How many pixie sticks can you eat before you puke? How amped can you get before you’re just depleted? Is hi-end the new bass? How does it feel to live inside a Lisa Frank coloring book?
Around 2007 or 2008, the “purple” sound exploded music. Dubstep was long covered in a veneer of smoggy metallic/industrial coating and unmelodic wobbles, but its expansion into “purple” made it more liquid and brightly hued. UK Grime had preceded it with angular LFO filched from 8 bit modules, but remained a largely parochial and insular affair, though it would eventually have a huge effect on trailblazing American MCs like Danny Brown and Le1f as well as the greater dance music scene. Also lingering as a mainly lo-fi, low-visibility affair on the sidelines of American hip-hop was trap music, its one superstar T.I. failing to produce much lasting impact on the mainstream.
As dubstep started to become a household name, few of the major Purple names rode the genre out into its above-ground stadium seating. Instead, Joker, whose “Purple City” single and “Purple Wow Sound” mixtape gave the sound its name, flattened and broadened his signature sound, a move that did not go over particularly well with electronic music critics at the time but laid some groundwork for the hypermodernization of trap music. Hudson Mohawke took it even further and soon found himself cavorting with rock royalty, dropping productions for Kanye, Drake, Lil Wayne, Pusha T of Clipse and others. Peripheral purple figure Flying Lotus kept it weird and through his Brainfeeder imprint and his curation of the Adult Swim bumps became something of a brand in and of himself, dropping one of 2010’s most acclaimed albums in Cosmogramma and five years later contributing to what may be this year’s most lauded LP, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
And then there’s Rustie. After growing a sizable fanbase off the back of his wonky slightly manic Dilla-on-chiptune flavored mescaline EP Bad Science and a massive remix of Zomby’s “Spliff Dub”, Rustie seemed poised to become an artist to watch, one keenly aware of what made audiences twitch and shake. He was not one who’d smooth his edges to make a more radio friendly sound like Joker but also not one to meander off into noodly postmodern asides to amp his artier ambitions like FlyLo. Still, it’s hard to imagine that anyone saw the deeply influential and now-totemic Glass Swords coming.
It’s tempting to say that Glass Swords cast a long shadow, but the music contained within its sleeves was so luminous in its neon glow that its shimmer nearly masked all evidence of shadows and darkness. Rather than being defined by a single pantone, this was rainbow-wave, running so hard on synthetics that it’s practically phosphorescent, or “neon” as music critic Adam Harper has put it. The array of sounds in 2015 seemingly imprinted down to their core by Glass Swords’s feat of unprejudicially upbeat assault is vast and it’s easy to see why. As Simon Reynolds stated back in 2011: “This music has no interest in "atmosphere"-- it's about dazzle so fierce it chases away all the shadows. And rather than aiming for a hypnotic trance induced by subtly inflected monotony, tunes like "Globes" and "Cry Flames" are eye-poppingly awake. The mood is up!, preposterously euphoric but genuinely awesome: not so much striking a balance between sublime and ridiculous as merging them until they're indistinguishable.”
That article lumped Rustie into a wave of what Reynolds called “Digital Maximalism”, a loose term that encompasses the embedding and compressing of input and output- both music’s signifiers and its intended affect-and then adjusting them to peak intensity as if to overwhelm the listener with its own self-contained multitudes. What distinguished Rustie’s maximalism from the rowdiness of a Skrillex set or M83’s amped-to-11-plus ultimate feels fest was that it didn’t demand devotion or participation, but inspired it nevertheless. Rustie seemed content in anonymity, too hyped on sound to worry about being a brand. The tunes were both perfectly attuned to the triggers of certain club drugs and wise enough to know that the pills alone aren’t enough to shut off the bad news barking outside the doorstep. Cranking the delirium of joy up past its logical breaking point might just suffice though.
When Rustie returned with Green Language last year after three years of relative silence, it was more the album that you expected than the one you’d want. A host of mid-tempo numbers interspersed between the bangerz as well as some more traditional vocals/celebrity guest spots defined the mix, a foray into maturity from someone who had once bashed delight so fervently into enthusiasm that it was impossible to determine whether it was puerility, artistry, or transcendence.
For many, the ability to distinguish the line between those three will be key to their enjoyment of EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE. We are back in Glass Swords territory here, but the overall mix feels less calculated and more impulsive, the surprise release of the album a hint at the more simplified and raw strain of the Glass Swords pleasure principle on display here. After a lingering three minutes of glossy synths and cheeseball guitars on opener “Coral Elixrr” (exactly the mood-setting “atmosphere” Reynolds was insisting did not exist on his debut full length), there’s the explicit whinnying of dolphins to kick of “First Mythz”, a prop SFX that signals the ride the listener is in for. Why dolphins? Because EVENIFUDONTTHINKSO, dolphinz R AWESOME!!!! And that’s really the album’s agenda; being awesome, whether through glistening arpeggio riffs, outlandish electric guitar solos, or bombastic sonic booms of ecstatic sound.
“First Mythz” is also the kind of up-and-down ravey rollercoaster one could set their watch to. Rustie attempts to make resistance a difficult course and surrender the only option, but even if one does submit to the album’s directional bliss-outs there’s always the moment after the record when one can review and declare that density does not equate with depth. Fun and games, sure, but falling short of the established purview of so-called “real” music.
True to its impulsive nature EVENIFUDONTBELIEVEME is a moment-based music, not a reflexive music. It’s not for nothing that the track titled “4Eva” is only two minutes long, a vocoder enunciation of its title looped through the entire duration. EVENIFUDONTBELIEVEME’s fullness, perhaps its most defining quality, doesn’t allow any existential dilemma to permeate in its midst, which may seem to headier types a tad anti-intellectual. Indeed, Rustie’s stadium ambitions ride parallax to a recent history ripe with douchery. As dubstep crossed over into the mainstream in the years following the purple sound, a wind-up menagerie of anonymous tinkerers have concocted tracks whose core audience has been a salivating series of alphas eternally “waiting for the drop”. When Rustie composes himself in this manner, as he does on in the accelerated drum roll crescendos of nearly every track of his latest, one can see him creating an altar of the self on the dancefloor, arms raised in faux messiah pose like Tiesto, Deadmau5, or Zach Effron in that ill-fated EDM movie.
As the skittering drums tense up on intro to “Big Catzz”, one could even be forgiven for thinking that the album was being interrupted by a YouTube trailer for the next Michael Bay thriller. It’s only when the alien phasing on those sinewaves bursts in that you realize this is not the spectacle society itself, but its substitute, something that takes the exhilaration those dizzying edits are supposed to reproduce and actually attempts to introduce it. It’s less prescriptive medicine and more like getting high, less mandatory fun than elective recreation.
Part of what distinguishes rave music from indie is the difference between community music and personal music, which has long been what much of the indie community resents about dance music, the way it broadly reconciles for an audience rather than dismisses its larger audience in favor of individuation. In the culture wars, it’s clear the latter has won, with multiple platforms bragging about how personalized their selections are, perfect for tuning out the environment in earbud isolation. Rustie, for better or worse, screams out how rad it is from every orifice and begs the whole club to synch to this perpetuity in unison.
This is no doubt extreme music, no less so than Merzbow or Napalm Death, but just facing in the direction of euphoria. Rustie’s recent admission that he falls asleep to happy hardcore music seems to confirm this. So, the question is how many pixie sticks can you eat before you puke? How amped can you get before you’re just depleted? Is hi-end the new bass? How does it feel to live inside a Lisa Frank coloring book?
I tend to fall hard for music which discovers our collective sonic limits and decides to jut past them anyway. There’s few tracks on EVENIFUDONTBELIEVEMEthat when played in isolation wouldn’t threaten to rip your innards out and make funfetti out of them. Even when Rustie hypes down a notch to make the menu screen for Even Radder Racer on “New Realm”, convert the Weather Report into the warm-up act for Interstella 5555’s Crescendolls on “Emerald Tabletz”, or vibes out more “atmosphere” in the psychedelic secular hymnal of “Open Heartzz”, he’s pushing hard to make sure those serotonin levels are pumped to maximum utility, even if this results in “Death Bliss” as one of the tracks has it.
Dubstep went huge and then went home, trap music is the default of hip-hop and the namesake of the summer’s biggest hit, and there’s remnants of “wot do u call it” everything which defaults to the moniker of Grime. Rustie remains in a league of his own though. Even in a year that has seen an awakened hoard of rapturous maximalists (813, Wave Racer, Maxo, Pusher, Nice Feelings) explore spritely electronics with the same flair for density and mania that Glass Swords did, Rustie’s return outdoes them all.