(2013) Rolling Stones SA publishes 'The Death Of Nostalgia: From Warhol To Witch House' an interview with Witchboy

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(2013) Rolling Stones SA publishes 'The Death Of Nostalgia: From Warhol To Witch House' an interview with Witchboy

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The Death Of Nostalgia: From Warhol To Witch House

Gone are the 15 megabytes - fame is now 15 identity cloaks of invisibility. Data-bending IRC pop savants Nikhil Singh and Coco Carbomb
(along with WITCHBOY and his URL coven) untangle the unicode of the future of music dissemination, internet-assisted astral travel and their collaboration, Siamese Inside. By the time you read this, everything would have already evolved.

By Roger Young

Creativity is not a competitive sport,” is a comment Nikhil Singh has made to me in an earlier conversation. And it’s the first thing I want to discuss when I meet him in the Company’s Garden for an on-the-record interview about his relationship with other musicians and, given his prolific output over the last few years, the industry of creativity in general.
He’s already sitting down at the Gardens Tea Room near the aviary, but looks perpetually like he’s swooped in from somewhere, his clothes wrapped around him in a manner that suggests he could take flight at any moment; dark rings under his eyes that speak of late nights remind me tangentially that I must ask him about his veganism.
He points skyward. “Eagles,” he says. And sure enough, above us in the tree is a Bateleur eagle. The first thing to determine is: am I interviewing Nikhil Singh the illustrator of graphic novels, author of stream-of-consciousness fiction and one third of The Wild Eyes, or WITCHBOY, the internet creature that has been cranking out crazy proto/post-witch house albums of late. We’re inter rupted before I can ask. A giant eagle shit lands square in the middle of the table. Singh stutters a giggly smile. “It’s good luck,” he says. “The Romans used to predict the future with eagle shit.”
Bunny Intonamorous (IRL Daniel Kay-Traynor, who records under ≥) is now talking to me over the wires: “The witch house scene emerged around 2009 with the rise of artists like SALEM, White Ring, oOoOO, and †‡†, fusing elements of Southern chopped-and-screwed trap/hip-hop, shoegaze, house music, dark ambient and neo-folk music.” Kay-Traynor is one half of the quintessential label Aural Sects currently releasing WITCHBOY on vinyl and other forms, as well as Coco Incarnadine, or , whose debut album WITCHBOY has just produced. Singh maintains that the function of these kinds of labels is deeper than just releasing music, that they’re “the spinal structure of this entire thing – without this constant release of media you wouldn’t have this, there wouldn’t be anywhere for people to communicate”. Bunny explains “this entire thing”: “The ubiquity of quick-sharing via YouTube and MySpace, and later Bandcamp and SoundCloud, was pretty instrumental in starting up any sort of scene – it’s one of the first truly ‘internet’ genres. After the originators propagated more widely, little pockets began to emerge in isolation across the globe and create mini-scenes IRL. One of the other early originators of the form was Story of Isaac, now known as CRIM3S.” That’s CRIM3S, not GRIMES; yes, there really is an alternative universe operating right next to yours.
Carl Clandestine, of seminal niche label Clandestine Records (an early platform for Kreayshawn), identifies the progenitors of the scene as Mater Susperia Vision, Modern Witch, FOSTERCARE, Nattymari, _N_, ijĒŞǙŞ ҚĦŖİŞŢ and †‡†, before saying: “They all of course sound different.” Later on Carl will say: “ijĒŞǙŞ ҚĦŖİŞŢ was a big influence on a lot of artists. He sadly passed away from AIDS in 2011, and looking back, this instigated a massive change to the ‘scene’.” ijĒŞǙŞ ҚĦŖİŞŢ is the Antonio of “Rave Requiem For Antonio”, a track on WITCHBOY’S Apocalipstick. Around the time of his death, the subgenres started to appear; drag (the more Screw-inspired artists), witch house (the noisier artists) and seapunk. Says Singh: “He was quite amazing in a lot of ways. He was a pioneer of this witch house thing. He was churning out 10 tracks a week and videos, just everything. He was very into the clipping thing, but he turned clipping into kind of like an art form. He’d do these crazy things; everything was clipped but it worked, that was the whole aesthetic behind it and he died kind of like in the middle of the whole thing, so without this clipping figurehead things just sort of took different directions, everything sort of changed around then.”

