A Downward Gaze: Kerosintini, JZB, Chushi, Vxlam, and (the)99942

(the)99942 (St. Petersburg): "Channel 2" (2012)

Making vague claim to an address somewhere in St. Petersburg is a new collective known only as (the)99942. Related references can be found to a couple of local residents - Tony Guest and Roger Smith - yet they appear to be one and the same person, operating in willful obscurity. The downtempo, decelerated "emotronic" instrumentals from this northern musician are given scant textual support, no matter where one looks. That dearth of fact and focus is well summarized by the artwork above, chosen to showcase some January recordings from (the)99942: "Channel 2." 

Is there, one might ask, any specific intent within these ambient instrumentals?  

Perhaps the greatest clue comes from the project's name. Presumably it refers to the asteroid known as 99942 Apophis, which has - on occasion - caused worry amongst modern scientists in that it appears to be heading perilously close to Earth. Quite where or when that impact might occur is a subject of long and intense debate. In recent years there have been predictions that asteroid 99942 would strike our planet either in the year 2029 or 2036. Nobody knows for sure.

Within ambiguity sits a nasty possibility.

A suitably unfocused promotional image from (the)99942

In the same spirit, perhaps, as Lars von Trier's "Melancholia," these instrumentals employ a vague mood or premonition in order to speak of impending material disaster. Something obviously nasty starts to emerge from within haziness.

That same mood colors a number of new electronic releases this week, for different reasons. One of the most striking comes from a Yekaterinburg duo known as Kerosintini, formed last year. Initially the project had been a threesome and known as "Antibiotik." The current lineup of Marina Bystriakova and Rodion Samarin eventually chose a newer - vaguer - neologism, built from the two nouns "kerosine" and "martini." In both of the band's monikers, therefore, health and harm walk side by side. Either is a possible outcome. That deliberately unnerving mix of wellbeing and woe leads to the tags used by these musicians to qualify their catalog: "Synth-pop industrial, ambient, psychedelica, experimental, trip-hop... and darkwave." 

It tastes like ashes! (Melancholia)

One of the major projects thus far from Kerosintini has been the soundtrack for an online film, "A Dream of Reason" (Son Razuma), directed by Samarin himself. In the band's profile we also include some of their other, equally anxious - if not gothic - work for a music video. Whether we're talking of feature-length or brief promotional films, the band's imposing style is used to elucidate a grim process operating beyond the screen (or screenplay). Some things have no name.

 

Rodion Samarin, Kerosintini (Yekaterinburg)

These somber compositions are employed in search of things ineffable. And, given Kerosintini's penchant for tags such as "darkwave," the melancholy outlook of (the)99942 comes again into view. Whatever lies beyond language is cause for concern.

Texts - when they do appear - come from the pen of Marina Bystriakova. Committed to tape, they're often distorted or pushed deep into lo-fi clamor. Many of her poems, published elsewhere online, draw upon the experience of disorientation. The imagery of descent and submersion predominates - through discussions of unfamiliar pain and/or pleasure. There's a decadent streak to these songs, in various senses.

Moral and social structures falter in disquieting ways: "I'll be your father./ You'll be my mother./ She will be our sister./ You will be our brother./ In an 'outer family,'/ Without ecstasy [and]/ Without LSD,/ We'll fall in love with each other."  

A genuine dream, in which the screenplay is often inaudible or illogical

This is the same kind of fading logic that surrounded "A Dream of Reason," which was summarized by one Russian publication as follows: "Is it possible to climb into another person's dream - and film the results? That's what we have here: a real dream - in which the screenplay is often inaudible or illogical. Everything seems to drown in the surrounding noise. The action both begins and ends with no apparent cause." 

Marina Bystriakova and Rodion Samarin (in festive mood)

The synopsis continues: "We see two girls, Lena and Katya. They have five dreams each. Two worlds interweave in a realm free of earthly logic: they come together in a place where anything's possible - but nothing can be influenced. Consciousness is completely switched off..."

