Neupink is a digital hardcore artist signed to No Agreements, and the stage name of Sam Strawberry. Recently, I sat down to talk to them about their upcoming album Seaweed Jesus, the state of DJing in the Pandemic and the futility of labeling music.
L: Right off the bat, the first two things I’ve taken away from your music is how raw and yet simultaneously digital it is. There’s a very neat synthesis between a punk edge and a very sequenced, DJ-like quality. How do you see these sounds coming together in your music?
N: I see it as just an amalgamation of different influences. Whenever I’m working on an album or project, what shapes up to be the sound of the project is whatever I’m listening to at the time. Obviously I listen to a fuckton of albums so it ends up being just an amalgamation of different sounds, and it’s just this blend between progressive whatever and electronics and punk and everything like that. But yeah, that kind of thing is mostly influenced by whatever I’m listening to at the time. When I was working on Swordflower Hills Killer, I was listening to a lot of post-punk, especially Iceage, which is one of my favorite fucking bands ever. That was what I was mainly listening to at the time, a lot of Arctic Monkeys as well, surprisingly. I guess that kind of thing shows in the music, in a way. When I was working on FLUORESCENT ART, I was more into Lightning Bolt and garage rock, shit like Thee Oh Sees.
L: With that in mind, what are the artists that you had on your mind when you were making Seaweed Jesus [Neupink’s upcoming album]?
N: A lot of progressive rock, especially artists like The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In. I can’t think of anything else, but those two were the main influences because for the past two to three months, I was getting through their entire discographies and just studying these guys and kind of just studying their entire music layout. It was kind of a life-changing experience, and it kind of had a massive influence on the writing process and the whole production of the album. I feel when people put Seaweed Jesus on, I feel they would see a lot of the Volta in the music. Omar Rodriguez Lopez’ work in general has been a massive inspiration for the writing process of this album.
L: Recently, I saw that you rejected the term “breakcore” on Twitter as a classification for your music. How would you describe this music to someone who has no idea what to call it, even if it’s a very jokey or abstract description?
N: I don’t know, that’s kind of something that I’ve always struggled with myself. Like I said, it’s an amalgamation of different influences. I guess I follow the digital hardcore label, because when I was first started this Neupink project and started working on the music and showing it to friends, they were like, “Oh, this is sick-ass digital hardcore,” and I was like, “Huh, digital hardcore, okay.” Now that I’m looking back at it, I think that I’m doing something different from what Alec Empire and Atari Teenage Riot were doing, what Machine Girl is currently doing, even different from what Death Grips were doing on Steroids at the time. I honestly don’t know! It’s kind of something that’s been really ambiguous. It’s kind of hard to pin down, even for me.
I’m using the digital hardcore term as a bit of an umbrella of sorts. If somebody asked me what I make I’d say, “Oh, I make digital hardcore,” but in a way I’m making kind of the opposite of what Atari Teenage Riot was doing. Their sound was loud, it’s punk, it’s aggressive, but it’s also very dance-y and very clubby. You listen to their music and you hear a lot of distorted 909s, and my music just doesn’t have that. I kind of exist in a completely different world, in a way. Even that kind of question has been hard for me to answer. I don’t really see myself as a breakcore artist at all. Breakcore is in a completely different realm from what I’m making. The same with hyperpop, I barely see it. I don’t see it at all, actually.
L: I get not wanting anything to be projected onto your work that you don’t agree with. Simultaneously, however, I am getting a sort of nostalgia from these kinds of drums. Is there any sort of specific blueprint that you’ve drawn from in order to create this drum style, or are you going your own way on this?
N: The drums are kind of the foundation for the track on whatever song I’m working on, obviously with how they peak in the mix. There’s not any blueprint necessarily. I use the drums as a bit of a driving force to move the whole song forward. My whole creative process is that there isn’t really much planning that goes into it. It’s very much a spontaneous kind of effect. That’s kind of how I’ve always worked, and every time I’ve tried to be too ambitious or plan too many things, I find that I’m forcing myself into an idea and the result is very, very unpleasant. I kind of go off by feel and make sure that it has a good punch and sounds as authentic as possible. If there’s a true word to describe my sound, it’s that it’s punk, and I want to do justice to that sound as much as possible.
L: Right now, we’re seeing a lot of overlap between crowds in digital-sounding music. I’m not sure if I’d call it a scene or a group, but we are seeing a lot of overlap, especially post-Mechafest. You yourself had PK Shellboy [Fax Gang vocalist] on your last album. Is there anyone in this scene between No Agreements/Dismiss Yourself/etc. Who you’d like to work with or have even planned on working with soon?
