The 80s Nostalgia Aesthetic Of Music's Hottest New Subgenre: Hypnagogic Pop
The experimental music label Olde English Spelling Bee is at the front-lines of what subterranean music blogs have too quickly dubbed “hypnagogic pop.” This subgenre of music was born of a strange union between various indie spheres, making awkward bedfellows out of experimental music enthusiasts and weird progressive pop theorists. It embodies an era—the end of a 21st century burdened with fear and woe, almost too tired to keep going—but takes that half-remembered nostalgia and feeds it through the grainy, crackled footage of a vintage YouTube video.
James Ferraro is often cited as the most recent and most successful adopter of this trend, and it’s hard to compete with the guy’s twelve different aliases and four or five side projects he’s currently recording at the same time. He, and many other proponents of this “sub-genre” are attempting to re-interpret American pop of the early 1980s, mixing it in chaotic yet structured layers interspersed with drone and high-pitched slowed-down fuzzy guitars. The result often sounds like a deconstructed pop anthem one might hear from the inside of the bathysphere deep in the Atlantic Ocean. These musicians frequently re-use the same patterns: taking a basic beat pop sound that is applied to various treatments. The result is often a lo-fi, nine-minute long track saturated with echo, delay, smothered guitars and amputated synths that makes you feel both heavily relaxed and somehow stressed beyond reason.
Beyond this musical manifesto that OESB and the bands on their roster have hacked together, the label is also putting a lot of effort into elaborating a unique visual style and aesthetic identity propagated through the artists’ music videos. And the man behind most of them is Zahid Jiwa.
This visual artist seems to have come from outer space. Just like James Ferraro, he uses many different pseudonyms and it’s hard to build an accurate portfolio of his work. Jiwa has a made a bunch of videos for underground yet already highly revered artists such as Julian Lynch, the aforementioned James Ferraro, and Rangers, as well as more emerging ones like C V L T S. His work bears many characteristics of this particular artistic scene: the typical gross 1980’s visual lexicon, saturated with colors and cheap editing tricks, and recurring themes such as adolescence, solitude and boredom in suburbia.
Ziwa is a pioneer of the current “VHS” trend in video art. His clips are built with mute samples picked up here and there, in garage sales and on YouTube. All these enter the Final Cut machine and are strung together with a very loose narrative. Beyond the film grain and the lo-fi visual aspect, the extensive use of tape showcases a form of melancholy, a nostalgic reflection on a mythologized past.
The distinctive appearance his work assumes is quite representative of the label’s musical and visual indentity. Jiwa is also at work on personal projects, available on his Vimeo page—an extension of his past collaborations with OESB.
Below is a selection of some of his music video projects:
Julian Lynch ; Ground
Rangers ; Out past curfew
C V L T S ; Angel Chromosome
██▓▓▓▓▒▒▒▒░░░░ (Personal project)
Ducktails ; Deck observatory
James Ferraro ; Part one