Given that I have spoken about cyberpunk extensively in the past, particularly in my reviews of the new records from YOSHIMI and Nmesh, I thought I should take some time to clarify what I mean when I use the term in a musical context. After all, the categorisation of ‘cyberpunk’ can have somewhat of a tentative application in the world of music, which only makes sense, given that cyberpunk’s fundamental tropes originated in a literary context, before later being appropriated in the medium of film, where the genre has remained at its most prominent for the vast majority of its nearly four decades in existence under this name. As a derivative of science fiction, cyberpunk juxtaposes the ideal of exponential technological advancement with a society that has been inverted by some sort of comprehensive shift in humanity’s morals and values, with the result being a technologically rich dystopia that suffers from severe social inequality or moral depravity. More pertinent to cyberpunk’s musical offshoots than its niche narrative underpinnings, however, is its striking aesthetic, which superimposes neon jungles and hotbeds of technological wonder over dark and grimy undercurrents, with works of cinema and television from Blade Runner to Psycho-Pass popularising and fortifying the instantly recognisable image of high-tech, Tokyoite megalopolises shrouded by the rainy and misty clutches of night. If anything, this imposing visual aesthetic could be said to define cyberpunk even more than the tropes and themes typically dealt with in the storytelling of works of literature and film within the genre, hence why certain books or movies, such as The Hunger Games, that expand on cyberpunk narrative points may not be labelled as such if they don’t bear this aesthetic, and this is where the role of music begins to slot itself into the history of cyberpunk. With Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, perhaps the most iconic example of cyberpunk across all art forms, being revered for its revolutionary visuals, it should be no surprise that the soundtrack that accompanied spinners gliding between towering, radiant skyscrapers should become iconic in its own right, with the ominous, dark ambient soundscapes and grandiose synthesizers of Vangelis’ original score coming to define what people imagined as the music of a sci-fi dystopia. The obsession with cyberpunk amongst the labyrinth of Internet-based electronic musicians can likely be traced back to this starting point, with various other works, such as Billy Idol’s controversial 1993 record, Cyberpunk, offering a breadcrumb trail between these two points in music history, but the application of the term ‘cyberpunk’ when discussing underground electronic music can still often be somewhat vague. Very few works defined as ‘cyberpunk’ tend to be pigeonholed as such due to the presence of a lyrical narrative that depicts a technologically-driven dystopia, with David Bowie’s 1995 concept album, 1. Outside, being one of the few examples of this that comes to mind. Instead, cyberpunk music is more commonly characterised by the contrast of futuristic electronics and dark musical overtones, whilst aesthetically, such works tend to fixate on aspects of technology and use this to react to and counteract certain strands of political thought, with the early Internet imagery and anti-consumer capitalist angle popular within the vapourwave scene being a prime example. I bring this up as to avoid ambiguity with my use of the word ‘cyberpunk’, as it would be difficult to talk about Machine Girl’s new album, …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR, without using the term.
Indeed, Machine Girl’s music oozes cyberpunk from all of its orifices, and could even be said to put the ‘punk’ in ‘cyberpunk’, with the producer’s stylings supercharging the political aggression of hardcore punk with the intense, skull-smashing rhythms of rave, industrial and hardcore techno, as well as the twisted and warped complexity of footwork. At least, this is the end product presented on his latest project, …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR, which could be seen as a culmination of much of Machine Girl’s previous work, intensifying the slasher-inspired, mind-bending breakbeats of WLFGRL and the rainbow-coloured slush of swirling gabber rhythms brandished on GEMINI, by bolstering them with the post-industrial nihilism of bands like Death Grips and Street Sects. The visual art that Machine Girl has conjured up for …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG… provides an eerily accurate glimpse into the psyche that conceived this record, with the album artwork cramming Orwellian warnings and allusions to some of the dingiest corners of the cybercultural landscape into a first-person shooter display, whilst the music video for BITTEN TWICE plays out like a snuff film directed by a Norwegian black metal band that was sneaked into a mid-1990s arcade game. All this is apt given the musical content of …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG…, with hardcore rhythms hammering at the listener’s eardrums like a rocket launcher from Doom being blasted into a mob of demonic monsters, whilst Machine Girl’s seething screamed vocals may as well be coming from the gaping jaws of the radiant wolf depicted on the record’s cover. However, all of this is ignoring the hard-bitten and in-your-face political sentiment that the title and lyrical content of …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG… mince no words in conveying, as explicit expressions of vitriol are whipped up into a blind fury of juvenile causticity. Looking more broadly at the album’s ethos, however, reveals how upfront it is in its embrace of cyberpunk tropes. Instead of Machine Girl manufacturing a fictional dystopian future of his own, it seems as if …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG… presents the state of our world now as the horrific sci-fi hell that writers from decades ago would have conceived to scare their readers with visions of technological tyranny. As opposed to bringing the listener into a fabricated cyberpunk future for a 39-minute trip, Machine Girl breaks down the walls between the listener and the realisation that the modern age, with its weaponised drones and government surveillance, is itself cyberpunk. Of course, he doesn’t necessarily expect the listener to do anything about this, as that would likely mean interrupting their third rewatch of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but nonetheless, the mechanised madness of …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR makes for one of the most ferocious, unforgiving and strangely fun electronic projects of the year thus far, and a real underground gem for the crate-diggers of cyberspace.
