Here’s what I like about Nmesh: he’s old. Or, rather, he’s old enough. In the nostalgia-fueled, archeological dig of a genre that is vaporwave, it’s a shock to see how young some of its more famous names are: Vektroid and Saint Pepsi were literally toddlers when Windows 95 was released, and the first cassettes they’ve bought may have very well been their own. Nmesh (the ‘m’ is silent), real name Alex Koenig, is a different beast: bearded, bald, and tatted up, he resembles someone you’d expect to see in a metal band. Perhaps a dork at heart but certainly not someone afraid to show his face. Nmesh dates all the way back to 2001, which (I’m guessing) was sometime around his 17th birthday, often teetering between “Transmissions from Outer Space”-style trips and grindy IDM stuff. Granted, I’ve only heard a small percentage of his work – his back catalogue is huge, containing not only a zillion albums and EPs, but also a 360-track compilation of outtakes, produced-bys, and remixes. Some of it good, some of it strange, most of it very amusing. The fact that this guy stumbled into vaporwave is interesting to me, since it feels like such a natural direction for guys like him to go.
So what happened here? Who knows – perhaps someone slipped him a copy of Chuck Person’s Eccojams with the mail, or he happened upon the right corner of the internet at the right time. Either way Alex began to connect the dots from Aphex Twin to OPN, getting in on vaporwave ri-i-i-ight as it was being declared a dead genre. Nu.Wav Hallucinations doesn’t sound notably different than what came before; a lot of this is firmly in Eccojam territory, and therefore is sure to induce some eye-rolls…”oh look, he’s slowing down Billy Idol…*makes wanking motion*”. But it does sound fresh to me, and I’m pretty sure that’s due to the guy behind it. You see, vaporwave is one of those genres that tries hard to intentionally obfuscate itself and bathe in its own surrealism, which leads many artists to hide behind a wall of Japanese characters and try to pretend like this could’ve come from anywhere but some Redditor browsing Weather Channel stock music in between classes. But Nu.Wav Hallucinations is different, particularly after the first third – this is more of plunderphonics/DJ mix album than it is straight vapor, and as such it’s generally a lot more interesting to me.
Granted, the album is not so much freaky as it is funny, which I think is sort of the intention. I mean the whole Eccojam thing was supposed to be a recontextualization of sophisticated 80’s pop and R&B, not Frankie Goes to Hollywood (dig those tortured “HUAAAGH”s!). You’re not supposed to like, literally sample “Songbird”, as he does (amusingly titled “Nuthin’ But a きThang“). Rather than scour the archives for dead-eyed corporate stock music, Koenig mashes together candy commercials and educational tapes, often mixing and torturing them until they start to turn into a drug-addled nightmare. One tune seems to be constructed mostly out of Street Fighter 2 sound effects (“ニミシララス In/Door/Fun ハナミ”), which is the sort of thing that every kid who found the SFX tried to do. Elsewhere he does little more than remix, though oftentimes this works very well – he correctly identifies that The Smith’s “How Soon Is Now?” provides the base of a kickass cut-up jam (“Soon Enough”), manages to turn Frankie into goth, and triples the urgency and desperation of Mariah Carey’s “Can’t Let Go” by slowing it to a crawl.
Somehow, the whole thing winds up flowing together – while vaporwave generally prides itself on harsh edits and whiplash-inducing cuts, here it’s the mood and overall theme which takes sudden turns, even as the sample sources remain the same. For the record this is kinda rare amongst vaporwave artists, though Vektroid plays in this space sometimes. Often a straightforward remix will turn psychedelic at the drop of a hat, while other times a resonant or affecting moment might suddenly deflate itself just for the hell of it. “I Got Your Letter” is perhaps the album’s most haunting track; the sort of thing that might soundtrack a good Friday afternoon depression, until it suddenly cuts into a reading of a bizarre YouTube love letter (which, by the way, actually exists), featuring a seductive voice reading lines like “it’s like heaven died and went to heaven”. In fact I’d say the album owes more to The KLF’s Chill Out than it does anything vapor, just replace Elvis and Fleetwood Mac with The Breakfast Club and a Whatchamacallit commercial and you’re there.
As a whole it functions as a journey through the memory of a 30-something year-old dude, with all the vaguely-remembered touchpoints you would hope for (Robocop, Saved by the Bell, an Arctic Cat Snowmobile commercial). Given that I was born in ’86, I feel a sense of real nostalgia from this album that I don’t get from a lot of vaporwave; it’s not like the 90’s were all jagged polygons and squiggly purple lines. There’s a bit late in the album where he’s fiddling with the radio dial, barely pulling in the Latin station, hitting upon syndicated sports radio (the Fox Fantasy Freaks!), and eventually landing on a piece of lame instrumental New Age – which rather vividly brings me back to those road trips where all you had were six CDs that you were totally sick of, so you take your chances on the airwaves, hoping for something strange. I don’t know if that’s what he was going for but the album has a lot of fill-in-your-own-memory bits like that.
Which I think is why this works for me. A lot of vaporwave feels like a shot in the dark sometimes, an exercise in finding the most obscure thing someone can remember from their childhood. Nu.Wav Hallucinations approaches the idea as a way to make an unusual sort of DJ set, or perhaps examine how a normal DJ set would sound like after you’ve completely fried your brain.