In his Twitter bio Zer0 れい jokingly refers to himself as “Belgium’s Biggest Vaporwave Artist” and describes his music as “Post-Ironic Internet Muzak, Vapornoise & Dark Ambient”. It’s a wonderfully idiosyncratic and befittingly eclectic blend of styles for the enigmatic producer who runs a DIY punk club in his spare time and performs live clad in leather, his face obscured by motorcycle helmet emblazoned with his moniker etched in neon across the visor. His look, much like his sound confidently straddles a range of aesthetic contradictions and seems strung out somewhere halfway between the menace of a futuristic cyberpunk assassin and the nostalgic familiarity of a lost member of Daft Punk.
Zer0 れい is a relative newcomer to the vaporwave community who only got interested in the genre around 2017 after discovering the This Exists and Down the Rabbit Hole Videos which chronical the early days of the genre.
In fact he didn’t start producing until January 1st 2018, the result of a New Year’s resolution to get back into music production breaking an extended hiatus, the result of his gear going involuntarily into storage after many years of make noise, drone and experimental music under a number of different aliases including Crucifix Eye, MxCx and Unholy Analog Noisemachine. And the birth of Zer0 れい saw the producer take a creative leap of faith into a new genre, wandering into the strange world of vaporwave and leaving the equipment of his past creative life behind… armed only with his computer and sheer determination. And determined he is, having put out six albums in less than a year, such a relentlessly prolific release schedule you could be forgiven for thinking he’s been around for much longer.
Zer0 れい’s latest endeavour is an ambitious QRATES campaign to have his upcoming album ブラックマジック (Black Magic) released on vinyl through At Dusk Records, BRC30 Productions.
The album is described on the page as combining “vaporous synth tones, dystopian oriental vibes and ear-blistering noise into a 45 minute trip around Neo-Tokyo” and having had the pleasure of previewing the release I can attest to this as a fantastically accurate description. This is a wonderfully expansive record which builds a whole world inside the listeners head, taking you through a shimmering futurescape metropolis that seems to be ripped right out of the pages of a William Gibson novel… all gleaming chrome and pulsating neon, the cheerful corporate facade masking a menacing reality that throbs at the edge of the frame.
I had the pleasure of spending some time with Zer0 れい himself over the interwebz to get deeper into the story behind this album. Here’s what he had to say…
What is the concept behind ブラックマジック (Black Magic)?
The project started out as a challenge I set myself. Feeling entirely uncreative I decided to grab a random movie and just start building tracks on top of that. My eyes fell on “Black Magic M-66”, a relatively unknown japanese OVA by one of the artists that would later work on Appleseed. At first glance, it had a good gonzo cyberpunk retro vibe that spoke to me and it also wasn’t too long, clocking in at 47min, so off I went. In the end only small bits of dialog and a couple of sound effects came through in my version of the soundtrack. Everything else has been made entirely from scratch to suit the mood and evolution of the scenes in the movie. The album stayed this way, entirely synced up to the original movie, up until a couple months ago when I started to change the track order around. Since then it has really become its own thing entirely. My personal vision of Dystopian Neo-Nippon Cyberpunk.
Zer0 れい has a very unique and diverse sound, and this latest project is definitely no exception. Could you please outline some of the influences which have gone into ブラックマジック (Black Magic)?
Generally I start a new project by choosing elements from previous albums to further explore. In this case, I started out with the vintage synths and Japanese string instruments that were prominent Tungsten Dragon CXE which I tried to combine together with punchier, more complex drum-mixing. This is really what I started experimenting with on that album. I had also started exploring the possibilities of working with saxophone samples towards the end of Slipstream 20XX and that also carried over, as you can hear the saxophone features heavily on this new album.
