Artist Interview: Angel Marcloid of Swamp Circle
Angel Marcloid is the founder and artistic force behind Swamp Circle. At five years old this August, Swamp Circle is one of the earliest vaporwave labels in existence, and its brand of experimental electronic music has seen over 120 releases in its run thus far. Its highly eclectic and avant-garde approach to music (in the true sense of the phrase) has resulted in a sustained, undeniable influence in contemporary vaporwave art, especially within noise music, sound collage, and classic-style vaporwave – similarities of which may be found in labels as diverse as Acid Medical, Evaporated Sounds, and Orange Milk. Angel creates all of the album artwork for Swamp Circle, which are notable for their vibrant clip-art style and occasionally psychedelic affect.
A few weeks ago, Sunbleach exchanged e-mails with Angel to talk about… well, a lot of things! We discussed vaporwave as punk music, Photoshop plunderphonics, and progression from an emo-band guitarist to a circuit-bending experimenter. Check out over 2500 words of discussion with Angel below, and watch our debut of a new music video for the Fire-Toolz project from Drip Mental! Fire-Toolz is also coming out with a new album this fall.
S: What led to the creation of Swamp Circle, and what stimulated your interest in noise music and vaporwave – especially combining the two?
A: I had been running the physical cassette-based label Rainbow Bridge for a few years when I started Swamp Circle in 2012. I really just wanted to release more experimental music than I was able to in physical form. I also wanted to use an art style I had been playing with that I didn’t think was appropriate for Rainbow Bridge’s vibe at the time. I was really attracted to the idea of a release being intangible, as if it were just 1s and 0s. I very much enjoy modern technology and communication as an aesthetic in a post-cyberpunk, or perhaps neo-cyberpunk, sort of way. I guess it’s not that impressive in 2017, but in 2012, noise-based netlabels were more of a nuisance to most. That’s how it seemed to me anyway.
When vaporwave started to become something more than just an oddity but a community of producers and fans, I became highly fascinated with it. It spoke to me in ways right off the bat that I couldn’t put into words, so when I realized it was something I could actually tap into myself, I didn’t hesitate any longer to do so.
The idea of combining vaporwave and noise releases back-to-back may seem kind of off-putting. It may be frustrating for fans of either genre because they have to weed through music that is totally different to find what they want. Even though they both could be interpreted as forms of punk music with a DIY approach, they can seem to clash quite a bit. Texturally, compositionally, aesthetically. But I think I am attracted to that. I’ve always enjoyed making things work that usually don’t work. Combinations of things that would come off as awkward or strange at first impression. I think the idea of a label specializing in those two genres, as well as actually combining them aesthetically and musically within single releases, creates a really thrilling and unique dissonance. A newcomer browsing around the Swamp Circle Bandcamp page can be a trippy and disorienting process. I like that.
Although it may seem that Swamp Circle is a vaporwave and noise label, there aren’t really any pre-set genre limitations. I focus on experimental forms of music, but I just can’t say that a perfect sounding pop band has no place on Swamp Circle. In fact, that would be inspiring to me as far as creating the artwork. It would be nice to see some death metal or black metal on Swamp Circle. I think stricter themes when it comes to labels is great. I love labels that have a minimal, focused niche. But Swamp Circle is a swamp. I take this very seriously, but I’m having a fuck-ton of fun with it.
S: I like your statement on vaporwave and noise music as kinds of punk music – especially when the two are combined. What are your thoughts on DIY attitudes within vaporwave?
A: Depending on how you look at it, vaporwave is one of the most DIY communities of them all. It has a characteristic that basically cuts it off from other music, and it has nothing to do with the way it actually sounds. It is the process and methods combined with the inherent commentary on capitalism that keeps it so underground. Punk music has plenty of commentary on and against capitalism, but vaporwavers are doing something punks don’t do – placing copyrighted material into an entirely transformative context. Without even giving credit. And its intention is not to benefit from anyone else’s work. It’s like recycling, or collage making. And depending on how much processing and rearranging is involved, it can be more like a dinner entrée made up of all kinds of carefully coordinated and prepared ingredients. It’s like finding a broken piece of a vehicle in an alley that speaks to you on an emotional level, so you use it to make an entirely different kind of vehicle that expresses what was spoken to you effectively. It’s like seeing a photograph or a painting, then taking a photograph of it within the context of where it is displayed, and then releasing it as your own art. You’re not trying to take credit for the painting, you are capturing a unique experience that has everything to do with how you saw the painting, how you framed it within its environment, how you cropped it up close and removed the environmental context altogether, and how you manipulated the colors or contrast. If you didn’t change anything, that was your creative choice that made an impact on how your piece came out. I’ve heard vaporwave that was literally just someone else’s song, totally unaffected. It’s a bit hard to stomach that because it’s so bold, but I really appreciate the statement that it makes. The music industry won’t and frankly can’t capitalize or even involve itself with any of that because it goes against everything it exists for.
