April/May 2016

by Chris Cudby

Yeongrak: Uncomfortably Prolific

by Chris Cudby

Yeongrak: Uncomfortably Prolific

One of the most enigmatic and exciting artists to emerge from post-quake Christchurch, Yeongrak produces queezily-coloured electronic psychedelia that is emblematic of both the shifting psycho geographies of his home town and the digital context in which he releases his music. Still a teenager, Yeongrak (Matteo Harley-Mackie), first drew attention to himself locally and internationally via a slow flood of distinctively packaged releases for free / pay-as-you-like on Bandcamp from 2014 onwards. Chris Cudby tracked him down to talk over the cassette-released ‘Brainsoutclock’.

Initially producing a blend of on-point post-footwork / juke, before moving in increasingly compelling and experimental directions, the high quality, unusual texture and aura of mystery created an audience hungry for more from Christchurch’s Yeongrak. His new album ‘Brainsoutclock’, out on Wellington underground label End Of The Alphabet Records, is a perfectly pitched mind-meld of dance production fluency and eagerness to follow a feeling into unchartered waters.

“I just want to make stuff that sounds really uncomfortable and gross, ’cause I guess that’s the sort of stuff I’m inspired by [and] interested in,” opens the artist, who was surprisingly not so tricky to track down for an online chat.

‘Brainsoutclock’ takes a shit all over musical convention with a fresh-faced approach incorporating nightcore, crooning autotuned vocals, noise, drone, R’n’B, surf rock, loops, field recordings and more, twisting these elements into unpredictable, sometimes abject shapes.

“I think it’s probably the best example of the sound I’ve been going for for quite a while now, concerning the whole gross and disgusting-but sweet thing, but it also sounds kind of violent.”

At a time when the skittering rhythms of footwork (aka juke) are an increasing influence on NZ electronic musicians, Yeongrak talks about moving in a direction away from a recognisable version of that Chicago sound.

“I think before I was just figuring out what I wanted to sound like. I basically just wanted to make juke ’cause that was the stuff I loved, but I didn’t have much influence outside of other music. Getting influence outside of music has helped me to figure out a sound I was more comfortable with.”

Yeongrak’s latest album is his second to be released on cassette (the first being ‘Uggghh Riot‘ on Visual Disturbances / Emergency Tapes in July 2015), a rare venture beyond cyber reality, as his work primarily resides on the web – Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube and elsewhere. The ease and transparency of streaming, allowing savvy artists to reach new audiences unencumbered by traditional physical distribution models at a minimal cost, is ideal for such prolific talents with distinctive visions in sound.

While Yeongrak has had a high rate of production in comparison with most artists, he’s nonchalant about his release strategy so far.

“It’s been slowing down lately. For a little over a year I was trying to make an album every month, from the beginning of 2014 to maybe midway through 2015, but I don’t think that was good. I think it was too much, but it was still fun though. It feels weird calling myself prolific so I guess I wouldn’t consider myself to be prolific, maybe just someone who puts out a bunch of shit, or maybe that’s the same thing, I don’t know.”

The ‘NZ’ online streaming tag allows for a relatively unfiltered view of the huge stylistic range of music produced here in Aotearoa – anyone paying attention to Bandcamp over the last two years would have spotted the sickly anime-inspired artwork signifying Yeongrak’s many releases. This visiblity led to his association with Noel Meek’s experimental-focused End Of The Alphabet Records, while inhabiting a distinct musical zone in relation to the local sound arts community, which he had little previous knowledge of.

“I just got a message on Soundcloud from them out of nowhere asking if I wanted to contribute a track to ‘No-Fi Rainbow Volume 2’, and it was strange to me that it was a NZ label, I had no idea there was any kind of scene for experimental music here, or anything like that. I never was that interested in being involved in local stuff since I was so focused on just releasing and collaborating and communicating purely through the internet. [It was] not something I did intentionally, I just didn’t think there was any interest for my sort of stuff anywhere in NZ, really.”

Early exposure for Yeongrak came in the form of a 2014 Dummymag essay by English music critic Adam Harper titled ‘High Speed Sounds to Blister Even Internet-Accelerated Brains’, in which Harper discusses the international emergence of a “cute” aesthetic among a cross-section of electronic musicians, considering Yeongrak’s music alongside such high-profile artists as the PC Music collective. Such swiftness in recognition is a hallmark of current digital music culture, with little regard to geographic distance, reflected by Yeongrak’s own musical network which he states has no tangible “irl” (in real life) component.

“It’s all online, and it’s mainly just my friends. I’m not a part of any tight collective or anything like that.”

Likewise, his recording setup is cheerfully minimal in contrast to the spiralling details of the sounds he makes.

“I’m just [using] Renoise on my laptop at the moment. I have an Electribe that I sometimes use to make stuff though.”

With increasing local awareness of Yeongrak’s evolving take on electronic music, would a live show be on the cards?

“[I’ve played] just a few online things but nothing irl, I’m not quite sure how I’d do it yet. I would like to someday. I’m trying to figure out something I’m happy with on my sampler. The idea makes me nervous as fuck though.”

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