Made in collaboration with LLLL, U-Pistol, and Calendula, “Always” is a gleaming, emotional ballad about the digital/IRL divide.
Photo courtesy of the artists
The internet has changed around Meishi Smile in the half decade and change that the glimmering electronic project has been releasing music. Like so many musicians coming up amid nascent versions of Soundcloud and Tumblr—as well as now defunct microcommunities like SPF420—Meishi Smile was part of a group of tightly knit, but geographically disparate artists united by a taste for outré music and art.
This was one of the great promises of a certain era of the internet, that social media had the ability to connect you to new friends and collaborators somewhere across the globe, opening digital portals between scenes and styles, maybe even offering a way outside the capitalist systems that turn the gears of the music industry. It felt small and personal even when you were only interacting with a computer screen. That’s changed a little bit, MAY, the artist behind Meishi Smile, says via email.
“We’ve begun to ask ourselves, what is a net artist?” they wrote. “I believe a net artist is no longer restricted to someone who makes music primarily on the Internet anymore. The genres of net music and the spaces they resided in— which were once home to marginalized identities and people rejected from mainstream culture—soon saw their spaces homogenized.”
MAY points to suspect corporate forces like Spotify’s playlists with titles like “Feminist Fridays,” which, they say, “reduce down real social movements into marketable playlists,” as examples of the ways that music scenes on the internet have changed. “Many of us still exist here, but it’s not the same,” they say.
Still, today they’ve released a new track that attempts to recapture a little bit of the magic of those times since passed. In collaboration with LLLL, U-Pistol, and Calendula, Meishi Smile made “Always,” a gleaming ballad about maintaining relationships and having hope in the bleakness after the internet. According to MAY, the kernel of the track came to be when MAY met U-Pistol over the internet back in 2014. They started working on a track and quickly looped in their netlabelmate LLLL to add to its wistful feelings. The final piece came into place when MAY met Calendula, who’d once made fanart for Meishi Smile, an auspicious origin story for a song about, MAY explains, “collapsing division of digital and real life relationships.”
“We used to think that the version of the self that we upheld online was more authentic,” MAY says. “That we could maintain a sense of truth and expression we had to hide in-person. But I’m starting to feel a fear and disassociation. Emotions have become highly branded and capitalized upon. I want to destroy the false emotion, and remind people to be the most authentic version of themselves.”
“Always,” appropriately, is full of the sort of unbridled emotion that’s become the province of EDM-adjacent songwriters in recent years. Producers like Porter Robinson and Mija among others, have made it so that yearning balladry works on big festival stages, but MAY and their pals are coming at a similar sound from a slightly different angle.
Bright synthesizer lines strain and swell with a magic hour ambience that remind me of Air France, some of electronic music’s great emoters. Dizzying arpeggios evoke the openhearted energy of trance, but it feels more of organic life, like an algae bloom floating along post-modernity’s gunmetal grey. It feels like an echo of the honest feelings MAY wants to evoke, drawing warmth out of bleakness, finding comfort in the arms of strangers, tenderness in pixel arrays at the end of the world.
“I have a fondness for the sterile made romantic,” MAY affirms. “I want to pull emotions from places where you may not think they exist. My music is a lot about identity and exploring my place within society and if people can relate to that then I think I’ve accomplished something. I often use highly synthesized or distorted vocals to displace what the listener is hearing to be either “male” or “female.” I don’t identify Meishi as either.“
Listening to “Always” is weirdly transportive to a period of my life I thought I’d long left behind. Like MAY, I too spent a lot of time online in the early part of this decade, forging connections with likeminded people across the world, because I was either too scared or too pretentious to try to relate on a human level to many people in my high school in Tampa, Florida. Staying up late talking to similarly alienated kids in remote parts of Canada or small-town Ireland could feel isolating but there was a warmth to those friendships too, even those people whose faces I never saw. I miss it, but “Always” brings me right back there, to that confusing feeling of alienation and connection, illuminated in the glow of an LCD screen.
Check out “Always” here alongside a smattering of similarly moving remixes—including one by the hyperactive dudes in ANAMANAGUCHI—and if you’re in Los Angeles, you can make an IRL connection tomorrow at a release party at Rec Center.
Colin Joyce is on the internet, and more specifically on Twitter.