Throwing Shade House of Silk EP

[Ninja Tune; 2016]

Styles: dub, Theory of a Young-Girl, body music
Others: 18+, Peaking Lights, Lafawndah, Laurel Halo, Hannah Diamond

Throwing Shade is an experimental electronic pop artist from London, a.k.a. Nabihah Iqbal, but it’s also a club-borne meme-idiom that has come to embody a central gesture of collectively-constituted subjecthood in our age. That is to say, when they see us out here, they regard us with hatred, with suspicion, with shade: with a thinly-veiled longing for the failure of the Other, but also for the Other to worship us, to notice us, to at least look at us. In throwing shade, we area priori anticipating catching some, and in doing so, we will know that we exist (cue truisms about haters as a metric for success here).

“hashtag IRL,” the lead track off Throwing Shade’s new House of Silk EP, opens with twin vocal mantras paralleling over a cartoonishly menacing, pouty hip-hop bounce reminiscent of 18+: “Like, like” and “Searching, searching,” delivered with hypersexed disaffection and Young-Girlishness to match one of those SEXY BRITISH DJ DROPS!!!! services that keep following me on Twitter. Aural status symbols clog the pathways to the heart, pentatonic chimes channeling atmospheric desolation, toms and double-time twerk claps plodding along at a laconic, Xanax-stilted trap bounce as the mind searches for shit to like, buffering the unintelligible, borderless profile of online subjecthood, until the vocalizations devolve into anxious, debasing grabs at Living Memehood (#GetOnline, #OMG, #LOL, #WTF) and a mournful organ chorus plunges the track into funereal territory during the last 30 seconds.

In this instance, Throwing Shade elicits in me the same feeling I get when I listen to Future’s latest: a vast, incommunicable network of trauma pangs through the organs of the shared body that we have collectively agreed to veil in a House of Silk, and the language we share — in this case a memeified, closed loop of idioms increasingly hackneyed through the insidious brutality of memesis (repetition, simplification, translation) — is utterly impotent to embody the experience of pain. So the artist, in a gulch of emotionally bereft symbols, turns instead to a sort of experiential impressionism, a simulacrum of poignancy via situationist reference, through conflation of excess and mourning via confessional-style ritual. So when “hashtag IRL” ends — one pregnant half-beat after the music stops, on a final utterance: “Please follow me” — the exhausted, straining texture of the language, at once underappreciated and packed with as much “meaning” as the collective brain can muster, is palpable.

But if House of Silk’s thesis problematizes the breakdown of an overworked global signification chain, the remainder of the EP, kicked off by the (daresay) hypnagogic “Marble Air,” seems to suggest a more compassionate, trusting mode of conversation that trades evocation for signification. The EP’s final four tracks summon a twilit preconscious zone attuned to a sensual rather than image-based relation to self, rooted in the body’s clandestine, pre-language tics.

From the outside, House of Silk appears sleek, perfect, and self-contained, but once we have crossed its porous tissue, we find that its true luxury is not in image, but in the plasticity of its viscera: percussion, assuringly nanoseconds off-kilter, physically wrought from fingers interceding drum machine pads, the synchronic modulation of library music synths racks, asymmetric compositions rife with digressions into finger-noodling dub yawns recalling Peaking Lights circa 936 or a lo-fi Laurel Halo.

House and techno beats with suggestive loose ends foment the dawn of a post-signification, pre-slumber epoch, free from the “Fear of Silence,” fermenting beneath the eyelids, embodying a human form unbound to the shadeful advances and retreats of the Club or to the aesthetic violence of Living Memehood. House of Silk might not be #NextLevel, #GOAT, or even #WTF, but Iqbal should be commended for following up an aesthetically problematizing thesis with a gently proscriptive, palliative volume of experimentation. Sure, she might be throwing shade, but the conversation doesn’t end there.

Links: Throwing Shade - Ninja Tune

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