Even though we are all using computers, samplers, Bandcamp, National Audio Company, YouTube, etc., we are doing this either on our own or with a few friends. Even though the world evolves fast, and vaporwave has become way more popular than it was in 2013, it is pretty much rejected by the mainstream. Not only because of copyright issues, but because of attitudes toward it. It has to be DIY in order to exist. Most artists seem to think vaporwave is “just other peoples hard work, simply slowed down and doused with reverb, with bad collage art that looked like a 6 year old made it to boot”. It actually can be, and a lot of it is, but in order to “market” that, you have to pitch it to the small underground community you already have. Posting a Bandcamp link to your new release in an experimental music forum let alone any kind of electronic music forum is gonna get fire set to it by people who think what you’re doing is pointless or frankly unethical. People still criticize popular hip-hop for a perceived laziness because of sampling. People were so critical of The Verve using that Rolling Stones sample that they based “Bittersweet Symphony” off of. You just can’t pull that shit in mainstream music. And if you do, you get the shit sued out of you, and it’s fine, because you can afford it.
There are so many things about the vaporwave community that I am unhappy with. At the risk of sounding too self-righteous or too cool, I really don’t like hanging out in that atmosphere. I’ve encountered more transphobia, misogyny, racism, and frankly sociopathic behavior in the vaporwave community than I ever did in punk and hardcore music. For a lot of people I think that would be hard to believe. Vaporwave subreddits and Facebook groups can be really dark places to chill due to a lot of the commentary, shit-talking, gaslighting, and harsh criticisms of pretty much anything you can think of when it comes to a producer or their music.
S: What does the concept of “experimental music” mean to you? Additionally, you mention the concept of a release being “1s and 0s” – can you elaborate on that point?
A: I think that most genre names are inaccurate if you take them at face value. All music is experimental, and it’s all jazz. The more I listen to music, the more hear jazz elements, as well as indications that experimentation had occurred. Popular music wouldn’t be popular if it wasn’t for experimentation in the production process. New things are tried all the time. Just look at sidechain compression in EDM music. That is what people really want to hear in clubs. 15 years ago people would have thought something was wrong with their speakers because the music sounded like it kept sucking itself in and out. Lots of music that is pop isn’t popular, and lots of popular music isn’t the pop style. Noise as a general term is defined as unpleasant and unwanted, but that’s certainly not the case for noise music fans. New Wave may have meant something when it came about, but it makes no sense as a term anymore. I am a fan of the “post-” genre titles, though. They actually express what a genre is by indicating how it was formed. Post-punk was a response to punk as it was in the 70s and 80s for example. I feel like “avant-garde” music would be so much more accurate of a term than “experimental”, but some people feel like that term is snobby. I don’t understand why… it’s far more accurate, and it says what “experimental” is attempting to say. Sometimes there really is no experimentation involved in noise music. It can just be a single process using minimal tools, and released as such, unedited. Anything recorded and mixed in a studio or even just in a computer program is way more experimental than that.
Me comparing digital releases to “1s and 0s” was just a way of saying that the release exists as bits of data only, accessible only with machines that can interpret it. Obviously records and tapes would be the other end of the spectrum. I’m sorry my point wasn’t more profound and interesting like that. (Fact of the day: the history of binary code goes back centuries, long before computers or even electricity! It is a surprisingly interesting subject to read up on.)
S: You make all of the album artwork associated with Swamp Circle. What techniques do you use for creating your art?
