The Internet's Darkest Music Genre
Hidden deep within the virtual backrooms of the Internet exists a sound so forgotten, barren and bizarre...it’s a sound you can’t turn away from once you click the play button...a music scene left abandoned to time and the ever-expanding musical library of the digital realm.
Uncanny artwork, hyper-sensitive textures and a narrative that always ends the same way for every release: the pure decay and death of the music. Today, you and I will be exploring one of the most lonesome, dark, and mysterious music genres on the Internet, known as “Deathdream”, and what makes this extremely small collection of albums so suspiciously sinister. We will be taking a look at a handful of releases, explore some commentary from actual Deathdream producers, and ultimately, you and I will discover what makes this microgenre contain such immense power in its ability to revolutionize the concept of disposability in music, an ability that leaves us, the listener, in a state of pure audio and sensory purgatory.
Deathdream is a Bandcamp tag given to a small collection of albums that explore themes of isolation, depression, desperation, and other similar subject matters. As of the making of this video, only 75 releases pop up when searching for the “Deathdream” tag on Bandcamp. It’s a very niche style that clearly hit its prime between 2015 to 2016, and although you’ll find some more recent releases scattered here and there, the style is now trickling and rotting away to time. Stumbling upon Deathdream feels like you’ve discovered an abandoned city or ghost town, you’ve run out of gas and you pulled off the main highway only to enter a town vacant of all life.
Click on any of these releases and you’re entering a vacant house or storefront in this abandoned town, tracklists resembling the objects and outdated decor within that may paint some sort of picture as to what happened here. Using tools ranging from heavy drone work, repetitive, looping sabotage and just the straight-up eerie bending and twisting of samples and instrumentation, producers, or as i like to call them, practitioners of the Deathdream sound are determined to tell a story more than anything else. These constant barrages of the same sound chopped repetitively (perfect examples of this being Geolocationism and reflection) bring you into an almost trance-like state, hammering in that sort of hopeless, apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic setting the narrative brings to life so well. Instead of Deathdream being music, the releases feel more like expeditions varying in different intensities. Whether it’s dystopian armies roaming the streets to settings even more deserted, like ghost towns where all that is left is the struggling nature trying to find its way in a place void of hope and life.
Deathdream takes traces of Ambient, Dark Vaporwave, Broken Transmission, and Eccojams and distills the sound with a focus on death, anxiety, and decay. The world of Deathdream opens the door for incredible creative expression and rebirth in artists looking to try something new and explore the darker parts of storytelling. There is something inherently refreshing in creating a new alias to create a sound different from your usual work; Deathdream becomes a home for producers looking to become more anecdotal with their work in a disposable, no strings attached way.
"Deathdream is not about the sound, it's about the aesthetics surrounding the music. Not just the album covers, or the track titles or whatever, but the narrative inherent with every Deathdream album. Deathdream albums have stories attached to them. Sometimes the story is obvious and sometimes it’s a complete mystery, but Deathdream needs a narrative of some sort in order for it to work well.
If you’re someone who wants to make Deathdream, make a new anonymous alias. Don’t worry about publicity, there is someone out there that will notice it. And just try to make something you haven’t made before. Most Deathdream that exists is something someone made on the side, it can be a great way to filter creative energy."
- 暗い自然 (Dark Nature)
Deathdream producer & owner of Black Records
There are two main labels on the Internet that house a heavy amount of these releases: BLCR Laboratories and Black Records. I highly recommend venturing through each of their respective catalogues, the two are truly a goldmine and will definitely provide you with the material you are looking for.
I want to focus our time today on a couple of Deathdream releases specifically, projects that caught my attention immensely and I just find them to be a perfect demonstration of how intense storytelling elements can be through fascinating presentation and production. Use these albums as undedicated, drowned out background noise late at night. On the other hand, you can allow yourself to be completely taken over by them. I recommend taking the time to lay down in bed, close your eyes, relax your muscles, and have the music absorb you into its world with your undivided attention.
First up on our list today, I want to showcase the brilliance of 아버지’s (father) 2016 release titled “reflection”. This eight track gem explores themes of self-reflection, loneliness, rejection, depression, rebirth and it all concludes with the unfortunate fate of the inevitable crash at the end. When you look at how the track list is ordered or when you listen to each song in succession, you feel like you have suddenly transported into the body of someone going through a pretty tough sort of struggle.
The opening ten-and-a-half-minute track reflection is just mesmerizing: crushing, nonstop repetitive loops that just consume your mind, everything bringing to the forefront these memories you can’t stop thinking about, flashing in your head over and over...and over again. Tracks like “waking up the same”, “someone else”, and “loosing everything” all follow up with this rained on and weathered sample work struggling to make it through each measure, these brittle songs begging for your attention as they crawl out of your headphones.