Polarised frequencies, a lot of top end,alot of low end, nothing in between, is one of witch house’s signifiers. “There’s a through line straight from Based God,” explains Curt Crackerach (who releases on Clandestine): “Music today is being mastered for earbuds. Take a listen to the first Kanye West album and then listen through his catalogue and you will hear a huge loss of frequency and dynamics. Over-compression sounds really good on headphones, but as far as mastering to media, it is terrible. The result has been waveforms that resemble a giant redaction line. People don’t even really download music anymore. They use servers like Rhapsody or just stream music off YouTube or SoundCloud. I think one of the main things that has connected Nikhil and I is that we both tend to play off this trend. By sampling things at really low bitrate
or recording it at less than optimum mastering, we are creating a sound that is a direct statement to the way music is consumed nowadays. Lil B and the Based scene has a similar approach. Most of the old Lil B tracks were uploaded at 96kbps, and you can hear the clipping and archiving that is common with a less-than-quality MP3 rip.”
WITCHBOY has a slightly different take: “Clipping became a big thing because people didn’t like clipping in their music, so they just start clipping everything and it sounded kinda cool, it was fucking with people’s speakers and it sounds great on a dance floor.”
Crackerach continues: “There have been artists in the past that have manipulated these glitches but they never really embraced them... They would use them to compose and create a very hi-fi sound. The difference with the sounds of WITCHBOY and myself is that we tend to not have a problem with music that may be a little abrasive to a pedestrian ear. This is not uncommon in, say, a harsh noise or Beakcore community, but to infuse that sort of cacophony upon music that in essence is still very beat-oriented and pop-structured is sort of a new direction for artistic expression via sound. I am sure neither of us is inventing the wheel here, and there are artists from the ’60s who did a similar thing. Neither of us take ourselves so seriously as to think we are breaking any new ground. It takes away from the creative spirit to think that highly of yourself.”

You have the poSt-Religion people, who sort of jumped on the juke and trap inf luences, labels still plugging away like Phantasma Disques, who sort of kept to a more droney gothic style of sound,” Curt Crackerach tells me. Curt is also known IRL as Dafydd MacKaharay (this is the first real name I encounter that’s harder to pronounce than the symbols-based anons). “There are a whole lot of people who really were drawn to the aesthetics of ’90s subculture and cheesy rave and dayglo elements,” he continues. “That stuff seems to garner the most attention because it’s loud and bright and gaudy. I think to many it’s just playing with symbols and memes. What that does on a subatomic level is a different thing entirely. The fact that everyone seems enthralled with symbols and archetypes has created an age where there are no philosophers. So therefore no philosophy. Perhaps this truly is the blank generation after all.”

Joe Royster (who records as spf5Ø), the other half of Aural Sects, talks about the end of witch house in this light. “I always personally enjoyed the Dadaistic kind of recontextualisation of symbols and ideas more than any actual witchcraft. Apply that same logic to seapunk basically, the fun minus the seriousness, and I can appreciate it, but I fear some are a little too deep into their tropical holiday and have lost sight of that, much like many witch house artists who take the joke a little too serious for my taste.”
There is a proliferation of anons – people running labels have other identities as musicians, as writers, with real-world personas that have no bearing on who they are when communicating in music. Nikhil Singh has never met IRL all these people with whom WITCHBOY has close creative ties. The idea of what a label is has changed so radically that it brings to mind Brian Eno’s statement in an interview in 2009: “I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time... It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.”
The witch house thing is this something else. It’s a genre, a scene that is not defined by sonic signifiers; its basis is in anonymous collaboration and the rejection of genres. It dances on the carcass of the idea of record labels: a scene that glories in being ungooglable, that communicates not in English or French or legalese, but in the pure sounds of Ableton loops, lo-fied vocals, clipped ranges, ironic symbols and the aesthetic of broken GIFs and scratched DVDs. It’s a genre that feeds off the collapse of cultural control, seeks out the wireframe below the surface, and then spits it out into the feed, always conscious of the feed, of staying current in the feed.