Pinning down the plainly enjoyable nature of …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR may be difficult at first, but upon reflection, it seems as if the record’s savagery and fun-loving character are one and the same, as if sadism is deeply ingrained into its spirit. The album may pound away at the listener’s skull, but there is such a great deal of depth to its digital dynamics and so many sudden sparks of catchiness and danceability that the listener will likely be more than willing to submit themselves to its authority. With Machine Girl having such a pronounced tendency to cocoon throat-shredding screeches in a blizzard of glistening, giddy electronics, whilst numerous compositions zigzag furiously between thudding, four-to-the-floor rhythms and washed-out waves of candy-coated bliss, the intensity of the internal conflict displayed across …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG… makes for a riveting listening experience, with the constant torrent of contrasting tones and textures competing and playing off one another in no end of electrifying and striking ways. Ultimately, this is essentially wherein the greatest successes of the project reside, as many of its most aggressive moments are simultaneously its most infectious, as Machine Girl does not shy away from compounding completely conflicting concepts that come together to create moments that are as colourful as they are cataclysmic. The second song released in promotion of …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG…, SAD CLAPS, embodies this semblance of tonal abstraction in just one minute, with rubbery kick drums and skittish snares palpitating under a flurry of epilepsy-inducing electronics, as to stir up a sensation of hyperactive happiness, whilst Machine Girl’s slightly chipmunked yells elevate this emotion to the point of mania. In a notably more nuanced fashion that borders on poignant at times, the final cut in the tracklisting, IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLENNIALS TO DESTROY A NATION OF MILLIONS, contrasts some lighter, drum and bass-derived textures with the punk flare that burns through much of …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG…. A sparse, but no less vibrant instrumental of jittery breakbeat drums, a sweet, sparkling synth lead and some bassy buzzes and gargles come together to mould a soundscape that teeters between dazzling and chilling, especially as the track is briefly slowed down into a circus-like dirge, whilst Machine Girl’s shouted punk vocals are enveloped in swirls of echoes, as if his rallying cries against the privileged upper echelons of society are being projected into an empty void. Indeed, although Machine Girl’s music has flirted with a hefty helping of stylistic sensibilities in the past, …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR accumulates all of these underpinnings and more into an exceptionally challenging and dynamic display of diversity in underground electronic music, and he rises to this task with a selection of songs that remain focussed in all of their chaos.
