Despite its popularity, most people would be hard-pressed to say what seapunk actually is. What even fewer probably realize is the world of music it birthed, as a ream of young producers came together under the banner. They produced vivid and colourful songs that borrowed liberally from all kinds of dance sounds both past and present, and mashed them into a hyperactive, anything-goes take on electronic music. Since the height of its popularity, seapunk has fallen out of the public spotlight, with many of its former associates (Le1F, Slava, Huerco S) moving into different worlds. Redwine is still sporting the signature hair but no longer explicitly labels his music as seapunk.
Redwine is just about to release Voidic Charms, an album that takes the information overload of the internet era and distils it into digestible chunks. His neon-hued tracks touch on the boundless energy of early hardcore, jungle, trance, grime and many other genres. It's the follow-up to last year's Seapunk, which came on Redwine's short-lived Rephlex sub-label, Fire For Effect. Though he might not have the big label behind him anymore, Voidic Charms is easily his best and most confident work yet.
After a stint with touring rock bands, he turned his interest to electronic music and began throwing a series of warehouse parties called BOTNET ("they were pretty legendary for a minute," he says). The events ran for two years and kickstarted a resurgence of dance music in KC, which had a healthy rave scene back in the '90s.
"In Kansas City you could get away with quite a bit," Redwine says. "We'd just pay an off-duty cop sometimes, you know, no big deal. But, oh man, there was one time I remember—six, seven, eight, I don't know, ten cop cars pulling up to the front and back of the warehouse. Just a total bust, it was horrible. LIL INTERNET was supposed to DJ, the crowd was peaking, there were people literally hanging from the rafters, and then the cops showed up. It was a big ordeal, but, yeah, good times there, for a bit."
Following his stint as a guerrilla promoter, Redwine felt the itch to move on from his hometown and ended up in Los Angeles. But putting on parties in a scene like LA's—geographically sprawling, stylistically fragmented, lacking club infrastructure—became a struggle, and Redwine found he wasn't living the life he wanted to. A friend eventually asked if he wanted to take part in a new weekly party in Chicago. Redwine and his partner Franki Chan moved there soon after. "It led to us throwing our own events [as well]," he says. "We threw a party at a karaoke bar in Chinatown that did really well—we had Slava play before he started popping off, and a few other people."
It was during this period that Redwine and fellow artist Zombelle essentially invented seapunk. "The word came from Julian [LIL INTERNET]. He just tweeted about it. But I wouldn't credit him for thinking it up by any means. It was this aesthetic that was appearing online between a small group of internet friends, and then I started a Facebook group, and then it was only a matter of time before we put a label to what we were doing."
Out of that Facebook group came Coral Records Internazionale, a label that debuted with a compilation called #Seapunk Vol. 1. It was a strong opening salvo that presented the movement as a hyperactive mishmash of genres, from the classic rave references of Redwine's music as Fire For Effect to Slava's uptempo beats and some abstract techno from soon-to-be-rapper Le1f. There was also a jungle-influenced turn from a young Huerco S under the name Unknown. It was clear there were no rules.
If that all sounds vague, well, it was—seapunk's musical aesthetic was never quite as defined as its visual side. But there are common themes, like its sugary, breathless quality. As its mythology developed, its naturally positive traits seeped into the music, a reaction against our "really fucked up" world. With the lively sounds came equally vivid imagery, often tongue-in-cheek and rendered in garish, '90s-influenced computer graphics, which lent the music on Coral Records Internazionale—and seapunk as a whole—a humorous bent. But it was humour that would prove an obstacle for seapunk, especially as it spread. The New York Times called the movement "a web joke with music" in its now-infamous profile, and those sincerely identifying with seapunk were often the butt of much ridicule.
"I never really thought of it as a joke," Redwine says. "I think because there were a lot of 16-year old kids and then a lot of drugged-out internet Facebook-dudes who just sit on Facebook all day and try to troll themselves and other people. There was just all this other art and weird shitty stuff that tried to add itself to it. But we were very specific about, like, 'No this doesn't get to be a part of what we're doing.' Witch house was the exact opposite: they included everyone no matter what. So, with this, it was like, 'No, we're going to have standards and only put out good quality underground electronic music.'"
"It was a way of trying to imagine some really utopic world," Redwine says. "We all felt this imagined space, I think. That drove a lot of it at first. And then as the initial group broke off, everyone went their own way. People like Huerco S, Blood Diamonds, Le1f, Slava, they all went on to do bigger things. After that, I was making music based on more of an intentional place—a little bit sci-fi, but also realistic too, I guess."
