Hello and welcome to the future of Sputnik’s recently rebooted, charm offending, hernia cleansing, fool hunting, wokeshopping mania avenue for the brave and brainless. Staff Wars is back! This is where we stick members of the Staff team against the wall and interview them within an inch of their lives. Steel yourself as impossible questions are posed and the Staffers you’d never had the courage to approach before surpass your wildest expectations.
Today is dedex. No fancy introductions, for you know him, for he is Sputnik. What is Sputnik, this Sputnik, this Sputnik you speak of? It is dedex (you fool)! dedex is the still-in-his-prime mentor figure they put in the tutorial level so you have an idea of the character the game narrative wants you to level up to. The game is Sputnik (and you, uh, win or you die); he is the mascot and you can talk to him and learn from him, but can you be him? Hell no! And now he is Staff! Let’s go:
dedex HELLO! Welcome to SputStaff 2023! How do you feel?
First of all HELLO!!
Well I feel good because I’m staff lol. In all seriousness, life is hectic but in a good way, which is basically the best way to live, right?? Or not, I’m tired.
Is there anything I can do for you before this interview starts?
Please be a good boi!
Okay – psych?!!? – I’m just nervous full of giggles because this is both the first Staff Wars in a year and the first nu-Staffer interview I’ve ever done (?), which means you get to be bombarded with all sorts of peppy-dumb questions of the welcome-to-the-family genre. Ready?
Ready as I’ll ever be.
Cool, align every member of the Cullen family (all of them, or else) with a current staff member.
Uuuuh is the Cullen family Twilight stuff??
Ok uh Edward is Kompys because of Kompys’ glittering! And then I don’t remember the rest of the vampire fam sorry!
…and with that established, would you share your vision! What do you want from that Staff platform?
Talk about stuff that I *feel* is underrepresented on Sput and (hopefully) flood BNM with new things!
I wanna use the blog too. Mars’ post-metalcore series was terrific, and even though I don’t feel like doing a multi-part series, I’m definitely thinking about doing (sub)genres deep-dives without the constraint of englobing that analysis into an album review. London jazz, emo, or drumless are the ones that come to mind because they all are modern genres whose roots trace back to before we were in our papas’ gonads – an excellent occasion to do fun lil history lessons about stuff that’s currently hyped!
Yes! What makes a good moustache and how does yours fulfil that criteria?
Each entity has an essence that needs to fill its purpose. Sometimes, like you and me, you gotta find what your essence is. Moustaches live a much easier life: their essence precedes their existence. They gotta show up, be thicc, catch every sip of your drink, and be their own glorious lil thing. My moustache is a good moustache because I let it live its moustache life independently of the beard life. This is the way.
Even more seriously, what is good writing and how does yours fulfil that criteria?
Ooof, that’s a biggie.
Regarding music reviewing (‘cause Dostoievski was a pretty darn good writer, but I bet he wouldn’t know how to talk about Counterparts (oh yes?)), good writing is pinpointing an album’s essence. What references does the band/artist try to invoke? Is it well done? If not, why? What were the intentions behind the album? Is it a genuine yet epic fail (Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven and Angelic 2 the Core enter the chat), is it not far off but not entirely it (most albums), is it the new canon (TURNSTILE BITCH)? If you answer those questions and provide the occasional punchline/beautiful sentence, I’m sold.
As to how my writing fulfils that criterion, I feel like I’m an alright writer because I instinctively try to answer the aforementioned question. However, I don’t think I’m an excellent writer because I constantly develop the same sentence structure and/or gimmicks (bomb-ass-thicc or calling everyone a bae, for example), and I have to actively search for synonyms to compensate for my poor vocabulary. I think I’m better when I try to develop a “story” within the review – hence why I want to use the blog!
Recommend me one off-Sput music journo you particularly rate (Francophone or Anglophone).
That’s kinda cheating because I ended up writing for the only journos I actually read (Thésaurap and Goûte Mes Disques).
The most revered French rap (yes, again!) media is l’Abcdr du son. Basically all prominent figures in French rap discourse started there, and the site favors a certain counter-mainstream approach. But they don’t have any ratings!! Which forces you to actually read the review, and Abcdr’s revs usually are the best you can find.
Noice. I’m looking at the list of new Staffers and just reflecting on how it feels as though most of you have been on the scene for at least the entirety of recent memory but have all had very different journeys to end up here. Would you give us a quick story-so-far of what drew you to Sput, what tempted you to hit the keyboard, how it’s been honing them claws, and all the lil carnages you’ve encountered along the way?
