Sliced n’ Spread: The Strange Allure of ‘Slowed and Reverb’ YouTube Videos

The internet’s capacity for collective unconscious lives and dies by its ability to generate self-referentiality. It’s the difference between ‘being online’ and being a ‘normie’; you’re either in on the joke, or you’re not. Being in on the joke requires nothing more than being in the right place at the right time, which usually comes about from being available in all places, all of the time. If you manage this, then you can catch the little whisps of information that curl from the top of the digital stock pot, accumulate on the roofs of our agape mouths, perforate our membrain, and generate little self-referential spores of mold that can be self-referenced back to ad infinitum.

The end-result is that these jokes often Go Rhizome, adjacent layers stacked on top of, next to, alongside, and behind each other, forming an orderly queue, getting into a punchup in the aisle, and tenderly fucking one another as the yellow sun sets again. The internet is a chaotic hole of information being pumped into and out of it in a way that is impossible to measure or quantify, dictated by hidden algorithms that seemingly act of their own accord in putting information before our eyes. It is entirely possible for two people with the exact same browsing predilections to be nipped and tucked by the algorithm into two different information-hubs that in no way resemble each other.  

The best case scenario of this is that you get someone who watches exclusively Binging with Babish, and someone else who exclusively watches FoodWishes, meeting in the middle with Joshua Weissman; the worst case scenario is that a sweaty payload of misinformation is dumped onto an unsuspecting victim with a little too much time on their hands, and after a three-to-six month probation period they find themselves pickled in a stew of lies, waking up at 1PM sweaty and disoriented, after having seen the sun rise while blasting off another twitchy incoherent crackpot thoughtbubble about PizzaGate.

All this (this being the obscenely self-indulgent blank mass of words and attendant meanings that you have just read, and are still reading) can lead to weird and prolonged engagement with extremely specific, niche content that despite being brazenly esoteric comes to feel like a shared experience. In my case, the algorithm has served me up a genre of YouTube videos that are ‘slowed and reverb’ remixes of Tumblr-popular songs and their ilk, from the last ten years.

They are all the same, and they are all good. The best results for me come from Tame Impala, MGMT, Last Shadow Puppets, Mitski; the fact that I liked these artists prior to discovering this subgenre of video is almost certainly not a factor in my enjoyment, no sir, although it’s worth mentioning that the genre spreads far and wide into vast reservoirs of music I am fervently disinterested in, and have never listened to, but am nevertheless (mono no) Aware Of. Interestingly, while I’ve had some joy with Belle and Sebastian and Vampire Weekend. I’m far too close to those two bands not to huffily return to the originals like the scurrying little rat-Luddite I am.

The whole subgenre seems to have fallen out of the same hole as the Lofi Hip Hop Beats To Study/Relax To Girl, who herself fell out of a lesser-known Studio Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart, which dared to ask the question (like a lot of Ghibli) What If We Took A Teenage Girl and Her Feelings Seriously. That vein continues to run through the videos; there’s a lot of looped footage of anime characters running, staring forlornly at phones, dancing, as well as short clips of cityscapes and cars driving at dusk. One of the most striking is for Tame Impala’s Let It Happen, which puts you inside looped footage of a car driving towards a Vaporwave Megalopolis but never actually getting there. Wavey indeed. There are even little spots and pockets of Simpsonswave, like in the video for r.o.a.r’s I Can’t Handle Change, a song so astoundingly late 00s I at first thought it was the Antlers, themselves an astoundingly late 00s one-trick pony band whose pony was a girl dying of cancer, who seem to have avoided the slowed-reverb movement on account of their songs already being slow and chock-full of (p)r(o)e(s)v(t)e(r)r(o)b(c)s(k) (just kidding, Kettering has been manipulated).

To fit, all of the songs are invariably sad-core, or vibe-core, and as a genre it seems to rest on the mechanism of intensification- whatever was in the songs already is cut thick and spread thin, calcifying and emulsifying and concentrating into a finer, longer point that somehow takes more time to digest and is also more potent. Most of TLSP’s Everything You’ve Come To Expect has been slowed-and-reverb-ed, and it’s pushed out my original knowledge of the (excellent) album from my little porous brain; the songs as they were first recorded now sound too quick, robbed of the thing that was only merely expanded-upon in the first place; in a sense, these songs are viruses, supplanting the thick roots of original content with their own fan-made efforts, like a sort of death-of-the-record-producer.

What the videos really speak to, though, and what I have inelegantly un-articulated, is that these songs allow for an experience of the Real as mediated through the Hyperreal. They are a copy with an original, but a referent without an origin. Reading through the comments underneath the videos, and looking at the sheer volume of the songs to which this effect has been applied, it constitutes a movement in itself, one in which the listeners, or participants, can hop on board, and collectively recall emotions, even negative ones, while looking on safely from behind the shield of gauze that time often puts up in front of us. It allows us to experience things on our own terms; the melancholy diluted with distance, but concentrated with specificity, drawing us closer to the sensation but further from the impact.

Perhaps the most potent (albeit adjacent) example of this is in Chipmunks at 16 Speed, a YouTube project initiated by Holy Fuck’s Brian Borcherdt, which slows vinyl recordings of songs by Alvin and the Chipmunks to 16RPM, the result being that the vocals wind up somewhere near normal pitch, but the instruments sound as if they’re dragging themselves through a swimming pool of tar as black as the heroin dosage everyone in the comments seems to think the music is somehow synonymous with (I wouldn’t know, I’m more of a concrete enema man).  

Like all great YouTube experiments, they’re maddening, infuriating, blissful, beautiful, and with at least one foot in the paddling pool of genius. Not every track is a hit, but there are some which, in a manner similar to the Slowed’n’Reverb, have supplanted the original songs. My Sharona sounds like you are a recently freed Chained Kong let loose to pull apart a house with your bare hands; Bette Davis Eyes sounds like you’re stood in a high-rise apartment building and watching nukes score the earth a soul-crippling jet-purple crimson, while a bikini model waits on the bed behind you and you’ve got some VHS tapes to return; Heaven Is A Place On Earth sounds like the precise opposite.

It’s hard to extrapolate any wider sense or meaning from them; they exist on a spectrum of vibes that you’re either going to ‘get’ or you will likely never read about them. However, I would propose that they act as a sort of future-retrofitted version of the De Certeau-ian tactic. They extrapolate individual bits of culture and fold them into the other, meaning that simply ‘listening to a song’ becomes ‘participating in a meme’, ‘enjoying an internet art movement’, ‘learning about vaporwave’s legacy’, and ‘defying capitalism’. We are dragged endlessly backwards and forwards, and one way to gain control of the monoculture is to lump a number of different referents into one stew and go off (the alternative to this is to zero in, ála Nick Pinkerton, onto whatever bits of culture of old that interest you, completely ignoring/bypassing/diverting any attempt to be current, leaving open the possibility of discovery once the immediate moment is over).

To put it more bluntly, the videos make sense because the world doesn’t. The videos are easily digestible, with many layers; listening to them is both the easiest thing in the world and an act of productivity; longer, but more concentrated; thin but thick. A whomping great time. A Heavy Vibe. (Y).

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