R23X
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R23X

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Solo Electronic Experimental

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"How VHS belatedly re-entered music's format war"

How VHS belatedly re-entered music's format war

With garage rock star Ty Segall posting videotapes of his latest album to critics, it seems the black plastic bricks of static are well and truly back. But is it worth exploring this particular avenue of old-school analogue?

Snow-like static. Warped, wobbling visuals. Wildly uneven sound. Looking back, it’s incredible that we put up with videotapes for as long as we did. Now that Sony has ended future production of its Betamax cassette tapes – the ones you probably never used because you stuck to JVC’s VHS – it would seem as good a time as any to quietly close the door on the videotape chapter of human existence.
Try telling that to the prolific garage rock musician Ty Segall, who sent VHS copies of his 11-song album, Emotional Mugger, to music critics at Pitchfork on Monday. Segall’s earliest releases were on cassette and he’s no stranger to 7in vinyl singles, but this dalliance with VHS is his first.
In a year that’s seen both sales and prices of vinyl soar in the UK, it’s no secret that there’s a market for physical formats. But VHS albums? Really? Remember the sight of a video’s black tape, tangled and regurgitated from within the cassette, destined never to play again? Now imagine putting up with that in 2015, when technology has given us so many other options. It’s a hard sell.

VHS released today by a twentysomething – Segall is 28 – would feel like the very worst of Instagram-generation, romanticised nostalgia – just the sort of grating obsession with VHS and vinyl Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried’s characters display in Noah Baumbach’s excellent recent film While We’re Young. Sound quality has never been the format’s strong point, so why would bands today opt for videotape albums? Sound engineer and audio equipment company co-founder Ethan Winer isn’t convinced.
“I think those people are deluded and living in the past,” he says, speaking from his home in Connecticut. “A lot of people who are into old-school analogue are really young – and they didn’t even deal with that crackly sound in the first place. CD quality is very high-fidelity, and that’s what you want. Always.”
Winer, who is 67, has written a book on the ins and outs of audio and is a somewhat infamous fixture on audiophile online forums, for plainly expressing his evidence-based findings about sound. He says he worked as an audio engineer for decades, and stresses that VHS sound quality isn’t awful but isn’t great, either. When done well, Winer says a VHS recording could probably turn out better than a 64kbps mp3. Which, in non-data speak, would be the a fairly garbage mp3 that you could play on a laptop, phone or MP3 player.
That being said, Segall’s nostalgic trip back in time isn’t exactly unparalleled. London-based record label Dream Catalogue, founded in 2014, also opts for physical releases. The label puts out “vaporwave” music, a loosely defined genre typified by echoey, electronic ambient sounds and futuristic accompanying visuals. Label owner HKE says he understands why Segall would want to go old-school.
“Music’s great digitally and everything, but the idea of having something in your hand makes it real,” he says. “It immortalises it a little bit, so it’s not just invisible data on a computer.” HKE is 29 years old, so he’s nestled right in the age range of people old enough to recognise the sounds of garbled, chewed-up tape (sigh) and a dial-up modem, but young enough to know about flac format files and MP3s.
He remembers playing with cassettes and videotapes as a child, before quickly shifting, as did most people of his age, to CDs and digital music. “The idea of getting my hands on all these obscure cassettes became this massive hobby,” he says. He and his labelmates’ music fits the crackly formats of cassette tape, vinyl and VHS, “because it’s both futuristic and anachronistic”. From that perspective, vaporwave – like the short-lived seapunk trend – straddles both nostalgia and an aesthetic based on an imagined vision of the future.
One of Dream Catalogue’s artists currently has a VHS album in the works. Under his electronic music producer alias R23x, the 28-year-old Canadian composer and artist Marc Junker records directly from his laptop to VCR, then plays back that VHS tape and records the audio on to his computer. It sounds complicated, but allows him to pick up all the irregularities of tape’s sound. “It adds a whole new layer that I could never have composed myself,” he writes in an email, “with tape warbles, pops, crackles, and skipping. I also occasionally pull out and stretch and scratch it to try and really mess with it,” to create a sound that he finds satisfying.
The recent surge of 90s-inspired lo-fi guitar bands has already shown a 21st-century longing for a retro sound. “But VHS is certainly not as good as CDs and it certainly costs a lot more to make them than the CD,” Winer says, laughing when I ask whether he thinks VHS albums could turn into a viable option for up-and-coming musicians. “Plus, the video players would be expensive. So it’s not practical. It’s stupid, frankly.” Winer does concede that when recorded in stereo and played out through a good stereo system, VHS audio can be of a high quality.
“In the old days we weren’t looking for an analogue sound,” he says, “we were trying to get rid of it. That’s why I think these people are deluded, wanting to add this old-timey sound with hiss.”
I ask HKE – who will only tell me his first name is David, in line with vaporwave’s community of relative anonymity – how he’d respond. Why bother with VHS at all? “I’d love to do more VHS releases, not just of music but video albums. I’m into the idea of merging music and video together to present a whole artistic concept, rather than just an album on its own,” he says. “Our whole ethos on Dream Catalogue is to present these dreamlike albums. A concept that you can lose yourself in.” Given the nature of the music in question – floaty synth pads, slowed-down sequences – there’s an underlying earnestness to HKE’s argument.
“It’s often just written off as trendy and amateur,” Junker writes, of how nostalgia-craving musicians are portrayed. “But there is a kernel of creativity there, that can maybe only be fostered online in a contrived way – and that’s great. There is something kinda badass and punk-rock about anyone being able to go to a library computer and rip a YouTube video of an obscure 80s car commercial, reverse it, slow it down to one-fifth the speed using freeware software, then release it on Bandcamp for free, anonymously.”
Seen from one perspective, VHS tapes are fragile and impractical – I’d need to hunt down a VCR before even thinking about playing either of Segall or Junker’s albums, for example. Seen from another view, videotapes are blank canvas on which to graft unusual compositions and sounds, with the added childhood nostalgia kick. Segall’s music, with its crunching guitars and feedback squeals, already fits the rough-around-the-edges format of VHS, and his videotape’s novelty value probably won’t hurt sales. Maybe some of us born right before the death of the cassette tape just want what we couldn’t quite have throughout adulthood: ubiquitous crackles, a hiss and those fuzzy, trembling visuals. - The Guardian


