Get Refreshed: August ’22

“Get Refreshed” is a monthly column by Billie Bugara covering all things digital in the music world.

Refresh yourself here.

Mental Makes Music That Sounds Like Mental

Mental’s career has been fascinating to follow. I found their music pretty much just like most other people in the grander “pandemic era” of Internet music – through our Discord/Twitter/Whatever communities. In 2020, Mental was an artist that I knew had a bright future ahead of them, and was someone I had so much faith in due to their organic approach to songwriting, styling, and behavior overall. Their attitude towards music is unlike anyone else’s; they are light, simple, and down to Earth. They’re just Mental… and you know what I’m talking about if you’ve heard the music and/or talked to them as a friend.

Friend… I don’t think there’s single word that best describes everything Mental is about than that. Even if you don’t know them personally, Mental is a friend. Their music is friendly, and their artistic nature revolves around friendship. I’ve observed this throughout their lengthy career now, but that’s not what makes it so fascinating like I expressed before. What makes it that way is just how much they’ve worked to make that aura of affective friendship surface within their music, and through their music over time. Let me explain.

Their music has always had a sincere sense of intimacy about it, even in its earliest forms. But when you listen to Mental in 2022, these feelings and sentiments are not just applied… they’re clear as day. “Light Music” is a tag that they use quite prominently on SoundCloud, and their past string of singles in 2022 embody everything that this tag represents more than any of their past offerings. That isn’t to take anything away from their output before this year; it’s literally all amazing. But 2022 Mental is just… remarkable. And it’s all because they’ve perfected the art of… well… being Mental!

How is this the case? I mean, it’s kind of obvious when you look at it with just the slightest bit of insight. Most of their recent work has been produced entirely by them. Their production style lays the foundation for a friendship-centered style that nobody could pull off as well as they do. Those soft midi strings on “like a bug” are Kondo-esque circa 1998, but they sit atop a comfy lead melody that creates more senses of intimate bliss than resolute drama. Or how about the twinkling bells that are used prominently in that track along with “homesick” and so many others. These are just a few of the cute instrumental cues that Mental places in their music that foster these organic feelings of closeness, affection, and friendliness. And how could I not talk about perhaps their most defining asset in this respect, their voice. Mental’s vocal delivery is the closest thing to a deep conversation on a boardwalk as one can get. It’s not even cliché either… it’s powerful in all its softness. It’s just… Mental.

So to wrap this all up, Mental has come into their own in 2022 by directly translating who they are as a person into their music. If there’s anything other artists can learn about this, it’s that you must look within yourself first if you want your music to resonate with others on an affective level. If you’re making music that’s sorta superficial and not meant to hit those deep points in listeners’ psyches, then pay no mind to this! That’s not Mental, though. Mental is Mental, and their music says so.

The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of TwerkNation28

­I am not a fan of writing obituaries. It’s really just not my thing… especially when it comes to people/places/things that I adore so much (or have been closely associated with). It doesn’t feel good to memorialize something so soon after its demise, at least for me. I’m happy that I have this perspective for a number of reasons, but none more so than the following fact: I never have to worry about jumping the gun. 

Enter TwerkNation28 – the simultaneously comical and commendable Jersey Club collective that made waves across the Internet throughout 2021 and into the present year. Full disclosure, not only have I written about TN28 before in this very column, but I was also a legitimate member of its admittedly enormous roster. I only made one song for the collective, and it wasn’t even Jersey… nor was it club music. It was a 1990s new age reimagining of Imogen Heap’s 2009 classic “Wait It Out”. So that just goes to show the seriousness of this group, but it is not as though TN28 didn’t have its merits. It had them in droves, actually.

Quannnic, the ultra-talented pop and alt-rock figure, started TN28 as a contemporary homage to Jersey Club’s past, present, and possibly even future if we’d like to infer it as such. They have a deep-seeded appreciation for the culture of Jersey Club, as well as the context behind what makes it such an important and integral style in club music as a whole, yesterday and today.

However, the collective’s rise in popularity brought with it many different interpretations of its day-to-day operations. Some audiences would see the appreciation to Jersey being displayed and would think nothing otherwise. Others, however, saw the collective’s tongue-in-cheek and distinctly ironic presentation as a mockery of the style. Some even considered the collective to be appropriating the music in quite the inconsiderate manner; they claimed that TN28 was not doing Jersey Club’s immensely cultural background justice in any sort of way, instead doing the bare minimum and re-contextualizing the music for audiences without those cultural ties.

