The Hegemon: 猫 シ Corp. Speaks American

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"It was on that day that I realized the world is bigger than just me and my hometown. Like, I'm part of this huge world. Obviously, I’d learnt about other countries before, but that was the day when I really felt it. News at 11 is almost me trying to process that legacy." - 猫 シ Corp

This is part 2 of my 2-part interview series with 猫 シ Corp. Part 1 can be read here. In this section 猫 シ Corp talks about some of the deeper themes in his work. Growing up in the shadow of America, which inspired his seminal album News at 11. His love of the science-fiction Hyperion Cantos series. And the powerful sincerity of Vaporwave. 

  • Corp.

Is he a mouse… or a squirrel? Basil from the BBC. No, not Fawlty Towers Basil... let me look. Oh, here he is. Basil Brush. Maybe you know him?

  • Sam

Yeah! I know Basil Brush. He's a really old British TV character. That's so funny.

I've been learning English since back in elementary school. Eight years old, nine years old, something like that. We had these books called 'English Spoken'. It was the first time we were taught English. Even a lot of games we played on the PC were in English and, as you grew older, TV shows as well. Everything was subtitled. The Netherlands isn’t like Germany for example, where they dub American movies into German before release.

So I used to watch Basil Brush as a kid. I had no idea what it was about, but I just turned on the Teletext subtitles. That's how I learned English.

I remember Teletext very well. Looking back, it was almost like a proto-internet. 

Yeah totally. I still have a Teletext app on my phone.

What?

With Dutch news and sports and everything. It's one of the few Teletext services still active. 

I think the first website I ever visited as a child was Lego.com. The Internet was very special to me back then. Whenever I went online I never visited Dutch websites, they were all English. You know, through dial-up. My parents always used to be like, “argh turn that off, it’s expensive!”

Back then using the Internet used to be more of a cost/benefit thing. If you wanted to use the internet, you couldn't use the phone. But now we've got the internet on our laptops, computers, on our phones. Everything is online all the time, forever.

But this history makes sense, I always noticed a lot of themes of technology and futurism in your work.  

I guess you see that influence in Palm Mall Mars. It was me wanting to go back to back to Palm Mall and then combine it with something different. 

Christopher Hansen came to me and showed me a video that he made, using Hiraeth ambient tracks about living on Mars. The theme was how the new Martians supposedly would live and what fashion they would wear. It was a project he made for his studies. I loved his video and aesthetics so much I suddenly realized the next Palm Mall album would be on Mars.

And Palm Mall Mars has got that kind of tongue-in-cheek intro text: “Mankind cheered: not even 100 years after the first human set foot on the moon we made our first Mars colony.”

Yes, that very cheesy text, haha. I wanted to use it to give the album more of a backstory, like a movie, a game or a promo text for real estate. Palm Mall Mars is also slightly based on a series of books called Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons.  

It’s a pretty heavy duty Science Fiction. Hardcore fantasy. But that book series is my biggest inspiration of the past two years.  

I guess you take ideas from that series, blend them into your own musical interests and that’s Cat Corp.?

For example, track 7 from Palm Mall Mars: Poulsen Treatment Studio. That’s actually straight from the books. They would inject people with a liquid, and the subject’s lifespan would be extended for another 100 years. That track is written from the perspective of a character who has done multiple treatments, so he’s been around for some 700 years.

So that whole feeling of mankind living longer. Maybe even humans could keep living on by uploading themselves to the internet. That was supposed to be reflected. That idea also links back to Cosmopolitan Dreams, which is about the idea of lucid dreaming after you die.

In terms of my music, the projects I make, Hyperion Cantos is the red thread of fate. A common thread, the red wire. Do you understand that symbol? Is it too Dutch?

No, haha, that’s a Japanese metaphor as well. The red thread connecting characters together. It’s in a lot of anime.

I’m very interested in these topics. Like living in a dream world, extending the human lifespan. Or living inside of a matrix-like construct. That’s why a lot of my albums play with these ideas. That idea of transcendence. 

And it also relates to the corporate Mallsoft aesthetic I often use. Yes, you're appreciating that the mall looks good, that music sounds nice or whatever. But what if this is a virtual space, that these are virtual sensations? Like people are trapped in a Matrix type system - which projects into their mind that they’re living in a utopian world.  

With Palm Mall Mars it has this international feel too. If you look at Pall Mall, that album was more about Japanese Culture. A blend of Japan and America. But if you look at Palm Mall Mars, you can see that there are many different cultures present. There’s Arabic, English, Japanese and Korean in song titles. And within the tracks, there are also commercials from India and Germany.

The album has got like a post-national feel. It's as if mankind has gone up into the stars and now we’re all living together in a Global Mall. And maybe that kind of Global Mall can only really exist on Mars.

I remember as a kid in school we had this chapter in a textbook called “The Future Superpowers”. It was about the countries that could be leading the world in 50 years time. And it would list countries I didn’t know much about at the time, like India, Brazil, or Pakistan.

