A D Jameson writes brilliant, informal lit criticism, often for brilliant, informal lit-crit blogs like HTML Giant and Big Other. He delves occasionally into music writing as well, breaking down in a 2010 piece “Throw Your Hands in the Air (The Dionysian Impulse)” what he perceives to be the contrast between the Williamsburg school of 2000s indie rock and the more mainstream electronic scenes. The analysis centers around a dichotomy present in a lot of German 19th century philosophy (most notably Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy) of the Apollonian and Dionysian. The former, Jameson recaps, centers around dreams and fantasies, prioritizing illusion and craft while forgoing natural instinct for “higher” consciousness and enlightenment. The latter concerns itself with the exact opposite: hedonism, primal urges, the immediately real and natural, the pursuit of “ecstatic awe.” (While he doesn’t touch on this in his post, the use of MDxx drugs within the EDM scene seems in line with the Dionysian fixation on carnal pleasure.) The reason that, say, Beach House and Major Lazer, or Owen Pallett and Skrillex, have such different audiences is due in part to this dichotomy: they appeal to totally different personalities and seek to satisfy totally different human needs.
In theory then, it would seem to follow that an act which bridged both worlds could potentially win over both sets of audience members. Cue 2014’s PC Music. It operated inside a complete, aesthetically cohesive fantasy-land which was transportive in the same way Beach House’s adolescent dream-pop could be. A large part of PC Music’s meteoric rise is arguably due to this fantasy component as much as the EDM-lite beats which musically ground the subgenre. (As evidence, I’d point to Nadia Oh’s 2010 “Is That You,” a track musically indistinguishable from a lot of PC music, and yet which, because it lacked the cohesive aesthetic dream-world of PC Music, never made waves in the way that A G Cook and Sophie have.) This is partly, I think, what staff writer Maurice Marion was touching on in his profile of PC Music, when he wrote that it balances “between brainy self-awareness and a sincere love of great pop music.” The result is that those who so devoutly love “Lemonade” are often the Gen-Z and late-millennial types who grew up on both 2000s indie rock and the EDM festival explosion, that is, Coachella’s primary demographic.
Soda Island, a loose musical collective in the same vein as PC Music, bears a similar tendency towards combining Apollonian and Dionysian qualities. Like PC Music as well, its aesthetic is vaguely futuristic, but it locates itself in beaches and oases, the warmth of the sun and the sand, rather than cold robotics.
This aesthetic is greatly aided by both the colorful, other-worldly visuals of digital artist Funilab and the music's sonic trappings; Izzard’s “Port Town” has samples of gentle waves and the sort of laid-back synth sounds featured on Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach, which I’d point to as a possible influence on a lot of Soda Island’s output alongside Nintendo soundtracks.
The rest of Soda Island’s soundscapes rely on eight-bit and guitar samples, bright crystal synths and horn pads, sounding both organic and artificial at once. Within the electropop umbrella, there’s a variety of subgenres, styles, and atmospheres being employed by the collective, ranging from upbeat bubblegum (Spire’s “Girls”) to layered collage; cohesion within the group is achieved, then, by this general warmth of sound and the ambient island samples present on almost all their tracks.
There’s very little information on Soda Island online, which makes this perhaps the first primer post on an otherwise-obscure group. The only hard information currently available on them is the following:
- Soda Island's current roster of producers comprises Grynpyret, Ramzoid, Spire, Izzard, RefraQ, Xander Lewis, Avionics, and Arian Cook.
- Grynpyret and Ramzoid are both somewhat-well known artists within the Soundcloud world already, and their musical output long-predates their work under the Soda Island label. A lot of the producers’ previous works bear aesthetic similarities, but usually lack the same overt tropical allusions and atmospheres.
- The median age of these producers is incredibly young. Xander Lewis is sixteen, Grynpyret is seventeen. Julien Lopes of Ramzoid looks from his photos to be in a similar age bracket.
- Soda Island itself is newly-founded. Its Twitter presence is four months old, and coincides with the posting of its first (publically viewable) track on Soundcloud, Xander Lewis's "Honeydew."
- The group’s members don’t seem to be united by geographic locale or even continent; Grynpyret is Swedish, Izzard is from Pennsylvania, Ramzoid recently graduated from a Canadian high school, and Spire appears to be Australian.
Otherwise, the project is still a mystery, drawing on a bit of the same hype-machine traction that once-obscure acts The Weeknd and Burial were renowned for — an aura which itself lends a surreal, otherworldly tone to the collective in an era of information overload and disintegrating privacy.
Soda Island’s music is available for streaming and download at their Soundcloud.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly speculated that Ramzoid appeared to be an American high school student. He is in fact a recent high school graduate, and resides in Canada.