The Weirdest Nether Regions of Soundcloud and Our Millennial Desire to Recontextualise Content
Aren't we all just humans on the internet, searching for #content that means something?
Two Girls and One Cup, a video of some infant called Charlie biting his brother’s finger, Nyan Cat, parody Twitter accounts from 1992, @Seinfeld2000, a petition to make R Kelly’s “Ignition” the National Anthem, every miscarried Kickstarter and the arrival of human skid-marks Sam Pepper and Zoella – they’re all symbolic of Web 2.0 and its ability to highlight the outlandish, wonderful, and, in the case of the last two, apocalypse-beckoning, qualities of the modern human. But the weirdness goes even further than the usual watering holes of Twitter, Reddit, 4Chan and YouTube.
Have you ever k-holed into a Soundcloud void? The service is more regularly known as an outlet for undiscovered musical savants, Angel Haze’s album leak, and a long-running discussion over royalties. But as anyone who has delved deeper knows, the cloud spreads further than discovering #rare nuggets of sound and Young Thug remixes. Its nether regions can be weirder than YouTube’s most peculiar videos.
Soundcloud was established in Berlin eight years ago as a way for artists to distribute their tracks – challenging MySpace as the dominant, music-themed Web 2.0 platform. The site currently boasts 175 million unique listeners and artists like Kaytranada, Yung Lean, PC Music, and Boots (who produced Beyonce and Run the Jewels albums) first broke on Soundcloud and the service hosts tracks by big names, with Drake, Jay Electronica, Iggy Azalea releasing tracks through the website in the past year. Over time, it’s been concreted as the go-to music service for the future. But underneath the big hits, there’s another dimension. A realm where #flutedrop bangers and spoken-word renditions of entire Kanye West albums unassumingly clock in as many plays (and often more) than the latest tracks from household artists.
The alternate and behind-the-scenes scene is known as #weird Soundcloud – and finding it is easy. Listen to one track (like the one above) then keep clicking through the service’s related suggestions until you get lost in a wormhole. #Weird Soundcloud song’s vastly differ – one minute you could be listening to the Seinfeld theme reimagined as an aneurysm inducing dubstep corker, the next, you’re recovering from hearing a version of Tenacious D’s “Tribute” that’s akin to having a stroke. But though the genre is as erratic as a hyperactive marmoset in need of a dosage of Ritalin, there’s a few things connecting the tracks together.
One: The genre is fucked up. Each time I listen, I’m convinced they’re perpetuating my own anxiety into gradually sliding toward insanity.
Two: The production is often unparalleled. These songs are impressively complex.
Three: #Weird Soundcloud thrives on repurposing and recontextualising old content for a new audience.
Like other components of the Web 2.0 – memes, #onfleek lexicon, and seven-second video clips - #Weird Soundcloud is born out of the millennial desire to reconstruct the environment around them. The songs often take the past and repurpose it into something that, although not altogether useful, sounds fresh and reflective of the abstract, confusing panoramic that encapsulates the modern internet. Listening to it is like browsing the in-joke, meme-heavy side of 4Chan’s /mu/ board in aural form.
Look at the titles and you’ll spot the lexicon of Reddit users and those Twitter accounts you see that somehow have fifty-thousand followers. Tracks titles are mostly in lowercase, and called things like “blood on the funny who is a sick freak” or “if you can’t listen to the whole song you’re a pussy” by artists named “nice job bro0o0o0o0o0o0o0” and “Barack Ollama”.
#Weird Soundcloud is similar to past iterations of #Weird YouTube – an arena which featured dancehall re-imaginings of the MSN Messenger soundboard and a version of the Rugrats theme song aimed to catalyze the act of throwing up. For example: spend five minutes scouring Soundcloud for the weird shit, and you’ll find everything from Kanye talking about his iPhone, alien-themed mixes of Smash Mouth, countless mash-ups of video game themes and rap songs, and some impressive remixes. The difference compared to YouTube is that, thanks to Soundcloud’s discovery algorithm, small collectives and trends are able to form, and there’s an abundance of tracks from artists who are almost forging careers out of it, as opposed to uploading one viral hit.
