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YOSHI CITY: Video Games and Signifying Japan in Contemporary Electronic Music

Date and Time: 
Thursday, January 19, 2017. 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
CCSRE Conference Room (Building 360)
Workshop: 
Interdisciplinary Working Group in Critical Theory
Meeting Description: 

Video games are a near-constant presence in today’s electronic music. The music video for “Hurt” (2013), the first single by Swedish hip-hop artist Yung Lean, features images of a vintage GameBoy, fluorescent controllers for the Nintendo-64 game system, and screengrabs from a string of well-known games: Zelda, Super Smash Bros, StarFox, Final Fantasy. In the video for the emcee’s follow-up single, “Kyoto,” he visits an Asian grocery and a Japanese novelty store dressed in fluorescent Nike slip-ons and upside-down sunglasses, name-checking Japanese cities and Nintendo characters and brandishing a katana. Musicians like Ryan Hemsworth, Flying Lotus, and Wave Racer draw heavily on the sonic vocabulary of video games in their compositions; meanwhile, the release of Los Angeles producer Groundislava’s 2014 cyberpunk concept album A Frozen Throne was accompanied by a fully-playable game practically wallpapered with neon-lit Japanese script.

This paper considers the role of the trans-Pacific video game industry in shaping the sonic imaginary and aesthetic sensibilities of contemporary electronic dance music. Games by companies like Nintendo and Sega contributed to the creation and circulation of an image of Japan uniquely consonant with the heavily-ironic internet culture in which electronic music plays a central role. Drawing on work by Roland Barthes and Sianne Ngai, I show that electronic musicians uses signifiers of Japan and Japanese-ness to construct a dialectic between artifice and authenticity which reflects the forms of alienation endemic to the rise of ubiquitous digital technology in late-capitalist consumer culture.

Please contact cawkward@stanford.edu to RSVP and for access to the pre-circulated material.

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