|Cultural origins||Mid to late 2000s, United States|
Hypnagogic pop is a style of pop music or general musical approach that explores elements of cultural memory and nostalgia by drawing on the music, popular entertainment, and recording technology of the past, particularly the 1980s. The genre developed in the mid to late 2000s as American lo-fi and noise musicians began reaching back to retro aesthetics remembered from childhood, such as 1980s radio rock, new age, MTV one-hit wonders, and Hollywood synthesizer soundtracks, as well as analog technology and outdated pop culture.
The term was coined by journalist David Keenan in an August 2009 issue of The Wire to label the developing trend, which he characterized as "pop music refracted through the memory of a memory." It was used interchangeably with "chillwave" or "glo-fi" and would gain critical attention in the late 2000s through artists such as Ariel Pink and James Ferraro. Hypnagogic pop has been variously described as a 21st century update of psychedelia, a reappropriation of media-saturated capitalist culture, and an "American cousin" to the British hauntology scene. The style partly inspired the 2010s Internet-based vaporwave movement, which amplified its experimental tendencies.
Hypnagogic pop is noted for its preoccupation with both decaying analog technology and bombastic representations of synthetic elements in 1980s and 1990s popular culture, according to critic Adam Trainer. He wrote that the music is defined by a shared approach rather than a particular sound, and that it draws from "the collective unconscious of late 1980s and early 1990s popular culture" while being "indebted stylistically to various traditions of experimentalism such as noise, drone, repetition, and improvisation." The music is often issued in the form of limited-edition cassettes or vinyl records before reaching a wider audience through blogs and YouTube videos.
Common reference points include various forms of 1980s music, including radio rock, new wave pop, MTV one-hit wonders, New Age music, synth-driven Hollywood blockbuster soundtracks, lounge music and easy-listening, corporate muzak, lite rock "schmaltz," video game music, 1980s synth-pop and R&B. Recordings often used "deliberately degraded" or analog instruments and techniques, including tape hiss and FX. Also common was the use of outmoded audio/visual technology and DIY digital imagery, such as compact cassettes, VHS, CD-R discs, and early Internet aesthetics.
Origins and etymology
In an August 2009 piece for The Wire, journalist David Keenan coined "hypnagogic pop" while inspired by a comment made by James Ferraro. Keenan referred to a developing trend of 2000s lo-fi and post-noise music in which artists began to engage with elements of cultural nostalgia, childhood memory, and outdated recording technology. Around that time, a wave of retro-inspired home-recording artists had begun dominating underground indie scenes. Among the artists discussed in Keenan's article were Ferraro, Spencer Clark, Ariel Pink, Zola Jesus, Ducktails, Emeralds, and Pocahaunted. He employed the term "hypnagogic" as referring to the psychological state "between waking and sleeping, liminal zones where mis-hearings and hallucinations feed into the formation of dreams." According to Keenan, these artists began to draw on cultural sources subconsciously remembered from their 1980s and early 1990s adolescence while freeing them from their historical contexts and "hom[ing] in on the futuristic signifiers" of the period. He alternately summarized hypnagogic pop as "pop music refracted through the memory of a memory" and as "1980's-inspired psychedelia" which engages with capitalist detritus of the past in an attempt to "dream of the future."
Hypnagogic pop was later described as an American counterpart to Britain's hauntological music scene, which also engaged with notions of nostalgia and memory. While critic Simon Reynolds says hypnagogia was tied to Southern California and its culture, Trainer says the style "arguably" emerged from numerous simultaneous scenes inhabited by artists working in a diverse form of "post-noise neo-psychedelia". Reynolds identifies Pink, Clark, and Ferraro as the "godparents of hypnagogic". He also singled out Pink as the central figure to what he calls the "Altered Zones Generation", an umbrella term he designed for lo-fi, retro-inspired indie artists who were commonly featured on Altered Zones, an associate site for Pitchfork. Pink gained recognition in the mid 2000s through a string of self-produced albums, pioneering a sound that Reynolds calls "'70s radio-rock and '80s new wave as if heard through a defective transistor radio, glimmers of melody flickering in and out of the fog". Tiny Mix Tapes' Jordan Redmond wrote that Pink's early collaborator John Maus was also placed "at the nexus of a number of recent popular movements" including hypnagogic pop, and that Maus was as "much of a progenitor of this sound as Pink, even though Pink has tended to be the headline-grabber."[nb 2]
Harper disputed Reynolds' arguments, writing that Pink's "largely rock-based" music lacked "the pop-art pastiche of hypnagogic pop," and that instead of "the progenitor or the AZ Generation, Pink can easily be understood as the youngest member of this mid-80s Cassette Culture Generation. ... It hopefully doesn’t need emphasising that Ariel Pink didn’t invent home-recording, or lo-fi, or even retro-lo-fi." Among his predecessors, Harper lists R. Stevie Moore and Martin Newell as the most notable.[nb 3] Matthew Ingram of The Wire additionally recognized Moore's influence on Pink and hypnagogic pop: "through his disciple ... he has unwittingly provided the [genre's] template".[nb 4] Another precursor to the genre was Nick Nicely's 1982 single "Hilly Fields (1892)". Red Bull Music's J.R. Moore wrote that Nicely was "out there on his own, updating 60s psychedelic pop with newer technology while maintaining a uniquely haphazard DIY aesthetic. In doing so, Nicely basically invented the sound of the 2000s Hypnagogic Pop movement decades beforehand." In 2008, he returned to live performances after a long absence from the public, sharing concert billings with Pink and Maus.