아버지 (father) makes excellent work on taking sounds that feel depressing, beaten, and hopeless and makes you want to listen to them. Like I said, the narratives of these Deathdream releases feel very cinematic and heavy and you want to look in and examine what the music is going through.
There is always an unavoidable curiosity to it all.
Once we pass the halfway point of the album however, “reflection” becomes enticingly hopeful and less gloomy, especially when we get to the longest, and in my opinion, best track on the album: “tomorrow”. This eleven minute epic sticks out tremendously from the rest of the sorrowful sounding work on the album; these beautiful angelic voices breaking through with warm rays of sun behind them crashing into your ears.
Unfortunately, the refreshing joy of this track ends after this. The last track “untitled” seals away the angelic voices and the sun and returns with these jarring repetitive loops, it feels like the previous track crumbling and burning to the ground, proving it to all to be an illusion as we end the album with this hard stop that goes right back into the first track of the album. This move makes the album feel like a looping cycle and further nails in the notion that whatever this person is going through, this subject you create in your head as you listen to the album, it is all just this never ending cycle of sadness, a possibility for light shining through, and then it just divebombs back into despair and hopelessness. Sounds miserable, I know. But trust me, definitely start with this release. “Reflection” is an incredible journey through hypnotic sound design that feels like an artistic film rather than an album.
This is a beautiful piece of work.
One year before “reflection” was released, father dropped “흰색 죽음” (White Death). While “reflection” was a bit more jumpy, I would say, with its repetitive chops and, at times, colorful sounds scattered throughout, “흰색 죽음” (White Death) is way more parasitic and sinister. The whole album feels like you’re walking through this pitch-black hallway, a hallway so dark that even though there isn’t any light, the surface of a white object could eventually become visualized after your eyes adjust to the dark. As you're venturing through the hallway, slowly realizing that there may be no end to this, you begin to sense the entity that is hovering behind you.
The album is very quiet. There are these ambient passages moving at a snail’s pace only interrupted by haunting echoes, a ticking clock, static fuzz or confusing piano keys with no rhyme or rhythm, every moment floats in limbo. “흰색 죽음” (White Death) almost feels like the work of The Caretaker, especially toward the last stages of “Everywhere at the End of Time”. Audio on “흰색 죽음” (White Death) barely makes it through and crackles similarly to “Everywhere at the End of Time”. There is a moment where it sounds like someone is hitting the same two keys of a piano but the audio keeps cutting in and out, your headphones will feel like they are broken and this feature common throughout the project all adds to the unsettling aura this release gives off.
The last track of the album, which simply translates to death, is the moment where this entity finally begins to interact with you on a conversational level. All the textures overlaid on top of the tracks that came before you finally dissipates. The piano keys become crystal clear, your mind is as pure and empty as it can possibly be. You speak with death itself as it guides you through your last moments of whatever control you have left, only for it all to abruptly end as you're just beginning to learn the true meaning of the album. I dare you to listen to all of White Death laying down with your eyes closed and noise canceling headphones on. Enjoy the trip.
III. The various releases of 暗い自然 (Dark Nature)
If you search for Deathdream on Bandcamp, you’re going to notice this name pop up a lot. 暗い自然 (Dark Nature) captures the ominous energy of being lost in nature or abandoned places. Harsh winds and distant remnants of a town that once was in the 29 minute long release of “Soul Drainage”, The hyper heightened sounds of birds and bugs with the “Sounds of Life”, the most brutally cold day of your life with “Bleed”, or the hidden beauty of a dark forest as night turns to morning on a cloudy, cold, and rainy November day…2015’s “The Dark Forest 最も暗い夜”.
暗い自然 (Dark Nature) does a stellar job at recognizing the disposability in music, the idea that anything you do or anything that has been done before can be sampled, recontextualized, and repurposed as something new. Nothing is ever untouchable, unmalleable, off-limits. Nothing can live or last forever. I was able to get in contact with 暗い自然 (Dark Nature), who had some interesting things to say about the concept of music as a whole:
“I think that music is disposable... Vaporwave kind of made me realize this, sampling stuff I would never have heard of otherwise. For an example, I’m pretty sure more people have heard リサフランク420 - 現代のコンピュー rather than the original Diana Ross song.
Vaporwave was definitely not the first musical genre that sampled music, that’s literally been done since music was invented. But I feel vaporwave was the first genre that sampled music in a completely decontextualized way. Using samples without caring where they came from, just taking old music and distorting it, until it sounded nostalgic or depressing or whatever the artist was doing with it. Recontextualizing it without even knowing what the original artist wanted to express with their music.
That’s only really possible when you think of music as disposable, and I think Deathdream really captures that. Not necessarily because it samples stuff, not all Deathdream does, but because it uses the disposability to decay itself out. Entire Deathdream albums and aliases have all been essentially deleted and forgotten, with very few people even remembering what it was... with each passing year, more and more people forget. I know of this first hand.