Whether in person or by various digital means, Singh/WITCHBOY communicates in large, tightly-woven blocks of information. Facebook missives are like slabs of future Proust. He lends me a copy of his novel; it’s a dense and vast, rambling text
that I struggle to penetrate. Extracting meaning from word-count and the high ratio of ever-so-slight contradictions is daunting. A request for a small fact leaves me reeling with esoteric outpourings sometimes tempered with a patronising and accusatory tone and punctuated with textual sighs, like “that doesn’t matter”. It’s clear that Singh operates on a different frequency. The medium is the message and the medium is on overload. Primarily, what Singh wants to talk about now is the album he’s just produced for ☪♀co ᴐaᴚᴃ☉ᵯᴃ, or Carmen Carbomb, SIAMESE INSIDE, soon to be released digitally and on vinyl through Black Bvs, the label through which CRIM3S launched.
Extracted from a stream-of-consciousness Facebook message, Carbomb (who was using the same microKORG that Singh was using in The Wild Eyes) says: “Both of us grew up playing piano and so we have always had a strong musical connection, so we would swap notes online on filter tweaking.” Previously a synth player in Neurotic Mass Movement (NMM), Carbomb also brought a performance-art element into most shows, doing crazy BUTOHesque dance stuff with vocalist Yin – involving ribbons, mirrors, red plastic sheeting and transparent raincoats, but when NMM was booked for a European tour and set to record in Berlin she was beset by visa troubles. “The only recourse,” she tells me, “was to make a clean break.” Carbomb went on to work on an impressive list of collaborations that includes fauxmusica, Oliver Ho and Cosmotropia de Xam from Mater Suspiria Vision, with whom she made a psychedelic movie called Inside the Clock of the White Rabbit, filmed mostly in Hampstead Heath and later released as a DVD on his label Phantasma Disques. At that time, witch house was taking off in London, mostly around the success of bands like †‡† and CRIM3S. “There was a feeling of camaraderie with all the bands involved,” says Carbomb. “The scene was full of friendly freaks, was like we were all in the same haunted house together, making the same creepy sounds. Even though some were far away, the online connection made it seem like we were all operating together.”
At the same time, WITCHBOY was feverishly releasing a stream of albums, such as HOLLYMODE, APOCALIPSTICK and NARCOTIA, which obsessed on Hollywood-style broken glamour that channelled the scene’s sonic aesthetics into an epileptic disposability. (Says Bunny: “They reference forthcoming eschaton events through humanity’s interaction with technology and the environment, usually by co-opting B-movie references and post-apocalyptic pop formats like those laid down by Bowie in “Diamond Dogs”.)
In 2012, Carbomb and Singh converged on a house in Ramsgate along the South Coast of KZN. “The songs that emerged there had a science-fiction quality to them and a sort of tropical flavour,” says Carbomb. “We were watching a lot of old movies like American Gigolo and Wild Orchid and there was this whole feeling of ’80s synth soundtracks to the thing; a kind of faded pastel neon feeling that got into the music. There’s a feeling of robotic versus primal, future sexuality, telepathic role reversal. Also, the contrast of First World/Third World and the interface between and via the Net as some sort of weird futuristic mind-bar.” How did this convergence of themes come about? “We don’t ever discuss themes, we just go with what feels right and what is inspiring in the moment. After a few songs it seemed like it was heading in a certain direction and we just followed that like a homing beacon through a sea of alien jungle.” Long on description of the album, Carbomb is short on caring about where it goes next: “Oh, I don’t really think about people listening to it. Though it’s always nice when people tell me they enjoy it. I guess I don’t feel much about it really.”
Author’s note: The Singh / WITCHBOY simulacrum communicates in large chunks of information. It’s a standard device of long-format feature interview writing to interject pauses into the text, in the form of “Singh leans forward”, or “WITCHBOY thinks for a second”, or some such thing to try approximate the rhythm of the subject’s speech. Singh/Witchboy never pauses, he never breathes, he never stops. So I’m going to dispense with that device and just present to you the chunks.

