Bask Like Cats: Chatting with 猫 シ Corp

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"I mean, people say, "Vaporwave is dead". I don't know...but certain things might die and others might be born. It’s a journey, and where that destination is we don't know. But eventually, we'll get there." - 猫 シ Corp

This is part 1 of my 2-part interview series with 猫 シ Corp. The first section is a long form, in-depth interview with the artist. We walk through many varied topics including his musical history, the iconic status of his album Palm Mall, his views on the state of Vaporwave, and plans for his next ambitious project, Building a Better World

Part 2 will be coming next week and features be a more focused discussion about America, growing up, and the roots of Vaporwave nostalgia.

  •  猫 シ Corp. 
Oh... My cat just entered. Don't know if you can hear him...

  • Sam 

Is this the cat I see so much of on Instagram?

This is the black one, Poeke. He will turn 11 this year. (Meow!) 

How many cats do you have?

Three cats.

Polly is the mascot of Cat Corp. and Yuki is the big fluffy Persian?

She's the queen... or princess. You can see her lots on Instagram. She's always hanging around me. 

You definitely sound like a ‘cat person’. And when you were trying to think of your artist name. You've got the ‘Cat’ bit and then you've got the ‘System Corp’. section. So you've got a cute, natural thing, then a very severe corporate title, and you put them together.

It was because I was thinking about; what kind of music am I going to make? I wanted to make this Corporation, but make it a little bit fun, as if it was run by cats. Because I thought no one's ever gonna listen to this stuff. So why not just make something funny? Fun fact: I was also working on little stories about my cats, like comics or short tales – so they influenced me, haha!

I added the little smiley face in, (シ Corp.) then I translated the idea into English and then translated it back to Dutch and then back to Japanese. And after a couple of clicks, it said: Cat System Corporation. And then I thought, yeah that's it. Because I like the way that Google Translate makes a mess of translation.

After that I uploaded a four-track E.P. or something... and then it all started.

That’s actually one of the things I wanted to double check with you. Your first E.P. is called Corp., or Cat Corp? It's got that triangle design, July of 2013.

Oh, was that it? Yeah, I think that is it.

One of the problems I often encounter when doing research for interviews is just trying to work out when albums were released. Especially for Vaporwave, it can be difficult. It's been what? Like seven-eight years now since a lot of this stuff came out? So it's a real gap.

That’s true. And of course, there’s a lot of artists who used to make fun of release dates. If it was in 2013 they would fill in on Bandcamp to say that it was released in 2010 or 1999. So sometimes you have to double check if that is indeed correct.

Sometimes you'll find a situation where it'll list as one release date on Rate Your Music, another on Discogs and then something completely different on Bandcamp. Maybe because no one can remember the initial release date. And then it's been uploaded to Bandcamp on a different day, sometimes even a different year.

I had that myself when I deleted a load of my albums because I got freaked out with the copyright... Which turned out to be unnecessary. I think this was around the time Dream Catalogue got a copyright strike and started to delete stuff from their Bandcamp. But then I forgot when some of these records were released. When I couldn't find the dates on Discogs or anywhere else I was like: oh, s**t!

That's funny

You mentioned previously that before you moved into Vaporwave, you used to make other types of music. Was that electronic, or singing, or rock or...? What kind of style was that in?

One of them was a noise project. And it was called "Beutewaffen" in German. Like when you were fighting a war and you would seize enemy tanks or enemy rifles and then use them yourself.

You can see a lot of pictures with German soldiers using like a Thompson machine gun or American paratroopers with German MP40's and that's called ‘Beutewaffen’ in German.

I thought, let's... let's use that. And I was making noise from tape hiss and other recordings I did around the house. Also used samples that I would record like, forklifts, cats... everything.

So field recordings almost.

Yeah, and I would translate them into heavy noise.

I guess that's the link between your previous work and your Vaporwave output. You have that initial interest in sampled music and noise recordings, then you discovered this thing called Vaporwave and you start to hammer that interest into something that’s a bit more trendy, more part of a scene.

