Hiro Kone’s New Album Is an Electronic Exploration of “Morbid Energy”

‘Pure Expenditure’ is open for interpretation, says the producer and composer Nicky Mao, but its spark comes from the uncomfortable grip that capitalism holds on society.

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Jul 19 2018, 4:01pm

Photo by Lena Shkoda

It’s easy to get trapped in cycles of consumption. You order in a single click, not considering the costs—beyond the dollar, the real human cost of your wish-fulfillment—and then in a day or less a drone delivers toilet paper or whatever to your front door. You do it because it’s easy, because it’s what other people do. Because it saves you time for you to go out and do your own clawing upward trying to eke some momentum out of the turning gears of a system you don’t really believe in. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For many people it isn’t, argues the New York musician Nicky Mao, who’s spent the better part of the last decade making shattered and surreal electronic music as Hiro Kone.

“I’m very critical of the hyper-normalization of Capitalism’s grasp on people,” she says via email. “I encounter a lot of people that have such a cynical and passive attitude towards it, and often they become incensed when you point out viable ways in which to actually circumvent its power.”

This conversation occurs within the context of her new record Pure Expenditure—due August 24 on Dais Records—though I’d hazard a guess, based on the discursive and wide-ranging nature of her responses to my questions that she’s never too far from such a line of thought. The record, she says, is open for interpretation, but its “spark” came from some of the French thinker George Bataille’s writings on capitalism, which spoke of “the bourgeoisie proclivity to amass and not let go of wealth.” To her, this line of thought prefigures all sorts of problems in today’s society, like how accessible healthcare is shunned in favor of GoFundMe’s for cancer treatment.

“I see this grimly portrayed in many corners of life,” she says. “It’s exactly why you have adrenaline fanatic rich guys climbing Mount Everest on the backs of Sherpa or Incels hiding out in racist chat rooms and shooting up schools. Though not necessarily equal, both are examples of morbid energy that does not know where to go and is consumptive in nature. When we neglect to expend this abundance or energy without guarantee of a return, it will manifest itself in very grotesque and dangerous forms—and it does so in our nation’s very violent past and present.”

The record, insomuch as it is about anything, concerns itself with the exchange of this sort of energy. Disregarding the structural tropes of music that prefigures it sonically—the measured plod of industrial music, the twitchy energy of more experimental forms of techno— Pure Expenditure stretches out, moving more free-associatively between themes and sounds. The sequenced synthwork oozes like algae blooms, spreading toxically over the surface of abstract rhythms—and just when you’ve settled into something you can nod your head to, Mao pulls the rug out in favor of something else altogether. There are moments that feel club-like in their energy, like the aqueous Drexciyan passage in “Outside the Axiom,” or in the prickly forward momentum of the title track, premiering here, but Mao says that she’s never been terribly interested in making dance music as such.

“To be honest I don’t have a lot of personal vested interest in club culture,” she says. “What I do have is a lot of love and appreciation for electronic music but I prefer to use it as conduit in which to communicate things that don’t necessarily have to do with making you dance. To be clear, that’s not a criticism of people who make “club” music or need to tie one on, because everyone needs a release or a place where they can feel safe and be themselves. My path to making electronic-based music is quite deconstructive, much like my attitude towards patterns of thinking.”

That word “deconstructive” comes up again specifically in the context of Pure Expenditure, it seems key to how she understands her music in this political dimension. It’s disrupting established narratives, doing what it can to throw spanners in the works of the clean, mechanized rhythms of what came before it. Techno can be understood as a masterclass in industrial engineering, all the component parts spinning and whirring together in concerted rhythms, each part serving the other, like an assembly line, churning out consumable products. But Pure Expenditure is about taking out components of that machine, and adding parts elsewhere, then watching how the whole system collapses on itself. “These consumptive attitudes are deeply unnerving to me,” she says. “If I can communicate this is anyway, it’s through my work and so I suppose everything I do is imbued with some urgency to deconstruct our patterns of thinking.”

For followers of Hiro Kone, Pure Expenditure might feel a bit of a left turn—its energy exchange results in a more propulsive effort than some of the more meditative, internal works that Mao has made under that name. But she says these sorts of turns are in her nature, as “the offspring of two diametrically opposed cultures, Chinese and Anglo-American.” Growing up in Hong Kong, but born in America, she grappled with the idea that she always had to adapt, but that an “integral part of myself that was unadaptable,” which she says is still reflected in her music to this day. “I’ve never identified with any single genre or group or idea, which can be cesspools for fundamentalism,” she says. “The ability to move between worlds is the foundation for which this project thrives and doesn’t grow stale.”

Pure Expenditure, in many ways, is just the latest world that the Hiro Kone mothership has settled upon, but it’s one well worth exploring. For all the producers out there currently exploring similar sounds, few have made static feel as ecstatic as the stuff contained herein. And if it inspires you to go tear down the bogus capitalist processes destroying youth culture, all the better.

Hiro Kone's Pure Expenditure is out August 24 on Dais but it's available to pre-order now. While you wait you can check the title track up above and the art down below.

Pure Expenditure tracklist:

1. Holobiont
2. Pure Expenditure
3. Scotch Yoke (Parts I and II)
4. Poortgebouw
5. Outside the Axiom
6. Disoccupation of the Sphere
7. Truth That Silence Alone