Fun Factory: or How We Learned To Stop Innovating and Love The Industry

In yesterday’s review of Wun Two – The Fat EP (2012), I bemoaned the proliferation and stagnation of the synthetic lofi “hip-hop meets ambient” genre of Chillhop. I only ever referred to it as ‘lofi beat’ style as I didn’t fully grasp the degree of interchangeability of the two terms. They’re ultimately synonymous, with chillhop only acting as a more popular genre title.

In a recent post to the r/letstalkaboutmusic subreddit, u/zinko101 brought up the topic of stagnation within hip-hop. While I hadn’t mentioned it in the review, I had contemplated how music hobbyists fit within the playing field in our current age of music. After leaving a rambling comment I decided to take what I had written and bring it home to Resident Sound.

It’s Loud in Here

There’s countless reasons why music democratization is great. Nearly anyone can acquire a cheap computer and start making art. But that puts a lot of pressure on people. Hobbyists of any field are now tempted to ‘make it’ while artistic or career aspiring musicians have to fight tooth and nail to be noticed, baited to use unnecessary promotional services.

Meanwhile, the music industry has long been just that, an industry. Gatekeeping, bigotry, and artistic stagnation have been common place since before day 1. We live in the most democratized era of music and reap many of those benefits, yet our culture still remains victim to artistic stagnation.

What gives? No, I understand it’s easy to point at the now and say ‘it used to be better.’ It has never been better. Every era of audibly recorded music exists right now. Thanks to the internet, we live in an era of 80s hardcore, 90s tv, and 1910s Turkish ballads.

But on the other hand, the proliferation of cheap music tech and the cultural takeover of acousmatic music has created a mass wave of hobbyists flooding the recorded music market. Anywhere you can stream music, talk about music, promote music, is now the shared floor of every single person to make a sound.

In The Lab? Play-Doh Fun Factory effect

The demographic of music hobbyists has always existed, but only recently has it gone from playing the family piano or making a private pressing to being solely about the recording. Truly, we live in an age of acousmatic music.

These people have never had intentions of pushing artistic boundaries, and that’s okay. We see this in all genres, ironically so in ‘experimental’ music in which so-called ‘experimenting’ is about as experimental as those slime and magnet kits one would get as a kid. Much like a Play-Doh Fun Factory, we get the same sonic shapes and colors over and over again (great for Play-Doh, not music).

People (rightfully so) imitate or try to full on replicate the things they like. All musicians do this. While many career-aspiring artists don’t aim high for artistic innovation, the few artists who do break free from the mold.

On the other hand, hobbyists have no reason to give themselves a high bar of artistic innovation. It’s a hobby, the thinking being; ‘hey, maybe I’ll get some likes, some up-votes, and maybe get shared on a playlist.’ Even for the hobbyist, there’s social capital to be gained in being a musician. Not only is it an identity, but it’s a content generating one as well.

A Sucker Born Every Minute

So why not separate the 2 groups when discussing music? Well, we all know dichotomies within music are a mess. Considering a musician’s artistic merit, genuine intentions, and commercial drive would only make such a dichotomy impossible to approach. The inaccuracy of dichotomies makes it impossible to definitively state they’re not artists.

Hobbyists aren’t malicious, they’re not even that different. Just like every small time musician looking to ‘make it,’ hobbyists are the target of an entire vulture industry that preys on hopes of financial independence and life achievement.

Why enjoy life when you can capitalize off of it? We’ve all been sold this story. It was just some kid making Youtube videos or streaming a video game. The next thing you know they’ve achieved the modern American dream: being a ‘winner.’

When major labels market the authenticity of their new star, it leaves success feeling just out of reach. We pressure anyone with a laptop to be the next star in digital music. There’s software to be sold, promotional services to serve all our egos, and the ad space on a million ‘how to’ videos to make your tracks sound just like everyone else’s.

REVIEW: Wun Two – The Fat EP (2012)

If you’re approaching the album for the first time, The Fat EP may not seem as fresh as it did in 2012. Since then, Wun Two’s previously signature lofi style has been copied ad nauseum. The hip-hop meets ambient sound of ‘lofi beats’ has become synonymous with low effort imposters and white guys shopping at Muji, but maybe that’s unfair.

At least lofi beat making had a lot to offer. It’s been accessible, easy listening in our modern age of anxiety. The Fat EP acts less as an album of songs and more as one larger ambient whole. Songs fade in and out, neatly cropping the vocal tracks being accompanied.

It’s 24 minutes of jazzy boom bap hip-hop, drenched in the fuzzy warmth of an old 45. Relatively subdued and nonabrasive in its sonic qualities, The Fat EP‘s hyper-repetitive beats lure the listener into a relaxed state. With nearly all focus on atmosphere and sonic aesthetics (tonal qualities), lofi beats stretch from their hip-hop roots towards ambient meditation.

So why Biggie? While his delivery is notoriously smooth, his lyrics may be the furthest thing from soothing. Biggie Smalls is front and center for the whole ride, yet The Fat EP couldn’t be less about him. We can run through the accreditation of Biggie Smalls, but that would be missing the point. The Fat EP is a delivery system for the sonic aesthetics and emotions Wun Two wishes to get across.

Most tracks on the album work as short interludes or sketches of sonic ideas. Remixes of Machine Gun Funk, Big Poppa, and Dead Wrong are all under 2 minutes. The vocal tracks of Big Poppa, Suicidal Thoughts, and Dead Wrong all appear twice with different backing tracks, yet feel fresh on their second run through.

Suicidal Thoughts is perhaps at its most emotionally potent in its first incarnation on the album, ‘suicidal.thoughts’. Losing all credibility with the hip-hop heads of my youth, I’ll go ahead and say this is my favorite version of Suicidal Thoughts to ever appear. Same goes for Party And Bullshit (party.n.bullshit), which would have made for a more emotionally potent closer than the weaker second incarnation of Suicidal Thoughts.

It’s everything you need from the lofi beat scene in one convenient package, sans boredom.

For fans of: People Under The Stairs, Madvillain, DJ Shadow

Like Wun Two? Give these a listen: Funky DL, Amerigo Gazaway, Jehst

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