CPLX 14 : Lionuki – O Único Caminho é a Frente

Maybe it was inevitable that Dionysian Industrial Complex would be offered, and enthusiastically accept, a vaporwave concept album about Posadists: the extreme Trotskyite sect turned internet meme factory, notorious for their belief in Communist UFOs, the necessity of nuclear war, weightless birth research and human-dolphin communication.

Vaporwave, and its cosy but uncanny British cousin, “hauntology” are genres that arise from a matrix of technological factors: laptops with DAWs and cheap sampling, the rich memeosphere of social media, the geological accretion of layers of recorded musical history available for plundering. And a new wave of musicians ready to engage it.

But how might this confluence of forces play out in Brazil? In 2019, “nostalgia” was perhaps a dangerous and ambiguous material to work with. The country had succumbed to the late 2010s wave of right-wing populism, social media fuelled division and historical revisionism. The government openly praises the last military dictatorship, and overtly threatens would-be opponents and protesters with a return of AI-5, the dictatorship’s decree that illegalized effective political opposition.

Lionuki‘s “O Único Caminho É A Frente” gives us a glimpse of the artistic outcome of the techno-cultural milieu grappling with the pessimism of contemporary politics. It calls up the memories of a guerilla revolutionary movement that hardly was, but which has since been reinvented as a cypher for the meme age. Posadism gives old-skool communism a cute new-agey makeover. A technicolour dream of flying saucers and dolphin comrades; a messianic leader who is half Che Guevara, half John Lilly; an ultimate rapture of ETs flying down to save us from capital.

At a time where it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, it is perhaps easier to embrace a communism of jokey memes about nuclear apocalypse than to confront the challenge of building a more serious left-wing consciousness among a fractured and casualized workforce and toxic identity politics. And this may be the greatest pessimism of all. But in an age when the alt.right march under the banner of Pepe, the Frog and embrace the flat-earth, maybe politics is doomed to become a game between story-tellers, vying to produce the most outrageously compelling fictions? To quote Robert Anton Wilson: “The border between the Real and the Unreal is not fixed, but just marks the last place where rival gangs of shamans fought each other to a standstill.”

All of which is very intellectually stimulating and entertaining to think about. But how does the music sound?

Fortunately, the most striking thing is that O Único Caminho É A Frente (“The only way is forward”) is just sonically good fun. Jolly housey beats. Lovely melodic touches. Dubbed out samples of traditional Brazilian music. Its musical touch-point is the 90s dawn of electronic dance culture. Invoking one of those early free-ranging ambient / techno DJ voyages by the likes of The Future Sound of London, The Orb or Coldcut. At times it invokes Amorphous Androgynous’s Tales of Ephidrina, FSOL’s Lifeforms or The KLF’s Chill Out. With an extra layer of vaporous reverb.

This is an album of strong nostalgia for the techno-optimism of that era, from people who were too young to be there.

But it’s also knowingly contemporary. There’s lurking tragic knowledge that the hyperactive day-glo optimism of this lost era was doomed to fade. Everything here is sunset colours. Rosy pinks, oranges and aquamarine and sapphire blues.

Everything here reminds you of something else. Everything here IS something else. There’s a nonchalantly omniverous anthropophagy, as Lionuki casually stir Brazilian folk music and Anime soundtracks into their pot. There are sinister whispers and bursts of rockier riffs and bass grooves on “dias impossiveis 余波”. The gorgeous “eeeee ee eee”, plunges us into communion with the dolphins through erotically vocoded murmurs and rubbery 303 bass which are then topped with twinkling Rhodes-like arpeggios until a sudden orgasm of synth sweep, ushers in a drum’n’bassish beat that might have starred on Plaid’s Double Figure.

“estranhos” is a come-down, cascades of downward scales, which quickly picks itself back up again on an awkward skittering railroad of FM bass. Before falling through bitcrushed and wah-wahed clouds into the intense pulse of “protetores da poeira estelar” (stardust protectors) that is quickly invaded by a disintegrating forro singer.

And we collapse into the final, grim denouement of our journey. The irony drenched “completa felicidade”, a sound track of waiting for the nuclear bombs to fall as the album collapses and this wild ride in the time-machine fuelled by regret hits its desperate end.

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