Hypnagogic Pop and the New Pop Culture Mutations

In an article David Keenan wrote in The Wire magazine Issue #306, he coined the term “hypnagogic pop” in reference to an underground music movement that utilized the concept of memory and revisionist nostalgia as a launching point for an entire sub-genre.  Hypnagogic is defined as “Inducing sleep” or “Of, relating to, or occurring in the state of intermediate consciousness preceding sleep”, which is the perfect adjective for this loosely based micro-genre.  Hypnagogic pop is a recent quasi-movement within the experimental underground where musicians take aspects of modern culture and nostalgia and transform them into new collective memories that incorporate parts of the old model but at the same time shape them into an entirely new creature.  It’s a very Frankenstein-esque process where new organisms and ideas are conjured from the debris and rubble of the previous synaptic runoff.  Hypnagogic pop in general and the aesthetic behind it is one of the most accurate representations of our modern cultural perception and exactly what defines the new version of our muddled hyper-reality.

One of Keenan’s main focuses in the article was the beyond prolific artist James Ferraro.  He’s released countless limited run CD-Rs and more high profile releases on the record label Olde English Spelling Bee including last year’s critical darling Nightdolls with Hairspray.  There’s a lot of other examples of hypnagogic pop but overall Ferraro is the best representation of the aesthetic and how it mutates a culture that’s so familiar to us into an indecipherable slurry that becomes amorphous but still has it’s original parts visibly jutting out at oddly rendered angles.  Keenan sums up the genre as “pop music refracted through the memory of a memory” and it couldn’t be a more accurate summation for the overall aesthetic.  Especially Ferarro’s music, and for tons of artists who might be considered hypnagogic, they’re using the genre to create a revisionist history of popular culture that utilizes the concept of nostalgia to rewrite collective memories instead of simply trying to evoke them.

Teamm Jordann – “Stadium” from Haunted Internet

A major parallel exists between the inspiration of hypnagogic pop and the current trend of online cyber-nostalgia.  There are countless Tumblrs, YouTube channels, and basically every Social Media platform that exists who utilize the culture and aesthetic of the early Internet to revise and construct new memories based on bits and pieces of actual culture.  Everything from dunp.fm, Internet Archaeology, to ScannerJammer and “The Second Internet”, and even the Tumblrs of Midwestern small town teens are taking an entire culture and reshaping it to fit into whatever mold they see fit.  When this starts happening on a universal level, and everyone is rewriting the history and aesthetic of popular culture at the same time, it starts to change not only our perception of the past but the actual past itself.  If your only exposure to early Internet culture was through the modern revisionist take on it, your vantage point would be worlds apart from someone who experienced it as it was actually happening.

via Vela Phelan & Temple of Messages

One aspect of hypnagogic pop and especially James Ferraro’s aesthetic is his constant use of low culture and pop culture totems, which are very often one in the same.  Ever since Warhol started transposing soup cans from the supermarket to the gallery and Lichtenstein was taking single comic books panels and creating wall sized monuments from them, pop culture and high art have become amorous bedfellows.  Since then the concept has only expanded and grown larger and younger generations would never even think to question the idea of marrying low culture into a high culture venue.  Even Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp essay from 1964 (which is also referenced in the Keenan article) established an air of credibility for the inclusion of the kitsch aesthetic and camp culture within the confines of galleries and museums.  In an interview with Dummy magazine Ferarro even referred to his music as “pop in a pop art kind of way” which perfectly encapsulates the overall aesthetic and mentality behind the hypnagogic perception of culture.

Class of Nukem High Movie Poster

A great way of describing his music and a good amount of music within the genre is that it refers to everything in a broad sense while not referring to anything specifically.  A track like Ferraro’s “Leather High School” sounds like the soundtrack to every Class of Nukem High sequel that never existed.  It really puts Keenan’s description of “pop music refracted through the memory of a memory” into action.  It leaves you with a veneer of nostalgia through trash culture, B-movies, cyberpunk mythology, and dada mash-up street fashion that’s so familiar you could swear that you can pinpoint the exact of origin of each facet, but in reality it’s an entirely purposefully constructed new entity.

via Fruits Magazine

Hypnagogic pop is definitely an aural parallel to the current crop of new web culture and perfectly bastardized online aesthetics.  The sometimes haughty DJ / producer Diplo made a comment in an interview that teens growing up now don’t necessarily care or aren’t interested that 20 genres had to happen for the song their listening to come into existence.  They’re merely enjoying the modern equivalent of hyper-hybridization and the nonstop influx of cultural Frankenstein monsters.  Hypnagogic pop acts as the perfect vehicle for the current crop of musicians to absolutely Cuisinart everything in existence that came before them.  It doesn’t matter if its reality shows, action movies (one of Ferraro’s cultural obsessions), or some high end LED embossed Japanese fashion label, it’s all completely sample worthy and ready to be transformed into anything and everything.  These new Tumblrs and musicians and digital artists are the farm to table purveyors of the new cultural underground; they’re involved on a micro level with absolutely every minute detail as they prepare new sustenance from the ingredients of the past.

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