A dance record for the COVID-19 world
Take a moment to envision a collaborative album created by two musicians, both of whom have their feet firmly planted in the world of hardcore. One of these musicians was even involved in the making of a record titled Heavy Metal Suicide, and it’s every bit as intense as its title suggests. Would you expect something peaceful to come from such a collaboration? Something you can effectively study and relax to? Probably not. But in a decade like the 2020s, you should expect to be surprised.
Enter Collapse Culture, a duo composed of Graham Scala (of Bleach Everything, US Christmas and Interstitia) and Ian Miller (of Kowloon Walled City, Strangelight and Less Art). Collaborating long-distance, these two hardcore devotees initially set out to challenge themselves by making a conventional dance album. Challenge themselves they did, but, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on throughout the album’s creation, any semblance of conventionality was quickly lost.
As noted Mark Fisher acolytes, Scala and Graham understand that the age of decadence has been exacerbated—not caused—by the global pandemic. Over the past year, COVID-19 has rendered the symptoms of late capitalist cultural decay more acute than ever, and, as a result, Collapse Culture naturally took on a spacier, more dystopian tone than originally intended.
“Although it can be as terrifying as standing at the edge of a precipice with no way of seeing the bottom, we live in the most interesting time we could have possibly been born into and it’s up to us to figure out what to do with that knowledge,” Scala said in a press release. This sentiment—the all too relevant feeling of having been born into the end—permeates every second of Collapse Culture. For younger generations especially, who were born with front-row tickets to the fall of an empire, this will resonate.
It’s telling that Scala acknowledges this grim reality while also recognizing that there’s room for hope. The project simultaneously reflects the darkness of our present condition while offering a respite from it. For all its sinister sounds, it provides a sense of solace, a meditative space just as fit for quiet contemplation as it is for watching everything around us fall apart.
Taken as a whole, the album serves a “background music” function well, with each track melting into the next, worming its way into people’s head and locking them in a state of focus. But it’s also musical enough—retaining dancey rhythms, dub-inflected basslines and some melodic synths—for one to enjoy the tracks as standalone pieces. It thus passes the famous Brian Eno litmus test, which asserts that ambient music, to be effective, must be “as ignorable as it is interesting.”
The opening track, “Dead Channel,” might be the most infectious piece, with a slinking pulse, jerky synths and tick-tock drum pattern. If any of the tracks on Collapse Culture are club-ready, it’s this one. Subsequent tracks, like “Disabuse” and “Opprobrium,” deftly balance this danceability with a focus on eerie, desolate atmospherics. There are smokey textures abound, especially on “Kintsugi” and “Total Clarity,” which both sound blanketed by a thick haze that might seep out of one’s speakers and envelope them at any moment. Obviously, out of the group’s many influences, Burial’s is most apparent.
Perhaps the only track that doesn’t adhere to a discernible structure is the spacey “Intermezzo.” This piece is more soundscape-oriented than any of the others, and consequently feels a bit out of place. It leans more toward the ignorable than the interesting, performing the aforementioned background music function but not much else. Thankfully, it’s an outlier. The album is otherwise highly consistent and, clocking in at 50 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Collapse Culture is an admirable first-time foray into the world of electronic music, suitable for both idle and careful listening, as all good ambient projects ought to be. And, above all else, Scala and Miller have created something that both captures and assuages the feeling of “being on the edge of a precipice.” So put it on, and dance away while the world crumbles.