Having recently established a download venue for their music on a well-known Russian site, both members of Kerosintini were intrigued to find this comment: "Well, what can I say about these songs? I'm pleasantly surprised. I didn't expect to be so drawn in by all of this.... One of the tracks in particular is really wonderful. I've listened to it all several times now, both the originals and the remixes. I've included the album in my personal collection. Every now and then, I'll slip into a state of psychedelic decadence." 

Every now and then, I'll slip into a state of psychedelic decadence

There's a dalliance with disaster here, it seems. Much of the imagery surrounding Kerosintini implies no such playfulness or irony: our listener is joking about some serious matters. Minimal lighting, barely audible (and fatalistic) lyrics, blood-red visual hues, and the feral appearance of disheveled figures in several promo-shots: these are the markers of Kerosintini's activity. This isn't so much a multi-media "decadence" instigated by its practitioners as the sound of wholesale disaster, brought about by external forces. Any sense of pleasure therein comes, perhaps, from final submission — or what the Russian poet Bella Akhmadulina once called the "luxury of misfortune..."

Vague textures of "The Global Compilation of Beatforms" (Dmitrov, 2012)

This evocation of collapse needn't take such dramatic forms. We could suggest a couple of new lo-fi and glitch-hop releases that manage to avoid anything gothic - yet speak to related issues. We've talked, for example, on several occasions of the one-man project Chushi from the town of Dmitrov, north of Moscow. This young performer and his kindred spirits or neighbors (Nipple Tapes, 1618Flakes428, and Vxlam [Togliatti]) have together crafted an important catalog of brief, broken instrumentals. They all sample antique R&B recordings while subjecting them to degrees of material stress. We move beyond the trademark hiss and wobble of tape music - to the noise of evident breakdown. Signals dwindle, crackle, and vanish forever.

The "timeless" sentiments of US soul or R&B are, apparently, subject to the cheap media that transmit them. For all the appeal of these sentimental ditties, material weakness will - and does - drag them down. Experience is nasty, brutish, and short - no matter how you feel.

The philosophies we see in Kerosintini and (the)99942 are repeated: melancholy or "weightless" textures hint at some forthcoming event that will curtail them both. A leaden material world has the upper hand over idealism - yet it looks doomed to fail, be it through planetary collisions, the gothic forces of "darkwave," or simple physical distress. One might even reference the passing of the seasons, as summer descends into lifeless winter (below). In that light, Chushi and his many colleagues have just released a "Global Compilation of Beatforms" in order to investigate  - and then express - these "descending" patterns. Twenty-three miniature tracks (over forty minutes) give voice to all manner of blips, fissures, and failures.

One of the fading, unfocused motifs used by JZB (Pskov)

For that reason, perhaps, the related glitchy tape-music of Pskov's JZB uses the typographical markers of classic witch-house - within lo-fi hip-hop. The JZB track we offer here - entitled "Village" - is usually printed as "vill∆gΣ" (we avoid those games in our audio player, since they inhibit the streaming process). Although these "mystical" symbols may no longer be taken seriously - and have almost become an object of slight ridicule - they nonetheless have a shock value when applied to abstract-or glitch-hop material (even at the lo-fi end of things).

Great rhythm. I loved the relaxed pace

One admirer of JZB on Soundcloud has thanked the artist for the "great rhythm. I loved the relaxed pace." That deceleration, however, is less inspired by relaxation than by the so-called "drag" effect synonymous with witch-house in the style's earliest months. Slowness and moribund immobility begin to overlap. And so, within all the tracks under discussion here, there reside the kind of worries one might associate with darkwave - a label, in fact, that Kerosintini happily apply to themselves.

Here the technique of drag becomes - in a darkwave context - a mode of introspection, akin to shoegaze. In which case, there's no serious invocation of magical or demoniacal spirits, but instead an admission of forthcoming collapse - with a concomitant retreat into decadent solipsism. Everybody averts their eyes.

Below we see a map of where scientists expect 99942 Apophis to crash-land. The chances of that happening in Russia are high. This, as our musicians tell us, is a situation "where anything's possible - but nothing can be influenced." 

Audio

Kerosintini – Christmas Song
JZB – GetForToUsed
(the)99942 – nwdlbient#1
(the)99942 – nwdlbient#8
Kerosintini – Outer Family
Chushi – Panj
Vxlam – Safari22
JZB – Village

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