I distinctly remember looking for A Day to Remember reviews back in 2012, and landed on Sput after reading everything on AbsolutePunk (‘member?). I liked the ~aesthetic~ and stayed forever! I even told my IRL friend Bedex to come to the site too (that’s why we got similar names! We are both doofuses from the same group of friends).
I was basically a lurker that only rated and seldom commented. Then my ratings were purged because I 1’d Justin Bieber discography – I was young and dumb and can now confidently say that even though there are 1.5s and 2s in there, it didn’t deserve a discog 1.
Then I lurked again until 2019, when Bedex got me back on Sput to start soundoffing (thanks again for that babe). All these soundoffs led me to try my chance at reviewing one lockdown afternoon. I felt like I could basically flesh out a soundoff into a review, and here we are!! Bedex helped me a lot in the beginning to turn dumb mess into proper reviews. Bedex really is the best dexbro.
The prodigal dex! This question’s eh – I originally axed it because it felt like overly leading (though not intended as such!), but this question was originally gonna be along the lines of This was your second time applying for Staff – what, if anything, felt different since then? so, um, if that’s something you’d ever have felt like answering here’s the spot.
Interesting, I don’t feel there was anything different other than a lot of active and talented users making contrib, which left some space for some contribs to move up the chain – ie: me. Mars should’ve been made staff earlier, and both YoYo and tyman did a tremendous job last year with their reviews and year-end blurbs – I also feel like my blurbs were subpar compared to my comrades, so thanks to them for reminding me to constantly work!
Much as, uh, some have made (and will continue to make!) a mockery of your 5s for their boilerplate Sputcore factor, you tend to cover the broadest range of musics of any of our new blood. This is exciting and raises possibilities and doubts! Respectively indulge and dispel these:
1) What does and doesn’t Staff coverage need more of?
Does: stuff that’s hyped outside of Sput. That’s what I’ve tried to do with my last couple of reviews (Fred Again and Ezra Collective), which are both cool crowd music that are at the very least interesting for Sput because of their hypeness in “hipster circles”. Plus they bang and make you dance! Sput could def use some dancing.
Doesn’t: eeeeeeeh I’d go with either core or indie folk. I listen to every BNM album ‘cause imma dumb bitch, and I feel like those genres are overrepresented. I feel like I’m listening to a scene’s whole shebang while I really could only listen to the 2-3 most important albums. I guess you could say the same about French rap though, so I’ll try to balance the genres I cover.
2) What where who is gonna raise the kind of hype worth entertaining in 2023? What were the best trends last year? Where are the scenes? Which are the countries? What languages should we be learning? Take [this map of earth] and drop small fire-symbols where you think is lit etc..
Oh that’s a cool one! London is definitely a fire place at this point. I’ve been championing London jazz for quite some time now, and it’s because the scene is full of great, passionate young musicians who have both the musicianship and the swag to make it big. I just saw Ezra Collective in Brussels, and they sold out a 2500 peepz venue!
It’s always a good reminder that music isn’t only an Internet stuff – seems like something dumb to say but our lil microcosm really is a microcosm, there are many people who just listen to music, live their normal life, and go to shows from time to time.
In my opinion, Rosalia was the one who really made the most modern 2022 album. Motomami took from the ever-growing Latin music trend, Arca/SOPHIE-inspired club beats that shaped the modern electropop-landscape, and delivered it in the form of head-crawling hooks. It didn’t end up being my favourite album, but it’s definitely the one 2022 pop album I respect the most.
Also I can’t not s/o the current Francophone rap scene. It managed to take over the Francophone scene, established itself as the #2 rap scene worldwide in terms of streaming and revenue, and is basically where all *industry discourses* are the most scrutinized – there are way too many French rap YouTubers, yet they still manage to each offer an interesting opinion on the state of the scene, labels, where it is going, etc. One example of this *big dick energy* is Damso (a Brussels homie): he went #1 in global streaming the day his 2020 album, QALF, came out. For an 11 million people country, that felt like a fucking big deal to us.
Not French rap, but the same commentary could be said about other Francophone stars. Stromae for example: the dude went to Coachella and NPR, but he’s from my neighborhood??? Or Aya Nakamura (which I plan on reviewing), who’s amassed more than 6 billion streams, but is basically left out of critics’ conversation.
Basically: there’s good music outside the Anglophone world! But also: there’s good music outside Sputnik! Don’t hesitate to wander!
3) …and, to balance that last one, would you give us a little deflation? What hype is full of hot air right now? What gained the most disproportionate viral/algorithmic traction to its merits last year? Did Sputnik make any major fuckups (beyond that unfortunate Norma Jean chart)?
