Post-Exotica: Relaxation on The Road to Ruin

The long-lost genre of tropical ersatz haunts on in the reverberations of the past. Exotica’s problematic past, a colonialist fantasy involving ‘savages’ and drenched in Orientalism, have permanently marred it. But while Exotica and its racist overtones have long given way to (what I would like to think of as) societal progress, the Hollywood-esque cinema of the mind echoes on in both eerie and campy appeal. 

Post-Exotica is this very aesthetic reverberation intertwined with contemporary societal attitudes, recording techniques, and accessibility afforded to us by the internet. Post-Exotica, as an aesthetic mode within music, lacks any unifying subculture or definitive sonic palette. 

Records of the ‘post-exotic’ can range from exploring the sociopolitical to the existential, the atavistic to the alchemical, or simply act as a pining for ye olden days of ‘classy’ Hi-Fi bachelor pad music.

Without further hesitation, let’s explore these selected offerings from a genre even Bandcamp has yet to recognize. This is Resident Sound’s Guide to Post-Exotica…

Early Rumblings: JG Thirlwell, Steroid Maximus, and the post-Post-Punk of The 1990s

Around the mid-1990s, revived interest in Lounge, Surf, and Exotica music were in full swing. But it wasn’t all CD reissues and copies of the Swingers soundtrack. Artists like Southern Culture on The Skids and (dare I say…) Richard Cheese were creating new work upon recently old genres. So it’s not surprising we can look back to the 1990s as some of the earliest examples of Exotica music re-envisioned. And while retro acts made Exotica’s contemporary scene, no one else embodied the ‘re-envisioning’ aspect of Post-Exotica music better than JG Thirlwell.

You may not know him by name, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard his music. He’s the composer for famed adult animated shows Venture Bros and Archer (since Season 5), has worked with Marc Almond, Lydia Lunch, Nurse With Wound, Zola Jesus and more, and has released nearly a dozen full length studio albums under his most infamous project: Foetus.

That in mind, it’s not too surprising that his name (or one of dozens of pseudonyms) would show up on a list like this.

By the end of the 80s and into the early 90s, the more ‘artistically-inclined’ members of the Punk and Post-Punk movements were looking to expand past their genre’s established sonic templates. It’s around this time we see the formation of Virginia’s experimental Hardcore outfit Men’s Recovery Project, Germany’s Doom Jazz godfathers Bohren & der Club of Gore, and JG Thirlwell’s expansion into more cinematic, Big Band and Exotica influenced compositions with his project Steroid Maximus.

“…by 1990 I felt that I needed to shift gears and do something that was a little more challenging to me and that’s how I started Steroid Maximus, to create instrumental music that was cinematic and all the sources hadn’t been in my music before. … Since then, I explored doing large scale groups like an 18-piece version of Steroid Maximus which I’ve done in Europe and New York.”

– JG Thirlwell, in an interview conducted by Daniel Volohov for Peek A Boo Magazine, 2019.

The first Steroid Maximus album ¡Quilombo! was released in 1991 and breaks all conventions. There is no pastiche, only impressions of a former sonic era. The easiest way to describe ¡Quilombo! is to make comparisons to the varied works of Jerry Van Rooyen, Raymond Scott, and Robert Drasnin, though no singular example is particularly accurate. Often lauded for his more violent overtones, Thirlwell achieves work of a greater depth, utilizing the many exotic shades of darkness often overlooked for pure black.

It’s a record that needs to be heard to understand the distance a Post-Exotica record can go. So before you go, I recommend spending a little time ¡Quilombo!

Kava Kon – Virgin Lava (2016)

At times coming across more pastiche than ‘Post’, Kava Kon’s 2016 EP release Virgin Lava is a dark and divine dive into the sonic palette of Exotica music. Not letting 50+ years of audio engineering developments go to waste, Kava Kon have brought the sultry sounds of Exotica into the days of DAW.