Yeah, I think I had just finished one of my other projects called Mesektet when I discovered Vaporwave. Mesektet was more like Heavy Drone. It was released on Cold Spring Records. Like a very big dark Ambient label.

It's cool you come from the Ambient world.

Well, I'm actually making something like this again. So I think later this year, or next year, people will get an album from me that’s totally unexpected like: “What the hell? Drone music?”

But it makes sense since I like to go back to my previous work for inspiration. 

I think it was 2013 when I found out about Vaporwave. And I actually remember how I found it very clearly; I was Googling stuff like... I wanted to find a way to release music in a different way. So I said, hey why not release it on floppy disk? I typed in on Google: "Music released on floppy", and I found this artist Miami Vice.

(If you do it now you won't find it again haha)

Their album CULTURE ISLAND was on floppy. And I was listening to it like, holy shit! What is this kind of music? Sounds like coming home, or finding something that I...That I didn't know I missed in my life.

I saw that the tag from Miami Vice was ‘Vaporwave’. So I clicked it and a world opened up to me.

Wow.

All kinds of albums, and can't even remember all of the names but... Phew...

And in terms of eras, that 2013 period is a really cool time to jump on. You were jumping right into the fire of that initial upwards rush of the creativity.

Mm-hmm. When I first found Vaporwave I didn't even really like Floral Shoppe in the beginning. And Eccojams was pretty rough, right? To fully listen to it, in the beginning, was like pretty heavy you know. 

Looping and looping and looping… And I actually never listened to James Ferraro. Sorry.

Oh did you not? Haha. (very offended)

But I did fall in love with Luxury Elite. Digital Island Fantasy. And Architecture In Tokyo. This is what I consider ‘Vaporwave’. If someone asks me, “What is Vaporwave exactly?” I say, “this is it.”

That’s what the genre means to me. Those early releases. And of course, Telepath. That's a whole different chapter.

Luxury Elite is one of my favourites too. It's big, rich. Very melodic. It's very full and thick and maybe on the more optimistic side of Vaporwave. That’s what Luxury Elite is to me.

True. But honestly, even if I prefer some to others, Vaporwave has many subgenres or themes. I think I can like each of them, every one of them. Every subgenre has an album or an artist that is really good.

I'm not really saying this to flatter you. But I feel like your music is a good example of this kind of thing we're talking about. Your mentality is a very positive, optimistic version of Vaporwave. 

Yeah, and If you look at my catalogue you'll notice that I cover almost every subgenre. And those would be the ones that I like. Like Traditional Vaporwave, or The Weather Channel. Mallsoft or something in between... Late Night stuff, all those. I can't focus on one sound only, that would drive me nuts.

And I know this isn't strictly Vaporwave but, one of the albums that really…I don't know, it kind of blew my mind a little bit relistening to it was your Chillhop album, lofi.

Yeah. I think it was two years ago when Lo-Fi Hip-Hop suddenly became big and booming. I was listening to it at work, at home. And I thought; well let's just try making something like this. Because you have to make something different to make progress in your own music making. I also had a small writer's block, didn’t really know what I would make next and couldn’t focus. That’s when I made this and later Palm Mall Mars. So I just tried to make that and discover new techniques and things that I could do, and that’s how the lofi E.P. came out.

Yeah and like you say, about two years ago this was the hot sound. So I get the sense you're very willing to morph and experiment with your music. You're not afraid if a new idea comes along. It's kind of like; well I'll take this idea and let's experiment. I'll do a Cat Corp. spin on it.

Exactly. And people will maybe say that it's hopping on a bandwagon or something. Like, “Oh, that style is hot so he decided to make it.”

And that's definitely not the case.

Well it's, I mean... It's a bit reductive because if there's a bandwagon, the bandwagon has to consist of something. There’s a bandwagon because people want to make music in that style.

I've been accused of ‘hopping on the bandwagon’ a couple of times and I was like; Ja, hallo! You don't even know how I made this. If I start making an album now and it’s April. If it's samples I could release it in July or August and then people would say, “Oh everyone's making this,” or, “this sounds old,” or it's a bandwagon. Because it's so easy and fast to make that it can already be dated.

