Soda Island, Part Two

By Graham Johnson

In Part One, building off of literary critic A D Jameson's theory that underground music cultures cultivate opposing modes of expression — rock the Apollonian prioritization of dream, craft, and illusion; electronic the Dionysian physicality and hedonism of group ritual  Managing Editor Graham Johnson speculated that the recent success of electronic collectives PC Music and Soda Island lay in their ability to appeal to both interests and demographics, by creating dream-like fantasy-lands within genres centered around dance, rave, and ecstatic awe. Much of this world-building quality in Soda Island's music comes from their deliberately cohesive and curated visual/sonic atmosphere, conjuring eight-bit beaches and tropical islands. We talked more with Spire, one of Soda Island's leading producers, about the aesthetics, branding, and escapist qualities of the group's music.

Rare Candy: There's obviously a very conscious aesthetic, both sonically and visually, being developed by members of Soda Island. How did your partnership with Funilab [the digital artist who designs their artwork] begin, and where did the idea for a digital island come from?

Spire (Soda Island): We'd seen his work before, through Mr. Bill, and loved his style and diversity. We approached him with the idea of Soda Island and he really ran with it from there; now the visuals and concept of the island are an integral part of what makes us who we are. Funi is a huge part of the team and he's got this whole world created inside of his head which we're hoping to show more of in the future. Funi was the one who created the aesthetic and really brought the project together, it's hard to put in to words how much of a valuable member of the team he is.

RC: What do you think of the emphasis on cohesive, branded aesthetics that Soda Island or PC Music practice? Are there traces of corporate-ness in this sort of branding, or do you see it as purely artistic?

Spire: I think the difference between corporate branding and what we're doing is intent. For us, it's an artistic passion to create a cohesive concept that people can feel like they're a part of, as opposed to maximizing publicity in the pursuit of money. Brands have become like identity groups these days, and are about a lot more than just the product — take for example Stussy and their black and white long-sleeve shirts, they're so much associated with you [the consumer] if you wear that look. Building up your own consistent style is almost like fertilizing your own little sub-culture, which I can totally see growing as we [Soda Island] expand out into other areas.

RC: Why did you decide to pursue a group dynamic rather than individual route to success? Any thoughts on what Linda Holmes calls pod theory?

Spire: For us it grew out of friendship, we were all friends before Soda Island started... it's already gone way further than any of us would have thought. It's amazing to be part of a group where you're all helping and inspiring each other, sometimes with a bit of healthy competitiveness. Creativity and positivity breed. Throughout history you find groups of like-minded people, and in my opinion, it's key to growth as an individual.

RC: Part one of the article talks a bit about fantasy, escapism, and world creation via electronic music, since so many synthetic, very foreign, very alien sounds are available to be played with. In theory, its conceivable that you could create an entire cohesive aesthetic and soundscape composed of sounds no one had ever heard before, which lends itself to this fantasy creation in a big way. Are you conscious at all of building a world, or a feeling, or an alternate universe when you produce music?

Spire: I guess there are some fundamental limits to rhythm and harmony, which come from physics and the ratio between frequencies, but there's effectively infinite possibilities with electronic music acts as a platform for even more creativity and experimentation. I can't really speak for the others, but when I'm writing I'm not very deliberate with what I'm creating, and for me that's alright... This is just personal opinion, but as far as what a song means I think it's about the listener's response more than the writers intent, whatever you [the listener] are feeling or whatever the song makes you think about when you're listening, that's what it's about. 

RC: There was a period in the electronic music scene for a while where darker, heavier sounds, acts like Burial, were being heavily favored. That seems like it's starting to be replaced by a increasing preferences (among both mainstream EDM and underground audiences) for pop and bubblegum, lighter-hearted offerings, etc. Do you think music that follows the latter route is any less serious, or should be taken any less seriously, than the darker stuff? Or is it all, light and dark, light-hearted and overly-serious, merely aesthetic? Do any of you have a soft spot for pop music, or see yourself even as producing a version of pop music?