Kevin Wang – known on Soundcloud as “Best Drops Ever” – is one of those artists. The series of tracks, which have titles like “A Drop So Epic a Bunch of NYU Bros Already Bought a 3-Day Weekend Pass For It” poke fun at the EDM bro-scape. He builds up anticipation for a huge drop and then, when the moment comes for the listener to lose their shit, he throws in something obscure – like an advert for Filet O’Fish or Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”. Starting out on Reddit, he’s since uploaded 45 tracks, with some of them nearly reaching a million plays.
There’s other artists racking it up too. D.J Detweiler – a parody of Recess’ baseball cap sporting T.J Detweiler - has gone on to do remixes for PC Music’s Spinee and even featured on 1Xtra. There's Hoobastankatonia, whose remix of the Seinfeld theme has reached 150,000 plays. Ngumbo Ngumbo, who has a cult pastiche rap beat called “Buzzfeed Please Feature This Please Fuck My Wife”. And Ideaot, whose mash-up of Macklemore and “the Macarena” blew-up last year.
In an interview with The Daily Dot last year, Ideaot gave some disclosure on the intentions of a "Soundclown", backing up the idea that Kevin Wang’s sounds were created to satirise EDM. “I think that many of the sounds people are putting up are in fact a critique of EDM culture” he said. “Personally, I think that most EDM is just too unoriginal. ‘Animals’ [by Martin Garrix] was one of the biggest hits of 2013, and it's super generic. A lot of things are just uploaded because they sound funny, though”.
A song ripping into vapour-wave
Ideaot’s point applies to some of #Weird Soundcloud. A lot of the songs clock in no longer than a minute and their only intention seems to be a quick laugh, shrug, or total provocation until you rip the headphones off your head. Others are clearly tearing into EDM culture or the new-wave of Soundcloud producers. But then you’ve got the other tracks, like “there’s ketchup on his sweater already”, featuring the newly meme-centric “mom’s spaghetti” line from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” mixed with Las Ketchup. They’re nothing to do with EDM, and although they’re also quick-jokes, they seem representative of something else.
Fandom, defined by Wikipedia as “a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest”, is one key component of #Weird Soundcloud. The term is typically associated with science-fiction or fantasy franchises - things like Pokemon, Star Wars, Studio Ghibli films, comic books, and Lord of the Rings. Most music in the realm of fandom is taken seriously. Songs inspired by My Little Pony and made by Bronies, for example, are in abundance - there’s several radio stations and a dedicated music site. And Pokemon fandoms have cropped up the mainstream, with rappers like Le1f dropping Picachu into the video for “Wut”. But in the world of #Weird Soundcloud, it’s taken on a different slant.
Some of the tracks may repurpose video game or film soundtracks - a key component of fandom - but most focus on repurposing a singular meme, like the “mom’s spaghetti” reference on “Lose Yourself” or the re-use of Death Grips acapellas. It’s fandom on a more niche level - appealing to people who feed on the internet’s #content and then look to explore singular shreds of obsession.
A research paper conducted last year by social-influence marketing platform Crowdtap indicated that millenials spend 18 hours a day consuming media, although you didn’t need to read a research paper to know that. We’re processing more shit than ever, but how much of it we’re retaining and how much is sliding out of the back of our heads is up for discussion. Still, in recent months there’s been a backlash against the quality of the content that often comes preceded by a hashtag – throwaway Upworthy type articles and lists that do nothing other than fill the void. #Weird Soundcloud isn’t necessarily a backlash against that, but it’s definitely a critique of sorts, and a symptom of a culture that’s starting to eat itself. Its diligent repurposing of content is a tongue-in cheek joke. They’re changing the format of the original work’s intended message or audience - a technique often employed by top-tier digital media companies - and in doing so they’re sarcastically, ironically, taking the piss out of what Web 2.0’s turned into - an open arena where the most ridiculous, unashamed, often pointless piggy-back content can rack up thousands and thousands of clicks.
#Weird Soundcloud exists on the periphery of a post-"Harlem Shake", post-Rick Roll internet - something to be found only when you look for it, not something that’s part of any genuine music scene. Listening to it just reminds me that we’re all humans on the internet, all searching for #content that means something, something to connect with, but usually only dredging up bastardised versions of things we’ve already read, seen, or watched before. And for that reason, despite being yet another addition to the growing feelings in the collective contemporary imagination that culture has been trapped in a feedback loop of repetition, I kinda find it loveable and strangely honest.
Now, back to listening to a rework of Macklemore's “Thrift Shop” mixed with the Mario 64 soundtrack.
You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter: @RyanBassil