When asked about overlooked elements in an interview for Gravedigger’s Local 16, Kava Kon’s Nels Truesdell said:

“A lot of the percussion done on the albums Departure Exotica and Tiki for the Atomic Age was beatboxing. For example 90% of all güiro sounds were done by my mouth. Then we processed it using EQs and compressors on the recordings to give them a more realistic tone. There are so many more examples of unconventional recording techniques used on our albums.”

– Nels Truesdell, in an interview for Gravedigger’s Local 16.

Featuring two remixes of Doom Jazz icons The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Virgin Lava touches on the parallels of hyper-aestheticized niche genres, namely that of Post-Exotica and Doom Jazz.

Similarities include an exemplification of Hollywood cinematic themes, ‘extreme’ music genre traits (such as doom metal or noise) crossed with mid-century adult music genres, and nostalgia for periods outside of living memory. But while retro is inherently regressive, both Post-Exotica and Doom Jazz carry with them innovation, distinct sonic palettes, stylistic variants, and great potential.

Iosu Vakerizzo – Forbidden Island (2020)

Iosu Vakerizzo’s Forbidden Island is an excellent work of would-be film score. Hearkening back to pop Exotica’s ornamental novelty, Forbidden Island‘s use of sampling creates sonic depictions of a sea-side land while the album’s minimalist instrumentation creates eerie impressions of an outside world.

The site HipWax described the pop Exotica of the 1950s as “[filling] a niche curiously left open by Afro-Cuban, Hawaiian, and other related music. It is the mood music of place, but no place familiar. …One conjures a torrential rain in the tropics, a jungle safari, or the desert at night. And that is precisely the stuff of exotica: an odd combination of the soothing and stimulating, like nature itself.”

The Post-Exotica work of Iosu Vakerizzo delivers both the stimulating and soothing effect given to us by 1950s Exotica, while building off of its predecessor with the possibilities afforded by Dark Ambient music.

Resident Sound’s first view into the world of Post-Exotica was a review of Iosu Vakerizzo’s previous album The Temple. If you like Forbidden Island, we highly recommend checking out his other work here.

Strange Cousin – Knifes And Smothers (2021)

Released in February of 2021 by American music artist Strange Cousin, the single Knifes And Smothers and its b-side track Houdini Whodon’t’he are a dual approach to Post-Exotica’s sonic possibilities. The titular Knifes And Smothers is a melancholic Dark Ambient work consisting of reversed piano chords and news coverage of an unsolved 1997 homicide. Countering Knifes And Smothers is b-side track Houdini Whodon’t’he, a pummeling cinematic horror show of double kick triplets and wailing horn sections. Real ‘run through the jungle’ energy, an unsettling churning sensation.

German Army – Animals Remember Human (2020)

Animals Remember Human is one of five releases in the year 2020 by the hyper-prolific project Germany Army. GeAr, as they’re sometimes known, is the musique concrete project of Peter Kris and collaborator Norm Heston.

Inspired by the works of Paulo Freire and Sydney Possuelo, the Post-Exotica work of GeAr confronts the colonialist lens of 1950s pop Exotica which we are well familiar with.

When asked about the name German Army in an interview with Stereo Embers Magazine, Peter Kris said:

“I figured it was perfect because one can’t help but notice that at the time there seemed to be a rise in intolerance across the globe. I thought it would be a good name to take and use to actually document language and cultural extinction. Further, I wanted to critique all nationalism and focus on the actions of U.S. imperialism. You could just not bother to pay attention to the name or the message, but if you do, it is very clearly one of anti-imperialism, pro-ecology and for the cultural preservation of those disappeared or who presently have a vanishing language, culture, flora and fauna.”

– Peter Kris, in an interview for Stereo Embers Magazine.

If Post-Exotica were ever to develop into a fully fledged school of work, we ought to expect the hauntological humanitarian attitudes set forth by German Army to become prototypical.

