It's that #3 placement that says it all: the established order is slipping, at least as it would appear through the internet's buzz chamber—a space that, once you get it, it's almost impossible to get out of. Appropriation has been around forever, long before Andy Warhol, long before Hannah Hoch. But listening to Hype Williams, you feel like they've kicked it up a notch, specifically by playing with hype culture's delirious, hall-of-mirrors effect.
There's a tradition of artist aliases based on living people: Sissy Spacek, Paul Newman, Charles Bronson. Hype Williams' choice of moniker feels especially timely given its referent: acts like Salem are busy plundering gangsta chic, and even in house music, '90s R&B is everywhere from Tensnake to Soul Clap and Hot Creations. Musically, too, Hype Williams' turgid loops pay homage to the sleepwalking swagger of screwed-and-chopped rap, another touchstone of the Altered Zones explosion of drank-sippin triangle bands.
Right, the music: with such a surfeit of information, it's easy to forget to pay attention to how it actually sounds. And yet: the free, 13-minute Dior EP, ostensibly divided into seven parts, but rather dully delivered to your computer in a single, 15 MB mp3 at 160 kpbs, is kind of something. It's a mixtape, essentially, throwing together warbly samples of synths and drum machines with melted voices, outbursts from grime MCs, tape hiss and delay. Profoundly queasy listening, it keeps you off balance throughout. Two minutes into the introductory gurgle of sour, new age synths, the bells of a cheap sushi restaurant, and pitched-down dictionary recitations, there's a jarring buzz, as if your cellphone, sitting next to the speakers, were about to receive an SMS. But no: rewind it, verify that you're phone's in the next room, and it's still there. It gets me every time I play it, and I've come to think that there's something genius in its "fuck you" quality, its unabashed manipulation.
As for Hype Williams? An interview with Dummy Mag would suggest that they're something like faceless techno meets generation YouTube—everything they say is cryptic, calculatedly guileless, composed in the manner of a sig line, tossed off with studied nonchalance. They're fascinated by ghetto speak ("Dem tig ol' bitties"), casual absurdism ("You're clearly not up to speed with the latest Estonian trends"), EasyJetset placedropping ("We're filming with our buddy Martin Lawrence in our timeshare just outside Stockholm at the moment. He's minted so budget is cool"), hick rural/suburban lumpen cliches (the Do Roids and Kill E'ryting 7-inch). Everything they do feels like a performance; this is a band whose communiques outrun Hipster Runoff.
And yet, again: behind the signifying glare, there's something that keeps you there. The collage aesthetic isn't so different from recent mixtapes from Demdike Stare or Anworth Kirk; the slow churn brings to mind an R&B Philip Jeck. As aggressively off-kilter as it is, right down to an intentional trainwreck in the last third, it holds your attention throughout. As performance art, I haven't figured out whether they're this year's Fischerspooner (and maybe, once the galleries come calling, we'll find out). But at least they've got the real Hype Williams's talent for sucking you into the scene, wielding their deadpan, no-fi sampling like a fisheye lens.