Get Refreshed: Making Sense of Guilty Gear, Defining HYPERTRANCE, and an Ode to Neo-Y2K Design

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

Cover by Nick D’Apolito


Outback + optic core: “dreamcosm”

Oh to be as talented as either of these two forces of dance production… it’s a dream that I certainly have without question, but that really doesn’t matter for someone in my position. I can’t even imagine how other full-time dance-based producers must feel when listening to the continued near-flawless work put out by both BetterTogether’s Outback and Eldia’s optic core — it must be hard knowing that the absolute most has to be done in order to top what these two are capable of on their own and in so many different manners at that.

Given what’s been said of their respective solo work, the prospect of their combined talents coming together as one would make any fan and/or contemporary alike ecstatic to no end. And with the release of “dreamcosm” – the first single off of the duo’s forthcoming collaborative EP set to drop less than a month from now – consider that idea of a “prospect” to be dead and buried. Instead, pay witness to the expected greatness they came through with via this single alone. 

At least in this instance, there’s nothing wrong with being predictable; this track entirely fulfills what one would imagine a collaborative effort should sound like between these two. And while we’re talking about “fulfilling” as a concept, not a single breakcore track to release this year has felt more dynamic, diverse, and developed than what we have here. These two pull no punches with this track in giving us the absolute best that both of them have as respective artists in their own right, and this notion might even be the answer as to why this track is so structurally jam-packed, being that they fit so much of their exclusive creative pallets into one cohesive offering. 

Whether it’s through the bleak and desolate vocal samples heard so often in Outback’s work, or the seemingly limitless lengths optic core takes their percussion work, this track withholds everything that these two are so great at by themselves, and combines them for one magnificent breakcore experience — arguably my favorite of which thus far this year. It’s the ideal lead single for what will inevitably turn out to be an ideal project at the hands of these two talents; my excitement genuinely couldn’t be any higher for what’s to come.


bigdog30k: “Carrier Of Bad Thoughts”

I have absolutely no shame in admitting to writing about Boysnightsout and their eclectic cast of talents far too often. I think it’s pretty obvious that I consider this the furthest thing from a sin, and I certainly won’t stop any time soon. And to be honest, what could possibly give me a reason to stop in the first place? Especially when one of the Swedish collective’s most premiere acts, the remarkable Buffalobang, has one of the most extensive creative toolsets among any single act working today in the grander online music world. 

Their consistent “flair for the dynamic,” if you will, is vividly portrayed by the night-and-day difference between their seamless and soothing vocal work under their main pseudonym, and the limitless production force brought on by their opposing one as bigdog30k. Whether it’s via the spacious, submerging r&b-adjacent beats they’ve provided for the rest of the BNO crew, or their solo work under this name which focuses on the worlds of breakcore and drum and bass, this unmatched talent has carved an alternate artistic image for themself that even stands up to their superb work as a vocalist and all-around performer in that regard. 

The latter of their instrumental styles has been put on arguably its greatest display thus far by way of their recently released EP “Carrier Of Bad Thoughts.” This short listen only holds a trio of breakcore cuts, but to say that every single second of this experience is well-spent would be selling that term as short as can be. The rambunctious crowd-sampling vocal cues on the opening “Little Bit Of Terror” contrast beautifully with the following guitar-centric “Spiral’ing into” — both sounding as different as can be, while still holding that common break-based energy throughout. This feeling extends into the closing track “Torment Garden” in due fashion — ending this chaotic go-around with a destructive low-end and an even more crushing set of percussion serving as its base. Taking this all in, we have a project that once again showcases the unfathomably underlooked artistic merit of one of online music’s most gifted performers in practically every single line of work they take on.


Striving For Detection

When you take the limitless scope of artists that the online music world has in store and combine that with just how much content is produced by these web-obsessed talents, it becomes easy to claim that these acts are seldom, if ever at all, distracted from their consistent output of content. But on certain special occasions, something comes about that seems to take this landscape’s focus just a bit away from creating content — and I really do mean “a bit,” as these artists somehow still produce mountains of work dispute even the most addicting of divergencies being present. 

The latest of these distractions has come in the form of Guilty Gear Strive — the latest installment in the legendary fighting game series that recently released to a surge of attention from die-hard fans and, of course, active online musicians alike. Now aside from how incredible the Guilty Gear series is as a video game first and foremost, one of its preeminent defining traits – and the one that lends so much reason as to why musicians would be into such a game – is its supremely strong ties to music as an artistic concept. Series creator Daisuke Ishiwatari molded the series with this motif as its aesthetic base; so many of its characters serve as direct references to various musicians and scenes, and believe it or not, each game’s blood-pumping rock soundtrack was composed by he himself. 