I think it’s special when there are entire albums that can only be recalled via your memory. When the only thing preventing this art from fading away forever is you staying alive. Having a relationship like that with music is super special. Deathdream should be able to die, is what I guess I am saying.”
Deathdream producer & owner of Black Records
Accompanied with the cheap aesthetic of VHS-weathered artwork, 暗い自然 (Dark Nature) captures a wide range of moods, there are releases that feel hazy, longing and tranquil while others are just straight up sporadic. 暗い自然 (Dark Nature), or the person behind the alias, is also the owner of Black Records, a label I highly recommend you check out for more Deathdream material and it was great getting their insight on the integrity of Deathdream, it all goes beyond just the charm of something feeling cheap, brittle and repurposed… the gradual decay of the music brings to life a whole other avenue of narrative to any project. 暗い自然 (Dark Nature) believes this is where the “death” in Deathdream comes from, the fact that the ending is always planned. Deathdream should be built around the idea of the impending end of the art, a story with a beginning, middle, and conclusion.
"Deathdream is not about the sound, it’s about the aesthetics surrounding the music. Not just the album covers, or the track titles or whatever, but the narrative inherent with every Deathdream album. Deathdream albums have stories attached to them. Sometimes the story is obvious and sometimes it’s a complete mystery, but Deathdream needs a narrative of some sort in order for it to work well."
Deathdream producer & owner of Black Records
IV. 死亡頻道 (Death Channel) - 超越灵魂 (Beyond Soul)
In March of 2019, a producer by the name of 死亡頻道 (Death Channel) would release a project called “超越灵魂” (Beyond Soul). 超越灵魂 (Beyond Soul), from everything I’ve heard up until making this video, may be my favorite Deathdream project yet.
Compared to his other aliases which both translate to Dream Channel (夢のチャンネル & 夢想的頻道), the birth of the third alias 死亡頻道 (Death Channel) would focus more on the practice of making darker sounds all while telling a story at the same time.
On “超越灵魂” (Beyond Soul), 死亡頻道 (Death Channel) tried to imagine a story in which a sad and lonely man was left adrift in his own home due to an accident and what would happen as the situation goes from bad to worse. As you listen to the album, the sound changes a bit, but the essence of sadness and darkness remains. The first two songs are crisp, crystal clear and sort of peaceful. By the end of that second song. we clearly hear that our character dies. It is at this moment where the album truly begins, where it’s real depth comes into play, as from the third song on we accompany this character on their journey into the realization that they have passed away and that they were abandoned during their time of need.
The artwork for this release works perfectly, the overlaying images conjuring up a dazed and confused feeling of awakening in a hospital late at night after everyone has left, confused on how you got here in the first place. Medical instrumentation on the side of your stretcher, a long corridor through which you wander while thinking that you are fine, and your soul being the lonely trooper to go through it all.
"Undoubtedly, the sounds you mention always tell a story, or try to make your imagination fly about what you hear and how you can interpret it. 超越 灵魂 (Death Channel) was also like that and what I can recommend for anyone who wants to achieve something of that style, they should simply think about something in their life, in some passage or memory or anecdote, in any situation, and try to figure it out and portray it In music."
When reaching out to 死亡頻道 (Death Channel) regarding any commentary or interesting information regarding the release of “超越灵魂” (Beyond Soul), they told me the inspiration for the project comes mostly from video game soundtrack elements, like Silent Hill and Alice: Madness Returns. That, combined with vaporwave techniques with projects like メディカル= (Medical) and 아버지 (father) led to the creation of 死亡頻道 (Death Channel).
“超越灵魂” (Beyond Soul) is born with sounds and interpretation from some parts of the producers own personal life as well.
"I have been hospitalized 4 times in my life and most of it between 2010 and 2014 I spent in the doctor and hospital accompanying my grandmother until her death (RIP). All those moments of my life, those feelings, being there and living it, was what gave the sound of 超越灵魂 (Death Channel)."
Deathdream is an abandoned goldmine of music, a collection of releases forgotten to time and left to rot away in the furthest corners of Bandcamp. But as we’ve learned today, that may be the ultimate plan of it all anyway. If you are someone who is interested in making Deathdream, 暗い自然 (Dark Nature) notes that you should make a new anonymous alias. Do not worry or stress about publicity, there is someone out there who will notice you. Most importantly, just try to make something you haven’t made before. Dive into the deepest parts of your mind. Most Deathdream that exists is something someone made on the side as a great way to filter creative energy.
So...what will you create, my friend?
Until next time, much love, ur boi,
Also known as "Youtube's Vaporwave Valedictorian", Pad Chennington is a content creator who has created a substantial following on YouTube for his videos discussing all things Vaporwave. Starting in the Fall of 2017, Pad's videos range from reviews to breakdowns, interviews to unboxings, and much more, always revolving around odd and interesting music genres found throughout the internet. Pad has also recently released an album in February titled "CONTRAST", available as a free download via the My Pet Flamingo label.