WITCHBOY expands on the production and composition of SIAMESE INSIDE: “I had been working on Le Universe Perverse and Apocalipstick before, which was quite hooked into genres on the internet like post-rave. With Carmen’s I wanted to do something different, like actually make the songs as if they were live.”
He continues: “I wanted to put things down as if they were ... you’d listen to them and they had a prog-rock sensibility. Instruments would interact with each other. It didn’t have that artificiality, but the texture of the sounds were hooked into what was happening at the time. I wanted an R’n’B tropical bossanova vibe but it’s not like seapunk, which was quite hardcore and intense with dolphin shit. You have all these kids in the north going on about tropical stuff, but I’m obsessed with tropical stuff because I’m in the tropics, it’s in my blood.

“We thought it could start the album down here, get the sea into it. So the first three songs we got the energy right and we sat down basic structures that had that kind of late ’80s vibe, but in a tropical context to capture this and we set a template for the rest of the album. It took the rest of the year to do. With Apocalipstick, I was churning out a song a week, but with this I wanted to refine stuff. So I need it to have a sonic range in the production, where I want it to have more a kind of live feeling where instruments, although they might be electronic, are all played live. There’s very little sequencing. It has more of a prog-rock sensibility, but put in an electronic aesthetic. I would ideally like dumping stuff to tape but that’s such a bitch.”
When I’m interviewing him IRL, I make the mistake of saying that his music “is created with software”. He quickly corrects me. “No, I’m playing them. I tapped out most of the drums, it’s all live. It’s the same as a keyboard, it just looks different. This is what people like the purists will never understand. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, it matters how live it is, so you press this button that makes a sound, you’re playing an instrument, it doesn’t matter if it’s on your keyboard, “Robot ina Red Dress” is all live guitar and keyboard shortcuts. Len [former Wild Eyes bandmate] lent me his midi keyboard for a while, but I actually ended up not using it that much. I used it for some live parts where I wanted to use both hands because you don’t have an octave range on a keyboard, but even that became unnecessary because I was layering stuff in an orchestral way. I better say this because this is actually quite important: if you listened to any music that I’ve done over the last however many years, the big thing for me is arrangement. I’m obsessed with arrangement and when I arrange things I don’t care about sound quality, because those things aren’t that important to me. I grew up listening to blues and stuff like that. Crappy wax cylinder recordings. I like that, it’s got a texture. Like if you listen to Robert Johnson it’s not Dolby stereo spread but you can dance to it.”
WITCHBOY has also just released Hampstead Tapes (his “Width of a Circle”), a collection of folk recordings that sound like they were made under a blanket with a tin can and string, of him doing acoustic versions of his material, and some covers, most notably “Katie Cruel”, a traditional song that’s been covered by Karen Dalton, White Magic and quite a few others. WITCHBOY’s “Katie Cruel” feels like it’s been made by time machine with the ghost of Dalton by his side. It’s no surprise that WITCHBOY is fully in support of the outsider, being so determinedly one himself. Hampstead Tapes, recorded in 2009, was inspired by the YouTube Folk explosion of 2009, including “this granny, granny Jens, this woman, obviously she’d grown up learning Appalachian folk, sitting in her kitchen in front of her dishwasher, just recording folk music, just really good stuff. And there were others, tons of them, hundreds of them; it was a folk explosion. It was very much in that spirit of this ham-radio communication across the aeons because if the spirit is correct it doesn’t matter on what you recorded.”
So does he simply not collaborate with people IRL anymore? “It depends on who the person is, because you could click with someone and you might not even have to talk that much and you’re working really well. Then again, you could meet someone in real life and not have a fucking clue what they’re talking about, ever – which I’ve had a lot in Cape Town. But look, I made an effort to collaborate with people here. I wasn’t sitting in my ivory tower saying I’m not going to be involved. I tried to be involved. I listened to everyone’s stuff. I didn’t turn away people and I found it all lacking, severely lacking.”
So why is he based in Cape Town? “I’m based in Venus. I’m not in Cape Town. How often do you see me in Cape Town?” But his physical form manifests in Cape Town more than anywhere else? “But it doesn’t.” OK, um, how does the energy of Cape Town affect how you interact with the rest of the world? “The energy of Cape Town is very specific, it’s quite a churning out of energy. So with me I’ve always found that, and it’s the same with everyone, it’s quite like a dry, intense churning out of energy. Either you ride it or it burns you out. That’s why you’re either constantly doing stuff or you’re freaking out. It’s the nature of Cape Town, it’s like we’re sitting on a generator. So I’m quite good at harnessing energy here and working with it, but it’s gotta be quite direct energy. For example, I find it really difficult writing in Cape Town because with writing I need to zone into a sort of underwater vegetative realm where I can work slowly and think. I can make music and art here because it’s direct, it’s quite action-packed, but things for me hat are slower are quite difficult. I need to go out of town to work on those things. It’s good but it can also be bad.”
So there isn’t really a witch house scene in South Africa? “There are barely enough who are in tune in the places where it is actually happening. What we’re witnessing now is pretty much fallout, and the thing with Cape Town is it’s not really the fault of people. We really are cut off and there’s so many stupid distractions like forced protocols about creativity that it actually protracts people learning things themselves. So I don’t really care; there’s never really been a scene in Cape Town with anything. It’s always been this too-late, two-years-down-the-line thing.”
To be fair to WITCHBOY, he did tell me he didn’t want to talk about Cape Town or about South Africa in any context, but his mind is taken by the flow. “I think people talk too much here, there’s also a lot of mindless hedonism, because the thing is the creativity should be part of the hedonism. That’s when you get a scene, is when the hedonism is linked to the creativity, but here the hedonism is not linked to the creativity. You have this idea of a party town and people feel this need to integrate it and they watch films and they’re like, ‘OK I have to wear this, I have to get trashed and then I’m gonna have fun,’ and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the place. One of the things that fascinates me about South Africa in terms of culture is that every major culture in the world has survived by integrating with cultures around it. We’re surrounded by fascinating cultures. You know, you talk to Credo Mutwa, there are all these people, there’s stuff going on in the land, there’s interesting music but none of it comes into the mainstream Westernised culture; it doesn’t. And that’s the failing; it cannot integrate, and without integration there is nothing there, just bubbles filled with the same old crap.”

