The virtual simulation world Second Life offers a perfect glimpse into 18+’s aesthetic, mostly because it features as a regular component within the L.A. duo’s many music videos. In their video for “Drawl,” a dancing, bikini-clad CGI model gyrates while a bass-heavy number is smeared over a homemade YouTube clip. The dancer submerges herself in water and breaks behind virtual sunbeams, a flurry of love hearts bound about her torso. The mood is dictated by singular vocals that skew the track’s texture, playing as an eerie soundtrack to an idealistic, picturesque setting that’s also desolate and lonely. The scene’s peculiarity is amplified by a couple of things: not only are both members of 18+ absent (the anonymous “Boy” and “Sis” are as of yet to appear identifiably in any of their videos), but their work alludes to an exploration of the human form and its role within digital communication. The “Drawl” dancer is a human personification that’s simulated by a player or programmer behaving in a way that’s subjectively detached from their physical reality, or “offline surroundings.” 18+ use their music in a similar vein, and on MIXTAP3, it’s brought to the fore through some of their most imaginative and compelling material to date.
Anonymity for 18+ is more than a mere gimmick or secret that adds a superficial layer to the music. Instead, it provides a back story for content, permitting 18+ to operate in a similar way to Second Life players — not to mention an impossible number of public social media participants — who are unknowingly responsible for spurring their material. 18+ sidestep any possibility that lyrical matter, copyright infringement, or web content could be attributed to their offline disposition, which is interesting because it means that, for them, there exists a clear division between what they do on the web and what they do elsewhere. But while Boy and Sis appear in person at live performances (which are also posted on their YouTube channel), nobody has put names to the faces at this stage. They don’t object to presenting themselves physically, and yet they value their identities more than the emotional desires and stylistic preferences exposed in their art.
In her Art Papers essay “18+; Whatever Bodies, Races and Things,” Em Rooney discusses the importance of bodily histories and the unscathed factor (physical and sentimental) within online representation. She says that controversial repercussions of anonymity, such as the violation of taboos, are to be expected, because the impulses and results that stem from it are ultimately bound up in human nature: “[the] posthuman cannot really be understood without understanding humanism in turn, or at least understanding the interrelation between posthumanism and humanism.” On MIXTAP3, this is explored musically using elongated bass tones (borrowed and composed), fractured percussion, and mild waves of distortion, which act as a platform for the organic ingredient, the human voice, in all of its processed forms. This combination sounds rich and focused as a depiction of contemporary, studio-driven electronic music, while conversely uncovering a lo-fi, homemade aesthetic. 18+ take control of the tools that are integral to their foray with the anonymous. They play them out as both users and operators, while their lyric sheet grants Rooney the justification for using 18+ songs to explore such themes in a wider setting.
On MIXTAP3, the separation is easy to decipher between anonymous portrayal via online channels and a life offline. 18+ employ tactics here that reveal the noticeably anthropomorphic building blocks of their art, not only in off-the-cuff lyrics, but also in recordings of the audience — we listen to a lady explain that she needed to find a space to dance at the back of the venue; we hear whistling and applause at the opening of a show in Vilnius. Such moments complement the duo’s presentation at performances; they are approachable people who aren’t afraid to project themselves in a live setting. They bring about this juxtaposition better than any other unidentified outfit might care to, exposing the functionality of their music and the techniques employed to make it sound so fresh: the technology used to assemble it is often freely available, and the videos are pilfered using a simple search function. But the internet is part of a daily routine for 18+ listeners, and so it’s intriguing that when their approach to digital found sound combines with elements of composition using Logic or Audacity, it still has the potential to impress. That everyday component is crucial to these tunes — it depicts a generation of users finding their feet in online social circles. But it doesn’t matter what your Klout score is (yet), or how many followers you have on Twitter; for 18+, you still need to feel quantifiable pain and elation through physical contact.
As with their previous recordings, sex and vice play a large role in the lyrics on MIXTAP3. Whether sexual language is being used as a metaphor — “I’ve got a lot on my pussy/ But I like you/ I like you a lot” — or recalling physical contact — “All around then you fuck me dry/ Then you fuck me dry/ Then you fuck me…,” it’s not only about projecting a carnal proclivity and then detaching such action from personal experience, but also about the act as a bodily phenomenon that contrasts the CGI animations and online persona. These remarks come from the people behind the mask, shielded by anonymity; “since it’s anonymous we can operate in a bunch of different modes that don’t have to necessarily relate to who we are in our daily lives, we can address a lot of different subject matters. Then we can also take our real lives, like real relationships and not have it be weird for other people that are involved maybe.” That “maybe” could explain the tendency Boy and Sis have to sound so deadpan in the throes of the beats that propel their lyrics; they are still a little uncertain themselves, and yet the music remains incredibly moving, even with such impassive tones.
The lyrics are projected within a beat selection that’s reliant on echoic drones and cagey effects. The distinction between original material and found sound is tricky to make out, but that doesn’t impinge on appreciation. Even though the album is divided into separate titles, as opposed to the 55-minute slab of unbroken plasmacore that was MIXTA2E, it’s interesting that the most standout tracks come in pairs. Take “Horn,” with its scattered jibe all intertwined with nervousness, seductive laughter, sexual lyrics, and drug references — in this case, the impact of the duet hinges on Boy’s downcast and spun-out verse, “Graceless and faceless, classless and free,” while Sis offers a staggered chorus amidst her splintered chuckle. They both appear completely blazed and despondent, but their neglect sits faultlessly with the tangled howl they are rapping over, like some apparition whirlpool that’s impossible to discern. It’s followed by “Crow,” a bass-heavy, finger-click-laden banger that uses a crow squawk for a metronome and a graceful synth patch that sends the album down a different back alley where the duo sounds most absorbed. I imagine it sounding heavy in a club, on a dancefloor writhing with bodies, a stark depiction of the physical scenarios that are so important here.
The second couplet of choice comes on the album’s more intricately composed latter half, where “Almostleaving” burns through the tracklist as a slow-moving love letter to an unknown. Wind instrument samples complement a melody that makes for a depiction of sadness or remorse — so far removed are the artists from their personal histories that it’s difficult to tell: “How about a little bit of me in your taste?” Sis asks on the most downtempo and forlorn number. It’s a reminder of Rooney’s emphasis on the purity of the posthuman and how emotive responses such as this are only considered historically visible as offline events, but here, 18+ seem to be questioning that. “Dry” then arrives soldered onto the closing notes of the preceding song, but it plays out as a counterpoint piece: a trap homage dripping with innuendo and coded lyrics to a backdrop of gun cocks and pitch-shifted chants. It’s an outstanding contrast in styles that emphasizes the versatility of the instrumentation and its role in shouldering any improvised rap.
The strength of these beats are what make a track such as “OIXU” easier to swallow. That’s not to say that the improvised quality of its lyrical content falls entirely flat, but this particular piece provides the best example of how that flow might appear appalling out of context, and yet, 18+ maintain their urgency through binding it in the sound world they have already conjured. The lyrics read like a backdated record of drunken, late-night Skype chat — the words fall out in a bemused vacancy, a lucid blurt that emphasizes the space between the vocalist and whatever LCD screen they are reading from. But again, it pulls on the relationship the user has with their equipment and the identities that they possess both on- and offline: social gaffes are a part of everyday interaction, but they’re harder (or impossible) to erase when they occur on the internet. This is often overlooked in digital art due to the nature of its low-brow and often tactless form, but 18+ take it on and present it in a way that’s both bold and alive.
It’s curious, then, that despite the duo’s ability to reflect upon aspects of daily digital life, they wound up working with Prada — a luxury clothing line pitched at the elite. It’s fantastic that an underground act should land such a deal, but it creates another dimension to their work that’s a little trickier to fathom. The piece that Prada used was of course “Drawl,” and whereas on the original version, the CGI character represents online personification, in the advert, Sis’ vocals have been replaced by a vacant whisper (there is a huge difference in this case between vacancy and despondency); it’s void of emotion and could just as easily be flogging Ferrero Rocher, emphasizing the impact of the initial vocal track and how engaging 18+ can sound, even at their most despondent. MIXTAP3, however, picks up on that distinction, and though it might be better suited to their new-found taste for touring than their previous work, the results are terrific — a defining statement that appeals to human sensations in a virtual landscape.