A multi-screen video advertising display loops colorful images of a pale-faced geisha pushing birth control pills gently between her lips. She smiles at the camera all satisfied, before a garish logo appears in Mandarin characters, presumably endorsing the pharmaceutical company responsible for the capsule that the young lady so contently consumes. A second female face appears, this time closer to the camera. She also places a pill into her mouth and smiles, unaffected by the rain as it falls softly across the shadowy metropolis in front of her. The scene is a perplexing one, despite its iconic status — not as a futuristic GlaxoSmithKline-fronted porno, but as a vociferous and trippy forecast from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, a film that encapsulates an ultramodern and bewildering landscape illuminated by repetitive digital advertising and flickering neon Kanji.
Scott’s depiction of a futuristic Los Angeles was brought to mind on more than one occasion while reading Adam Harper’s recent Dummy article on the ambiguous subject of “vaporwave,” an esoteric branch of sample-based electronic music produced by mostly anonymous artists remolding both flaccid commercial audio vapidity and hits and misses from pop music’s past and present. The glossy landscape of the so-called “Virtual Plaza” that Harper describes is a consumer-driven, pixelated realm, with pristine boutiques showcasing pop music and corporate-video soundtracks, looped, pitch-shifted, and tempo-manipulated to varying degrees of aggressiveness.
Despite the fact that Mediafired is established in the vaporwave discussion and that the first official video from this release features looped images of supermodels sipping seductively from Pepsi cans in a fashion not dissimilar from the birth control ad, The Pathway Through Whatever does not fit comfortably into the Virtual Plaza. Whereas vaporwave artists such as INTERNET CLUB, VΞRACOM, and LASERDISC VISIONS/NEW DREAMS LTD. toy with the music they borrow from with lurid irony, the Portuguese artist behind Mediafired displays a sweeping degree of passion and delight in the tracks that are sampled here, which makes for a positively belting listen.
Limited to 100 cassettes via Beer On The Rug and leftover stock from the Exo Tapes release, this remarkable collection blends generous helpings of 80s and 90s pop music with distorted loops and heavily treated samples à la Daniel Lopatin’s eccojams project. It embraces deflated parcels of middle-of-the-road, fragmented radio half-memories and breathes fresh life into them, allowing every tune to swell, collide, and twist majestically into the next, like a spellbinding audio ballet that leaves traces of each newly imagined piece with the listener long after the cassette spool has run out of tape. The extracts used here are delivered carefully out of their original contexts, but they appear expressively selected, consisting of remapped tracks by the bizarre likes of Kate Bush and Backstreet Boys, Queen and Inner Circle.
While the material selection is certainly interesting, it’s the treatments they undergo that make the album such a charming listen. From the four-second looping of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” that comprise the entirety of “Pixies” to the thundering drum ricochets and reverb-soaked vocals of Queen’s “Innuendo” on opening track “Innuintendo,” each song is re-imagined and re-explored from new and dramatic angles that balloon entirely out of proportion as often as it shrinks back into gentle rhythmic convulsions. The samples aren’t blended with “original” material; the samples themselves are the material, and they embody a more reflective and complete sound here than in their original incarnations.
Unlike the heady and meditative virtual spaces that labelmates Macintosh Plus and Midnight Television quite beautifully propound, Mediafired adopts a decidedly different approach that not only subverts the samples’ original contexts, but also redrafts each from scratch to create a shimmering can of ohrwürmer. Sure, The Pathway Through Whatever is being carried wholeheartedly by the gentle vaporwave, but it’s so aesthetically detached from it that it becomes an anomaly of the best kind.