Awesome! is electronic musician Philippe Hallais (also known as Low Jack) answer to a commission by the Centre Culturel Suisse (CCS) in Paris, as part of a series of events around their 2016 exhibition with !Mediengruppe Bitnik, Jusqu’ici tout va bien, where a nocturnal and musical pendant was set up to what turned out to be a lively daytime series of para-academic sparring contests and dystopian outlooks at the future of AI-driven flirting, sexting, and politicking.
Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo, the Swiss duo behind the !Mediengruppe Bitnik alias, grew up in the middle of Zurich’s hacker and rave scenes and maintain close ties to rave culture in their artistic practice (to wit: their ongoing series of Cryptoraves, access to which one can only unlock by participating in multi-day cryptocurrency mining sessions). Something about Bitnik’s sometimes-euphoric, sometimes- wistful, intimate yet distanced way of working with technology resonates with what some of contemporary electronic music’s most intriguing personalities wrangle out of their machines.
Philippe in particular was taken with Bitnik’s work and that first Paris session turned out to be the kick-off of a longer-term collaboration, which has since then yielded the common installation work and related sound piece Alexiety (2017-2018). Here though, we go back to that original, beautifully charred Parisian seed where Philippe and Bitnik first took it together the ambivalent, tangled mess of our digitally mediated, intimately automated, relationships with anonymity, love, and celebrity.
Bitnik’s installation was part of a series of works researching Ashley Madison, a Canadian online dating service marketed worldwide primarily to married people seeking casual sex. In July and August 2015, an anonymous group called The Impact Team had stolen and released all of Ashley Madison’s internal data – including the entire website code and functionality, customer data and the CEO’s emails. The data breach revealed that with a disproportionate number of male subscribers and virtually no human women on the site Ashley Madison had created an army of 75,000 female chatbots (fembots) to draw its 32 million male users into paid conversations with what they (mostly) thought were actual women.
Bitnik’s installation dealt with the ambivalence of automation and intimacy in a mostly anonymous digital wasteland. Feeding their acid commentary were the love-seekers of the internet hiding behind pseudos being chatted up by cookie-cutter femme fatale bots and the flesh-and-blood mechanical turks toiling away at the bottom of the digital foodchain. That’s where Philippe stepped in and proceeded to throw a healthy dose of celeb-napalm on the ghostly nonplace party with his performance at CCS, restituted here in all its undigested glory as Awesome, and in retrospect a harbringer of his burnt-hotrod meditation on U.S. popular culture gladiators, 2017’s An American Hero.
Split across the two sides of “What do you wear when nobody is watching? Nothing.” And “But everybody is watching” is the buzz of paparazzi and reporters cornering members of the Kardashian armada, then interview bites with the same cohort of social media mavens, all slowly to and from corrosive drone echo-chambers by beat sequences that act as transitional platforms.
Questions and statements are repeated, echoed and mirrored into abstract nonsense, while at the same time becoming crystal clear: the fabric of seemingly casual chit- chat is torn off to reveal what is in truth a series of high-performing, highly-programmed celeb warriors, walking the social minefield with pre-coded answers to the most banally weighty questions, innocuous while simultaneously loaded with cultural weight. What made you cry the hardest? What do you wear when nobody’s watching? Nothing! What do you want to say to your fans? I love you! What’s the one thing you cannot live without? Pasta!
The more one digs, the more one sees a vocal choregraphy that’s as coded and automated as the programmed seduction dance of the Ashley Madison ballet. It’s awfully close, and awfully cold. Everything is shown and offered up for onlookers, but nothing is given. Can I film you with some crazy filters on your face? I thought you’d never ask! Awesome is awesomely spectacular, awesomely numbing, awesomely throwaway, awesomely deep, and a terrifyingly beautiful car crash of a record.
Luc Meier, July 2019
released October 8, 2020
Music by Philippe Hallais.
Cover by !Mediengruppe Bitnick!
Artwork by Thibault Proulx.
Mastered by James Plotkin.