Strive’s soundtrack is nothing short of immaculate for a modern fighting game — following suit with each prior entry in the series since its inception. But I just find it so interesting, yet equally obvious that the young artists who make up this grander online landscape would shift their collective focus to this game on social media; their admiration is – subconsciously or not – rooted in what makes Guilty Gear as a whole “the fighting game by musicians, for musicians.” 

Oh, and there’s also its ridiculously flashy yet easy-to-learn playstyle, its engaging and wonderful cast of characters, and entertaining over-the-top presentation too. We can’t ignore those things… but let’s appreciate both the music of Strive and Ishiwatari’s unique incorporation of musical elements throughout the entire series for what they are as well. 


Heavn Rising 

One clear-as-day notion in regards to digicore is its continued collective neglection of any and all musical standards. I’ve always chalked it down to the following idea: if you believe that the grander music landscape has rules attached to it, then digicore works to break all of them — but by contrast, if you believe that there are no rules, then perhaps these digicore acts are filling up that empty space with their own set standards. 

I’m only bringing this up due to how effectively “everything i say” – the recent release from 2021 scene breakout heavn – illustrates this nuanced concept. For a track meant to follow up their continued string of traditional pop-centric singles, this song, well… doesn’t sound much like a “single” at all. Both sonically and structurally, this is a track that would be better equipped for a full-length project — and yet, it works just as well as a single when the entire picture heavn intended on capturing is seen in its fullest light. That, in essence, is exactly why digicore is such a remarkably interesting scene and movement alike. 

As for the track itself, it’s heavn at their very best; however, we haven’t seen this level of progression from this act thus far in their career. After mastering the art of straightforward alternative pop bliss with their consistently incredible output this year, the trialx12 standout takes the logical next step with this cut by making it as untraditional as can be — both in regards to their own catalog thus far, and as expressed before, certainly as a pop single in its own right. 

This is a brief glimpse of structural beauty at large; heavn spends most of their time building up suspense with little instrumentation and their muted, yet engaging vocals before the track hits its awe-inspiring apex towards its end. The approach taken here is, again, very much akin to a project-based song rather than a single, especially a pop one at that. But if anyone were to subvert these expectations, it would be the furthest thing from a stretch to predict it coming from both heavn themself and digicore as a whole.


VOLANT: “FINAL GATE”

I’d be hard-pressed to find another dance act who lives up to their own niche more appropriately than VOLANT. Though their work is entirely rooted in the trance stylistics most prominently developed at the dawn of the new millennium, this otherworldly production force and designer alike has dubbed their music “HYPERTRANCE” — essentially taking those styles and surging them into a new realm of progression. 

The answers as to why this tag couldn’t be any more fitting for their endeavors come down to just how one-to-one their sounds, imagery, and overall creative approach is with what the tag represents by itself. They take the sounds of old – a cast of nostalgic sounds, at that – and modernize them with a new coat of paint, with the “paint” in this instance being a conceptually-aware artistic demeanor. Whereas trance of this aforementioned past era kept fully-conceptualized approaches low on its collective list of priorities, VOLANT’s work dives headfirst into all things grandiose and finely-tuned in this regard.

The most recent of their now-lengthy cast of singles just this year alone stands as an ideal encapsulation of what these previous descriptions entail. “FINAL GATE” comes off as a simultaneous climatic apex and sendoff resolution to an implied story and/or arc. Though never explicitly stated, VOLANT illustrates this tale through the sites and sounds of their music and corresponding video alone. Each moment of this track’s 5-minute runtime is spent taking the listener on this spectacle of a journey — a quest brought to life by passages that span from tried and true trance synths and progressions, to genuinely chilling piano breaks, and a finale that brings everything together as one, completing the story in one fell swoop.

We might not know exactly what’s being told here, but maybe this track’s essence of universality lets the listener make that decision on their own. In my eyes, this track tells the full, complete tale of what HYPERTRANCE represents as a standalone genre tag; perhaps no other offering – even within VOLANT’s extensive discography – could have done it better. 

https://soundcloud.com/volantmusic/finalgate


The Significance of Neo-Y2K Design 

Words by Arthur Zugno Ribeiro (IllustratorFile)

I believe that today’s design has drawn inspiration and been heavily influenced by several features of the 2000s design aesthetic; it brings a more futuristic and playful style while maintaining a “retro” touch while being very colorful. This idea is totally contrary to modern minimalism.

Neo-Y2K has been quite revered as of late, and it really has had a great rise in the current design scene. I really love this aesthetic and even try to make some art in this style. We have several artists in the Twitter design community who find themselves deep in this aesthetic, and my main references are designers like detetive, kyoto, noisivy, helvatten, fractalflame, and yoffe. You should definitely take a look at their profiles if you wanted to understand more about Neo-Y2K.


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