Although not all of the project’s songs smash together an assortment of sounds and styles in quite as upfront a fashion as the likes of SAD CLAPS and IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLENNIALS TO DESTROY A NATION OF MILLIONS, many surrounding cuts in the tracklisting set their own standards for song structure and progression, with Machine Girl not holding back from ducking and diving between completely contradictory tones and textures mid-song, making for a perpetually engaging listening experience. The opening title track sets the bar for just how topsy-turvy the pieces across …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR can be, as a passage of frantic breakbeats and breezy, vapourwave-inspired ambience is interjected into perhaps the most pummelling performance on the entire project, with Machine Girl’s punctuated bawls being bolstered by thumping percussion, amidst cyclones of squawking synths and earth-shattering bass, much in the vein of a Death Grips song. The following track, FUCK UP YOUR FACE, develops this idea into a more fully fleshed-out song structure, with some similarly wispy synth tones to those that appeared on the title track swelling during the hook, offering a slight feeling of respite in the instrumentation from the spirals of squeaking synths and tangles of glitchy effects featured throughout the verses. With Machine Girl’s warcries remaining at the same peak of intensity throughout the track, however, FUCK UP YOUR FACE nevertheless comes across as coherent and wound in the same burning rage that ignites so many of the most explosive moments across …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG…. Even amongst the songs that boast some particularly jarring tone shifts, such sudden changes of pace are often worked into a piece in a way that retains a feeling of fluidity, with ATHOTH A GO!! GO!! perhaps being the prime example of this. Upon first impression, it would seem as if ATHOTH A GO!! GO!! may be one of the more conventionally structured cuts in the tracklisting, with a propulsive drumbeat driving the verses forward, as Machine Girl’s exclamations are interspersed amidst catchy accents of gurgling synth bass, before a howling synth brings the song logically into its chorus section, as a contagious, Ariel Pink-inspired pop melody supports a call-and-response between the artist’s sung and shouted vocals. It’s after the hook, however, wherein the interpolations of squealing synths that had been intermittently worked into the track previously assume complete control, as the song descends into a black hole of Merzbow-esque noise. Despite this, the way in which these strident sounds are initially interjected amidst the accents that drove the opening of the track before engulfing the piece entirely leaves this abrupt incursion into an abyss of gnarled noise feel strangely smooth and natural. Then again, there nonetheless exist tracks that almost seem to take pride in just how abrasive they are in all of their inexplicable twists and turns, with this most notably being the case on 『うずまき』(pronounced “uzumaki”), whose name — which translates from Japanese into English as “spirals” and is presumably a reference to the 1990s supernatural/horror manga series of the same name — is apt given just how grotesque its indescribable stylistic and structural contortions are. Whether or not the cacophonous confusion of 『うずまき』 is as compelling as other compositions from …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG… is another matter, but at the very least, as a sound collage, the track provides an appropriately abstruse diversion from the blueprint that formulated much of the album up until this point in the tracklisting. Indeed, if there is one thing holding the record back, it would likely be the diversity presented in Machine Girl’s approach to piecing together these songs. Although the producer’s style is certainly an individual one for the most part, in spite of the clear influences from certain artists, there nevertheless comes a point in the record’s runtime wherein the listener begins to recognise the patterns that go into constructing these songs, in a way that could be said to diminish the impact of cuts featured towards the project’s backend. Of course, the fact that so many tracks, such as FUCK UP YOUR FACE, DUMBASS!! and BITTEN TWICE, feature such prominent and infectious refrains helps aid this issue, but when only one song in the tracklisting, that being XLEEPY, could be said to carry an identity that is completely unique to itself in terms of its stylistic underpinnings when compared to the rest of the record, it certainly feels as if Machine Girl’s stylings could use some more dimensions. Even still, …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR is not one-dimensional by any means, with just a single song from the album being more multifaceted than entire records by plenty of other underground electronic musicians, but a more sizeable bag of tricks to Machine Girl’s style of songwriting could go a long way for keeping the surprises coming well into one of the artist’s projects.
The spirit of cyberpunk courses through the veins of …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR, with Machine Girl’s compositional style of juxtaposed tones, textures, sounds and styles encapsulating the dramatic contrasts that make the genre so enticing in all of its forms. The artist may have toyed with most of the underground sounds that comprise the album over the course of his previous projects, but …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG… nevertheless feels like the pinnacle of Machine Girl’s stylistic flirtations thus far, in terms of how potently the producer fortifies a semblance of a definitive musical persona through some of his tightest and fully realised pieces to date. As much as Machine Girl’s stylings, as presented on his newest album, can be described in their relation to the sounds of other artists or broader musical movements, the artist’s greatest strength is the force with which he slams all of these influences into one another and manages to salvage a singular sound from the wreckage. Machine Girl could certainly do more to diversify his formula, but it’s his formula nonetheless, and he uses this to craft his very own world of digital dystopia across …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR that, across its 39-minute duration, is impossible to escape from, not because of a repressive regime that refuses the listener’s requests to leave, but because it’s so effective in engrossing the listener in its neon green hellscape.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10