Kit Mackintosh’s Neon Screams Playlist

The writer of a righteous new Repeater Books title kicks back against claims of retro-stasis

Fuck the doom mongers, future music’s alive and thriving.

For a decade the discourse among the critical cognoscenti has been captured by cawing cultural catastrophisers insisting that innovation is a thing of the past. They tell us that we’re living through an unprecedented era of retro-stasis – "the slow cancellation of the future" – but that’s all bullshit. The music of the moment is just as potent, pioneering and paradigm shifting as any of the canonical futurist sounds of previous decades. It’s fevered, street-level sonic science fiction at its finest.

Vocal psychedelia is the first truly new musical movement of the 21st century. Emerging out of rap and dancehall (and still, inaccurately in my opinion, classified as such), vocal psychedelia is all about the delirium of the posthuman voice. Artists take Auto-Tune and arm it to the teeth with all sorts of perplexing vocal performances and a pyrotechnic array of other mangling and mutative digital effects. It’s the soundtrack to (and symptomatic of) our emerging new humanity now intractably tied to technology. So, come take the red pill, it’s time to strive for the cyborg sublime…

Rebel Sixx – ‘Big and Large [AKA 6ixx Dem Big]’

Stuttering eruptions of outrageous falsetto shatter into crystalline constellations of searing sound. Electrified light leaps through your synaesthesia. Then a droning, moaning mid-range takes over; robot vocals that sound as if they’re being bowed like some kind of Afrofurist reimagining of a serangi. Murmurs swirl. Brawling bass churns and lurches beneath…

‘Big and Large’ makes you lust for the future – lust for the unprecedented. It intoxicates you with the shock of Tomorrow. This is a whole new type of noise- a ritualistic invocation of the 2020s and it is, without exaggeration, some of the most amazing music ever made.

Lil Gotit – ‘Runnin Bands feat. Lil Keed’

‘Running Bands’ is traumatising. It’s a disturbing, mutagenic dystopia manifest as music. You

can almost hear neck tendons tearing through the sheer vocal stress of Lil Keed’s synthetic shrieks. The instrumental is similarly sickening; an incessant, malaria-inducing mosquito whirring that feels like some once-repressed memory being reversed and replayed over and over and over again in your mind’s eye.

A lot was made of rappers like Young Thug and Future in the mid-2010s, but in hindsight, it’s been their clones and protégés in the years since who’ve truly encapsulated the radical, drug-addled aesthetic they only ever hinted at.

Tommy Lee Sparta – ‘Bubble Up’

Furiously ecstatic, ejaculatory outbursts exorcise raw, purified erotic energy from Sparta. Musical machines are used not dehumanise him, but to intensify and amplify him; his urges, his emotions, his experiences, his dazed infatuation… Technological augmentation becomes the key to a kind of hyper-humanity as Tommy’s transformed through noise into a splendorous cock god reigning mightily amid the cloudy mists of the sex heaven instrumental track. You’re ravished and enraptured as he emerges like some musical Zeus, carving canyons out of booming, ballistic carnal rage. Behold his phallic majesty and marvel…

Sikka Rymes – ‘Fimme Town’

More sex music, but this one’s grimmer. Seedier. Murkier. It’s harem music. It’s hazy, illicit and hypnotising. It’s dark and dungeon-like and fumous. “Fimme Town” is audible incense that somehow straddles the whole temporal spectrum of the arcane- at once sounding as if it emanates from a long-lost exotic past and a squalid cyborg future.

There’s a kind of digi-pastoralism at play in “Fimme Town” and in modern music more broadly. Soundscapes are no longer created with soul samples or synthy blips. Nowadays tracks are built around gamelan chimes and folk flutes and oud plucks all interfacing with layer upon layer of low pass filters and glimmering digital reverb. It’s so rich with implied imagery. A playground for the imagination.

Playboi Carti – ‘Codeine’

An incomprehensible, intoxicating, kaleidoscopic cacophony of hallucinogenic sound fractals. It’s a neurotic, nauseating, noisy non-sequitur that’s at once brilliant and ridiculous.

This isn’t rap anymore. It operates by none of the same conventions. The voice is no longer a narrative outlet nor an information imparter- it’s a sensation machine. “Codeine” is a distinctly 21st century track – it’s preposterous post-truth music.

AD – ‘AD Anywhere’

Nail bomb pellet percussion ruptures your concentration. Snares scatter and leave you in tatters. This is rave’s futurism repackaged for the modern day; it’s all about speed and machine movement. Feel the rush- not from drugs- but from your fight or flight survival instincts. UK drill is jungle that’s sobered up and got sombre. All the MDMA’s out of its bloodstream and what’s left is a blank, menacing nihilism.

This isn’t vocal psychedelia, it’s a swan song to an older, pre-Auto-Tuned mode of musical innovation. UK drill is the triumphant, glorious goodbye – the last hoorah- of a retiring once-future.

Huncho Jack – ‘Eye 2 Eye’

Sun glitter flutes glisten and flicker as coruscating chatter ricochets in ethereal foreverspace. Everything illuminates. Everything’s iridescent. It’s all nebulous.

Time hiccups through rhythmic trip-ups. Voices stop and start – stalling, stammering, sparkling and startling as single syllable shouts spring to life. They’re electric Jack in the box shocks; jump scares jolting you into states of ephemeral ecstasy.

"Eye 2 Eye” is an example of what I call ‘frag rap’; a genre all about the rhythmic fragmentation of the digitised voice through these hyper-cantonised, call and response vocals. It does away with rap’s traditional veneration of ‘flow’ as it fetishises (and weaponises) blockage and interruption. Vocal psychedelia has not only pioneered a new timbral lexicon, but a new rhythmic idiom also.

Big Voice – ‘Chedda’

Song-spewing phosphorus; sun flares reimagined as soul dissolving sound. Big Voice’s vocals are like a furnace forging the future in the blinding white heat of technological revolution. A colossal, cosmic storm full of chaos and kinesis. It’s monumental. It’s ceremonial. It’s imperial.

Once upon a time, new sounds were uncovered via synthesisers and samplers; acid house’s nano-tech tapeworm squelches, jungle’s sped up, sliced and spliced breakbeats, grime’s ‘eski’ bass… But nowadays the digitised voice is vector of the never-heard-before. “Chedda” is testament to this.

Intence – ‘Nuh Regular Bwoy’

Obscene screams soar over a deranging, vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding instrumental. Intence’s voice becomes rippling silicone awash with artificial, Auto-Tune-induced vibrato, while a husky woodwind coils and slithers between a patchwork of palpitating percussion.

Drug guru Timothy Leary described what he called "dynamisation" as when "familiar forms dissolve into moving, dancing structures." In “Nuh Regular Bwoy”, Intence does this, not only to the spoken word, but to the human form itself. He becomes slimy, scaley and amphibian in the mind’s eye; morphing into something invigoratingly alien.

As a society we’re now obsessed with the digital reconfiguration of the self, from deep fakes to face swaps to novelty photo filters and video game avatar modification… In artists like Intence – with his chemically ‘bleached’ skin and third eye forehead tattoo – we’re seeing the malleability of the technological self beginning to manifest in reality too. Vocal psychedelia may well prove to be the soundtrack to a species on the verge of a major transformation; a musical microcosm pre-empting a transhuman future. Whether it’s proven to be prescient or not, this music is undeniably exciting. It’s irreplaceable; the latest splendorous evolution in a decades-long lineage of tomorrow’s sonics.

So fuck the doom mongers, future music’s alive, it’s thriving and more than that, it’s inspiring.

Neon Screams is out via Repeater

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