I’m slowly growing tired of the ‘core stuff that actually got me on Sputnik ten years ago. It’s definitely cool that people enjoy it more than me, but I’m in a spot where most of it reminds me to jam stuff I liked back then. Is this becoming an old fart?
Sput is Sput, and you and I both grew up with it. Maybe we’d like Sput to like everything that we like, but it can’t be like that (because we’re not dictators, YET). Even when Sput champions something I consider to be alright at best, I just think “oh, it’s Sput Sputtin”, yaknow? I don’t feel like the site does major fuckups, it’s just that Sput’s solipsism is too strong to ever wane.
4) Recommend one record apiece for the character development of the following three (randomly-selected) staffers:
Feu! Chatterton – Palais d’Argile
Because I know he already listened to some French pop, and this is definitely the best French record of the 2020s (so far lol).
Cocteau Twins – Treasure
Metal is cool, but Cocteau Twins are cooler!
Clara Malaterre – Points Cardinaux
He likes his indie folk stuff, and this invokes Nick Drake along with wide’n’wild vocals and crazy guitar lines!
We’re going to go back down memory lane now, to two reviews that I don’t necessarily think define you but are, like, particularly memorable for better or worse. *Without reading ahead*, guess which these are going to be!
The “particularly memorable for better or worse” is scary!!!
I’d go with the Booba review – which was a big fuckup of mine. Booba was (and still kinda is) the king of French rap, and I wanted to do an in-depth analysis of his last album and place the dude in the grand scheme of French rap. But I forgot that “Booba” was actually a very funny word in English, and the 200 or so comments are only jokes about that. So I worked for nothing eh.
Idk about the other one im scared.
So, first up is one of your earliest pieces, for Lil Ugly Mane’s Uneven Compromise. This is a really cool read that I’d prompt any of our readers towards, both conceptual and highly approachable in its analysis of the essential elements of hip-hop – how d’ya feel about it now? Do you still find this kind of conceptual style appealing to write, and how easy is it to form those kinds of insights now that you’re on the ol’ conveyor belt of reviewing all the bloody time?
I think this is the only conceptual review I ever did, and that was because of one single idea. Basically, Uneven Compromise is made up of several parts, which I felt perfectly described what made hip-hop what it is, and I wanted to create a mini-paragraph to link each part to its hip-hop element. I still really like the review, but mostly because of its underlying idea – the writing and choice of words isn’t as good as the idea.
Since I never had another idea like that, I mostly resort to “classical reviews”, ie: intro para that talks about something that is related with the artist being reviewed, review, then try to wrap it up in a final para that echoes the intro para. And I don’t even manage to follow that structure everytime! I don’t think I’d do another review like that, because I almost never come up with a metacommentary.
One more question on Lil Ugly Mane – looking back at the years since this review, and further still to those since the release, would you still claim that death, deconstruction and unravelling make up the logical next phase for hip-hop, with its traditional core components having reached an alleged zenith? Death and rebirth (into another form) do indeed seem to have been the endpoints to LUM’s hip-hop story, but would you still uphold these on the macro scale suggested at the end of the review?
Nah, this mainly applies to LUM’s own story, not to hip-hop macrohistory. That’s why I said the idea was better than the execution: I was so stuck within the constraint of the “concept” that I didn’t know how to finish that review, so I went for the “big cool sentence that ain’t really right fam”.
But then as I wrote this, I thought about the whole drumless trend: it’s basically boom-bap, but with next to no percussion. Isn’t that a full deconstruction of what hip-hop is?
I think prominent genres like hip-hop or pop (or death metal!) constantly die and are reborn with each significant release: the significant release attempts to kill the foundations of its genre and rebuild them in a new way. I think that’s why we’ve got subgenres: these mark the moment a genre agrees it cannot solely be understood in the way it was constructed.
A good example is emo: hardcore was killed to be reborn as emo with Rites of Spring. Then Sunny Day Real Estate killed what emo was to make another version of that. Jimmy Eat World killed midwest emo to spark the emo-pop craze, Brave Lil Abaccy killed it again, so did Yung Lean, Lil Peep, or Parannoul.
That’s an interesting perspective – would love to see some follow-up discussion on that. Anyway, next is your now-legendary review of the album ULTRA by (you called it) Booba. For anyone who missed it, this basically comprised an expansive, earnest and highly informative diachronic insight into French rap that immediately prompted eleven pages of discussion focused solely on the, uh, enduring value of repeating the artist’s name ad infinitum. This was and remains extremely funny, but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the episode now. How frustrating was this for you? Did you feel at the time that you had wasted your words?