Well exactly. It seems silly to try and police these things because of the way in which you release albums, and the way everyone releases albums in the genre. You and the artists around you have almost complete autonomy over what you can do, and the sounds you can use.

I know that there are Vaporwave-focused labels- but they’re optional, they’re like partners. Artists don’t have to use them and can easily self-release. This isn't Blink-182 in 1999 or something, with a massive label making executive decisions. 

It's a community made genre. These labels and artists are all working together to release great stuff. And it's not like there’s a big label that is in charge. Like squeezing out artists and saying, “make this”, “make that.” Or, “we’ll release this next year.” People have an album and they hop from label to label and yeah, it's not... it's not traditional. It's not a traditional label-artist relationship.

So here's a direction flow. What kind of things inspires you to create Vaporwave?

Sometimes it's things that I just found on television or the internet. I think in the beginning I just liked the classic sound, which is why I used to make that a lot. When I found Mallsoft I used to get inspired by malls. Usually, it's stuff from back in the early Internet days or things I’d found online. An idea gets made in your head. And then a few weeks later you suddenly have a concept album.

You say you're inspired by malls. And this is something I wanted to sort of confronting you about. Because both of us are European. I'm British and you're Dutch. But the ‘shopping mall’. It's a very American concept. So are you inspired by malls that exist in the physical world near you?

This is...Yeah. Let's go back a little bit. I was inspired of course by American culture because we only know America from TV. I mean I've never been there.

It's only something I know from television or video games. So I made Class of '84. Which is inspired by Saved By The Bell. Those kind of TV shows. Breakfast Club. The interest in shopping malls came with that vibe.

Palm Mall from 2014 was a combination of that influence and me being inspired by Disconscious. American malls were something special to me and Palm Mall was mainly inspired by them. I’d browse Tumblr for ages looking at futuristic shopping malls.

But then as I developed I started to get more into European shopping malls too. You can see that with Shopping in Helsinki which came out a few years later.

That was back in 2016. I went to Helsinki because my girlfriend is from Finland. So when I was there I saw this shopping mall 'Forum' and I was like, What the hell is this place? It was huge. It had people, it had shops and it had luxury. I mean nowhere in The Netherlands is a shopping mall like that. They're all dead and no one's there. Shops are disappearing. I think the only big shopping mall in The Netherlands might be De Bijenkorf in Amsterdam, and some others, but smaller.

But this 'Forum' was so special and alive. So after seeing that shopping mall in Finland, I began to focus more on European malls. There’s actually one nearby me, it's on the album cover for [지오 프론트] v3​.​1. That image is actually a snapshot from when I was making the VHS movie. The place is usually deserted.

This was around the same time I got the idea of making a movie, and it was originally meant to be a Palm Mall movie. So next time I went back to Finland I recorded footage in all the shopping malls.

Then I started filming back in the Netherlands too. I kind of wanted to show the European side of all this stuff. I mean so much of it is American, why not change it around? Make it special for Americans to see how to the Europeans live. So I went to The Hague to Sea Life and to Mega Stores. I actually had to Google around a lot to find shopping malls to film at. 

I want to ask about Palm Mall directly now. That album has become something of an icon for Mallsoft, it’s one of the most famous albums, if not the iconic one, in the subgenre. How does that feel?

You know some people can do something to change the world, and then maybe after that, they get used to it. But I never get used to it. It’s like, I'm just a regular guy from the Netherlands and I make music and stuff and then suddenly it became a genre-defining album. That's very weird to experience.

So when you were making it. Did you think, “Oh wow, I'm doing something special- I’m mining gold- here,” or was it just like a regular album process. 

No. I don't remember exactly how I got this idea of making Palm Mall. I wanted to do a collab with other people, like with CVLTVRΣ... I knew and I liked his style, so I wanted to do a collab track with him.