Here is WITCHBOY’S only real pause. Then he continues the charge: “You’ve gotta understand some things about me first, right. I didn’t finish high school; I didn’t go to any universities. I spent a lot of time living in temples and Buddhist retreats and all of this shit because I was trying to get away from stuff. I don’t think that humans are the only audience. I don’t think that we’re very important at all actually. There’s more to it than that. It’s not like you’re making music for aliens to dance to or whatever, but the fact is, humans are really low on the spectrum. When you’re creating something, you’re speaking in an ancient language to other things and for other things. You’re actually moving away from humanity – it’s irrelevant, it’s completely irrelevant. It’s nice because sooner or later you’re gonna have to wake up and walk to the shop and it can be a strange feeling if you’re a stranger in a strange land. Sometimes it’s comforting – you don’t have to explain yourself – sometimes it gets a bit lonely, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with what you’re doing at four in the morning on astral level X.”

During one of our online exchanges I threw a series of phrases at Singh. Here are some of the results:

Vocal Manipulation
In terms of processes and FX etc, I generally think less focus should be attributed to the means and more to the effect of the final product. This particular effect, however, can be used to remove a certain stigma that accompanies the “idea” of what a vocal in a song should be. People generally expect certain things of vocals in songs, particularly pop songs. Vox modulation, when used correctly (less of a texture and more of an enhancer) can accentuate the subversive – in this way vocal manipulation is an acting-aid ha ha, a sort of cartoonified Stanislavsky cloak of invisibility to assist in channelling the sentiments of submerged personalities.