Once "hypnagogic pop" was coined, a variety of music blogs immediately wrote about the phenomenon. By 2010, albums by Ariel Pink and Neon Indian were regularly hailed by publications like Pitchfork and The Wire, with "hypnagogic pop", "chillwave", and "glo-fi" employed to describe the evolving sounds of such artists, a number of which had songs of considerable success within independent music circles. As the movement's popularity grew, the analogue lo-fi aspirations of Ferraro and Pink were taken up by "groups with names like Tape Deck Mountain, Memory Tapes, Memory Cassette – and turned into cliché."
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"Chillwave", a tag used to describe a similar trend was coined one month before Keenan's article and was originally used synonymously with "hypnagogic pop". While the two styles are similar in that they both evoke 1980s–90s imagery, chillwave has a more commercial sound with an emphasis on "cheesy" hooks and reverb effects. A contemporary review by Marc Hogan for Neon Indian's Psychic Chasms (2009) listed "dream-beat", "chillwave", "glo-fi", "hypnagogic pop", and "hipster-gogic pop" as interchangeable terms for "psychedelic music that's generally one or all of the following: synth-based, homemade-sounding, 80s-referencing, cassette-oriented, sun-baked, laid-back, warped, hazy, emotionally distant, slightly out of focus." Writing for Vice, Morgan Poyau described the emerging style as "making awkward bedfellows out of experimental music enthusiasts and weird progressive pop theorists." She described a typical manifestation of the style as featuring long tracks "saturated with echo, delay, smothered guitars and amputated synths."
The experimental tendencies of hypnagogic pop artists like Pink and Ferraro were soon amplified by the Internet-centric genre known as vaporwave. Although the name shares the "-wave" suffix, it is only loosely connected to chillwave. Stereogum's Miles Bowe summarized vaporwave as a combination of "the chopped and screwed plunderphonics of Dan Lopatin ... with the nihilistic easy-listening of James Ferraro’s Muzak-hellscapes on [the 2011 album] Far Side Virtual". Critic Adam Harper identified several differences and similarities between hypnagogic pop and vaporwave; the two genres share an affinity for "trash music", both are "dreamy" and "chirpy", and both "manipulate their material to defamiliarise it and give it a sense of the uncanny, such as slowing it down and/or lowering the pitch, making it, as the term goes, ‘screwed’." Of differences, vaporwave does not typically engage in long tracks, lo-fi productions, or non-sampled material, and it draws more from the early 1990s than it does the 1970s and 1980s.
Critic Simon Reynolds describes hypnagogic pop as a "21st-century update of psychedelia" in which "lost innocence has been contaminated by pop culture" and hyper-reality. He notes a particular concern with the "scrambling of pop time", suggesting that "perhaps the secret idea buried inside hypnagogic pop is that the '80s never ended. That we're still living there, subject to that decade's endless end of History." Writer Adam Trainer suggested that the style allowed artists to engage with the products of media-saturated capitalist consumer culture in a way that focuses on affect rather than irony or cynicism. Harper noted among hypnagogic pop artists a tendency "to turn trash, something shallow and determinedly throwaway, into something sacred or mystical" and to "manipulate their material to defamiliarise it and give it a sense of the uncanny." The genre has been likened to "sonic fictions or intentional forgeries, creating half-baked memories of things that never were—approximating the imprecise nature of memory itself". Luna Vega described it as "tak[ing] aspects of modern culture and nostalgia and transform[ing] them into new collective memories".
Some artists labeled with the "hypnagogic pop" tag, such as Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi, have rejected the label or denied that such a unified style exists. The Guardian called the hypnagogic tag "pretentious". New York Times writer Jon Pareles criticized the style as "annoyingly noncommittal music." In 2009, producer Daniel Lopatin (AKA Oneohtrix Point Never) said: "I don't think the hpop tag is representative of a movement or constituted by a select group of artists. I see it more as a discussion about nostalgia and its subliminal effects on culture. I don't see anything wrong with the tag—it's just a way of engaging with a phenomenon."
- Spencer Clark
- Devendra Banhart
- James Ferraro
- Hype Williams
- LA Vampires
- Matrix Metals
- John Maus
- Sam Mehran
- Neon Indian
- Oneohtrix Point Never
- Peaking Lights
- Ariel Pink
- Puro Instinct
- Sun Araw
- Toro y Moi
- Gary War
- Zola Jesus
- The woman in the clip is Japanese idol Yukiko Okada, who committed suicide in 1986. Lopatin was reportedly unaware of her identity, but said that the observation adds "another layer of materiality within that piece—and that's totally how they're supposed to function".
- Maus rejected the "hypnagogic pop" tag, as he did not intend his music to evoke 1980s nostalgia, but rather to explore the possibilities of "old synthesizers that can be mobilized today in interesting ways."
- In the 1990s, Richie Unterberger compared Newell to Moore as he described Newell's band the Cleaners from Venus as "lo-fi, murkily recorded affairs that couldn't hide the power of the melodies, or a wit that could be both tender and savage". Harper adds: "The similarities don’t end there – both in his dress and in his music, Martin Newell adopted the (even then) retro, androgynous, psychedelic image that would mark Ariel Pink out in the 00s".
- Specifically, Moore's 1976 debut album Phonography. Pink was a devout fan of his work and shared the same musical approaches, although Moore denies that they sound similar. After the two collaborated in the 2000s, Moore's exposure increased as a result of Pink's solo success. Pink believed that his own music, while heavily indebted to 1960s pop, is not classifiable in any genre.
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