A conversation with seapunks | Bleader

Friday, January 13, 2012

A conversation with seapunks

Posted By on 01.13.12 at 02:54 PM

Zombelle and Ultrademon
  • Zombelle and Ultrademon
As befits a phenomenon with Twitter and Tumblr woven so deeply into its DNA, seapunk has provoked a decent amount of online chatter since my article on the Internet-buzzy microgenre came out yesterday. My editors are always thrilled when we publish something that draws extra traffic, of course, but SEO baiting was far from my primary inspiration in pursuing the story. I find the sort of spontaneous community building that seapunk embodies not only fascinating but also genuinely inspiring. (It's like seeing Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone come to life, except without a bunch of tedious, quasi-intellectual Burning Man stereotypes involved.) I also have a predisposition toward ravey shit and I'm a professional Internet junkie, so there's that too.

Over the course of working on this story I hung out with Albert "Ultrademon/Fire for Effect" Redwine and Shan "Zombelle" Beaste both online and off, including dancing at a seapunk party at Berlin and exchanging a lot of Twitter DMs and @'s. I also interviewed them over a meal at the Chicago Diner. The transcript is after the jump.

You guys were both in LA before you came here?

Albert Redwine: Like five months, I think. A vacation. We're on vacation.

Shan Beaste: I was living in LA for a really long time, and then I moved back to Kansas, and I was there recording, and then I went on tour, and then I came back. I moved to Kansas City, and then we moved to LA, and now we're in Chicago, and that's, like . . . it's crazy.

What brought you guys to Chicago?

AR: Friends of ours live here. For me it's because my friend Johnny Love, who performs under Deathface, lives here. We wanted to throw parties together. And I don't know, I don't really like LA, it's spread out and it's kind of gray. Like everything ends really early. People are kind of weenies.

SB: Yeah. They're weenies.

AR: People are like, harder here, but they're not too much, like New York. It's like they still are midwestern and kind of nice at the same time.

SB: Molly and Claire told us that we could live with them if we came out here, so that gave us more incentive just to come out and do it, and then find our own place. So we're doing that. So we have the real-world, the virtual real-world thing happening. We wake up and we tweet at each other. It's pretty cool. It's like, "Good morning! We just made coffee."

So tell me about where the whole seapunk thing came from.

AR: Originally the term came from a friend of ours on Twitter. Well, a friend of ours IRL too, but on Twitter he hashtagged "seapunk" because he had this dream about, like, a leather punk jacket that had barnacles on it. It kind of evolved from there, but all of us were really attached to this, like, digital kind of paradise ocean-themed kind of aesthetic, and we're making music and art based off of it. Seapunk just was a name and way to unify everybody. It just kind of took off from there over the summer. I made a secret group online and then started the label in the fall. Just kind of went off from there, I guess. She dubbed her albums the first seapunk albums, too.

Yeah, from what I can tell, it's not so much a description of the music as much as it is the general aesthetic around it, but if you could, you know, sort of tell me, for someone who wasn't familiar with Seapunk, what is that aesthetic like? What does it consist of, and why are these the things that you guys are working with?

SB: It depends on where you're at, honestly. It depends on if you're URL or if you're IRL. Because your mentality based off of that answer alone will determine whether or not you're gonna be able to understand it. It's like, a lot of kids on Tumblr and making tropical and seapunk art, they're dubbing it seapunk, and that's like a whole thing of artists and music based off there. And then you have the Twitter community of people who have a whole other definition for it, and are hashtagging it left and right on there, and then you have Facebook, and now there's like multiple Facebook groups, and people have their own other definition. But I think for us and the people that we work with it's based off of more like a feeling, and an idea of. . . . Albert said something really good once about just like the yacht thing, and partying in like a paradise kind of atmosphere.

AR: I had a dream last spring about this yacht where it would be just me and all my friends traveling around the world performing. In a way seapunk is kind of just that idea, like a platform for a group of people to express themselves. I mean as far as the music set and things, it's different to different people. Like there's people coming out of like the witch-house scene that define it a lot differently than people from more in my camp, like rave or UK funky or bass music or trap house, all that shit.

Well, it seems that one of the things that differentiates it—because I can see how the witch-house thing sort of segued into seapunk—seapunk is like a way more aggressively positive . . .

SB: It's PLUR. It's definitely PLUR. You can look around and see your shitty surroundings and the dirty streets and the assholes that are all over the place, or you can like create your own paradise and you can live in that mentality, and I think that that is a really good core idea of what it's about. 'Cause you can look at the words and you can be like, "That doesn't make sense, that's ridiculous," or you can have an understanding of the feeling that goes along with it and it kind of meshes a little differently there.

There's a lot of references to PLUR-type stuff, and not to read too deeply into it, but there's sort of like a utopian thing that a lot of 90s rave shit had. That seems like you guys are sort of picking up on that. Like the whole idea of just putting some friends on a yacht and touring the world, you know?

SB: Sounds fun, right?

Yeah.

SB: I mean everyone's super jaded. The witch-house scene, not to talk about that too much, it's a bunch of jaded people who are like, let's be dark, everything sucks. Ultimately, especially for me, recording Tropicult and going into 2012, like everyone putting so much pressure on that—anything can happen and the prophets can say what they want, but I didn't feel like it was the ending to anything, I felt like it was a beginning. And definitely like their universal consciousness has to shift to be more positive in order for that to happen, so like I wanted everybody to just kind of focus on . . .

AR: Isn't that what 2012 is all about anyway? Consciousness.

SB: Shifting.

AR: Growing.

It seems like the whole seapunk thing and what you guys are doing personally is really heavily tied into the Internet and social networking, Twitter and Tumblr especially. How important are things like Twitter and Tumblr on your overall aesthetic and the way that you guys work? You guys have integrated that type of thing into your lifestyle in a very significant way.

