Hypnagogic pop

Hypnagogic pop is a musical genre that emerged in the early 2000s among underground artists exploring issues of cultural memory and nostalgia related to the music, popular entertainment, and recording formats of the 1980s and early 1990s. The term was coined by journalist David Keenan in an August 2009 issue of The Wire to label the work of musicians creating "pop music refracted through the memory of a memory," and derives its name from the dream-like psychological state known as hypnagogia.[2][3] It was soon taken up for discussion by other critics. Artists associated with the style include James Ferraro, Ariel Pink, Pocahaunted, and Zola Jesus.

Origins and characteristics

In an August 2009 piece for the The Wire, journalist David Keenan coined the term "hypnagogic pop" to refer to a developing trend of 2000s lo-fi and post-noise music in which varied artists such as The Skaters, James Ferraro, Spencer Clark, Zola Jesus, Ariel Pink, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Pocahaunted began to engage with elements of cultural nostalgia, childhood memory, and outdated recording technology.[2] He employed the psychological term hypnagogic as referring to the space "between waking and sleeping, liminal zones where mis-hearings and hallucinations feed into the formation of dreams."[2] According to Keenan, these artists began to draw on cultural sources subconsciously remembered from the 1980s and early 1990s while freeing them from their historical contexts and "hom[ing] in on the futuristic signifiers" of the period.[2] Common reference points included radio rock, new wave pop, MTV one-hit wonders, New Age music, synth-driven Hollywood blockbuster soundtracks, lounge music and easy-listening, corporate muzak, lite rock "schmaltz," video game music, '80s synthpop and R&B.[4][5][6][7] Recordings often utilized "deliberately degraded" or analog instruments and techniques, including tape hiss and FX.[2] Also common was the use of outmoded audio/visual technology and DIY digital imagery, such as VHS cassettes, CD-R discs, and early Internet aesthetics.[8]

A still from '"nobody here," a 2009 video uploaded to YouTube by Daniel Lopatin consisting of looped samples of Chris de Burgh's 1986 hit "The Lady in Red" and a vintage computer graphic known as "Rainbow Road."[9]

Writing for Vice, Morgan Poyau noted that the phrase was quickly taken up by a variety of music blogs and described the emerging style as "making awkward bedfellows out of experimental music enthusiasts and weird progressive pop theorists."[10] Music critic Adam Trainer noted that the style was defined by a shared "musical approach" rather than a particular sound, and that it draws from "the collective unconscious of late 1980s and early 1990s popular culture" while being "indebted stylistically to various traditions of experimentalism such as noise, drone, repetition, and improvisation."[8] He noted its preoccupation with both decaying analog technology and representations of synthetic popular culture.[8] frieze wrote that the music is often "released as limited-edition cassettes and vinyl [before reaching] a larger audience through blogs and YouTube videos."[4]

Critical interpretation

Following the publication of Keenan's article, genre became the subject of widespread critical discussion.[5] Keenan himself described hypnagogic pop as "1980's-inspired psychedelia" which engages with forgotten capitalist detritus of the past in an attempt to "dream of the future."[2] Critic Simon Reynolds described it as a 21st-century update of psychedelia in which "lost innocence has been contaminated by pop culture."[4] Reynolds notes a particular concern with the "scrambling of pop time," suggesting that "perhaps the secret idea buried inside hypnagogic pop is that the '80s never ended. That we're still living there, subject to that decade's endless end of History."[4] He noted that the term hypnagogic is "associated by some with hallucinations that are hyper-real rather than surreal."[4] Writer Adam Trainer suggested that the style allowed artists to engage with the detritus of capitalist consumer culture in a way that focuses on affect rather than irony or cynicism.[8] The style has been likened to "sonic fictions or intentional forgeries, creating half-baked memories of things that never were—approximating the imprecise nature of memory itself."[6]

The term has occasionally been used interchangeably with chillwave, glo-fi, and other variations.[5] The Guardian called the hypnagogic tag "pretentious."[11] The style has been described as the "American cousin" of Britain's hauntological music scene,[12] which has also been discussed as engaging with notions of nostalgia and memory.[6] Asked for his thoughts on the term in 2009, producer Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) said: "I don't think the hpop tag is representative of a movement or constituted by a select group of artists. I see it more as a discussion about nostalgia and its subliminal effects on culture. I don't see anything wrong with the tag—it's just a way of engaging with a phenomenon."[13] The work of hypnagogic pop artists such as Ariel Pink and James Ferraro would soon inspire a subsequent internet-centric genre known as vaporwave, which amplified the experimental tendencies of the style.[1]

Associated artists


  1. 1 2 Bowe, Miles. "Band To Watch: Saint Pepsi". Stereogum. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Keenan, Dave (August 2009). "Childhood's End". The Wire (306).
  3. 1 2 3 Sherburne, Philip. "Last Step: Going to Sleep to Make Music to Sleep To". Spin Magazine. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Reynolds, Simon (March 2011). "'Hypnagogic pop' and the landscape of Southern California". frieze (137). Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 Hinkes-Jones, Llewellyn (15 July 2010). "Downtempo Pop: When Good Music Gets a Bad Name". The Atlantic.
  6. 1 2 3 Stone Blue Editors (Sep 11, 2015). William Basinski: Musician Snapshots. SBE Media. pp. Chapter 3.
  7. Despres, Sean. "Whatever you do, don't call it 'chillwave'". Japan Times. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Whiteley, Sheila; Rambarran, Shara (January 22, 2016). The Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality. Oxford University Press. p. 412.
  9. Reynolds, Simon (July 6, 2010). "Brooklyn's Noise Scene Catches Up to Oneohtrix Point Never". The Village Voice. Village Voice, LLC. Retrieved December 8, 2015.
  10. Poyau, Morgan. "The 80s Nostalgia Aesthetic Of Music's Hottest New Subgenre: Hypnagogic Pop". Vice Media. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  11. The Guardian
  12. Bell, David. "Deserter's Songs – Looking Backwards: In Defence of Nostalgia". Ceasefire Mag. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  13. Keith, Kawaii. "Oneohtrix Point Never interview". Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  14. David Laderman, Laurel Westrup (2014). Sampling Media. OPU USA. p. 109.
  15. 1 2 Prefix Mag
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