We've had this conversation before amongst ourselves, that we're producing a form of pop music in disguise (some of us at least) and I can admit I have a soft spot for pop music (which is given away by the vocalists I've sampled). There's diversity in the group though: RefraQ writes some of the most unique and dark music I've ever heard, and Ramzoid is one of the best around as far as "bangers" and tracks that go off huge at shows. So we're not just about the whole cute aesthetic, we're just lucky to have such a good graphic designer to bring it all together and make it feel consistent. There's been a movement of a lot more upbeat stuff lately and I think it's good to have music out there that's about the happier things in life and indulging in imagination somewhat. There's so much music about break-ups and such, so it's good to have an alternative. And that's always been around, it's just recently in the electronic music scene the whole sort of "future bass" or whatever has been pretty popular. I don't think that because a piece is light-hearted that it means it has any less emotional content, but from my experience it's a lot easier to write a sad piece that gets an emotional response than something trying to evoke joy or excitement — but it can be done. All of us in Soda have listened to a lot of Burial, and Funi runs Obsidian Records which releases a lot of dark ambient and garage stuff, so as a group we're all aware and involved in that side of things too.

RC: Your very existence as a collective/label centers around the Internet. You're a geographically disperse group (from what I gather), your music is all put out digitally, for free download, and the visual component itself is a very much a digital creation, made in Photoshop as opposed to "real"/"physical/"analogue" mediums. There's also the ability to pull from a really diverse swathe of influences as an artist, since there's so much easy access to so many different types of music. You could be influenced by a Nigerian trap producer and a South American folk artist simultaneously to a degree that you never could before. Do you see any other significant ways that the Internet is changing your cultural consumption and creation? Do you think that the Internet is integral to the music you make?

Spire: We all met through the Internet and it's hard to imagine life without it because it's an integral part of most people's lives these days. It's amazing how you can learn about anything you want to and connect with people on the other side of the planet, I don't even know if half of us would be producing if we didn't Google “how to make Daft Punk” or something, I mean any kid with a computer can produce their own music if they have the dedication and drive. I think the best thing [about it] is you can get involved in a scene and be exposed to music that you wouldn't be able to unless you lived in somewhere like Bristol or L.A. where there are producers and DJs everywhere. That kind of life is still thriving (from what I hear), it's just most [young producers] are too young to go to clubs and live primarily in our bedrooms. The Internet allows anyone to get access to any music they want which is great, but there's also some downsides to that. Music has become a lot more disposable and people rarely buy music, but back in the day when people bought records labels were taking most of it anyway, and you had to go through one, so it's probably still about the same amount of money going back to the artists. I think all the benefits of having music being shared freely far outweighs any detrimental effects, especially when you look at it from an artistic perspective. The Internet has also brought a whole new level of collaboration and sharing advice, I've learned so much just from talking to guys like Izzard and Grynpyret. 

RC: Also re: the Internet. Do you foresee Soda Island remaining a primarily Internet-based, bedroom producer community, or do you hope to be able to start performing live?

Spire: Some of us are playing live by ourselves at the moment, and there's been a few IRL meet-ups, but this is something we're aiming for in the future. One of our goals is to tour as Soda Island being a live act, all of us playing together as an electronic band. I could see that being really fun, especially with Funi doing the visuals for the shows. We've recently brought on Luke Alan as our management and he's helping us make a lot of these ideas reality and just in general bringing all these new possibilities for what we can do.

RC: Requisite opportunity for self-promotion: any upcoming releases you want readers to be aware of?

Spire: Well, we don't want to give away too much yet, but lets just say it's time we did something more than just singles.

Soda Island’s music is available for streaming and download at their Soundcloud. For more on some of the ideas discussed in this interview, including the current state of subcultures, geographically disparate scenes, and music's power to form communities, fellow NYC music magazine AdHoc offers a penetrating look in their September issue.