AR: Absolutely. If those things weren't there we'd just be doing it on Internet forums like it was 2005 or some shit, but it makes it a lot easier. It makes it that I can tweet right now about this interview if I want or whatever.

SB: I'd probably still be in my bedroom like crying into a microphone and playing tracks for my friends who are like, "Yo that's really cool."

SB: I think something about it that's really important is that seapunk also has, like, the cyberpunk thing happening. All the different forums that everybody's using and just the movement into a more, like, cyber age where people are actually able to integrate their entire life into the Internet and live on their computers. These things wouldn't be happening without that, so it's partly like a paradise cyber movement, I guess.

So it's only been in the last few weeks that I've even noticed a lot of real activity online about seapunk that's filtered into where I hang out on the Internet. It seems like a lot of people are skeptical of the whole movement because it's such an online thing. Like something that's coming out of Tumblr and Twitter instead of like a rock scene, or an actual physical community.

AR: Well, I mean, we do live shows, I do live events, and that's what sets us apart from a lot of the people that are claiming it or want to be involved. I produce live records that are physical copies that you can buy. There's a real thing out there. It's not just totally digital. I dunno.

SB: Yeah, but we also do a lot more on the Internet. I understand people are afraid of, like, "Oh, it's another microgenre," you know what I mean? Like someone on Twitter was like, "Something something seapunk, the microgenre." 'Cause it's not a musical genre, and I think that's why people are confused and they're hesitant, 'cause they think it's just like another thing popping up, but it's not. It's something that's been there for a long time and it just has a name. Also we do live online events. We have DJs come in and play in live digital chat rooms. We get people to come in and just hang out. Like today is actually Cyber Monday, and we have to go back and DJ when we get back home.

What's Cyber Monday?

SB: Cyber Monday is something that started with me and my friend on Twitter. He goes under the name Shock Diamond. His name's James. He lives in New York. And in our weird circle of Internet friends, we all somehow know each other in real life in some weird way.

AR: I went to industrial parties with him when I was in New York playing with Ssion last spring.

SB: And he just hit me up, and he was like, "Let's just play anime! Nothing but anime!" and I was like, "Cool. Let's have DJs." So he'll play anime on the video screen, and we'll have DJs come in and DJ either over the video or after, and so many people will sit in this room and hang out and it's weird but it’s cool.

People who kind of consider themselves tastemakers seem to really value this idea of "authenticity"—you know, that kids on the Internet making animated GIFs are sort of the opposite of that. It seems like you guys are really embracing this kind of like, I wouldn't say transient, but this very temporary thing where if you follow people who are really active on Tumblr it's like any post of theirs is going by in a matter of seconds if you don't catch it at the right time. But it seems like you guys are embracing that and doing something interesting with it.

SB: Yeah. I want people to be more creative. There's a lot that can be done. We have so many advancements at our fingertips, there's no reason why people should be staying so locked into like a certain way of doing things. There's no reason why a group of kids who make really sick music at home can't create something awesome and take over it. There's no reason for that, so it's pretty cool. I like it.

So what's your ultimate goal? Do you guys want to instigate a youth movement? Do you want seapunk to go mainstream? What would you like to see?

SB: Lady Gaga is already trying to take my style.

AR: Yeah.

SB: That bitch is all up in my coochie all the time. It's like I dye my hair blue, she dyes her hair blue. She cut her hair the same as mine at one point. Everybody was like, "Oh, hell no!" And she like dressed like a mermaid, she was like wearing all this tropical-print stuff. She's got people out there who are like, taking notes. It's kind of fucked up.

Does she have people getting on Tumblr and finding . . .

SB: Absolutely. Like 100 percent positive on that.

AR: I think companies do that. I mean I know record labels do it. There's some trend company that was like, right after we started putting seapunk out there, made a seapunk package and were selling it at a conference to companies. They're totally trying to rip us off and everything.

SB: Which is hard because, like, if you don't have the money to buy that kind of coverage, then you're just kids making music and art and whatever. But that's what's so special today, where we are—we can still make really authentic shit and it can blow up and be really good, and those people can't keep up with it, because everything moves so much faster now. It's constant content all the time.

AR: Yeah, the lines between the mainstream and the underground have kind of blurred in this country because of the Internet. So using it to our advantage is, like, I don't know, the only thing we can do.

Yeah, the constant-content thing is something that strikes me about . . . you know, if you're sort of coming up now, the way that content creation on the Internet works, and things like Tumblr where you're expected to kind of keep up a fairly constant stream of new content, it sort of pushes people to work harder and be more creative. It seems like younger artists are coming up with the idea of having to produce content all the time, and I think that's a really important thing, because it makes you sharp, it makes you get good.

[Our waiter—coincidentally, Elia Einhorn from the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir—drops off a complimentary bottle of Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald porter.]

SB [pointing at the bottle's label.]: There's a ship on it? Cool. Go figure.

That's lakepunk.

SB: Lakepunk.

Lakepunk would be like the grimmer seapunk.

SB: Parties at the lake listening to metal music.

AR: Ice skating.

Wearing like dark blue and gray colors.

AR: The Loch Ness monster.

OK I'm going to start lakepunk now and that's going to be my thing.

SB: More power. There are people who are creating subgenres. I don't want to credit them by saying what they are, but it's like as soon as the hashtag #seapunk happened, everyone was like, "Uh, hashtag this."

Yeah it's pretty cool that you can just watch the idea evolving in real time.

AR: You can kind of churn it too, just like, retweet, retweet, retweet.

SB: Yeah. It's fun.

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