Chick Vekters – Silicon Island (2021)

Perhaps now the go-to medium of escapist fantasy, video games allow us to fully immerse ourselves in a foreign world. What’s more exotic than that?

Using the retro video game aesthetic genre of Chiptune, Chick Vekters’s 2021 release Silicon Island is rightfully self-described as “an eclectic cocktail of aural adventures!” Heavily rooted in the Chiptune’s 8-bit sound, Silicon Island still delivers the escapist fantasy of island adventure, albeit just a wee bit pixelated.

With songs like Bionic Garden, Neon Forest, and Cathode Ray Reef, Silicon Island plays to the spirit of 1950s pop Exotica, while moving past Exotica’s colonialist past.

If you’re interested in learning more about colonialism’s intersection with video games, check Folding Idea’s video Minecraft, Sandboxes, and Colonialism.

A E S T H E T I C S: Post-Exotica, Vaporwave and Aesthetic Niches

‘Post-Exotica’ is a term that has made brief appearances in the Vaporwave world over the past decade, but is Vaporwave the missing link to the development of Post-Exotica?

Vaporwave itself is a genre heavily invested in aesthetic offshoots. From iconic aesthetic-concept albums such as Frasierwave, to the more or less visual genre Simpsonswave. While built across the internet as opposed to regionally, Vaporwave, unlike Post-Exotica has managed to establish a shared set of artifacts, sonic and aesthetic identifiers, and language norms (albeit meme oriented) associated with subcultures. 

Both the ability to retrofetishize and simultaneously criticize glory days of existing power structures are traits of both genres, but as a dual mode only particularly integral to Vaporwave.

Vaporwave has shown us that both the micro-genre and aesthetic genre is a place of sonic exploration, even if just as a brief layover on an artist’s greater developmental journey. Will Post-Exotica ever bridge this gap and become a fully fledged subculture and genre? Only time will tell.

REVIEW: Peter Zimmermann – VAPORDISCO (2019)

Playing with the same 80s synth aesthetics nearly dragged to death by Stranger Things and the synthwave craze, Peter Zimmermann’s budget disco sound and cover art aesthetics are still exciting for Italo disco fans both dedicated and casual (such as myself).

VAPORDISCO gives itself to its namesake. Smooth sample chopping weaves behind the scenes of slow grinding rhythms complemented by arpeggio synth lines while 80s pop samples are pitched down to create the muddied effect of vaporwave classics.

Warm low kicks and reverb-hazy snares teeter back and forth, complemented by nearly inconsequential hi-hat patterns. Only on the 4th track E X H A L E does VAPORDISCO’s rigid 1s and 3s drum machine pattern face any kind of shake-up (which even then is minimal). Unfortunately, tracks like I NEED YOU fail to enhance or create anew from its sample usage. While the songs aren’t bad by any means, it can leave someone familiar with the source material feeling fairly underwhelmed.

The album’s energy does pick-up midway through with THE NIGHT; a pumping ethereal rollerskating jam sounding like Depeche Mode producing Michael Jackson’s Thriller. From here the album is more artistically ambitious, energized and ready to roll. It’s-, well, thrilling. The overarching theme of the album proceeds to pay off almost entirely from the midway point.

Now energized, VAPORDISCO’s hedonic approach lends itself to the fun and levity one needs to appreciate the non-political escapism that vaporwave has to offer. Once sold on the album’s fun side, VAPORDISCO allows itself to go slightly moodier with VAPORBOI before setting like the sun with hazy closing track YOUR BODY.

Time to hit the rink.

For fans of: Glass Candy, Night Tempo, Naked Eyes

Like Peter Zimmermann? Give these a listen: e•motion, Jaguardini, Niveum

REVIEW: DJ Seinfeld – Season 1 EP (2016)

DJ Seinfeld is a Swedish acid house DJ, sometimes working under other names such as Rimbaudian or Birds of Sweden. Part of the lo-fi house craze, Season 1 EP is built of squelching, grooving bass lines and smooth synth swells that sound like a dusty PS1 starting up. Even digitally, the whole record hisses with the warmth of a well-loved vinyl record. Perhaps the digital release is in fact a direct rip recording from the original pressing.

