Mukqs’ latest effort, entitled 起き上がり, which is Japanese for “the rising” or also “to erect”, seems to raise the ageless myth of language fragmentation in a time when the matrix of a shared language does not come from the lofty and elevated goals of experiments like Esperanto but from the wastelands of pop culture, from the billows of static and kilobytes emerging from decaying videogame aesthetics. The excellent album cover reproduces Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Tower of Babel as a hyper-glitched out Castlevania dungeon; the instability of Roman pride is replaced by incompatible renders and faulty textures, the fatal hubris of the ancients now ominously signaled by the Japanese role-playing game convention of a dark and stormy night in which titanic forces loom over an ill-fated world. Mukqs’ tower is, however, pretty much solely constructed from bits of the Japanese culture industry, its titles referring to anime and manga characters, its “Marble Gallery” a noisy and disturbing recreation of that one gothic synth classic in Symphony of the Night. This language is not a unified empire about to fall, it is not the City of Man, but neither is it the City of God since its very basis is the fragment, the hyperlink, the tortuous paths of pop-cultural reference in which meaning is replaced by a multiplicity of signifiers.
The music deftly flows with appropriations and remixes from myriad sources, and it reminded me of Fatima Al-Qadiri’s Desert Strike, insofar as it is also a meditation upon spectacle and the digitization of experience. 起き上がりdoes not, however, offer an oppositional stance, opting for full immersion into the postmodern labyrinth of a new organization of sounds that aims not to step into the unknown but to re-signify what is already there. In this sense, out of Mukqs’ other productions, this album is the most stable, full of beats that, like Desert Strike, could have easily come from a now-forgotten Sega Genesis cartridge. Since the technology of the time, however, could not really allow productions like this, there is an aesthetic illusion at play that does not simply devolve into nostalgia. Instead, this illusion peers into the abyss of re-creation (not too dissimilar to the abyss of reboots) in which the meaning of some pop-cultural referent, dependent on great measure on the context in which it became significant, is made anew, thus accumulating meanings, accumulating images, accumulating sounds, building a tower from no unified vision, its foundations a mass of incompatible messages, mixed media, and glitches.
How can the album be so stable, then? I wouldn’t say this is contradictory – in fact, its coherence depends entirely on the failure of all these things to make sense together, as one. In “ベヘリット” (Japanese for “Beherit”), an old-school house beat pushes the track constantly forward, a Zomby-like melody swirling around it, but the melody is not as straightforward as it would seem at first listen. It has subtle shifts in volume and pitch that make it seem as if it was about to fall apart, to crackle away in some black hole glitch as the beat grinds on. The beat, too, seems relentless, but then it stops both at predictable and unpredictable moments along the 8 and a half minutes of the track’s duration, throwing off any sense of unity it might have accrued in that time. The precarity of this Tower of Babel is like the geek’s accumulation of useless facts and narratives, a landfill of information in the absence of knowledge that nonetheless points towards some things in the world, a world of participation, of obscure wikis, of weird videos, of communal fan fictions, of abandonware and forum posts from 1999, which is to say a world of absolute, utterly joyful play. This is our shared language, the baroque aesthetics of pixel art and long-lost single-run cartoon series, a tower destined for virality, not for ultimate collapse. (David Murrieta)