And I think Palm Mall developed out of that idea. I just suddenly got the idea of making a 20-minute track with an added ambience, as if you were walking around a mall. I also discovered some reverb settings that captured that feeling perfectly. It was kind of funny because I found a clip online... "Shopping mall ambience."

I used it on one song, and I was debating with myself; am I going to use this for the full 20-minute title track? And I think by accident I exported that ambient file onto the Palm Mall track. I discussed it with the guy from No Problema Tapes, like, “Are we gonna do this? Like, have his shopping mall sound run for the full 20 minutes?” And he didn't know either and then I said, “You know what? We're gonna try it.” And then. Ta-da! Palm Mall was born.

Ambient Vaporwave uses loads of sound effects and field recordings so I can see what you mean. Looping this crowd recording over and over. You’re thinking to yourself, “Is this still music? Is this a song? Does it even matter?” If people like it and it’s immersive I think that kind of atmosphere is very good at making you feel a certain way.

Yeah. And I believe Palm Mall was the first Mallsoft album which used the crowd effect like that.

And that's what I wanted to do. To take the listener to a place and put them there. That's how Palm Mall was born. And that’s what I ended up doing on Shopping@Helsinki too. I recorded some ambient mall noises in Finland to use in the background of that record. And I also asked my girlfriend later when I found out I didn't have enough. Like, “can you please please go to the mall for me to record extra sounds?” And so she helped me out with making the album! 

I feel like you have certain releases which I guess I’d call your “mall themed” albums. You’ve got Palm Mall, Cosmopolitan Dreams, Shopping@Helsinki, [지오 프론트] v3​.​.. and now Palm Mall Mars too.

Do you see all these releases as like sequels to each other? Are they connected? Do you look back at what you've done on your previous albums and then think, “how can I build on this next time?” Or do they just come about through different sources of inspiration at different times, but just ended up with a similar kind of feel?

Yes, there’s definitely a connection and inspiration that runs through those albums. Actually, before we move on, I want to explain a bit about Cosmopolitan Dreams. The album is actually based on the movie Vanilla Sky. I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Vanilla Sky. The idea that you could have a lucid dream after you've died.   

This concept or idea was first started on HireathCosmopolitan Dreams is one of those lucid dreams being experienced. If you look up the track titles on Hireath, The Oasis Project, Edmund Ventura, Meridian Bank, Liberty Gardens, Keppler & Finch Architects, The Goldstone Building. These are all different kind of dreams.

Actually, a fun fact. All of the titles, except for track 10, Terminus, are taken from the game The Last Of Us. Track 10 is actually from The Walking Dead

Considering how big The Walking Dead is it is I’m surprised more people didn’t recognise it, haha. And I mean, you have to pay attention to the small details, but if you're a big fan, you would recognize the names from The Last Of Us. And I'm definitely that… I played the whole game through seven times, haha.

So they’re all inspired by my interest in malls, but some also bring in these deeper sci-fi themes that run through quite a few of the albums in my discography. 

So, forgive me for grandstanding for a minute, but I want to know your thoughts. As someone who has this huge body of work and has stayed producing through the rise and fall of several eras of the genre. What are your thoughts on the state of Vaporwave right now? Because I think it’s actually in a pretty healthy position.

We’ve got enthusiasts and we've got people who are committed. They’re not really interested in having the same discussions again and again about, “is it a joke?”, “is it ironic?”, “is it all just a meme?” They’re invested in the art form and the sounds and want to keep that going. You’ve got the vinyl releases, tape releases, you've got a plethora of records on offer, record labels. New things are coming out all the time. It feels like it's in quite a healthy place. Certainly relative to a couple of years ago, when it might have felt “bigger” with Simpsons Wave and  a e s t h e t i c  posting and such, but it was a bit rickety, superficial. Now it feels much more solid- permanent almost.

I completely agree, I have nothing to add. I think you can see that right now, the joke has fallen off. I mean the joke's gone. It's becoming more serious and I think one of the first things that started it was 2814’s Birth of a New Day. Do you know it?