“It’s a bit strange innit tho?… ….The story of [Season 1 EP] is that I made all of these in one day, somewhere around early spring [2016] when my first love left me. These tracks were pressed and then the original files were destroyed, and like my relationship I had to move on, even though it’s hard u know? I still don’t know how, but I’m trying,” wrote DJ Seinfeld on the album’s Bandcamp listing.

Being part of the lo-fi house craze, Season 1 EP gained both popularity and scrutiny for its pop-art (or meme culture) and vaporwave aesthetics, seen as some kind of joke amongst the old guard of electronic music. Was it novelty? No. But on the heels of ‘norm core’ fashion trends and the disingenuous leftover behaviors of hipster culture still floating around, feelings of authenticity and sincerity dispersed through irony were hard to come by. What is now understood is when privatized entities act as society’s public institutions by way of communities (fandoms) and mythologies (story arches engrained within popular culture), individuals and communities will appropriate from private entities’ iconography to use as culturally understood symbolism.

“All I do know is that I want to live life as uncompromisingly as Kramer does, the way he throws himself without fear into the next adventure.”

While its cover art may be right up the alley of vaporwave and nostalgia enthusiasts, Season 1 EP is an enticing acid house work with lush lo-fi production.

DJ Seinfeld – Season 1 EP was mentioned on Bandcamp’s Starter Guide to the Lo-Fi House Scene.

For fans of: Mall Grab, DJ Boring, COMPUTER DATA

Like DJ Seinfeld? Give these a listen: Ross From Friends, No_4mat, Acetantina

REVIEW: Yeongrak – ASCII GIRLS (2014)

ASCII Girls is an album completely directed by Yeongrak’s use of reverb. To build ground up starting with such density can be quite limiting, and it’s a decision that we’ve seen fall flat time and time again. That said, all the tracks on ASCII Girls are incredibly well tailored. This album simply wouldn’t work otherwise.

Released on illustrious vaporwave label Business Casual in 2014, Yeongrak’s association with vaporwave has more to do with what vaporwave took from earlier artists. Notably, one can see similarities between Yeongrak ASCII Girls and established WARP Records artists such as Autechre and Boards of Canada, although drenched in reverb. Ambient, glitch-hop, and beat maker culture are blended into something new; a record that accomplishes so much more than its ‘lo-fi beats and chill’ contemporaries. Listeners are presented with fully fleshed out tracks, and after a satisfying 18 minutes Yeongrak knows when to fold them.

Artistic choices have degrees of consequence. They change the state of the piece as we continue to sculpt the parts into a final whole. Delay and (especially in this case) reverb may be the best examples of obvious artistic consequences. Now, a note is a much different material to work with; its consequence being a long tail after each note. Things can quickly spiral into a muddy, cacophonous mess which can weaken the execution of the composition. So, all artistic choices within a work will typically yield to the choice with the greatest consequences.

While its weeaboo cover art is something I neither understand nor care for, Yeongrak’s ASCII Girls is an otherwise relaxing trip of self-transcendence in an age of internet.

For fans of: Boards of Canada, Bowery Electric, Alpha

Like Yeongrak? Give these a listen: Acetantina, Tropic of Cancer, Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza

In Memoriam: Cesar Alexandre, + Brief Thoughts on Legacy

The news was broken to me last night that Cesar Alexandre, the person behind Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza and Mount Shrine has passed away from coronavirus.

I never met or talked to Cesar Alexandre. I was well aware of their underground-classic 2013 release Daily Night Euphoria EP, at times serving as the high-water mark within vaporwave (at least from an outsider’s perspective). Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza was an early building block to vaporwave culture, strengthening the legitimacy and legacy of those that came before it while simultaneously expanding the potential and outreach of the genre as a whole.

