In November of last year, Bleach spoke to us about a future now in motion.
There’s a kind of permanent exhaustion blanketing the present. The pandemic’s anniversary has passed, lockdowns have come and gone and come again, nothing seems to change. In spite of everything, Bleachh is electric and energised when he picks up my call, about a year on from our first recorded chat. Back then, the artist formerly known as Drinkbleachh was new in Toronto, Canada’s most populous city and something of a far cry from his native Winnipeg. It was both an opportune and tragically timed shift. For Bleachh, and all of his up-and-coming peers, the allure and promise of the music industry clashed and stalled against Covid’s brute force. Now, though, Bleachh has settled in nicely. He pauses to remember the last twenty-four hours’ work; “Well, late last night I did that ButtonFest thing, then this morning I woke up and did two mixes that I had to do, and then I’m working on a feature”.
It’s tempting, with artists who reform themselves often, to divide their working lives into chapters, distinct eras that offer an easy explanation for such wild change. Bleachh tends to puncture this narrative when and where he can; though this current incarnation is well entrenched in the wave of esoteric digital production, you can still hear emo and punk influences bleed through. “I still have a lot of those roots”, he says, with a hint of defensiveness “I think it’ll come through a lot more in the unreleased stuff that I have”. He talks of Styxcitycult – the now defunct group that topped our top ten singles list – pretty casually. “I just thought that it had it’s time and place – and not everyone was in it at the end. Like, invested”. For Bleachh it seems the years merge into a pattern and this is evident in the increasingly forward thinking timbres of his music. “I think the name change, for me, [was] initially more like I didn’t want to be outwardly offensive, but… this gives me the freedom to switch up if I want to. So then I changed up the aesthetic completely. I was bored of the dark, the sad, I wanted to use bright colours and pretty shit”. Everything fuels progress, down to semiotics. “The songwriting [has stayed the same]. It’s band songwriting – I don’t think I write like a rapper. The synths have gotten a hell of a lot more abrasive, but the progressions are similar”.
Something audible in Bleachh’s music and visible in his artwork is that he is entirely self-asserted. “01”, his first EP under the new name, was dense with conflicting textures and overloaded melodies. He’s used the boosts afforded by choice collaborations and the enamoured eye of platforms like UVC, HAUNTXR, and Hivemind to shoot upwards rapidly in the last year. “I was like ‘alright, I’m gonna submit [a video] to this one’ and they really liked “snakes”” he explains about the latter, with genuine enthusiasm “they picked a top four – and so I won the first one they did”. Surprisingly he’s, at least superficially, unfazed by the pandemic backdrop of this rise. “I think it’s given me the time and motivation to really grind it too. I’m just trying to stay really positive about it”. He later elaborates, “if anything it’s made me more open to collaborating online… as you know, coming from Winnipeg and being in Styx, a year ago I was doing 99% of the stuff in my house and in real life. Fast forward a year later I don’t do anything in real life. There’s a few artists I work with, shoutout Ugly Tomorrow, shoutout Boofbby. I think it’s been a blessing in disguise in some ways, I’ve worked with amazing artists in the last few months because of the fact I’ve been more likely to promote myself online”.
As with his contemporaries he’s ready for the current situation to shift – “after the pandemic I think a lot of these artists right now, that maybe have never played a show before, their catalogues are gonna be ready to play a show… I think the fact that I have so many shows under my belt, and I’ve played for no people and I’ve played for lots of people… I think having that experience is gonna give me a leg up”. A substantial list of URL shows has clearly not replaced the thrill of the stage, but, crucially, efforts have not slowed. Bleachh has become part of a scene of creators that have taken direct ownership of the performance world.
Whether it’s due to a quiet longing for the normal world or innate motivation there’s a clear split in tone as we talk about past, present and future. History seems to take a back seat unless directly tied to forward motion. “I was a fan of theirs because I heard their first single, “Back To You”… I thought the mix was really clean, I thought it was clearly pop music before it was rap music” he says about current collective Hurenpop, a multinational web of creatives that infiltrated the hyperpop corner of the internet in 2020, “I love pop songwriting, and melodies – I dropped “Ball like Highschool” and that got a decent reaction, and Daria [St. Clair, Hurenpop’s Creative Director] posted a tweet saying we have room for one more person”. This proved to be an opportunity well-taken; half a year on and Bleachh has not stopped immersing himself in this brighter community. “Hurenpop – it’s so cool to see different people do well at so many different things. There’s people that are only DJing, producers getting crazy placements, the artists are all killing it”.
Amidst this is a sea of other early bets. Becoming the main producer of rising artist SalemGasMask is the prime example. “Shoutout Salem! He’s my, uh, my little slime… he wanted to shoot a video for me, we shot a video for “Disconnected”. I’ve been engineering him, he’s been snapping, we’ve finished hella songs”. He’s also gotten involved with another collective called icedoutangels. He’ll have probably joined another by the time this is out.
“Things like the Spotify playlist [are] giving it a really early stamp of approval, saying that it’s valid really early, whereas if you look at emo rap it took a long time to get validated”. We’re discussing the direction of the loosely defined hyperpop genre, a scene made controversial by large companies’ eagerness to stake their claim. “Especially the fact that artists I do work with are in the playlist, or the genre. The genre itself does move forward enough that, yeah there might be some people who sound alike, but the umbrella of hyperpop is big enough that it has lots of room to grow. I always bring up the fact that Charli XCX is considered hyperpop and in the same breath 100gecs are, when they’re radically different sound wise. Or A.G Cook and David Shawty. How are they both called hyperpop? It’s such a wide genre that it’s too new to know”. There are some complexities though. On the second revision of Spotify’s hyperpop playlist A.G Cook, founder of label PC Music, scrapped a lot of the underground songs in favor of artists that were incomparably more successful, that didn’t need the exposure. “I saw him try and explain what he was doing” explains Bleachh “I guess he was trying to possibly bring, for example, fans of that type of J Dilla production stuff to also hear hyperpop stuff. The way he was looking at it he didn’t really take anything out of the playlist, he was just adding to it – which was also bullshit”.
Though Bleachh hasn’t quite broken into this highest echelon yet, he’s ridiculously close. There’s one or two degrees of separation between him and the newest class of industry-level artists. Ericdoa appeared on a song with Hurenpop comrade uglyboy, underground legend d0llywood1 has voiced her appreciation for Bleachh’s work, and shifting trends bring others in and out of orbit. “I’ve been trying to work with heavy legends lately” is followed by a list of names including itsoktocry, meat computer and BBYgoyard. “[I’m gonna] move to Alaska and throw my phone away. No, I’m just playing. Working with guys like Salem… I’m sitting on the best music I’ve ever made. I’m working on a video with Ugly Tomorrow for it, and I’m not gonna say much else. I have tons of unreleased songs, and, this will be where I say it, I’m making “02”, the follow up mixtape to my first “01”.
In the present, “02” has morphed into “Self-Proclaimed Popstar”, an assertive genre-fusing EP that, like most everything Bleachh makes, makes its case independently. This is an artist who’s been making music long enough to know how and when to rely on others, and, more often, how to push forward on his own agenda. He’s more eclectic and alive a year on from moving to this new city, and from conversation alone it seems like he’s in a new world; a world where manifesting the future is instant, a world where stars are self-proclaimed.
Some quotes have been shortened for brevity and clarity. Alterations to quotes are presented in square brackets.
Listen to “Self-Proclaimed Popstar” here.
– Jamie (⅓ @108MICS)