As far as musical influences go, after being active as a noise musician for close to a decade and after organising a couple hundred music gigs it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where everything comes from. From a genre standpoint the album takes inspiration from a very broad spectrum of music but it’s all mostly more guitar-based stuff. If I had to name a couple bands that played a big role in shaping my personal vision for the music I’d have to namedrop at least Sunn o))), Melt Banana, Boris, Red Sparowes, Burzum, Meth Drinker and Taake. I’m also an avid gamer, being raised on the Super Nintendo and onwards, which translates to a love for meandering crunchy synth lines and wobbly bass tunes.
How did the idea for doing ブラックマジック (Black Magic) as a vinyl release come about?
That credit goes entirely towards Björn from At Dusk Records! whilst hanging out at my place one night he asked me the seemingly innocent question “If you got to press one of your albums to vinyl, which one would you choose?”. This promptly got us discussing the absurd amount of albums I’ve put our in the last year.
In the end the choice fell on Black Magic as an album that was both completely unreleased and the most “experimental” of the bunch, being almost impossible to pigeonhole as a specific genre. On a personal level it was also an album that I put a ridiculous amount of hours into producing and that hadn’t gotten the reception I’d hoped for from labels thus far, having been turned down a couple of times.
A close second was 激しい憎しみ, but we decided that album was developed so closely with Seikomart that it wouldn’t be correct for us to do a re-release so close to the original run of the album.
You’ve said that you will be supporting this release with a tour, where/when will people be able to catch you live?
We’re still ironing out the details, as this is the first time I’ve done a tour of such magnitude. This is what’s confirmed thus far:
16 APRIL Lille, FR
17 APRIL Liège, BE
18 APRIL Lesecafe “O D R A D E K”, Chemnitz, DE
19 APRIL Schabe, Berlin, DE w. Legion of Swine (UK)
21 APRIL Kinky Star, Ghent, BE w. Nordra (US)
We’re still trying to fill in the date in between Berlin and Ghent, as it’s a bit of a long drive otherwise
Vaporwave is a genre which has not much crossed over into the realm of live performance – what has it been like trying to translate your compositions into a live setting?
It’s been a serious challenge. Considering my complete lack of talent when it comes playing instruments I have had to find a way to trigger transitions and parts of songs live. What’s also not helping is that huge piece of plastic strapped to my face, forcing me to zoom ableton to 150%.
My current setup with a Launchpad and Midifighter gives me good feedback and control, but it’s certainly a work in progress. For the upcoming tour I’m working on translating the entire Black Magic album into a cohesive and immersive audio/video experience, which i’m hoping to debut at the upcoming show with Bliss Signal in Antwerp on the 3rd of March.
How have you found audiences responding to your performances?
It’s still early days but people have been quite receptive. It’s not really a dancing experience, more a meditative trip, not unlike Ambient and Noise performances. I think that as the genre of vaporwave matures we’ll get more and more crossovers with existing genres that already do live shows and the crowds will be more open to the typical reverb-heavy sound. I’m certainly looking forward to what the future will bring.
And finally, speaking of the future where would you like to see vaporwave go? What are your aspirations for the genre?
I’m looking forward to how the genre continues to mutate. I’m not a fan of genre purism in the slightest and think that vaporwave has a place in the broader spectrum of experimental electronics. Somewhere in between Ambient, Synthwave, Drone and straight Plunderphonics. A large part of this is the steady increase of artists who are pushing the envelope in terms of non-sampled instruments or vocals and extremely manipulated sounds.
This also opens up vaporwave artists to more easily find a place in the lineup of live shows. Of course this will come with some growing pains, and the broader scope and higher standards that the genre is moving towards isn’t reflecting well on some of the older classic albums, artists and labels. Some are adapting, and some are saying that what’s being made now “isn’t vaporwave”. And that’s fine. That’s not going to stop the new generation going forward.
ブラックマジック (Black Magic) will be released in partnership with At Dusk Records, BRC-30 Productions. A limited edition of 200 copies available exclusively via QRATES pre-order (unless you happen to be lucky enough to live in Europe in which case you can probably pick a record up at one of the shows). So be sure to stop by the page and put your order in at https://qrates.com/projects/17038