Various Artists Star Wars Headspace

[Hollywood/American; 2016]

Styles: myths, memes, marketing
Others: Minions Twinkies, Better Call Saul, finding out Santa Claus isn’t real

“‘Star Wars’ is probably the most influential film of my generation. It’s the personification of good and evil and the way it opened up the world to space adventure, the way westerns had to our parents’ generations, left an indelible imprint. So, in a way, everything that any of us does is somehow directly or indirectly affected by the experience of seeing those first three films.”
— J.J. Abrams

“Crrrrrush them! Make them suffer!”
— General Grievous

EDM is a monster and a bastard child of human escapism. It is a machine, a phallus, and a destroyer. The spread of bass music has been synonymous with the rise of the internet and the smartphone, not because of our increased reliance on electronics for ecstasy, but rather because of our increased need to prove that ecstasy to everyone around us. As the offspring of baby boomers, we grew up with certain notions of youth and release, of casting off our chains in search of new horizons. What EDM sold us was a new, diamond-studded set of chains: a culture based around privilege, expectations, obedience, and violence. The throb of the drop is a militaristic command to shut the fuck up and show us how good of a time you’re having. It is the literal quieting of millions to pave the way for one voice, one vision, one utopia. Although it bears the disguise of the vacation or the road trip, its reality is that of the routine, the lecture, the trap.

Is Star Wars EDM? If you had asked me this question the moment before I put on Star Wars Headspace, my response would’ve been an absolute no. Although it may be a monumental blockbuster, there’s always been a certain sensitivity to the story of Star Wars that lends the series its transcendent, not-just-another-movie quality. While Star Wars’s commercial intents are not exactly secret, the franchise’s place within my heart and worldview is embedded so firmly, so profoundly, that I simply cannot perceive its universe as merely a massive, intricate sales pitch. Sure, it’s made its share of mistakes. But somehow through all of the cheap merchandising, the endlessly questionable sequels, even the desanctifying of the original trilogy with added special effects, I still to this day have so many deep emotional connections to these films, these characters, these stories.

However, it has come to my attention via Rick Rubin that, apparently, Star Wars is EDM. You can hear it right here, on this convenient 15-song collection put together by Rubin that includes tracks from Bonobo, Baauer, Rustie, Shlohmo, Röyksopp, and other not-quite-experimental, not-quite-household-name electronic artists. On one level, Star Wars Headspace is a collaborative album utilizing sounds taken from the Star Wars universe to create modern, electronic dance music. On a larger level, Star Wars Headspace is a packaging artifact already destined to be lost, buried beneath the sea of BB-8 dolls and novelizations, and a perturbing indicator of the ease with which our own fears and desires can be made magical and, in turn, capital.

Kaskade begins the proceedings with a by-the-numbers electronic track titled “C-3PO’s Plight,” whose central sample hints at the mind control we subject ourselves to in engaging with the Star Wars property. Understanding that the reason behind C-3PO’s bitter, annoying demeanor lies in his inherent weakness, Kaskade lends the droid sympathy by basing his track around a forlorn sample of him muttering, “How typical.” Adorning it with pianos, wailing synths, and a generally downtrodden atmosphere, we can see C-3PO’s self-loathing more clearly, but our only pathway to epiphany and acceptance quickly becomes dissolved as a bass drop ensues and the cultural miasma of sound effects becomes drowning in its numbness. Although it seemingly extends its hands in companionship toward such broken souls, its touch is revealed to be yet another fist, a blunt, heteronormative strike of aggression against the exact types that Kaskade claims to honor.

This slight game of betrayal is ultimately the only emotional content on the entire album. The other 14 contributions barely stand apart from one another, a rushed bile of the same sounds being used over and over again by unidentifiable producers, with only Bonobo delivering a track whose atmosphere extends beyond that of gimmicky tie-in music territory. Even Flying Lotus, who certainly played his part in leveraging the press on this album, ends up turning in a beat he already released eight years ago. The only release from the onslaught of middling electronica comes in the form of “R2 Knows” by Claude VonStroke, whose vocals by Barry Drift actually sink the playing field down to a whole new brutal level of dreck. Is this truly the headspace of Star Wars? More importantly, who exactly is Rick Rubin to claim any “headspace” as a literally manifest area? To assert ownership over the very specific and intricate connection each of us has to a piece of media like Star Wars is insulting to one’s own mental context for these stories, and the fact that Rubin’s own contribution “NR-G7” is as generic and hollow a Star Wars tribute as its name implies underlines the limited scope Star Wars Headspace imposes over our own manipulated imaginations.

Is it possible that this is what Star Wars ultimately amounts to? A homogenized brand of easy-listening party music laden with just enough taglines to jolt us briefly back from the slumber of normalcy? Can the very concept of The Force itself, a “magical power holding together good, evil, the dark side and the light,” truly be nothing more than a soundbite, a Halloween costume, a meme? Are the greater marketing forces of Hollywood the only real God, encoding our myths to us in a dense gas of reboots, promising salvation with each additional ticket purchase, each bag of popcorn spilled absentmindedly into the aisles? Could the stories we hold so dearly really just be avenues for meaner creatures to prey upon our weaknesses and our yearning? Can we even trust in a hero when the very concept of protagonism is ignorant to the disparate nature of our world? How basic an instinct can escapism be that these alternate realities, these endless threads of narrative whose ends connect to nothing and whose yarn is taut with the dramatization of what actually happens to us each and every day, have become so ingrained in our very culture, yet still we sew and quote and repeat the lines back to ourselves as if a world of perfect arrangement would finally be something we could call home?

I’m not going to stop caring about Star Wars. I can’t. Since childhood, I’ve been raised by these films, each one shaping my understanding of the world, painting me an image of the universe where evil is real and goodness is stronger yet. I’ve always had my own, personal idea of what it meant to feel Star Wars, but now we have something market-tested, something physical, something Rick Rubin. If there’s one thing I believe, it’s the power of humanity to overlook the nasty details, the blemishes, the facts of this world that truly corrupt our collective sense of well-being and hope, as we stare ever-longingly toward a reality where things aren’t just getting worse. But they’re really shoving our faces in it now.

Links: Various Artists

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