#181: Here Come the Warm Jets
In 2009, Brian Eno wrote that we are living in a “stylistic tropics,” in which genres like ambient music have split into a multitude of subgenres—black ambient, ambient dub, ambient industrial, organic ambient, and many more—and listeners can increasingly access anything from anywhere as stylistic sensibilities decouple from geographic constraints. Thirteen years later, this all seems so obvious that it’s barely worth pointing out—the internet has refined the process so thoroughly that it’s more difficult to imagine the localized, timebound conditions that once sorted us into various rigid identities. “It’s all alive, all ‘now,’ in an ever-expanding present,” Eno continued (referencing another concept of his, the fluid meaning of “now”). Nothing was uncool anymore, Eno declared, at least not for the traditional reasons of category alignment. The punks and the metalheads no longer hate each other; the lion lies down with the lamb. Not everything is cool now, of course, but everything at least has a chance to be—access to cool is democratized and everyone not only wants it but feels entitled to it. The fragmentation is disorienting and there is seemingly no foundation to stand on, with concepts like algorithms and filter bubbles arising and mutating to help us make sense of the chaos.
Fittingly, Eno described how digital culture itself is “ambient,” an environment or tropics that we inhabit rather than a discrete set of objects that we seek out or possess. This is how it feels to be online, obviously, but it’s also true when we look away from the screens. As the 20th century landscape of cultural institutions, which manifested itself in the physical world, continues to dissolve, cities themselves become memetic landscapes that reflect the stylistic tropics in which culture has fragmented into atomic units. I explored this in a piece I wrote for Real Life this week, about the aesthetics of Web3 and crypto culture and how the internet projects itself onto physical spaces. For much of the last decade, that influence was exemplified by the Instagrammable, social-media-optimized cityscape—selfie backdrops and AirSpace—but there has been a clear departure from that, toward a weirder and less legible symbolic jungle that mirrors crypto’s online presence. Public space is increasingly meme-ified, turning into (Bored) ApeSpace. Meanwhile, the minimalist Millennial aesthetic, still so dominant when the pandemic began, now feels tired, along with so many other trappings of millennial culture.
Sean Monahan tweeted last week that crypto killed streetwear. I sensed that this observation somehow aligned with my ApeSpace thesis, but couldn’t pinpoint why. Sean’s “vibe shift” concept (from almost a year ago) more recently went viral and became another one of those loosely-used devices for grappling with our collective confusion, but his original post (paywalled) was largely about streetwear, the most recent vibe shift casualty, also still ascendant when the pandemic started. Streetwear, however, was a pure embodiment of the stylistic tropics as they evolved during the 2010s, the perfect fashion accompaniment to the meme-ification of physical space. To make an architecture analogy, the late-‘00s menswear movement was modernism—an orthodox formalism that supposedly resulted in “correct” outcomes—and streetwear was its postmodern overthrow, in which articles of clothing became surfaces for symbolic display before ultimately coming to symbolize themselves. Today, cities are exploding with such symbols and the surfaces that display them. As I wrote last week, “The contemporary city is an increasingly branded environment—a substrate of functional and standardized infrastructure decorated with superficial ‘skins.’” Crypto is an emergent source of content for these spaces, another memetic product that the internet manufactures incessantly and spits out onto the streets. Meanwhile, menswear and streetwear both live on, even if they have died as worldviews or vibes, rolled up by the hive mind and repurposed as content for new microtrends. Everything can coexist peacefully in the stylistic tropics, it just has to be flattened out first.
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Dean Kissick on the Russia-Ukraine war as perceived via the internet—the “chilling fog of content.”
The return of the contemporary speakeasy as material for TikTok. “By the time the footage makes it to #speakeasy, the real-life bar from whence it came has long since forfeited any claim to secret status. But that was never the point.”
The world is gradually losing sonic diversity, such as birdsong and whale calls, due to habitat loss, species extinctions, and industrial noise.