That kind of information got me thinking about the future world – what it would be like and how different it could be compared to what we now know.

I remember the trend you're talking about quite vividly. About 10 years ago there was a lot of discussion about places like India, Brazil, China as the next superpowers. The BRICS. South Africa and Russia too. The idea of the “multi-polar world”. Even the EU used to get brought up a lot as a potential superpower.

Yes, I was very intrigued by that. Europe, Korea. And of course, the Middle East could become a superpower too.

I was raised with the idea that the only superpower was America and America ruled the world. That's it. We were Europe. We’re kind of following America’s lead. Then maybe we have Russia next-door to us, but they’re kind of mysterious, we didn’t know much about them.

Then suddenly I got exposed to the idea in school that all these other countries could become superpowers. That idea really got stuck in my mind forever and was used for Palm Mall Mars.

So you’ve grown up surrounded by American pop culture. But you’re an outsider. You’re not American and neither am I. Yet this culture has permeated everything we do all throughout our lives. Even media we’ve mentioned earlier on in this discussion, Saved By The Bell, Vanilla Sky, Blink-182. This has soaked into us.

We can’t imagine a world without it.

So with this in mind, there are three particular albums I want to ask you about: News at 11, Good Morning America and Sunday Television.

I kind of see these three as your 'American Album' trilogy. They seem to be you responding to and working explicitly with American culture. I don’t know whether they’re ‘canonical’ together or not, but there seems to be a connection between these albums. Like they all slot together.

You hit the nail on the head, haha. Those three albums are specifically about America in the morning. So you have morning television in Good Morning America and Sunday Television and the morning commute with News at 11.

For Sunday Television I was inspired by watching television when I was young. Do you remember from the old days when you were a kid, you’d be watching TV early in the morning, skipping through the channels? That’s the feeling I was trying to capture.

It also plays with the very American idea of the Weather Channel. Like a television channel which just shows the weather with muzak playing over the top. I always used to wonder what a European version would be like. There was one here on TV, but I never found the name of it. You’d flick through the TV and suddenly find a channel showing the mountains in Austria and had the weather information displayed over it.

So this desire to experience that kind of television culture fed into that album. It’s memories from my youth combined with the sounds of American television.

But also with News at 11 and Good Morning America, they deal with the idea of the morning commute. With Weather Channel type music and television culture from the '80s and '90s playing in the background.

News at 11 is set on the same morning as 9/11. So it starts off as a calm normal morning, but in the real world, a completely unexpected and traumatic event occurs. The concept behind News at 11 is that 9/11 never actually happens – and the day just continues on normally. It’s on that similar wavelength of discussing the morning. The start of the day and the different ways that day can progress. Traumatic or beautiful.

So those three albums are also wrapped up in my perfect view of utopian America from the '80s and '90s. The America we know from television, the American Dream. You drive to work in a nice car, you work in your office, have your coffee, go home to your wife and kids, mow your lawn. It’s all easy going.

But obviously, 9/11 had such a huge impact on the whole world, and certainly on me also. The idea got into my head that, what if I continue that lost American Dream? 

On the album, you can hear an archive recording of a news anchor just before they break the news of 9/11. But the album cuts away before they can mention it. 9/11 never happens. And everyone just drives home happily.

And then the 12th of September would be just another perfect day.

Gives me shivers. There’s a reason why people respond so strongly to News at 11. 9/11 is the defining moment of our generation. We still live with the reverberations today.

But it’s difficult, particularly as someone who isn’t American, to respond. Because 9/11 is a scarring moment in American history. Yet at the end same time, we grew up seeing America, interacting with America. So in a way, it’s part of our history too. As you said, we grew up watching America on television. And then we watched one of the great tragedies of American history happening live on television too.

I feel like people are only just starting to get to grips with it.

It was also on that day that I realized that the world is bigger than just me and my hometown. Like, oh yeah I'm part of this huge world. Obviously, I’d learnt about other countries before, but that was the day when I really felt it. News at 11 is almost me trying to process that legacy.

The root of the idea was that I found a playlist on YouTube called Reptillian Wave. It’s got a picture of the World Trade Center after the attacks, with tracks by Vaporwave artists like Luxury Elite and Waterfront Dining playing over it. That playlist is what gave me the initial moment of inspiration.

That whole idea of the music I love combined with something so terrible. It just got in my head. How can we even process something like this? How can we ever move on? Now we can. But it's always in your mind yeah.

It's a question European artists have been struggling with for years. How do you relate to America, the country whose music inspires you- and whose fans you want to attract? How do we interpret American popular culture and then give it back to Americans? Obviously, I'm sure a lot of your fans are American. So it must be a very relevant question.

Eighty per cent of them. It’s the majority. So I want to try to understand American culture and translate it to music. Because Vaporwave was born on the Internet, obviously it’s accessible to everyone. But from the people that buy my music, 80-90% are Americans and maybe like 10-20% are European or Asian.

And I think it was only in the last two years that Europe started to catch up. That’s when I started shipping out more tapes to Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and the UK for example. 

