Last year saw a particular trend reach a boiling point, with efforts from artists as diverse as R&B reconstructionist How To Dress Well, weird pop princess Grimes, crossover success stories Frank Ocean and Miguel, and 80s nostalgists Solange and Sky Ferreira all mining similar nostalgic territory, albeit with unique results.
One artist who seems poised for a similar breakthrough this year is Brooklyn’s Autre Ne Veut. Autre Ne Veut (real name Arthur Ashin) emerged in 2010 with a divisive self-titled album that found the artist recontextualizing 80s and 90s pop tropes with a penchant for melodramatic warbling and stomach-turning sonics. Body followed in 2011, and while it is perhaps (regrettably) better known for its evocative cover art, the EP built on the perverse pop machinations of his debut.
On February 26, Autre Ne Veut will release Anxiety on Daniel Lopatin and Joel Ford’s Software label. Anxiety is Autre Ne Veut at his most fully-formed and immediate. Lead singles ‘Play by Play’ and ‘Counting’ are two of his finest compositions yet, and the entire album bristles with the hooks and hallmarks of timeless pop, with the idiosyncratic touches of his earlier efforts intact.
FACT spoke with Autre Ne Veut about “failure pop,” his goals for Anxiety, and what software ubiquity means for a generation of like-minded musicians.
You started this project several years ago, but only released music under the alias beginning in 2010. How has the music changed over that time frame?
“The superstructure or the framework of what I’m trying to do is the same thing as I was trying to do in 2005, with different technology and different cultural influences, but basically the same idea: working with and against pop forms in different ways as much as possible.”
Around the release of your debut album, the term bandied about was “failure pop.” Would you still attribute that term to what you’re doing?
“Yeah, people can still tell this isn’t real commercial pop music [laughs] but I was definitely borrowing from that framework. I don’t know, failure pop… I was really obsessed with this idea of established super artists, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, having weird technology late in their career. Midnight Love and In Square Circle are bizarre records made by verified super stars after their critical peak was over, but when they were still given free reign in the studio, just based on their legend.
“Synthesizers were becoming increasingly part of the standard studio set-up – just the different bizarre things that they would do with those that was really uninstinctive, or what at least now feels uninstinctive, knowing the direction the synthesizer took and the way that it’s been used.
“Instruments end up becoming themselves over time — they don’t start out being themselves. Through use, trope builds up and reminds everyone of certain things. ‘That’s what an 80s synth is’ or ‘that’s what a trance synth is’ or whatever, literally just because of repeat usage. [Those records were recorded] at a point in time where there wasn’t enough background to make sure that anyone knew how to use these things.
“Midnight Love, for example, except for ‘Sexual Healing’, is weird grooves, midi-sync grooves, with Marvin just closing his eyes and riffing on top of it, probably over and over it again. That’s failure pop to me: attempting to do something but you don’t really know what you’re doing, and then the outcome is kind of beautiful in its own way, but it has nothing to do with pre-defined expectations.”
Do you feel comfortable with the synthesizer as you try to achieve those outcomes?
“Yes and no. For me, this was an experiment in trying to play with very contemporary pop forms, this new record. I don’t sample; I don’t know how to sample, and that’s why I don’t do it. I don’t think I’m above sampling, it’s just every time I’ve fucked with that, it doesn’t sound interesting to me and it doesn’t work. I spent a lot of time trying to get my Access Virus to sound like all of the other instances of an Access Virus. And it certain places I kind of came pretty close and others I totally failed to do that.
“My failure is in the sense that I’m attempting to culturally reference things that I don’t really know how to do and I’m not doing my research. [laughs]”
That’s definitely been the trend the last few years, this idea of cultural appropriation or referencing of 80s and 90s pop and R&B.
“I’m definitely old enough that 90s R&B was a big part of my life. When I say I don’t know how to do it, I mean I don’t know how to make a trance gate. I don’t reference anything I don’t listen to.
“As far as cultural appropriation, I’m not even talking about R&B as much as I’m talking about Top 40. R&B appropriation and the race politics behind that is so complicated, I’m not sure I could ever wrap my head around it entirely. I had an ethnomusicology class in college and picking apart Paul Simon’s Graceland was kind of a nightmare, especially since I like the record, you know?
“Contemporary pop is racialized, for sure; it’s as much Britney Spears as it Rihanna or Azealia Banks or A$AP Rocky or Kanye West or whatever — there’s a lot of things going on. It’s not like I’m dipping into some hidden source and trying to take field recordings in Appalachia of people on their wrap around porches or whatever: this is all stuff I’m hearing in my world!”
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