Myth Building
I mean, it’s more about musical mind-melding across distance than relying on insubstantial Ozymandias configurations. Less substance, more myth-making required to fill in the gaps. There’s a certain practicality to creating art – what is made to gather and cling to it afterward is divorced from the actual processes.

Earl of Rochester
The thing is that so-called “extreme behaviour” within the confines of a social structure is only really extreme by the standards of that court. The behaviour of the libertines was only really seen as extreme in relation to the conservatism of that court. I view pandering one’s charms to a court as a form of cowardice. I have always respected the ones who left more – to found their own kingdoms of the imagination. That and the vision-stricken conquerors who laid waste to pre-existing structures on the vague authority of dreams.

composition of SIAMESE working on Le Universe Perverse and Apocalipstick before, which was quite hooked into genres on the internet like post-rave. With Carmen’s I wanted to do something different, like actually make the songs as if they were live.”
He continues: “I wanted to put things down as if they were ... you’d listen to them and they had a prog-rock sensibility. Instruments would interact with each other. It didn’t have that artificiality, but the texture of the sounds were hooked into what was happening at the time. I wanted an R’n’B tropical bossanova vibe but it’s not like seapunk, which was quite hardcore and intense with dolphin shit. You have all these kids in the north going on about tropical stuff, but I’m obsessed with tropical stuff because I’m in the tropics, it’s in my blood.
high priests
carbomb (left) and mater suspiria vision live at london’s electrowerkz; collages (above and opposite) by carbomb
“Your mistake is thinking that there’s one thing.” Back at the tea room, Singh is getting more and more frustrated with my attempts to understand the post-witch house landscape. “It’s like the ’90s, there was a music explosion. You gotta look at it as an anthropological phenomenon; it’s just like something that happened. I mean they were having alphabetical drug parties, OK; literally, they were all psychedelics, which is to their credit. People are into psychedelics like A for acid, B for whatever, but they’d go through this whole list. I don’t think you need bass, it’s like irrelevant really and they were asking me for shit to DJ – they didn’t even have a beat, it was just like sounds. So we’re not talking about parties where people go and get funky. They go and go to other planets and whatever. The whole idea is similar to the whole beatnik thing, right. You had a bunch of weirdos fucking around in their rooms, taking drugs, coming up with stuff. Then you had all these hipster kids who were like, ‘Wait a minute, you’re doing this, now I’m gonna put on a beret, now I’m doing what you’re doing.’ So the difference between the hipster kids and the people who originated all of this is that the people who originated it were just trying to do something to get out of their headspace. They were just trying to push boundaries for themselves and it triggered stuff. The hipster kids are just latching onto whatever’s there. It’s empty. We’re gonna go into a bland time but I think the thing is it’s out there now. I suppose that you can make your own music and operate outside this so-called music fascism that exists, which has existed for years.”
So the music is defined by a convergence of factors? “No, the convergence is defined by the music, because people are not making music to show each other, they’re communicating via the music. So if you wanna communicate with someone out there, you don’t, like talk to them, you make them a song. It all started with MySpace where you had to create your own pages, so you had a lot of people talking to each other in images. I had a lot of friends who didn’t speak English, but we talked to each other in huge, long visual comments. What it is is this moving away from linear conversation and talking in art, creatively, not out of any decorative need. Like, if you’re in a drug trance and you’re making something you can’t really, necessarily tell someone what you’re doing; you have to show them. It’s leading back to primitive forms of communication that are more sophisticated; contemporary forms of communication are poisoned by social protocol. When you’re communicating creatively, no matter what medium you’re using – mathematics or music, art, whatever – you’re communicating directly.”
And you’re not passing on the secrets of the world either, you’re just communicating? “Some of them think they are. You’ve got a lot of these weirdos who are deep into some kind of philosophy that’s usually drug-fuelled.”
But surely pre-language-based communication is largely person to person, except for, like, cave drawings or pyramids? “In fact a lot of the ancient things were done astral body-to-astral body. The physical was completely separated. People communicated over thousands of miles by astral projecting to the people. In fact, it’s kind of weird because it is being done again; it’s gotten back to that, but in a technologically-aided kind of way. This is the whole point, you see. You can’t quantify things intellectually because the mind is a disability, it’s a hindrance.
“And the internet isn’t necessary; nothing’s really necessary, but you see, the internet wasn’t planned. It’s the same as a lot of technological advances: they came about of their own accord to sort of physicalise a need that was already there. We’re returning to a not-quite-a-hive mentality, because it’s not homogenised, but a way of communicating with each other to a specialised degree. The internet is the death of nostalgia.”

