania to the Pacific Ocean, across ten time zones, it makes sense that one's imagination would hope to conjure a "cozier" environment than countless miles of permafrost.
One Lithuanian music blog recently joked that Napo rarely appears in public without a laptop - and that Russian spies are "convinced he's one of the most promising composers nationwide."
As with Justicious, that promise is rooted in very early experience. A new video has appeared for the track "Midnite Fazze": it is set amid the dark corridors of a school or some other institutional - and inherently gloomy - building. An accompanying text in Lithuanian, designed to frame and explain the action, speaks simultaneously of "gorgeous divas" and some "boyhood frenzy." The basic visual narrative, full of sexual challenge, is described as a path through the "strange, frightening, and sinful adult world. What is going on in their heads?" We follow the main characters through poorly lit rooms, full of both promise and foreboding.
The rhetoric employed by both these young producers, although showcased in terms of summertime hedonism, touches equally upon some more disconcerting issues. The future promises both revelation and risk.
Investigating these more worrying realms is the Belarusian label Echomania, located in Minsk. The focus here is less upon seasonal promise than some enduring realia that nudge Echomania's catalog towards dark ambient and industrial sounds. "We especially like atmospheric, post-industrial sounds" - i.e., whatever remains after the passing or failure of leaden enterprise. Recent events in Krasnodar suggest that considerations of post-industrial or post-Soviet infrastructures are unlikely to be jolly.
A viewpoint high above the smokestacks (or dams) offers a sense of liberty - and objectivity.
In the past, by way of the Echomania catalog, we've come across the figure of Medkit (aka Denis Borisovich), a resident of Abakan. The southern Siberian rail system of today still considers Abakan the end of the line; consequently - and not surprisingly - simplicity and solitude are prominent aspects of daily life here. How does Medkit arrange his creative affairs, for example? "Basically, I write music using a computer, a dictaphone, and my head!... Whatever emerges as a result will fall easily enough into the framework of 'idm.'" His last album, "Not for Summer," suggested that the same sounds probably have some additional, melancholy resonance.
In avoidance of any societal strife, Mr. Borisovich makes some more admissions about his quiet habits and preferred company: "I like cats - in fact, animals in general. Including toads. People, too. I like to read and am especially fond of Hans Christian Andersen. I'm interested in history, literature, music, and fairytales. And music [again]... and so we go around in circles." The music, in other words, becomes an almost mantra-like form of consolation. It's a superior, though insistently uttered alternative.
Truth... is youthful maximalism
The new Medkit recording, entitled "Kuori," draws upon some aspects of both Finnish and Inuit folklore, specifically the movement of shamans through spatiotemporal realms - in order to answer the kinds of magical questions that inform countless folk narratives. The tales of worrying transition we see in Lithuania are here transferred to a grander, metaphysical scale. In both cases, though, that passage is unnerving. The artwork to "Kuori" shows a downtrodden pharmacy, a grim symbol of some post-Soviet landscape, robbed both of purpose and charity.
The "dark corridors" of Napo's film become darker still.
The other new Echomania release is a collaboration between musicians in Moscow and the Ukrainian town of Ananiv, just outside Odessa. The Russian artist here is known simply as csum (usually written in lower-case characters); his Ukrainian collaborator at least provides a full name - Aleksandr Robul. Together they operate as Robus Amp & csum.
Behind the moniker csum (shorthand for checksum) stands yet another boyhood romantic, who fell for techno, jungle, and even hardcore sounds at the age of fourteen. In time - and thanks to a good local schooling - he was able to move from passive appreciation of those styles to the active creation of oscillators and even a toy synthesizer. By 2003, he had enough confidence in homemade hardware to use it for on-stage performances. Those same compositions, tested before a real-life audience, were then edited for online archiving and even some bona fide releases. The passage from admirer to author was complete.
A cold, emotionless manipulation of sound
Currently his stylistic range runs from "drone and noise to braindance and glitch." The overall tone of the recordings has been documented as a "cold, emotionless manipulation of sound. Together with samples and patches, the result can be both strange and sometimes hectic." The only promotional image available for the new csum material shows a domestic view cut short by the angular forms of local - if not universal - Soviet architecture. Such is the context that gives rise to drone and "sometimes hectic" thoughts.
Mr. Robul, who remains virtually silent throughout the proceedings, declares that he - to this day - has a love for D&B, yet whatever the equally "hectic" potential of that style, he prefers to "do everything within reason." The world, apparently, does not treat enthusiastic, ill-prepared, or romantic maximalists terribly kindly. Caution is a more sensible option. It's interesting, therefore, that the one aphorism quoted by Robul is: "We know who we are, not whom we're able to be."
We know who we are, not whom we're able to be
These four publications today from Vilnius, Ananiv, Abakan, and Moscow are grounded in youthful excitement, running parallel to sexual, social, and other developments in the outside world. Sexual anxiety causes enough worry, as we see, and the concomitant implosion of civic infrastructures in Eastern Europe does little to console these musicians on a related, grander scale. The world is entered with enthusiasm and trust, but doesn't always answer in kind. We may indeed not know "whom we'll become," but the issue, according to these young men, is decided more by external factors. The outside world makes those decisions for us.
The cover-art to Robus Amp & csum's new work illustrates the problem with disconcerting clarity. A gaze is cast upwards, above a ramshackle home to a sky... that's already stained yellow with decay. The album's track-listing is full of nods towards Central Asia, Soviet military campaigns, and an escape into local drug culture. The closer one is to a "progressive" ideology, the more that radiant future will prompt a reversal into a kinder, gentler past. One "reverts into the future," if we might paraphrase the recording's title.
Given the scale of these closing, pessimistic references, it's no wonder that the young men under investigation film their own maturation in dark, damp corridors.