(Sam falls off his chair shouting yes)

They started making original compositions and I think that was the start of, not really dividing the genre, but you suddenly had two camps within it. One said, “No you shouldn’t make original music- you should keep it traditional and sample-based,” and the other one said, “Yes you can, the genre has to move on”. I was very divided between both camps. Like yes, I would like to see Vaporwave evolve, but I still feel like you have to follow certain rules.

Because on the one hand I love that original composition style, but on the other, Vaporwave does mean for me slowing down 80s music and putting reverb on it.

Enjoying Coca-Cola in the sun. Creating a feeling of the perfect 80s. Yes, like Class of 84 for example, that kind of stuff. But now you see that more people are starting to make original music, and I think also one or two years ago I started making more original music myself. I guess I do want to move away from continuously sampling stuff. I still like sample-based music but personally, I want to run into something new and explore new grounds. And that's when I started making more original compositions.

Like Building a Better World, the record I have coming out next. You see where the name comes from, building, creating new worlds, new dreams.

And that album also has the space theme, which I feel like is becoming more prominent in your work.

Yeah. The album title is similar to ‘building better worlds’ which is the slogan of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation from the Aliens movies.

Oh cool. So yeah we're going into space.

I’m also working more with my own label now - Hireath Records. I want to give the floor to people who make original music. I mean people have said, "Vaporwave is dead". I don't know...but certain things might die and other things might be born and develop. It’s a journey, and where that destination is we don't know, but eventually, we'll get there. Maybe we’re shaping a new sound for 2020.

Yeah, one thing I’m going to completely agree on is that I think 2 8 1 4, specifically Birth of a New Day, that’s probably one of the best individual things to ever happen to Vaporwave.

If ever there was an album that you can point to and say that it elevated Vaporwave, that’s it. It seems like that album has done absolute wonders to help people see Vaporwave as something beyond a joke, beyond a meme. Really showing like, “no this can be something amazing.” 

I want to ask you about physical media, obviously working with Æ2 I’m getting more and more insight into it - it’s such a huge part of Vaporwave now. The vinyl, cassettes, limited releases.

Yeah because you see so many re-releases on vinyl now. People in The Netherlands say like, “oh yeah I know vinyl’s coming back!” and we're like, “it never left…” They even write stories about how "cassette sales have gone up more than 500%," and I really believe we maybe even had a part in that.

Actually, I’ll share a little bit of info about my new album that’s coming out soon. It will be on vinyl, cassette and CD. The vinyl and cassette track listings will be the same, but the CD will contain a bonus trackThe artists signed on Hiraeth Records will also be encouraged to make something special for their CD release. So people will want to buy it again, like, “oh wow, it has a bonus track.”

I mean that's how CDs used to work. Different versions with different bonus tracks.

Records are cool because you've got this big artwork and a big piece of vinyl in your hands. But the downside is that you have to flip them over to change sides, while a CD can be played continuously. With each format, you get a different experience. And I really hope that people will buy the CD and a cassette, or the CD and a vinyl. With each format you get a different nostalgic experience.

I want to end on a personal note for you and what you do. Can we talk about your projects heading into the future?

I know we were talking earlier about Birth of a New Day being a game changer. Well, without giving too much away, I think this new album I have coming out, 'Building A Better World'. I think that might be a game changer as well.

Really?

That's right. But I can’t say anything more. Not even the other artists on Hiraeth Records know anything about it. It's covered in mystery.

All we have for Building a Better World is the artwork that you can see on Bandcamp, and the preview title track.

But that's all I can say right now…

 

Cat Corp. - https://catsystemcorp.bandcamp.com/

Building a Better World- https://catsystemcorp.bandcamp.com/track/building-a-better-world

Hireath Records - https://hiraeth-records.bandcamp.com/releases

Sam L. Barker is a freelance writer and marketer living in Cambridge, UK. He writes about music, technology and memory. 

Illustration by blis_ful – listen to his music on SoundCloud

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  • Building A Better World will be amazing. Soft, ambient, dreamy goodness.

    Andre Mikkelsen on

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