Games

Postcards from 'Proteus'

Proteus shows that chasing a single definition of "video game" distracts us from more important things.

I suppose this post has spoilers for Proteus. It's hard to know, as it's not a traditional game when it comes to its story or systems. In fact, popular opinion is split on whether this Proteus is a game at all. If something has no clear faiure or win states and no in-game actions besides simple locomotion, is it a game?

The question has re-spawned a labyrinthian debate around the nature of medium: the philosophies, semantics, and hurt feelings are quite hard to untangle. Because of this, I admire Matthew Burns's Alexandrian response: the idea of video games as a unified medium has become intractable. In his words, trying to reconcile experimental design with the mainstream publishing scene is akin to "a faculty member from Juilliard express[ing] a desire for 'a dialogue' with Sid Vicious about chord progressions. It's not that these two don't see eye to eye on matters of music theory ... it's that the punks have arrived on the scene with such a completely different set of values that they might as well be from different planets" ("Our Immiscible Future", Magical Wasteland, 27 April 2013) It's sad that we cannot return to "the prelapsarian niceness of thinking that everyone should hang out with everyone else ... but there is an element to defining the self that is made out of forsaking something else." Things change, but that's okay.

However, just because games like Proteus and Halo are, at best, distant cousins doesn't mean we need to abandon the idea of engaging with them with the same rigor. Proteus isn't the same kind of challenge as a traditional reflex-based game, but getting something out of it requires effort. I've seen more than one account of players who wandered around Proteus's spring season for a while and then wrote it off as little more than an interactive screensaver. There may not be any jumping or shooting, but there are plenty of mysterious secrets to uncover and a running theme of growth, death, and rebirth that requires critical analysis.

Proteus could just be an interactive screensaver in the same way that the Mona Lisa could just be a painting or the Grand Canyon is just a big hole. The key to making such things meaningful is to give them more than a passing glance. Finding hidden intricacies takes different skills than dodging bullets, but having the skill to employ patience, curiosity, and the willingness to evaluate games in a broader cultural and artistic context are required to really get anything from Proteus. I learned this first hand, as I rushed through my first year without doing much exploration. It was only during my second play through that I began to slow down and meet the world's various hidden deities along with beginning to understand their ties to other human myths about nature.

I'll end with what I feel is the traditional way of describing Proteus: a travel narrative. It's as if the game is virtual vacation. You go to a place, experience new things in a unique environment, and try to document the experience since you can't take it with you when you leave. Usually this boils down to the virtual equivalent of vacation slides, which may in fact be as tedious as looking at people's real life vacation pictures. You're just a visitor, and Proteus's limited interactivity enforces this from a mechanical perspective. Without points, achievements, or the ability to permanently alter the game's world, all you have left are stories: the one that is hidden in the game and the one that you take with you when you're done. What's left other than to take a few snapshots and try to spread your story?

A massive tree I used as a landmark. By chance or by design, it seemed like a good base of operations. I'd return there many times.

Aside from the strange musical plants scattered around the landscape, the first living things I found was this gaggle of flightless birds. In the distance are humanoid statues, which had the effect of making the environment extremely mysterious. I started to expect to see someone else and on more than one occasion I wheeled around to see if someone was following me.

I don't know what it says about my psyche, but I immediately took these to be graves. The idea that a civilization had lived and died on the island fascinated me, and I began to seek out more clues to who these beings were.

A summer sunset on top of a mountain. Whether this was a marker, a grave, or simply a rock on which to project my beliefs is unclear.

I spent quite some time trying to find a way into this house but never made it in. Boarded up and abandoned, it seemed quite out of place compared to the rest of the open environment.

Fall came and my fascination with tombstones was replaced by a focus on verifiably dead things. Swarms of dragon flies littered the ground. The muted world took a toll on my mood, which I realized only after noticing that I had been taking far fewer pictures than in previous seasons.

Winter turned out to be even bleaker than fall. Between the cloud cover and the snow, navigation was quite difficult. Gradually, I began to notice that I seemed to be floating. Either I had gained super powers or it was time to join the dragonflies.

I made my way back to my home base, but by this time, I had risen above it. The only thing left to do was take in the sight of the aurora and wait for the end and the subsequent beginning.

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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