Games

Transformation and 'Papo & Yo'

The blunt nature of Papo & Yo's central metaphor serves its purpose by spotlighting the more detailed and personal moments Vander Caballero and his players bring to the experience.

Creators always put themselves into their games in some shape or form -- they cannot help it. We naturally infuse the things that we create with all the experiences, cultures, values, and ideologies that we call our own, even if we do not recognize them consciously. While these outside influences vary dramatically in size and function, they are ever present in the games we make. None of this is more true than in Papo & Yo, one of the few truly autobiographical games. The first game from the new Minority Studio undoubtedly sprang from the childhood of its lead designer Vander Caballero.

Papo & Yo wears its themes on its sleeves. Even without knowing the story ahead of time, it is hard to miss the game's blatant metaphors. Quico, the game’s protagonist, begins his journey wanting to save the big pink rhino-like monster that is obviously a metaphorical stand-in for his father. The coconuts that make him fall asleep and the green frogs that turn him into a fiery vessel of anger clearly represent alcohol. I have serious doubts any player missed this, even before the game literally turns bottles of liquor into frogs before your very eyes. This is a very personal story about Caballero’s confrontation with his history of abuse.

Considering the autobiographical nature of Papo & Yo, Caballero’s take on the game is an interesting one: “It’s not about me, it’s about giving the space for everyone to bring their own vision of their childhood and put it in the game.” For those who grew up in abusive homes, the game may resonate deeper than most. Colette Benett, in an excellent article for Joystiq, describes her own reactions to the game, finding a personal meaning in the story of another. “Papo & Yo is about a different type of alcoholic relationship than the one I had growing up, but all the same, I recognized my ten year old self in it.” ("Comforts of Violence in Papo & Yo", Joystiq, 21 August 2012).

The blunt nature of the game’s central metaphor serves its purpose by spotlighting the more detailed and personal moments that Caballero and his players bring to the experience. Caballero defends the metaphor himself in a Giant Bomb interview stating, “the only way to fight alcoholism and abuse is to scream your lungs out, ‘My father is an alcoholic’” (Alex Navarro, "Q&A: Papo & Yo Creator Vander Caballero On How His Troubled Past Inspired His Newest Project”, Giant Bomb, 16 June 2011). While screaming is generally not my style, I should say here that I too am familiar with abusive relationships. I grew up in a household plagued by alcoholism, mental illness, and violence. My appreciation for Papo & Yo stems from the design of transformative moments, not just from shared experiences.

Moments of lucidity and even joy are not uncommon in abusive relationships. While Papo & Yo conveys a sense of protection towards the monster by requiring his presence in various puzzles, the most tragic moment of tenderness comes midway through the game. In a pit below the ground, if players fail at a simple ball and shell game, walls threaten to crush Quico. If this occurs, the Monster will reach down and pluck Quico from danger. Lifting him with a single hand and setting him down gently, the monster shakes his head in a sign of parental concern and disapproval. One of the hardest things about growing up in an abusive relationship is the deep desire to salvage the ideal parent within the abusive one. For much of the game, Quico is both a victim and a guardian without realizing the connection between the two.

In another scene, Quico must create a bridge of buildings towards an exit, but each time he moves a platform into place, a frog escapes and threatens to drive his father into a rampage. While yes, the frogs are cute, in this moment they become the embodiment of fear and the potential for danger. They become symbols of violence, triggers for the emotions that are sure to follow. In my own experience, bottles of alcohol are just as easily transformed into representatives of abuse.

A twenty-four pack of beer sitting on a kitchen table, from a child’s perspective, can be a warning sign for what’s to come. It can encapsulate the abusive relationship in blinding moment of panic and prescience. As players frantically catch the escaping frogs and smash them against the wall, they recreate through play the way a scared and angry child might shatter bottles of liquor in a futile and courageous form of resistance.

For those that confront in some way their own history of abuse, the experience is both a momentous event and a process. Quico’s journey in Papo & Yo mirrors this change. As the story progresses, Quico’s appearance changes. He loses his regular clothes and eventually dons body paint, an act of visual transformation to accompany his psychological one. The world itself shifts as Quico nears the moment of revelation and decision. By the time he makes the call to give up on a relationship with his father, the fantastical realm of his imagination is in tatters, floating above an abyss. Even Lula, a toy robot he fashioned into a companion is left behind. The changing play experience comes to represent a profound moment as Quico begins to free himself from a tragically abusive relationship.

Papo & Yo ends shortly after Quico makes the decision to abandon his father. The imagined world is set aside, and he confronts the reality of his situation. It is fitting, then, that Caballero tells his story in the realm of fantasy. Like Caballero, when I grew up, video games were a form of escapism. Now, through play, participants can partake in a personal and universally shared story of liberation. As Caballero states, “what is more important as a human is that you are able to tell your story, no matter how painful it is, because by telling it, you actually free yourself.”

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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