Note: This review was written before SoundCloud released numerous statements that they are not shutting down. While it’s true that this album and many others released on Bandcamp the past week were from SoundCloud artists, the news that SoundCloud is going bankrupt and dying in 50 days is overexaggerated. That gives us all two lessons: 1.) Always listen to as many news sources as possible (not just one or two of them), and 2.) EVERY artist should be putting themselves out on more sources than SoundCloud. As an independent musician myself, I’ve been doing this for many years; it’s simply a good business practice. With all that said, here’s the review…
It appears to be a tumultuous time for musicians. Soundcloud has announced the past week or two that they laid off 40% of their staff, and they only have enough money to get themselves through the fourth quarter of the year. According to NYMag, that’s only 50 days from today. Given the hundreds of thousands of hours of music on the site, all from amateur, independent, and semi-professional artists, all of that could be gone instantly if Soundcloud cannot convince investors to support them. The horror of the unknown is increasing day by day for many, and while everyone is watching nervously for what the next move is, some have taken it upon themselves to host their music elsewhere.
It’s no secret that the past several reviews have all hosted music being sold on Bandcamp. While Bandcamp has become oversaturated, it is nevertheless one of the easiest ways to find new music and artists. If you’re patient enough to wade through Bandcamp’s Discovery feature, you might reap some fantastic music that you simply can’t find elsewhere. But Bandcamp should prepare themselves, as many musicians from Soundcloud are making their move over. One of the latest waves of such artists is an anonymous electronic producer from France named Shivan. While their picture on Bandcamp is one of an attractive Asian girl, Shivan credits the image to a model. However, it is delightfully irrelevant what gender the artist is, as all of the anonymity forces the listener to focus solely on the music. On this self-titled offering is a compilation of singles and deleted tracks once posted on the producer’s Soundcloud, and now hosted in the event that Soundcloud finally folds and disappears forever.
With all the talk of gloom and despair, one might expect Shivan’s music to sound calm and relaxing (especially given the compilation’s effeminate artwork). But that’s far from the truth. On the contrary, this is some of the most intense and terrifying electronic dance music ever produced in the past half-decade. The sounds here make Skrillex and all those involved in EDC and Ultra look like classical music festivals for those who love Kidz Bop music. It renders Jersey Club, trap, and future bass as music for those who still listen to N*Sync, Backstreet Boys, and High School Musical. Although Shivan is certainly not the only artist making this sort of style, EDM has never sounded this unsettling. It’s only steps away from reaching dark ambient, industrial metal, and experimental noise/power electronics territory, yet still grounded by the dynamics and formulaic arrangements of mainstream EDM. Brace yourself, for it only gets weirder from here.
Opener “hwa.min” begins with panned ambient textures that sound like an orchestra tuning up. But within seconds, a barrage of growling sound design unfolds over a crisp dubstep rhythm, as the line between music and noise is increasingly blurred. Similarly, the addictive Moombahton groove of “usagi (兎)” pounds Eastern percussion against jittery vocals and laser-sharp synths that cut through the mix. “shape (形)” and “cherry cola” are two of the more mainstream dubstep tunes on the album. Acid-like tones screech over a combination of glitchy earth-shattering bass and a disorientating switch-up between hard-hitting dubstep beats, four-on-the-floor hardstyle, and 808 trap-style subs. Not to mention, both songs are highly addicting to listen to.
“kunikida” blasts industrial-style electro with warped hardcore leads that bring to mind the maddening screeches of TERROR BASS. Not to mention, Shivan cleverly utilizes short samples from anime, Skrillex and Wolfgang Gartner’s “The Devil’s Den,” and the delightfully annoying sample of the girl crying “YES. OH MY GOSH!” The interlude “해저의 waifu” is a short hip hop beat that is practically yelling for a rapper to bust some rhymes over top. Hard-hitting 808s thump underneath an ominous piano melody and watery textures that thoroughly disorient the listener. “koganechō (黄金町)” contrasts ambient chimes against distorted bass and trance leads before calming into a cinematic ambient trap outro. Album closer “0.0.3 (ft. script)” involves the two producers coaxing heart-wrenching synth drones akin to “hwa.min” before exploding into some of the wildest sound design of the entire album. Everything from high-pitched radio static ala Porter Robinson’s “Fellow Feeling” to demonic howling confronts the listener before ending on calming chords.
Although there is a part two to this album featuring Shivan’s remixes of other artists like Holly, WAVEDASH, and QUEST!, “shivan [pt. 1]” contains the most riotous and forward-thinking sound design of any EDM album in recent years. This is the kind of work that delightfully takes advantage of academic-level electronic music research (think granular synthesis or BT’s BreakTweaker and Stutter Edit plugins) and utilizes it within the context and arrangement of modern EDM. Not only is the music unique on a sound design level, but it’s also all sorts of fun as well. Every song is so catchy that it’s impossible not to headbang or tap your foot to. This is the direction Skrillex could have ended up at, and if audiences were more open-minded to the endless possibilities of sound design within EDM, this kind of music would be played all over Ultra and EDC. Let’s hope it happens, as I’d rather listen to Shivan than re-watch the time DJ Khaled destroyed his career in seconds.
Title: shivan [pt. 1]
Genre: EDM/dubstep/power electronics/noise
Available to download at https://iamshivan.bandcamp.com/album/shivan-pt-l!