A small tape cassette is held aloft. As the white balance of the webcam calibrates, the image of an old-style Corvette parked in front of warped palm trees presents itself. The Corvette is reflected in a tranquil pool of water or even reflective glass, but the mirrored image doesn’t match. Almost as if the car is taking flight in the mirrored dimension. An aesthetic choice perhaps.
The picture and the cassette in general are somewhat difficult to make out. Print lines scar the image. The album’s title is scrawled onto the plain white body of the cassette. The track listing is printed upside down.
The cassette is a modern day relic. A rare artefact from a time before you could easily explore the dark underbelly of consumerism and the existentially painful feeling of detached nostalgia all in one piece of music. A time when the name or genre for such a piece of art wasn’t so easy to pinpoint.
The didactic nature of the webcam’s glare doesn’t allow me to see where Jornt is disappearing off to, but he guarantees me that he has a lot more treasures like this stored away. He brings back another cassette and extracts what looks like a J-card. It is a photograph of a car park in The Netherlands. Jornt tells me it was the first picture taken on a roll of 35mm film, before regaling me with the arduous trial and error methodology one must undergo to get the measurements of a J-card exactly right.
‘Time well spent’, I conclude.
That much is evident. With well over 70 projects under his belt, collaborations with artists and friends such as t e l e p a t h and Waterfront Dining, and a dedicated fanbase, the success of 猫 シ Corp and its lofty position in the canon is undeniable. The sheer wealth of quality in the collection of albums and collaborations under that name is impressive. One could spend hours trawling through the releases, met with everything from washed out euphoria to fantastically constructed nostalgia trips to full on new age dance hits (I thank him personally for the track Just in Time on Ｂｌｕｅ Ｄｒｅａｍ, one of the first Vaporwave tracks I ever heard and a stalwart favourite). Though, one could talk for hours about the deep conceptual brilliance of an album like News at 11 or the genre-defining beauty of Palm Mall, that is not why we are talking to each other.
In the heat of the summer last year, Jornt’s new record label released its first album. Building a Better World was a collaborative effort from 猫 シ Corp and t e l e p a t h (we reviewed it here). An epic and overwhelming odyssey into a dark and daunting world, heaving with beautiful sound collages and imagery. The release garnered a tremendous amount of attention, and rightfully so.
The album was the first release of Hiraeth Records. The very first step in the voyage of Jornt’s new creation. Thinking back to July of last year, there was something about the release that felt so meaningful. The mastering was faultless, permitting listeners to explore the imagined world in pristine quality. The tried and tested chemistry of 猫 シ Corp and t e l e p a t h was known, but the size of the concept was something new and impressive.
The album was printed on vinyl in all manner of colours, including marbled pink and a striking azure. It was also made available on a beautifully constructed cassette or CD. There was something about this that harboured a professionalism not often seen in similar online labels. Its release was slick and endearing simultaneously. (The album is enjoying a re-release on vinyl, find it here)
This professionalism is by no means a coincidence. Talking to Jornt, I learn of the journey he has been on under the 猫 シ Corp pseudonym and and the struggle preceding and during its success and notoriety. A journey of self-dubbing cassettes in his bedroom, labels that are since extinct and even a few untrustworthy and downright disingenuous people. Unfortunately all part of the weird and wonderful pageant of a scene that exists mainly online.
The breadth of Jornt’s knowledge is impressive, though he tells me he got out of the business of self-dubbing long ago. It is also worth noting that Hiraeth Records isn’t technically the first record label he’s ever created. Some of 猫 シ Corp’s later projects have been released by Oasys Virtual Entertainment Productions, a cassette label Jornt created for his own work. However, it seems that this current project was always on Jornt’s mind, as the idea for a new record label was brought into reality in the autumn of 2018, and Hiraeth Records was born.
The ambitious release format of the label’s first release is shared by all three of the albums currently available from Hiraeth Records. The immersive ジャングル (Jungle) by 地球 (EarthEarth) is available on a breathtaking ‘Forest Green’ vinyl, and the harsh and jagged sounds of Zer0 れい’s Helveterra is available on a powerful ‘Violet Purple’ vinyl. Jornt tells me that the choice of vinyl is due to his love for the format, and its general resurgence in popularity. The colours and designs, he says, exercise a utility beyond the mere aesthetic.
Upon listening to each of the albums, the listener becomes a spectator to a grandiose world coming to life before their eyes. Entire ecosystems of sound are constructed and narratives carried out. Fictional worlds, locations and societies are built as the albums play out. One could even interpret some of the moments as being apocalyptic. Some of the sounds that erupt on both Building a Better World and Helveterra seem powerful enough to swallow planets whole.