It wasn’t until Palm Mall came out on vinyl and I gave it a European release that suddenly 60 or 70% of my buyers and fans came from Europe. All kinds of people from Germany, Italy, France, the U.K. (a lot by the way!). And even 20 or so from The Netherlands. And I was like; “Oh wow, we're finally catching up on one of the biggest Internet music movements.” It used to be 9 out of 10 from the US.

So I guess in that sense I want to “conquer Europe”.

I think it'd be really interesting to see European Vaporwave interpretations. I'd love to see some like French Vaporwave, or German language Vaporwave. Like, I don’t know, maybe responding to specific German events and perspectives. Like responding to the Berlin Wall or the Cold War.

It would also be cool to see an American do that, to respond to Europe in the way we respond to America.  

Yeah, just sort of brainstorming now. You know Princess Diana? I was too young to really understand who she was or why she was so important and famous. But I obviously know her death was a huge media event – like a really defining moment for a lot of people. Given how much Americans seem fascinated by the Royal Family, maybe something responding to that would work. 

But how would it make you feel about it if an American artist makes an album about Lady Diana? Or made an album about the Berlin Wall? You know, sometimes I feel a bit I feel guilty that I made an album about 9/11. I don't want people to think that I'm using it for commercial gain or popularity. Like notoriety or anything. It’s an event that deeply struck America, and even today people are emotional about it.

I don't want to hurt people.

Honestly, I think it’s pretty clear how sincere you are about this – that you’re trying to grapple with this incredibly complex topic. You’re not frivolous about it at all.

But to answer your question, I don't know how I would respond to if some American made an album about Princess Diana for instance. It would depend a lot on the context and how it was dealt with. There are so many issues of celebrity and history that go into it. But as a topic in itself, I’d be interested to engage with an album that used that topic for artistic purposes.

I’m trying to think for myself, how would I feel about an American tackling a tragedy of Dutch History. Or about our neighbours in France, like if someone made an album about the attack on the Bataclan in Paris. I don’t know how that would make me feel. Maybe it only works for something more in the past, from the time you were a kid, there needs to be some distance.

That’s a good example, that definitely impacted me pretty deeply. I mean I’ve been to Paris a number of times…

There’s an age difference too, we were what 10, 12 at the time of 9/11. But now we’re adults – everything that happens we can understand now. So when something like this happens in your backyard, and it’s to people your own age going to a concert... You know I go to a lot of rock and metal concerts myself. I don’t know, if someone made an album about it I don’t think I’d be happy about it.

Maybe if someone made an album about West Germany after the war, that would feel better or more accepted than something so recent. Or something on a lighter note: an album about famous European tourist places. 

Yeah, there has to be a disconnect.

And most of the events and attacks we’re thinking about in modern Europe now are in the aftermath of 9/11. Because 9/11 was the day when that old world died. And everything related to Vaporwave is about pre 9/11. It’s based on that old world before those planes hit. That we can’t get back.  

We want to play Commander Keen on floppy disk, we want to play RollerCoaster Tycoon. We want to sit in front of the television watching Cartoon Network and just not worry about the bad things.  

9/11 was so shocking and it literally meant the end of the old world. And it was the start of something new where wars would be live on television. The internet suddenly came onto mobile phones even. You can look back at it like, or maybe we just try to use 9/11 as a turning point, but you can see that there was a time before and time after.

Yeah, I feel like that's a very strong point that without 9/11 there is no Vaporwave. The whole point about why we’ve rarefied, and why we’re so obsessed with, this rose-tinted view of the '80s and '90s. There are no cares, there are no worries. Everything's very positive and happy. Like ‘the good old days’.

One of my favourites, just straight up fun Vaporwave albums is called Creativity in the Workplace Part 1.

And it uses that famous image of Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on the cover which I feel is like the iconic image of that era. It's such a brilliant example of what we're kind of talking about. It just cool and fun. Bill Clinton, running for President at the time, playing the saxophone with shades on.

It can be depressing but then, at the same time, you have to move. As much as it's easy to wallow in these things. Responding to these things is the interesting part.

And I feel like that is what the best Vaporwave does. It doesn't just say, “oh isn't it sad that the world is complicated.” But it engages with the gap between the idealized life we've seen on TV and have in our memories, and the complex life that lies ahead of us.

I think everyone who makes it is our age, maybe some a bit older. But they’re usually around our age and dealing with these topics.

Yeah, it's true. There's something generational about it. And maybe that's why I feel quite loyal to Vaporwave. Despite how easy it is to kind of joke about, it really feels like it is a generational thing that people who are around my age and your age relate to.

It's something very specific about this that speaks to us which is again why when people dismiss it as just a meme or whatever… I just don't... I don't buy it.

Yeah totally.

I don’t buy that it’s all just one big joke. I just don't see how.

Yeah, I don't even like it when people say, “oh it's one big joke,” or something. Like c’mon, get the hell out of here. We're making something here. We’re building something here. I’m sure Black Sabbath must have gotten some weird faces at first…!

 

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

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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