After a year of releasing compilations, mixes and EPs, Redwine was given a subsidiary label of Aphex Twin's Rephlex, Fire For Effect. "It's not a cool story or anything. I didn't believe it at first, I thought it was a joke," he says. Grant Wilson-Claridge from Rephlex had emailed him out of the blue, which was a big deal for Redwine, who had grown up on Aphex Twin.
The album that resulted from the deal, Seapunk, could be considered Redwine's first major solo release. Embryonic as it might sound, it had glints of brilliance, especially the meta opener "Chatroom With Enya," which tells the story of seapunk in helium tones. Misjudged marketing meant it didn't make the splash Redwine hoped for. He laments its CD-only release as a limiting factor when it came to spreading the word, though a digital reissue on Coral Records Internazionale is coming soon.
"It was kind of the culmination of everything," Redwine says. "Initially I didn't want to call the record Seapunk. I don't remember what other titles I had in my head, but I was like, 'I don't want to call it that because I don't want it to be labeled that way.' But Grant from Rephlex insisted, then I thought of that Grime compilation on Rephlex, and how that was kind of a big deal—on the back of that record they printed "dubstep," which I think he claims was the first time it was ever in print. I don't know if that's totally true but I thought it would be right on to have it be a cultural reference for seapunk—a signpost sort of thing. So it could correct people's misconceptions about what it was at the time."
If Seapunk—which was compiled and curated with help from Rephlex—was a definitive statement on the movement, then Voidic Charms is Ultrademon's personal manifesto. "The term 'voidic charms' comes from a description I'd been using on the internet before the seapunk thing, even," he says. "It kind of connected to a personal mythology I'd been working on. I haven't really nailed down all the details of it yet, but it's coming together. I don't know if I'll do another piece about it but it's kind of a bit science fiction. A bit, like, summoning entities and magic and whatnot. Practical magic, chaos magic and stuff. So, yeah, voidic charms, just bits in the void, man. Hanging out in the void."
Voidic Charms is a fast-paced record, often jumping from one theme to the next in an instant. It's united by a predilection for twitchy, hyped-up melodies, blended with hypnagogic synths and belching brass sounds ("Full Moon") and brusque samples borrowed from grime (the title track). The album's tracks are anchored by bumping basslines that repurpose the mindless thump of the donk note—like the slowed-down happy hardcore of "Vine Hung Horizon"—which, along with the repeating chord progressions, is the closest thing to the album's foundational idea.
The album is made up of recordings that date back across the past few years. "Early on when I was producing I used to think that everything I made had to be the newest thing and sound cutting-edge. All that is kind of a fool's game. If something is good, it'll stand the test of time. So this is kind of a compilation of some tracks I'd spent a lot of time on."
Where Seapunk was "a nautical utopia slash apocalyptic reality," Redwine describes Voidic Charms as "a kind of fucked-up jungle landscape, with deteriorating cities, giant robots, people trying to use magic in their everyday lives. A lot of people that are kind of lost in this deteriorating wasteland trying to find some sort of paradise." The other big change is in the branding—you won't find the word seapunk or its associated imagery anywhere on the record (in fact, its press release conspicuously promises a move away from Tumblr fads of the past). The music hasn't changed dramatically, but its presentation has.
"I really don't care anymore [about seapunk]," Redwine says. "Yeah, I still use the word, but I don't think it's that. It doesn't matter. This album is supposed to be about the music. Seapunk was a great platform to help me and to help other people get their stuff out there. All people, journalists and other people seem to want to talk about, or did for a bit, was kind of—are people stealing seapunk, or is it a joke, or this and that. Rather than focusing on the music and the art that we were making. Us specifically. It was just labeling stuff that we were making. I'm not as focused on it now. I guess I'll still use the word for a bit. My hair is still blue."
Voidic Charms takes Ultrademon out of the self-contained world of seapunk, but the album more than stands up on its own. As someone who created a movement as divisive as seapunk, the association is bound to follow him. But Redwine seems unbothered by the whole thing, as he works on getting a live set ready for a tour in support of Voidic Charms.
"I'm not worried about being pigeonholed," Redwine says. "It kind of blows my mind like... acid house for example. I mean, that's because one person made an acid house track and then everybody copied him. And then it's this genre. It just seems goofy. I mean, if you want to label yourself some way for a while or you want to look a certain way, you want to make music, use certain words, just do it. Fuck everybody else. It doesn't really fucking matter."