Three examples of the Death of Nostalgia

1: Ten years ago, let’s say you had a friend in Paris, you’d be like, ‘I wonder how so and so is, it’s been ages since we’ve seen them.’ Now you know what they’re wearing, you can picture them. The thing is it’s boosted our psychic abilities, not to a degree that it’s become this phenomenon, but we have.

2: A year-and-a-half ago, I went on this mad beatnik expedition to Europe. I started in Sweden. I made it all the way down to Sorrento [Italy], I camped fucking in Milan. I went through the whole of Germany twice, up and down, Denmark. And I only feel like I’m in Europe more now. But when I was there I could have really been anywhere. But the fact is the idea of being somewhere physically doesn’t even exist anymore. Look at tourists – they’re not really there; they’re in a little bubble.

3: In London, I was doing party reviews and after a while I got tired of this and just thought I’m just gonna write about what it’s like anyway and I started getting these emails from people going, “Wow, you captured exactly what the party was like,” but I hadn’t even been to the event but I was there, I just didn’t need to be there. People have been going on about the last five years about consciousness expansion. This is what it is, the nuts and bolts of it. Our consciousness is expanding and we’re using it to spread our awareness into places we wouldn’t be able to go. It’s like remote viewing on a very basic level.

For all the projects behind him – the Salem Brownstone graphic novel, the two incarnations of The Wild Eyes – Singh is incredibly future-focused. “You make something in your laboratory and you throw it away but still, it’s in your life and you have an awareness of all the things you’ve done.” And there is the question of the unpublished novel, Taty Went West, a voluminous noirish sci-fi parade of misfits that channels Burroughs and Mae West.
“Writing is the thing I’ve done the most of,” Singh tells me, “but I put the least out because for me it’s quite a poisoned world, the publishing world.” He won’t be pressed on details; instead, he switches to: “All the apparatus for writing is internal. With all the other things there’s always a bit of externalising, learning an instrument, learning how to use stuff, but with writing it’s ordering your internal things to create things. So for me it’s always been the purest, which is another reason I don’t want it really to get out because it will get destroyed.”
For someone who churns out micro-pop paeans by the dozen, it’s almost an about-face. “I’ve wanted to master certain narrative forms first. When I got to that stage I was happy, but then finding the right conduit for it – because my experience of the publishing world, it’s not at all how it used to be with the writers that I like, so I’m not really comfortable trying to chop something up to feed into that machine so I don’t really know yet.
“The thing is I have one thing in my favour, creatively, is I’m able to let stuff go. I know a lot of people who can’t let stuff go but I know when I reached my point where I wanna move on.” He draws his coat around him and sort of slides down into his chair. “This constant refinement, it’s like things are always gonna be flawed; there’ll always be flaws. It’s not important; what’s important is that you’ve expressed it to a degree that you can express it and you’re capable of expressing more. You’ve gotta keep moving.
“We used to have this in the pre-Victorian era because there was less distraction so you had people constantly refining stuff because they had nothing better to do, like a week in Geneva at some house, like, working on a poem. Everyone could play a musical instrument, and we’ve just forgotten about it ’cos there’s just so much distraction.” He fixes me with a penetrating stare, an imploring “don’t you get it?” look.
“This is one of the things I learnt from all those temples and things, is learning how to take certain distractions out of your life. It’s not religious at all; it’s just a question of streamlining your yacht. So you change your diet, you change this, all just so you have more time to do what you wanna do, more energy. Because that’s really what I wanna do, just keep doing stuff, that’s what I like.”