"VIDEO PREMIERE: R23X – “Threshold Guardian”"

VANCOUVER – “I don’t know what year it was I started wondering about the future, minus that it was post-2000 because I didn’t understand the significance of two-thousand until someone loosely explained it to my seven-year old self on New Year’s Eve, 1999.”
Mined from a two year old post in the Vaporwave subreddit, R23X had an innate interest in the future from a young age. Not in a traditional sense however, where everyone would have a flying car and a personal robot assistant which would eventually become the masters of the human race, but in a nostalgic sense where humans could find peace and comfort.

An experimental electronic music producer based in Vancouver, R23X, known commonly as Marc Junker, utilizes video game consoles, VCRs, field recordings, live instrumentation and vocalists, and samples of his own work to create lo-fi atmospheric beats. Returning from a brief musical hiatus with “Threshold Guardian,” a new track and music video, Junker eludes to the release of a forthcoming EP titled RE-GEN.
Animated by local filmmaker Denver Jackson, the futuristic 3D rendering was then recorded by Junker on VHS to achieve his signature future-nostalgia style. - Beatroute


"R23X's VELTAHL"

One of the most unique operators within the Dream Catalogue sphere, R23X commits the latest futurism heavy vaporwave manual to the tech-savvy masses.
While all the trademarks of Dream Catalogue are cut into the DNA of Veltahl: falling rain samples, tightlyspun techno sculptures and a sort of nostalgia for the future not really seen in the electronic underground since Optical's mid to late 90s output. The overall sound is sort of vaporwave concrète, industrial mechanisms and found sound samples create a disorientating feel that travels deep into the realms of Amon Tobin's Foley Room.
Built out of a whopping twenty tracks, R23X transverses between trap-laden RNB to rhythmically mechanical blocks of hypnotic repetition. An album that, as it unfurls really starts to expand into a glossy puzzle like structure that in parts, resembles the same crackly city streets of Los Angeles by Flying Lotus. Except this time it's been plunged into the dead of night, with the street lights turned on to the neon glow of DVA [Hi:Emotions] and Bok Bok's grime, mapping out the way forward with a menacing realness that reflects the uncertain times it has been created in. - Warp Record's Bleep


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

Born on the mist continent, falling into the cracks between anime, ps1-era video games, meccha, and VHS home recordings — emerging for one last call to adventure.

"Under his electronic music producer alias R23X, the 28-year-old Canadian composer and artist Marc Junker records directly from his laptop to VCR, then plays back that VHS tape and records the audio on to his computer. It sounds complicated, but allows him to pick up all the irregularities of tape’s sound." ~ Tshepo Mokoena, The Guardian UK

Signed to the Dream Catalogue label (London, UK) since 2014, R23X has been pushing himself to create beats and compositions that subvert conventions of electronic music — whether that's via home VHS recordings, lo-fi field recordings, or off-kilter, unconventional percussive explorations... Currently signed to Yetee Records


Band Members