A: It’s almost always Photoshop-based. I have used physical scans and drawings of mine before, but it is rare that would occur anymore. I’ve accepted that I am not a great illustrator. A typical album cover is made up of, to put it simply, “clip art” from the internet. I do a lot of editing in Photoshop, though. I think that my style is very similar to the plunderphonics style of music. I am taking copies of things that other people have made, for entirely different purposes altogether, and processing/editing the living hell out of it to make something new. Almost all of the text treatment you see has been created in Photoshop, though. I really love Photoshops blending options & basic 3D rendering functions.
The background image for Swamp Cir by 229 is clip art but totally warped by me. The worm looking things are clip art as far as their shapes but the texture/color/etc was something I changed. The greenish borders are no clip art and totally designed in Photoshop. The lettering is a free font, but I manipulated it to look like the worms. The hands image is clip art, but I changed the color scheme.
The 3D model of the house for 3D Builder Suite v1.0 by Squarecom広場SOFTWARE was found on the internet, but all of the warping and dripping effects were done by me. The blue background image is pure clip art, but the transparent square between the model and the background was designed in Photoshop.
So hopefully that gives you an idea of how I do things.
S: You are a woman of many aliases! What inspired the decision to have so many different projects? Do any have a particular aesthetic, theme, or concept?
A: I don’t strive to have multiple projects and aliases in particular, but I have so many different interests and passions. It would really be impossible for me to focus them all on one or two things and feel okay about it. Focusing on one, maybe two things, is just not how I work, and it’s not how I want to work. It’s not how I work well. I get lost, and I start to lose touch. People have always told me I spread myself thin, and maybe I do. I am a Jane of many trades, a master of none, and HAPPY.
I think my aesthetics, themes, and concepts evolve as I evolve as a person. If you look at the music and art I’ve made since I was young, you can see a gradual evolution that never slows down. Ten years ago I was playing guitar in contemporary emo bands and making 2D grungy t-shirt designs for horrible metalcore bands for money. Five years later I was spending most of my days circuit-bending guitar pedals, building tape loops, and making collages out of scraps. Now I’m obsessed with making music on my computer, vaporwave, and net art. I just listen to my heart, and let myself enjoy making the kind of thing that peaks my interest at the time. I almost started a black metal project made up entirely of fretless bass, xylophone, and vocals. I just didn’t have time to tackle it. Hopefully soon.
S: You mention progressing from contemporary instrumentation (e.g. guitar) to techniques such as circuit-bending and digital manipulation. What techniques in particular catalyzed that aspect of your artistry? Could you suggest resources for those interested?
A: I’ve always been so fascinated with not only how things work, but how I can customize them. I can credit a hell of a lot of that to my father’s influence. He really has a gift for “life hacking” when it comes to electronics and construction. I remember his old work van had this pull-switch on the dashboard that he installed in there. You pulled it to activate artificial sub-bass harmonics on whatever music you were listening to. If that doesn’t explain my fascination with manipulating things that already exist, I don’t know what would. Even before I was playing with bands, I was experimenting with everything I had. I discovered feedback loops before I hit the double digits by being obsessively curious and plugging stuff in my house in wrong. When I scored some basic Boss effects pedals from my uncle in my pre-teens, my musical journey changed forever. Ever since then, I’ve been doing everything I can to make stuff not sound like it’s supposed to. I read this interview with Orgy in the early 00’s and one of their guitarists said they didn’t want their guitars to sound like guitars. I think that is the single moment that made me feel like I wasn’t alone, considering most of my peers at the time were into more conventional styles and methods.
As far as resources when it comes to circuit bending, I’ve only ever just watched videos, read things people have written, and haphazardly connected points on circuit boards to other points on circuit boards to find weird sounds. Although I consider a basic understanding of electronics and parts to be pretty necessary, one shouldn’t feel the need to complete lengthy courses in electronics in order to learn how to turn phaser pedals into harsh drone machines. It’s actually not nearly as complicated as one may think. It gets more challenging when you’re going into a project with a goal. Circuit-bending for me is like a journey of discovery. I might not know exactly whats gonna happen when I solder a wire to these two particular points, but once I get there and hear it, it will help me decide what comes after that. That’s really how I compose music, too. I never know what’s gonna happen until I get there.
Check out more music from Swamp Circle here, and listen to more Fire-Toolz music from Drip Mental below, as released on Hausu Mountain: