Get Refreshed: The Story of Cartz

“Get Refreshed” is a weekly column by Billy Bugara covering all things digital in the music world. Refresh yourself here

Cover by Alejo Andres

Remembering To Forget With Cat Mother

Any creative eager to move towards new beginnings in their artistic career might focus on the idea of the “future” more than anything else. Most creatives would more than likely share this belief in full; planning out how things might turn out in going through with an artistic transition is much better than going in blind, obviously. 

But what’s even more obvious is this: Quinn – the 16-year-old phenom of the online music world – has never, and will never, be classified under the title of “most creatives.” Simply put, we’re dealing with a talent who stands completely amongst themselves in regards to their place in the modern music landscape as a whole, and nothing better exemplifies that than their brand new artistic endeavor under the pseudonym “Cat Mother.” 

This fresh title has arrived with an equally-fresh outlook in regards to their craft. The immense, impactful, and influential waves that they have already created with their past pop-centric work has been effectively concealed and placed out of sight by way of their immediate creative aspirations — those concerned with the far-out and largely undisclosed realms of drum and bass, jungle, and other forms of contemporary dance music. 

With that being said, the now-Cat Mother is casting away their past in favor of a clean-slated future. But at the same time, they’re using the “past” in a conceptual sense as a tool in crafting the makeup of this very same future. It’s a stroke of genius… and unlike anything seen before from an act at this level and in the place that they’re in. 

The present dynamic at hand is artfully reflected by their latest project under their new title 壊れた郷愁 4/14/21 — a 7-track exploration of jungle music’s tried and true ties with video game soundtracks and their corresponding narratives alike. Sampling all things from The Beach Boys – by way of the Earthbound soundtrack – to atypical Mary J. Blige vocals, this experience is an enigmatic one in the moment, and one that masterfully teases towards even more ambitious projects in this light from such a generational figure in their own right.

Moving beyond the past by… relying on the past. Only an artist like this could make such a concept work; given this project by itself, it’s safe to say we’re already seeing it be done. 

mental: “after” [feat. blxty]

The best friends are at it again. 

No pairing within the boundless scope of acts that make up the current digicore landscape have been as unabashedly upfront about the power of their friendship than Helix Tears’ very own mental and blxty. Whether it comes in the form of their constantly wholesome interactions on social media, or even more so through their collaborative efforts on tracks both past and present, these two use their various cues of similarity and sameness not to discount each other in any way, but rather to enhance each of their careers as they are. 

That notion drives tracks like “after” — the latest single from mental themself. These two apply their common traits as working artists and best friends alike to craft together a track completely tailored to their own sense of artistry. The results here are effectively spotless to say the least; these two may just be two ever-so-bonded friends making music in their own shared way, but when this outlook results in such blissfully written and performed pop tracks time and time again, it stands to reason that their collective presence together is a rare match made in heaven that we should all not take for granted whatsoever.

2k3: “[e]motional-healing” [feat. lei]

With sporadic releases, confounding track title formats, and an overall creative outlook that revels in its sense of nuance, 2k3 – the digicore-rooted collective headed by one of the scene’s most gifted producers CJ808 – is among the most intriguing, outlandish, yet entirely fascinating groups of artists to hit the online music landscape as of late. With that outward intrigue coming in the form of their creative presentation from a visual sense right up front, the music it represents is expected to be just as dynamic without question.

And that could not be closer to the truth; in fact, that statement doesn’t even do their music justice. Let such a one-of-a-kind offering like “[e]motional-healing” do that instead. The single, led by one of the collective’s standout rising performers in lei, sees its music-box melody stick out within an amalgamation of scattered percussion, wildly-sung vocal phrases, and an underlying cast of emotional songwriting sentiments that make this experience unlike any single track released inside this scene, for one, and certainly beyond. 

Perhaps it is only similar to the rest of 2k3’s magnificent discography thus far. This is a collective that deserves to have their unmatched status elevated to the highest extremes — completely based on how that very status has come to manifest itself thus far. CJ808’s continued efforts to make statements like these possible from outside sources should not be discounted in the slightest. 

Riley The Musician: “Miss America” // “I Kissed a Ghost”

If one were to delegate a single, consistent mantra that describes Riley The Musician’s career up to this point, it would have to involve the concept of “natural progression.” The young creative began their quest towards pop superstardom towards the end of the previous decade by crafting exemplary pieces of indie-centric bedroom pop that far superseded the drawn-out motifs that defined the sub-genre at the time. Now, Riley is progressing an entirely different subsection of the genre: grandiose, arena-level art pop. 

But just as consistent as this progressive mantra has been in their career, so too has their creative outlook followed suit. Even though Riley has fully transfixed themself with these far more developed and boisterous areas of pop music, their down-to-earth, humble, and sentimental approach to songwriting has remained present, and prevalent at that. The fact that this magnificent talent is able to communicate these concepts while still elevating their sound to new and unprecedented levels should be enough to impress anyone on first notice. 

If descriptions aren’t enough for you, just take a look at these notions put in full effect by their recent outpouring of content. Both “Miss America” and “I Kissed a Ghost” are two of the most magnetic pop offerings to arrive thus far this year — the former track even landing with an accompanying video that helps to convey these concepts even more vividly than before. 

The summer of 2021 has so much promise for this icon-in-the-making, and it’s a summer that effectively just began with the release of these two remarkable tracks.  

The Cartz Trilogy: How Three Tracks Turned Into Modern House Phenomenons

Words by Gum (Dirty Bird)

The original “Cartz” was definitely a spur-of-the-moment thing. It was one of those days where you just smoke a lot of weed and mess around in your DAW for a bit. I think somehow it evolved into a particular kind of personal ethos for lo-fi house music. Someone on Twitter a while ago described it to me as “lightning in a bottle” and that’s been stuck in my head since. At their core, every song in the Cartz trilogy is a warped earworm informed by analog compression and tape distortion – each one fitting the sonic palette of their respective albums with a chameleon-like quality despite having such a different personality.

The original was one of the first songs I made for my “Halcyon Palace” EP. It’s when I first realized that I really liked making the destroyed-sounding lo-fi stuff. It sounds like it’s playing from a Tooth Tunes toothbrush and that’s why we all love it. The drums are chewy; the vocals are horny and sensual; the lyrics themselves catchy and easily repeatable. No high-fidelity version of it exists and it’s perfect. It’s one of the few songs I’ve made where at first I said to myself, “Okay. This is either the greatest thing ever, or it sucks. Like… really sucks.” It established a straightforward framework that I could come back to as well.

  1. Synth keys/pads with tape delay and vintage reverb
  2. Bass with heavy tape distortion/bias
  3. Catchy, erotic vocals

I learned a lot about mixing, mastering, and experimenting with weird synths with these songs. “Cartz 2” has these mind-blowing oscillating synths that I was able to setup in Arturia Pigments, and I learned a lot about different reverb effects just playing around with automation and the Replika VST. “Cartz 2” had to be high energy and more cerebral than the first since it was going on the Neurogenesis album. You can feel the electricity in your body as soon as you press play, but it’s still an obvious sequel to the first. It’s just the first but stronger, faster, and more advanced in production.

The third and final entry in the series focuses mainly on the latter two parts of the framework. My upcoming album has a lot more vocal performances from me, so I made that a part of “Cartz 3.” The bass on this one is similar to “Cartz 2” in that I spent a lot of time getting the analog compression and vintage style tape distortion correct. “Cartz 3” is definitely a bit less destroyed sounding than the first two, but it still has that pseudo-analog character that I like. All of the synths are gently warped and have a nice, warm EQ. The groove here is a lot more similar to the first, and the lyrics a lot more explicitly, uh… sexual. 

I love the Cartz mode of production. It gives me a chance to take chances with my sound and really get some nerdy stuff going on the effects side of things. I’m big into analog gear and obsolete media/technology in general, even though I can’t afford to buy any of the analog stuff I want. Learning about the old way of doing things and mimicking it in my DAW, however, is a lot of fun and I think the Cartz trilogy is a testament to that.