Six Of The Best: Squarms | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Newcastle/Kyoto-based electronic music pioneers SQUARMS drop their long-awaited debut album Goodbye Thinking. Recorded in a variety of remote locations the album explores Artificial Intelligence, our relationship with it and how it is evolving human consciousness. 

Goodbye Thinking takes us on a voyage through various sonic platforms; from the haunting, jazz lounge number of the title track, to the dark rhythmic throbbings of Meatbrain, to the overdriven fuzz of Alan Turing, to the avant-garde sound art of Numbers Station.  It’s the OK Computer of the techno-dystopian times we find ourselves flirting with and despite the uncomfortable thoughts it provokes, the accessible vocal delivery, thought-provoking lyrics and digital textures create an album that is as immersive and engaging as the VR world our future AI overlords will sedate us with once they take over. 

To give us a little more insight into the inspirations behind the album, SQUARMS give us their six of the best…

1. Artificial Intelligence
2023 – the year when AI becomes mainstream. No longer a liquid metal man shapeshifting in Terminator or a headline about beating chess grandmasters. No, in what felt like an immediate shift in paradigm, AI interjected itself into our lives and changed the way the average person could interface with seemingly unbounded knowledge  – the future had arrived. This raised many questions, some moral, some ethical, some fun. This wasn’t just about machines getting smarter or outplaying us in chess; it was a seismic shift in the landscape, a moment where machine learning didn’t just knock on our door— it blew it wide open.

The AI explosion did more than just turn heads; it sent shockwaves through the corridors of power, sparking a mad dash towards something even bigger, AGI. But for artists? It laid down a challenge, offering us a choice: fight the current and get swept away, or grab a bottle of the good stuff, link arms with this new digital deity, and sing c’est la vie. With the warping future of human relationships and our autonomy as a species stretching out before us, vast and uncharted, it left us pondering the big questions, contemplating the very essence of human existence.

This was the backdrop to which we wrote “Goodbye Thinking’.

2. The Scottish Highlands

I’m standing outside of a cabin in the sparse snow, there’s no wind and the only light that illuminates the sacks of coal I’m about to bring inside softly pours out of my own window and into the deepest black rolling hills of silence. Standing and looking out into this vast abyss with the stars spilling glitter above me forces me to reflect on the enormity of being alive, the insignificance of yourself and the beauty of what we’re even able to experience. Joy, fear, awe.

We set out to find the most remote destination we could possibly muster and ended up in a small cottage owned by some courteous farmers in the middle of the Cairngorm mountain range. After driving across some completely empty mountain pass roads, through a forest and along many winding country roads in the pitch black we found our home for the next week.

Just us, some sheep and the enormity of being a (somewhat) conscious being.

3. Dystopia
We’ve always had a sense of some foreboding doom seeping its way into our neglected, demoralised and crumbling 3D plane. It’s found its way into our music in various ways. We are creators of experience and we make from what we ingest, in all data formats. I see our songs as moments in time, the dead sea scrolls of a period that will never be forgotten as long as the microchip factories continue to operate. The internet never forgets.

We grew up with ‘Black Mirror’ hauntingly predicting the near future, ‘Her’ predicting AI-human personal relationships, ‘Rubbers Lover’ predicting… well whatever that was predicting and George Orwell just about predicting all of that before them. It felt like these works of fiction and predictions were ripe as a sweet fig, leaving the branch of its own accord, falling into the garden of everyday life. They were no longer fiction.

Engaging with the insights of Adam Curtis or Mark Fisher might unveil the chasms of horror and disappointment that underpin modern existence. Yet, there’s no need to dwell in these depths personally— the AI has already cataloged these woes. Perhaps it’s better to simply put the kettle on and take a moment’s reprise, in this world sometimes the most radical act is to savour a moment’s peace amidst the chaos.

4. The Art of Releasing
We started questioning the point of releasing music a couple years back. We realised that in this day and age, the physical medium which you sell your music via could essentially be anything, and the methods of which you can distribute music has radically shifted. We put out a limited run of white label vinyl, a 140 release that came with the same limited amount of digitally verified files. We then released an EP (Right Click, Save As) as a bag of mints, literally little candies in a custom printed sweetie bag with a USB which has a custom made SQUARMS app on it complete with 8-bit game versions of the tracks, artworks and lyrics.

 This time for ‘Goodbye Thinking’ we went with a limited print magazine detailing the backstory of the album, the materials we used, what we took, what we ate, what we saw – a walk through our world, the lyrics and story of the whole thing. You can grab your own copy over at our website. (https://www.squarms.co.uk/squarms-ltd).

5. Collaboration
I’ll never tire of the view from our studio window, the sky above the construction materials factory. The impending metal fence below, the cracked wet concrete, the football stuck in the guttering, plants seemingly defying gravity sprouting from a wall above empty tins of red stripe and discarded cigarette butts next to pallets of building materials that seem to have been there for an eternity. Such serenity. That is our second home, where we bring some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. We’ve collaborated with many amazing musicians over our relatively short span from around the North East, and on this album it was no different.

‘Okinawa Sunset’ the 6th track on the album was written on a cool evening right there with Stevie What? and Mark Johnson, trading bass and guitar, hastily throwing a couple of microphones on the old beaten Yamaha drum kit after a healthy slathering of moon gels. Another night, $lick King made his way around bringing with him this giant 90’s outboard Roland sampler that has the most nostalgic and funkiest little chiptune sounds on, we then wrote ‘Fadeout Guy’ in that session, and the vibes continued into the night.

A notable mention that shaped some of my favourite collaborations comes in the form of the man himself, the one and only Papa Bingo. A formidable saxophonist we’ve had the great pleasure to record with over the years. You can hear him shredding all over ‘Goodbye Thinking”, the album’s title track.

6. Cyberspace (Internet Music)
SQUARMS is very much music of cyberspace, the internet, caught in a transient moment of the digitisation of life. Obscure but mammoth artists like Telepath or Macintosh Plus come to mind, creating music of alternative reality, or a memory of a time you’ve never been to, or a hallucination of nostalgia for something you’ve never experienced. Shouldering our way around the hyper-pop scene, indie scene, hip-hop scene, electronic scene, dubstep scene and enjoying ourselves very much in the process. The appeal of internet music is partially the intensity of the ‘niche’ that it can provide for, and partially the democratisation of access via platforms such as social media etc. I think at its best, it inspires an attitude of ‘unapologetic uniqueness through DIY’ that I see as an integral part of our approach to SQUARMing.

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