The idea of legacy within music can be complicated. Usually a word saved for the most famous of artists. But Dave Brockie’s death in 2014 wasn’t lost on me, and neither was Randy ‘Biscuit’ Turner’s death to the Austin, TX scene when I visited nearly 15 years after the fact. In the same way, Cesar Alexandre’s legacy will not be lost on the vaporwave community.

The enrichment of our collective cultures depends on artists and the work they do, regardless of the medium or stylistic movements in which they work. And with that, let’s remember the legacy of Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza, Mount Shrine, and most importantly Cesar Alexandre.

“The night isn’t young anymore.”

*UPDATE 4/19/21* Proceeds from NTSC Memories by Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza will go to the artist’s estate. You can check that out here: https://tigerbloodtapes.bandcamp.com/album/ntsc-memories

REVIEW: Acetantina – Temple of Null (2020)

Acetantina, now working as Kaiso Slumber, is the name of a Libyan-German electronic producer working out of Khartoum, Sudan (according to their Bandcamp bio).

Temple of Null full-heartedly embraces the visual and sonic aesthetics of vaporwave while working at a much more frenetic tempo and energy than their vaporwave counterparts. At 35 minutes, this 11-track album is about as professional and polished sounding you’ll ever hear in vaporwave music. Well mixed, well mastered, while managing to keep volume dynamics present in each individual song. While I’m always tempted to put on opening track Puddle of Nitrogen on repeat, Temple of Null works incredibly well as one coherent piece. Tracks like Puddle of Nitrogen, Lonely Network, and Foot Cramp propel the listener forward, throwing the listener into a digital wind tunnel of rolling hi-hats, atmospheric pads and strange digital blips and glitches. The melancholy prevalent in most vaporwave releases is front and center, but Acetantina knows when and where to pull away (Foot Cramp) and when to double down (Lonely Network). If you were to own any vaporwave-adjacent album, make it Temple of Null by Acetantina.

For fans of: Chris†††, Leftfield, Macintosh Plus

Like Acetantina? Give these a listen: Lord Lorenz, MegaZoneEx, Nocera

REVIEW: MegaZoneEx – SEAPUNK’D (2021)

This post originally appeared on the 10th Dentist blog on Sunday, January 24th, 2021.

   Released through Australian “Post-internet” label Sunset Grid on January 24th of 2021, MegaZoneEx’s SEAPUNK’D serves as a hopeful refresher of the vaporwave genre. While weaving their way through vaporwave and sister genres, MegaZoneEx explores but never falls victim to the cliches of those genres. Track highlights include the more accessible Ladytron-esque ‘The Shuffle,’ and industrial-nod ‘On My Mind’ built of a surprisingly soothing mix of vaporwave and industrial sonic aesthetics. SEAPUNK’D should be worked into casual rotation for the more particular vaporwave and future funk connoisseurs who may find themselves overwhelmed with quantity and underwhelmed with quality.

    Unfortunately, where SEAPUNK’D ultimately suffers is in its inability to distinguish itself as a fully realized album. From smaller details such as directionless track naming to a much more jarring max volume inconsistency, this effort at times can feel more like a mix-CD. Its 16 track, 29 minute runtime can feel very bloated, but hopefully going forward MegaZoneEx can enforce a stricter self-editorial approach.

    As stated in the album closing manifesto ‘PSA,’ “…[vaporwave] is still young. Its pioneers come and go, leaving it astray with no rules or guidelines. Vaporwave keeps dying because no one is here to save it.” While vaporwave is far from saved, MegaZoneEx is keeping it alive with yet another breath.

For fans of: Ladytron, Macintosh Plus, Ventech97

Like MegaZoneEx? Give these a listen: Acetantina, vice*AIRバイス*空気自然の愛,  False Tropics

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