N: There’s definitely a couple of people who I’d love to work with. There is a massive overlap and the scene is as exciting as ever. There are a lot of great artists who are putting out genuinely cutting-edge shit. The problem with me, and I even do this with my favorite artists, is that I don’t keep up with the new stuff all that much. If you asked me “What’s an album that you’ve listened to this year?” I would probably say something that we’ve released on the label, and as far as mainstream releases, I’d say the new Iceage. Those are the things I’ve listened to from this year. I’m kind of a hermit in the way that I listen to a lot of old stuff. Again, I listen to stuff like The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In like I said before. It’s kind of reverse recency bias in a way.
L: Weirdly enough, when I interviewed Prismadoll (another No Agreements signee), they told me something similar, that they hadn’t listened to any albums from the last two years because of all the crate-digging they’d been doing for their music. I do find an interesting parallel between both of you diving into these niches to expand your sound.
N: In a way, and this is something that just popped into my head, I’m kind of someone who just likes to study all kinds of influences. I listen to my favorite artists and I think, “Hmm, what are their favorite artists, and then I study their favorite artists,” and it’s honestly great. It’s like magic, you discover a whole lot of great sounds, and that’s kind of where these influences come into play.
N: To answer your earlier question, there’s quite a few people who I’d like to work with. One of them is definitely the Drixxo Lords collective. I listened to the tape they dropped near the end of last year [Unimon Superstar] and it blew my fucking mind. I haven’t really been keeping up with HexD, but when I heard it I thought, “Yo, this shit is next level.” I think that artists like them are important, especially because HexD has been in its relative infancy for a while. I feel like Drixxo Lords are very, very important for pushing the sound forward and reconstructing it in a way. From that album, one of my favorite moments had to be from the third or forth track, and that guitar solo blew my fucking mind. Those are definitely people who I wished I collaborated with actively.
L: So far, you yourself have performed a lot of online sets at festivals like Mechafest and Quarantainment. How do you think that your music, as well as a lot of music by DJs, has been affected by this kind of venue? Do you think that it’s gained or suffered from going fully online?
N: I feel like it’s suffered in a way that some energy has been lost in the process from “irl to url,” but it hasn’t been all negative. I honestly wish that even after the pandemic is over and everything goes back to normal that some of these url fests keep on going. Sure, it doesn’t necessarily have the same energy as being in the mosh pit, but it also makes things really accessible for people. You don’t have to worry too much about tickets, and you don’t have to worry about, “Oh no, they’re not performing in my city. I’m gonna have to take a three hour drive,” or whatever. You just have to make sure that you’re able to tune in. It has its pros and cons. I feel like the thing with some of these fests are is that they’re so easy to do. If you have solid internet and know how OBS works, you basically have it covered. However, and I don’t want to name names because I feel like that’s kind of shady, I feel like some of them don’t know exactly what they’re doing, and that leaves a lot of room for error. A lot of technical difficulties, people who didn’t send their set in time, and a whole lot of issues like that. If it’s your first time, it can’t be perfect, and I get that. I’m more talking when there’s a level of neglect behind the scenes, like when the organizers themselves didn’t make sure to remind the people performing to send their stuff. You get what I mean? Some of them are a bit rushed.
L: Simultaneously, do you think that this scene is affected by how many people are making their debuts online? As in their perspective is mostly informed by having a digital come up?
N: I’m not too sure about that, honestly. It also has a lot to do with how easy music is to make these days. As long as you have not even a full desktop, at least a good enough laptop, you can run Ableton, FL Studio or whatever. It definitely helps to build a bit of a crowd and grow your audience and that’s kind of what’s great about this. It makes me happy when I see a smaller name next to a bigger name on the same day, as well as some very very well done url fests that have an actual marketing team. If you’re new to music, you’re obviously not going to be immediately good. I still do feel that after all these years that there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement for me. I’m just happy that we push young talent this way and help people to know their audience and get a proper start. It really motivates them. I meet a lot of people that just have nothing to do and feel shitty and everything, and to see some of these same people doing something that they genuinely love is what I fucking live for. I’m trying to support my friends who are trying to get into the music world and just have a fun time really overall.
L: Do you have any plans for a live tour?
N: *laughs* A live tour, oof. I really don’t know. That’s one of those things that I’ve never really thought too much about. There’s a lot of things that could go into it, like how the hell am I going to recreate that energy for a live setting? My music is digital, right, so how am I going to do this? Am I just gonna stand there with my laptop open, staring at the crowd? As far as I could say right now, it’s a big maybe. Maybe it’ll always be kind of a url thing for me. However, I do plan on attempting to return the favor, so to speak. I do want to host fun little community events in a way to give that same exposure back, so that everyone wins. I don’t have a concrete idea as of yet because this has all just been floating around in my mind. As for a live tour, I’m not sure about that at all. I am curious to see how wild a Neupink show could be live, though.