World building was the first phrase that came into my head as I listened to the first release. The process of creating or alluding to an imaginary world and even a complete fictional universe beyond that. The release by Jornt’s side project EarthEarth is possibly one exception, however it explores a lush green landscape in such detail and magnitude that it could be another world entirely separate from our own.
Jornt notes the spectacle of world building as an important aspect of both his own music and all current and subsequent releases from Hiraeth Records. “There’s always two or sometimes even three layers of story in my own music, the projects created under the 猫 シ Corp pseudonym all exist in the same universe”. A statement that many won’t be surprised to see when assessing the elaborate nature of some of 猫 シ Corp’s releases. Spurred on by a love of grand narratives, citing a science-fiction/fantasy series entitled Hyperion Cantos as a particular influence, it is evident that he wants to build a solid, conceptual world around the output of Hiraeth Records.
Even the labels name itself speaks to feelings of longing for something that may never have properly existed. The word ‘Hiraeth’ is a welsh word meaning missing something that is not easily tangible, an era, a particularly beautiful night or perhaps even a world that never was.
We begin to talk about Electronicon 2. The self-titled ‘one and only festival of Vaporwave’ delivered on its second outing in Los Angeles in the summer of last year. The line-up featured George Clanton (who also ran the event), Dan Mason, 18 Carat Affair and Saint Pepsi among others. Jornt mentioned he felt particularly taken aback by how lovely the artists and ticket holders were. “You recognised people based on the photos from their online profiles, but they were right there in real life”. He also conveys just how many local people showed up to the show, having not known much about the artists or overarching concept.
To fans of these artists, interest from what we’ll refer to as the ‘inquisitive patron’ may come as quite a shock. The scene can sometimes appear like an enclosed circle of passionate individuals with a niche interest. Not as protective as a clique, but headstrong about their love of music. However, it should be made abundantly clear that the talented artists and organisers of this particular online scene are beginning to find a way to attract both die hard fans, and newcomers alike. From what Jornt describes, Electronicon was a cathartic moment where a movement – once a mere simulacra accessible only through a computer screen – came crashing into the realms of the real. Artist’s cloaked in mystery and intrigue were approachable and happy to be so, and the mood was one of celebration. The general music fan’s interest was peaked, and the knowledgeable connoisseurs were dying to see their favourite act.
Together, me and Jornt express that that is the driving force behind the plight of Hiraeth Records as well. This willingness to take time and effort over the production and distribution of beautifully constructed music can only serve to attract listeners and fans. These listeners will not only be those that follow their favourite Vaporwave producers. They will be those interested in quality electronic music in general. For an artist and record label owner like Jornt it is a win-win. The music and its physical form is beautiful from an objective point of view, but the artist’s know that they have those themes of detachment, consumerism and nostalgia to always be inspired by. A new kind of music that utilises fantastic production in pursuit of familiar topics and sonic environments, but is not wedded to a genre at the expense of the generally interested listener.
With that we come on to talk about what people can expect from Hiraeth Records in 2020. The first thing Jornt mentions is the latest release. Passive Refraction’s 27th Floor is Hiraeth’s fourth release, and the first of 2020. Telling the story of two lovers who become separated by cruel and mysterious circumstance, the album is awash with warm synths and cinematic swells. The filmic quality of what can be heard of the project so far affirms that the construction of worlds and fictional environments continues to be at the very nucleus of Hiraeth Records output.
Jornt remains brief when it comes to names of artists we can expect to see, save for the admission that there is a new 猫 シ Corp. record on the way. He begins to drop clues as to a particular producer that will be appearing on the label, highlighting the word ‘soundtrack’ as a hint to identity of the mystery musician. We can only hope that this becomes more clear in the months ahead. He tells me that six more releases past Passive Refraction are scheduled and in the post-production stage, with more to follow. It is evident from hearing about his plans that it is not only patrons queuing up to listen and purchase, but artists too that are eager to release on the label.
A new kind of music that utilises fantastic production in pursuit of familiar topics and sonic environments, but is not wedded to a genre at the expense of the generally interested listener.
Jornt’s vision for the Hiraeth Records is clear. The three first releases are undeniably brilliant. The artists dazzle, and the execution of the releases is astounding. Supported by a growing interest in experimental electronic music, spurred on by what he learnt in the days of self-dubbing and Beer on the Rug, influenced by the concept of gargantuan worlds that can only be explored in both art and imagination, and inspired by the energy and enthusiasm exhibited at events such as Electronicon, there’s no way that the ambitious vision for the label will go unnoticed on a larger scale.
Visit hiraethrecords.com to find out more.
Thank you to Jornt Elzinga for taking the time to have a lovely conversation.