These conflicting perspectives eventually led Quannnic to announce the collective’s demise earlier this month – taking away its SoundCloud page and prompting fans to “listen to authentic club music”. But after immediate outcry from fans and artists alike (many of those acts within the collective itself), the page was reluctantly brought back to life some days later, presumably detached from any sort of involvement from those who supported its closure.

TN28 has had an… interesting… lifespan to say the very least. When I first learned of its closure, I thought maybe I would have to write its obituary, not that I really wanted to. But like I said before, I didn’t jump the gun, and now I’m just writing about yet another bizarre moment in its history. As someone who really doesn’t listen to Jersey Club, it’s not my place to speak on whether “TN28 was doing it justice” or not. I was invited to the collective as a silly little joke and made a new age song because I had 30 minutes to spare one day. I think the music of TN28 is great, and its mission statement – no matter how obfuscated it might have gotten as the collective grew bigger and bigger – was wonderful from the start. It’s just one of those cases of uniformed audiences failing to grasp what makes music such a cultural artifact. If the audience of TN28 took its mission statement as legitimate throughout the collective’s history, then perhaps I wouldn’t be writing about its half-death as I am right now.

On UVC… A Note From Billie Bugara

As I begin to write this very piece, I can’t help but think about how I shouldn’t have the time nor the willingness to do this. It’s the 17th of July 2022 . I’m sitting in my office as I usually do every Sunday morning: coffee made, tofu for breakfast (and lunch and dinner), and I’m listening to the Pebble Beach Golf Links soundtrack for the Sega Genesis. This seems like a typical day in my silly little life… but I can’t help but feel that things are different today. Something shifted… truly. However, this is not a recent development. Something indeed shifted about a year ago, and things really haven’t been the same since if I’m being honest.

Around 364 days have passed since the demise of Underground Vampire Club (UVC) – my former blog that me and a bunch of others poured our heart and soul into for years on end. 2018 to 2021 may not seem like the longest time from an objective perspective, but God… it really, really was. It seemed like an eternity was spent strengthening this blog to its highest potentials imaginable. It met an unfortunate ending… one that neither I nor its original founder and my best friend Bern could have ever predicted. But everything that they hold so dearly now, as well as the things I involve myself with, are all because of the trials and tribulations we went through during our time in UVC. Everything that we do today is because of this blog; the same can confidently be said about many of the world’s biggest and/or fastest rising stars in modern music.

Even still, as I expressed before, I really shouldn’t have the time to do this. Like… I really have 9 million other things to care about in my life as it currently stands. So does Bern… so does literally everyone who was involved with UVC at one point or another. None of that matters to me right now, honestly. I’m pushing things back to pay tribute to the years we spent molding our very own futures, and the futures of many an artist and creative alike with this platform. Because I wouldn’t be with SoundCloud if it wasn’t for UVC. I wouldn’t have started deadAir if it wasn’t for UVC. And I certainly wouldn’t be writing this piece on if it wasn’t for UVC… (thank you Seamus I love you so much). It’s only right that I do this… no matter how brief it is.

My background with UVC isn’t anything too wild. I joined in early 2019, a few months after the blog was initially started by Bern. I originally thought this was going to be just a place for me to write about all the cool music I was listening to that wasn’t called Vaporwave. I was… kinda right? I mean I really hit the ground running with a bunch of articles off the bat. They were reasonably successful, even – speaking in terms of feedback, that is. I even became Editor-In-Chief within like… two months of joining.

I was already in-the-know as far as the ever-brewing styles of SoundCloud were concerned at the time: the eclectic sounds of Boysnightsout, the consistent presence of plugg and its evolving “nb” cousin, and lest we forget… whatever you wanted to call hyperpop/digicore/glitchcore/etc. (which, back then, still didn’t have a name WE LOVE THAT). All these styles and scenes alike were covered by UVC; the whole roster had its finger on the pulse to say the very least.

As great as this aspect of UVC was, however, that wasn’t nearly the best part about joining. Not even close, really. To people on the outside it surely was… but not for those on the inside. What mattered most about UVC – what made it so profound for me upon joining – was the community that existed within it. When I first joined, I was immediately thrusted into three or so Twitter groupchats that all meant NOTHING to me. They all had random names that just made zero sense whatsoever, and I couldn’t really grasp what was happening at any given moment. I think Bern just added me and was like “hey new UVC member” and that was it. This was a lot for an 18-year-old who had only involved herself in the Vaporwave community up until that point. I wanted to introduce myself… but I just kinda went with the flow and let people get to know me gradually. It all worked out, miraculously.

Those groupchats were absolute chaos. I have no reason to recount every single hilarious, absurd moment that went down in them… but let’s just say every single day brought some sort of new entertainment into my life solely based on their happenings. In between this chaos, believe it or not, existed a tight-knit group of creatives that just wanted to make something successful happen. That’s where I felt most at home. Everyone in UVC felt passionate about their work at one point or another… even if that passion had its peaks and lapses with each respective member. I didn’t just get thrusted into a group of people I didn’t know… I got put in a place that taught me how to communicate online… how to network in nuanced, informal ways… how to be “normal” in terms of Twitter (where nothing is normal). These crazy environments – on Twitter, Instagram, and Discord – allowed me to meet so many new people, and eventually be introduced into the unparalleled dynamic between writers and artists that this community so unabashedly exemplified.

If UVC wasn’t the first to display this dynamic, we truly did it the best… and I mean that. We were not just some blog for rising artists to garner an article placement in; we were a place for them to belong. We let tons of artists into our groupchats; we hosted music with them; we even let artists like Midwxst and Chach contribute articles for us. We were doing things completely differently… blurring the lines between community hub and journalistic resource. Bern and I, in our never-ending quest to improve UVC day by day, realized this and factored it in to our daily efforts. What resulted was a period of innovation, influence, and importance.

2020 was just outstanding for UVC. We put on our resoundingly successful “Vampalooza” Discord shows, we conducted our visual-feature series “Password Protected” and “Highest Resolution”, and we had a cute little ARG-rebrand to end the year out. It was truly a great time to be alive, especially in the face of the seemingly endless Internet music discourse that permeated the community throughout that year. That wasn’t fun to deal with, despite most of those scenarios having to go down the way they did. UVC stood as a community of friends to discuss such matters in any way we pleased – even if it wasn’t productive, it was still necessary.

2021 brought with it a number of changes right off the bat. I stepped down as EIC due to the other opportunities I had gained as a result of UVC becoming the forefront of my life. Everyone else began to shift priorities as well, simply due to how much our hard work had offered us all these brand new horizons. By mid-2021, the blog wasn’t just a blog. It sorta split off into two separate entities: the blog, and the newly-founded UVC Records. The latter was always a goal for us to try and accomplish, however, my life just got way too busy upon its first steps and I had to dip from it very early on in its creation. I actually didn’t even know if it was going to go through until it just kinda… happened. Nevertheless, that didn’t last long, and UVC eventually folded last summer in July.

For a little bit… it seemed like that gap we worked so hard to fill was wide open again. That essence of community… the platform for everyone to enjoy… that unprecedented dynamic we shared with artists. All of it seemed to just fizzle out and we were back at square one. But then came the rise of platforms like No Bells – which combined our community-incentives with exceptional journalism… the likes of which we could never pull off at UVC. And that label experiment promoted two UVC members who weren’t really involved – Jesse Taconelli and I – to start our own label out of it… and let’s just say the rest is history there.

This is all to say… all the things I do in the music world today is because of UVC. The label I co-founded, the community of artists and creatives I know and love so dearly, and so much more… practically everything, seriously. Most importantly, I met my two best friends through UVC – Mya and Bern. Those two are the most central figures of my entire life, and it barely has anything to do with music at all. That, I think, was the true power of UVC: its ability to create connections that far exceeded the music landscape it settled itself in.

If you were in UVC – or were just affected by it in any sort of way – I know you feel the same say. We all may have differing degrees of this effect, but you’d be lying to yourself if you denied it outright. We truly created something so special with this blog, and I wouldn’t trade my time with it for the entire world. It means so much to me, and a year since its demise, it honestly means even more than it ever has before. Just needed to say all of this for the sake of my own mental… sorry for rambling!

Go tell Bern thank you if you’ve read this far, they deserve it <3