Notes on Whale Blubber

Kay-Traynor – “These days, you find a lot more artists diverging from more traditional structures of working simply because they don’t have to have the practical element of communicating with others as to when they should come in and drop out and change riff, etc. – partly due to remote connection of collaborating artists and partly due to the ubiquity of the digital audio workstation (DAW). The opening up of broadband services have opened up an almost universal culture. This has a major impact – artists can take their ideas further and be challenged by both like-minded and vastly differently-cultured entities alike.“

McKaharay – “The fact that tracks and stems are shared via the internet changes the entire structure of music. Music has become more matted. It is no longer four to six musicians sitting in a room full of microphones. There is a certain pastiche sound that has been created... It is more layers upon layers, and sometimes those layers don’t blend perfectly. I personally enjoy the rough seams it creates. It is a lot closer to Brian Wilson’s concept of modular production. Back when people recorded live there was a need for 16-bar blues structures, because all the musicians had to tap their foot in the same rhythm. That doesn’t really need to exist anymore.”

Bunny – “Music is always fleeting – it’s a necessarily temporal artform. You can’t even take a still of it out of context, as you can with any other media. In music you are a slave to time.”

Curt Crackerach – “I think another thing that happens today is there is a lot more personal experience coming through. Again, the musician is not in a glass fish tank with four old, bald, grey-haired guys watching them through a window. There isn’t the time constraint involved with booking studio time. Because of this, music can be made casually. I am constantly tending to my son and doing house chores. So my music tends to have a certain choppiness to it. Because it is very much recorded in little pieces and assembled when I have time. I know of rappers who record in their cars and closets for soundproofing. You can imagine the change of motivation one has standing in their closet screaming into an external laptop mic as opposed to standing in a booth with a perfectly angled mic and a pop shield.”

Kay-Traynor – “I think a lot of recent artists have played with the culture of disposability a lot of late, but in the case of Nikhil, he’s completely the opposite. Instead of making something that is very obvious, unsubtle and quickly and immediately consumed, then discarded, I really feel that Nik is creating deliberately semantically-loaded, and subtly subtle works that
can be consumed in either mode, but is of course intended to be consumed over time.”

Dafydd – “Music is definitely more about consumption nowadays. Very often people listen to one song over and over for a month, make it their ringtone then forget about it. You rarely hear anyone talk about their favourite album anymore. With WITCHBOY there is an element of overload. And that can be good and bad. For one thing, if you release 100 songs a month, not many people are going to click on one particular one to give you the hit count that seems to impress bloggers and labels nowadays. They aren’t going to see that if you count up the 75 plays on every track on your nine SoundCloud pages, you actually have the same audience as that person who promotes the same four songs over and over again. For this reason, statistics are a pretty empty bubble. A rational and intelligent listener will listen for quality. Nikhil puts out very impressive sounds at a very impressive rate. Music can be sort of a diary in this way.”

spf5Ø – “A lot of artists would probably be releasing songs at a third of the pace. In this scene, if you aren’t trending and making yourself known, there is a vast amount of people who will. In the old world of music, albums were generally released further apart and it wasn’t such a feed culture.”

≥ – “There’s still a market for extended art forms. In a way though, the increase of speed of culture is actually pushing artists to get their expressions in statements in a shorter format – short, sharp injections. It’s not necessarily a loss of quality, just a compression of meaning. I think sometimes a distinctly Rockist outlook tends to overestimate the value of the album in the first instance.”

Royster – “For me it’s more about a nihilistic art culture response to the times and defying old gods of the music industry to do what you care about, even if it’s for a small audience. Music is almost like a new form of blogging, which is kind of exciting in a way, almost a social experience in the communities online. The microgenres have really embraced the net’s possibilities and even treat the internet like a muse at times.”

Curt Crackerach – “I release a lot of my material on cassette. So there- fore one is committed to a 25-40 minute journey per side. If your favourite song is somewhere in the middle, you have the choice of fast-forwarding, which takes almost as much time as just listening through. I think there are people that enjoy an extended listen. But the album as a ‘package’ is definitely a dying art form. The film PressPausePlay mentioned this grey goo of mediocrity. Personally, I’d rather dig around that grey goo than have some guy in a suit tell me what to listen to.”

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