Brought to you by The Corner and NZ On Air, Awesome Feeling 8 is an online event running through NZ Music Month 2014, culminating in the release of a free downloadable compilation of 12 New Zealand songs and the words written about them. Every couple of days, we’ll be posting streaming+downloadable tracks from emerging local artists, accompanied by artist and track profiles authored by Corner contributors.
Well known as the digital-pop genius behind Disasteradio, Wellington synth master Luke Rowell has recently been pursuing perhaps more stylish avenues under his Eyeliner nom-de-plume, swiftly assembling an ouvre ( hors derves?) rivalling his more famous recordings. With back-to-back releases of his LARP Of Luxury (2013) and High Fashion Mood Music (2012) albums available for free download via Crystal Magic Records (full disclosure – I also release music via CMR), Rowell opens up an instrumental sound-world of fingertip-ready cultural commodities – delighting in the warm glow of an iPod Touch screen filtered through expertly selected VST soft-synths. Eyeliner is catchy and fun, but also scathingly observant in his perfectly pitched, EZ-listening insta-classics. Already garnering considerable acclaim internationally as a key influential figure in the emergent Vaporwave genre, now is the perfect time to shine the spotlight on Eyeliner. Thanks to Luke Rowell for taking time out for a quick e-chat. Kick back, have a sip on your fave Sav Blanc, listen up and read the interview below.
Tell us about Eyeliner.
Eyeliner is an instrumental project I started in late 2012 which uses elements of library /television / advertising music. After a knee injury playing as Disasteradio in 2012 I couldn’t risk injury before surgery so I played as Eyeliner in a seated position onstage. (My knee is tip-top again though!)
Eyeliner is really fun and also has elements of cultural commentary /class critique / observational comedy / ‘satire’, and I think does have a serious side to it in the kind of meaning conveyed. Could you talk a little about the ‘tone’ of Eyeliner, and its relationship with any kind of ‘message’?
I think Eyeliner (and Vaporwave as a whole) simultaneously detourns and celebrates capitalism, and I am really interested in that. I think there is this alternate reality in my head where the global financial crisis didn’t happen and the future ended up like we were shown on TV. I love the interior design of a Starbucks, malls, a prius dashboard, banner adverts, etc, but in a camp sense; one where I’m an outsider looking in. LARP Of Luxury is all about that – a song as as an affluent virtual space. It’s not like I want to participate wholly in these sorts of things, but to more “think of a lie as a truth”
On the same tip – what are your thoughts around the titling of your songs? They seem to draw a line between contemporary consumer lifestyle products and older (more identifiable?) electronic musical signifiers/’tropes of yesteryear’.
With this looming atemporal approach to culture (I’m part of the problem) I’m really interested in things that are newly dated. Has the iPhone dated yet? Is a Roomba quaintly useless now? I’m trying to make an equivocation between “now” and “then” and “the future” .. I’m always imagining what life looks like to time travelers.
I guess I’m trying to pose the questions of “What is old? What is new?” We’re definitely in an age that worships both the old and the new. Clashing those together is a great little cognitive exercise.
What’s your process – you’ve said that it didn’t take very long to write/record LARP Of Luxury?
I tend to treat presets, genre, sounds and musical tropes as kinds of found objects. Approaching musical and cultural conventions as a canvas – going with a standard pop chord progression, with a preset sound, and just playing host to ideas that easily build on each other. I pick my ideas – imagery, musical ideas, a title – and basically chip away at that until the song it’s done.
There is a uniquely liberating feeling I get from this, and the writing tends to be very quick and instinctual – in forgoing my sense of originality in the process, I always end up with stuff I still consider unique and interesting. High Fashion Mood Music took about three weeks, and LARP Of Luxury only a couple of months. Writing Eyeliner tunes is a relaxing affair.
How would you differentiate Eyeliner from Disasteradio?
From that approach I described above, I think I was seeking a freeing from the bonds of my own inner critic and just going through the wonderful motions of music-making. I have taken years to finish some Disasteradio songs because of this intense need to say something different with every song. Both bands are still outlets for genre but Eyeliner is less subjunctive – it speaks more about the space we live in, and has more elements of social critique. Sounds-wise Eyeliner uses wavetable synthesizer plugins exclusively, so things tend to have an early 90s “vintage digital” sound that is easily identifiable as the television music of that era. Lots of chimes, complex digital pads and harsher drum sounds.
As I mentioned before I tore my knee cartilage playing in 2012 with Disasteradio so I was forced to explore playing sitting down, so this is where the two bands really differ. Eyeliner is trying to be sublimely zero-energy onstage, but not in a detached way. It’s a lot more subtle, but still just as much fun to play.
What’s a live Eyeliner show like?
They embrace the virtual nature of the way I compose. Everything is in a laptop playing back software MIDI and visuals. I like the idea of performing this music completely as-it-stands – there is no keyboard playing, and almost no hand gestures at all. It acknowledges that I do not have much to do most of the time, which means I can take phone calls from my mum and drink Starbucks on stage. It’s just like the idea of playing host to tropes – I’m merely playing computer music live the way it is intended. Data entry.
Do you think that having a distinct/clear focus for Eyeliner (conceptually, aesthetically) helps in some way with digital distribution?
Streaming and mp3 are the perfect delivery method for Eyeliner – that they’re both fleeting and ephemeral. I feel like the music is very much at home in the cloud.
What are current inspirations/goals with Eyeliner?
I’m working on a new album called maybe Pictionary or Passion And Patience that explores shuffle and groove in a new way for me, like using elements of new jack swing, saxophone, jazz harmony, more suddenness. I’ve been looking more at St Pepsi, Luxury Elite, Dreams and Veracom’s stuff, and trying to create those kinds of jazz-based pop Vaporwave type arrangements from scratch. I’d love to play in the Nespresso store in Wellington, invited or uninvited.
Vaporwave thoughts? What was it like playing recently at a fashion opening?
I feel like Vaporwave opened a mood for me I’d been waiting for and there is tons more to say. Whether what I’m making now is still considered Vaporwave isn’t up to me though. Finally playing a fashion launch (for Jimmy D) was so awesome. I feel like music has much more to say when it’s not in a bar!