Boobagate :[ This is still very funny, yes! But yeah that was frustrating as hell, as I could’ve posted a soundoff and it would have ended up the same. This ultimately remains the last “proper French rap review” I’ve done on Sputnik (the next ones were translated versions of articles I wrote in French/Belgian media).
I already knew there’s usually next to no traction on my French rap review, and having my most popular one being an absolute joke was the nail on the coffin. It was with that review that I realised that being ignored is much better than being mocked: my previous French rap reviews didn’t attract much, but at least the (three) people coming by were cool and said nice things about my writing. I really sound like a crybaby right now so the point is: I’ve slowly detached myself about how my reviews are perceived. Sometimes people don’t care, sometimes one single word out of 600 enrages a few people, sometimes you’re praised even though you feel like you did a shit job. That’s the game. I just try to make a review that I’d like to read.
Most journalism on Sputnik [that I bother to read] skews more towards a feature style than informative matters – what’s your take on this now, and did Boobagate have a role in forming this?
It comes with the format: reviewing comes with the justification of an opinion, while informative articles require spending (a lot of) time reading stuff and linking *big things* together in a cohesive narrative. Almost all staff/contribs have at some point crammed a review in 30 minutes because they knew they already had an opinion on the album – they just gotta find a not-so-dumb justification, and voilà!
Now I’m asking myself if we can’t say that about all other music journos? Almost every review I read is basically the justification of an opinion. Isn’t that because it only requires the reviewer being themselves? As Mars said in his Staff Wars interview, it’s always nicer when the reader can easily detect the reviewer’s voice. Actually, isn’t it what people look for in critics? A big voice that’s inherently theirs? Like Reynolds or Scaruffi who have a lot of issues that are so deeply theirs that you kinda accept them?
Nowadays I feel keener on writing informative reviews, mostly because I feel more comfortable explaining why *this* album sounds like that and how its roots help detailing that, rather than explaining why I think it’s their second-best or third-worst.
Boobagate didn’t have any impact on this, because I had a fucking blast writing it. The reaction wasn’t the one expected, but it didn’t change the way I felt when writing these big chunks of word explaining why Booba was the most important figure in French rap.
Off the back of French rap, what was the most recent classic album to come out of Belgium and why?
THE Belgian rap classic album is Damso – Ipséité. It’s got a(n almost) perfect balance between hard-hitting bars and viral hooks, nods to his African heritage and modern beats, egotrip and sadboi, and he managed to make massive singles out of tracks that either have no chorus (“J Respect R”) or the cleanest modern beatswitch (“Mosaique Solitaire”).
Other end of the spectrum, why is Jacques Brel not more popular here?
Because he doesn’t sing in English, otherwise he would be.
A quick ctrl+F “Carly” on your ratings/soundoffs page turns up a tooth-rotting 15 results. Does she still have a strong claim to the pop throne, and who would you tag her out for (within the realm of just-south-of-full-mainstream hipsterdom)?
Yassss Queen Her latest album confirmed she’s got a firm grip on the crown, but I think PinkPantheress can very much take it home at some point. Isn’t Charli a just-south-of-full-mainstream gal too? When I talked to my sister about her she was like “the Boom Clap girl?? She hipster now??”
In Francophonia, Angèle and Aya Nakamura are the queens, but they still have to conquer the global throne.
Alright, let’s wrap this up. Snap-takes on the following, please:
Is that one of your otaku things?
Tried it, wasn’t my thang
Would be my fav Water starter if king Swampert didn’t exist
Def respect what he went for, even though I still don’t really what he tried to go for
Beleaguered ex-contrib Pheromone
An absolute treasure
I’m more of a stollen dude
Tried a couple of times, was very very bad and kept suffocating with salty water
I’m very clumsy so I would bleed a lot which I think isn’t good
Any final remarks?
Uh yeah! Although the staff gang is full of baes, I’d like to do some special s/o! Milo seems to love me more than I can understand, and I love him for that. Kompys came up with the best list series of all Sputnik (and the layout of the PGTY website is amazing). You’ve been a consistent force/help/pain in the ass in the past four-ish years, as were chad Rob, cool Ben, mom Sowing and papa Jom. But something about Notrap and Dewinged makes them unique: as far as I can remember, they were the only staff members whose native language isn’t English. It seemed like nothing, but they showed me that good and consistent work would compensate for my broken English.
I love you Sput
Thank you dedex for your time and insight!
Thanks Johnny for organizing this! You bae
Thank you for reading! Please stay tuned for our next instalment, coming soon!
Previously on Staff Wars: