Label Interview: Smirk Sounds
Smirk Sound is a label that caters to “the smuggest experimental and vapour releases from around the world”. Its artist roster is quite varied and unique, featuring works from R0x4ry (of Asura Revolver), Methyr (of Question Records), Lukepi, and s a k i 夢 that touch genres such as lo-fi hip-hop, neoclassical music, and vaporwave. In the second week of May 2017, Sunbleach hosted Smirk Sounds as one of our bi-monthly label-of-the-week features to commemorate the label’s first anniversary. The feature included a feature article that described the label and several reviews of Smirk Sounds albums released throughout their first year. Sunbleach and Smirk Sounds also briefly collaborated on an interview for original release toward the end of the week-long feature but was eventually delayed.
The following interview has been collated from a couple of e-mails that were exchanged between Sunbleach and Smirk Sounds co-heads Nathan and Krishtie (who are from Ireland and Australia, respectively). You can read more about Smirk Sounds at their label-of-the-week feature page here, and you can access their Bandcamp page here.
S: First and foremost – congratulations are in order for celebrating your first anniversary! What inspired the creation of your label, and what in particular inspired the use of the “smirk” emoji as your image and namesake?
N: Well I think what made me decide to form the label was a joke I had with Max of Bedlam Tapes, but when I considered actually making a label it did sound like fun. I was skipping school at the time and put all the stuff together pretty quickly. I was already friends with methyr and he offered to send me what he was working on as our first release, which became Digital Autopsy. The Smirk thing was inspired by the NUWRLD aesthetic of deaths dynamic shroud.wmv, specifically their album Classroom Sexxtape. I really liked that kind of online contemporary style over the classic vaporwave web 1.0 fixation.
S: Smirk Sounds promotes itself as a home for “experimental and vapour” music. What makes an album “experimental”?
N: I think the reason I list it as “experimental electronic” isn’t really that I’m looking for any style in particular, just that I’d like something much broader for the label than the old vaporwave sound, which I feel to be wearing quite thin. I want music with a more unique and post-Internet sound and aesthetic and I thought that that would be a broad enough term to bring in as much of that as possible.
K: A good trademark for an “experimental” release for us is not only pushing the boundaries of sound, but playing with your expectations of certain conventions of genre, and your reactions to them. “Experimental/experimental-electronic” music may be broad terms, but it allows for more people to submit to us and also is a good umbrella term that describes all our releases. We enjoy listening to and releasing music that sets itself apart whilst still being well-made and good quality. We want to offer a growing supportive platform for weird music.
S: What changes can we expect on Smirk Sounds following your hiatus? What are the plans for the immediate and not-so-immediate future? Are there plans for physical releases?
N: Well for one I’d like to see the label reach greater heights, we’re hoping to move towards physical releases after our compilation, which hopefully will get a small tape release just to get us out there as a physical label and let artists know that what we intend to put out will be high quality and sought-after.
K: Having physical releases is definitely something that we want to achieve in the near-distant future. It’s probably the top goal for us for now. As for changes after the hiatus, other than the change in ownership, there aren’t going to be crazy major changes for now. We’re currently just working on building on the label and releasing more albums. That being said though we’re still ambitious and eventually want to work towards bigger creative projects that might even manifest into a physical reality rather than just stay online, but that’s more big picture stuff. For now, it’s all about quality releases from around the world and supporting our artists. Also on more immediate plans, we’ve got a new release from one the artists on our roster lined up for the upcoming months, as well as an accompanying visual project. We’re also working on the compilation to celebrate our one year anniversary. Watch this space!
S: What led to your interest in vaporwave and cyberpunk music?
K: Both of us definitely listen to or have listened to a lot of vapour and cyberpunk-style music. I don’t remember the particular moment I started listening to ambient/experimental music but when you’re a music fan usually one thing you listen to naturally leads to another and you then stumble into your niche/s. I remember watching wosX’s documentary on vaporwave on Youtube and then I was hooked. Listening to bizarre electronic music across many subgenres and geographic locations is definitely one of my favorite things to do; Nathan and I live and breathe that stuff.
N: Well cyberpunk music is what lead me to vaporwave music I guess. I’ve always been big into cyberpunk, I’ve a fair number of Gibson, Stephenson, and Dick novels on my shelf and even more of the genre on my hard drive, spanning multiple mediums. I first got into cyberpunk music as a whole via the old cyberpunk general threads on 4chan’s technology board, /g/, back 2014-ish. I used to listen to a lot of synthwave back then but I wasn’t too pushed on the whole vaporwave aesthetic. Again thanks to Max, or Oscob as he’s known to the community, and following him on Tumblr, I was eventually interested enough to listen to his early albums, which are what got me hooked. Nowadays I don’t listen to a whole lot of vaporwave anymore, only the extremely good stuff, which is to say Smirk Sounds probably won’t be putting out your typical vaporwave unless it really impresses us. Which hopefully our listeners will be able to submit!
Sunbleach also asked Smirk Sounds to ask a few of their artists about their activity in Smirk Sounds and their editing process. One of the respondents was Kai Beckman of the project s a k i 夢, who provided the following information:
K.B.: I believe Nathan himself just straight up asked me if I wanted to release with him. I was originally going to be working on someting more original when it was taking longer than expected and decided instead to finish up a Saki album I had been working on. As for Saki’s relation to Smirk Sounds, I think it’s the fact that Smirk having a kind of eclectic theme allowed Saki, being kind of a weird project in my opinion, to fit in as a unique character. Basically, his juxtaposition towards the label worked out well based on how his music looks, sounds, and his behavior as a character. It’s hard to describe, basically I think it works because it doesn’t.
The creative process for [s a k i 夢], at least in my opinion, is distinct and obscure enough to kind of “excuse” the sampled nature of the works. Basically, Saki and I will dig through tunes online for several hours, and I chart down how he reacts to each song. The ones that give me specific responses, based on him moving towards/away from the speaker, or dancing rhythmically, I’ll use those tracks and do the basic pitch shift, phaser, delay, reverb, chopping, and occasionally I’ll add in my own beats and layers. The decision for using Japanese as him primary language, while most would assume is to make it look v a p o r, that’s actually not true. I only did it because “Saki” (or rather, his full name, “Misaki”) is a Japanese name. The artwork is usually just carefully selected images of fish and aquatics that remind me most of the album.
(I tried to get Saki to answer [the questions] himself but all he did was twirl around for a little.)
Check out three Smirk Sounds albums below: Vision by LeonLS, タンクの装飾 by s a k i 夢, and Ocean Dreams by Lukepi / Methyr: