Meet the artists and labels reaching new audiences by co-opting spam mail, memes and porn sites and using them as disruptive distribution channels to turn unsuspecting listeners to their sounds.
“These ways of gaining attention are, actually, just promiscuous and degrading,” says the faceless, anonymous French voice coming from a blank Skype call screen. This is the voice behind the shadowy Racolage record label who hijack “digital experiences” with their experimental music through spam.
The voice on the line is not the expected voice of the label’s public persona known as ‘Jane’, but instead what appears to be an anonymous male voice. This voice is very much male. Like so many “people” we meet online, Jane isn’t real — she’s a construct created to protect the true identities behind Racolage and sell an idea.
Like L.A. company Brud’s virtual influencer creation Lil Miquela, Jane proves that reality is not necessarily that important in the world of digital influence. Racolage actively exploits this willingness to accept not only what’s given to us, but also what we’re willing to give up of ourselves online.
“I spent the last few years trying to think of ways to trick people into paying attention to the music released on the label,” explains the voice on the other end of the line. It transpires that tricking people involves flying under the radar, breaking terms of service of all the platforms they use and treading the line of legality. This is why Racolage hide behind fake accounts. “I need to be anonymous because I didn’t want any risk, not that I think anything could happen,” explains Jane.
Racolage force their agenda, uninvited, into people’s digital experience. Whether uploading Youtube videos featuring mash-ups of legit video footage of stars like Ariana Grande dubbed over with harsh electronica to dupe unsuspecting fans, soundtracking existing BDSM porn on Pornhub, surprising potential hook-ups on Tinder or simply infiltrating email inboxes — the label’s agenda is to push their seedy sound onto legitimate platforms and into unsuspecting ears.
Users are hit with music they never wanted, whether they like it or not. The music itself is like an aural virus, infecting the experiences of the listener. The label’s website reflects this ethos with an explosion of windows and images. It’s an aesthetic reminiscent of infected computers at the dawn of the internet, everything about it screams digital sickness.
“We used Racolage because, in French, it means attracting attention but in a promiscuous way. So it has a sexual connotation and it’s used for prostitution,” explains the voice, just audible through the static crackle. “This project is a parody of this existence where you have to try and constantly be promiscuous to everyone. In media, on the internet.”
The label launched in 2016 as a response to the digital world, where demanding attention and offering everything of yourself online can be a measure of success and self-worth. Racolage is a tongue-in-cheek elevation of this “digital whoring” and a means to push niche music to a wider audience.
“Reputation and attention are becoming everything. They are becoming the most important currencies in our society,” they say. With everyone fighting for attention Racolage is the obvious conclusion. “It’s about trying to imagine a future where people get more and more desperate about gaining attention that they are ready to use anything.”
The “anything” takes them to some murky places, including the darkest parts of porn streaming. “Spammers find gatherings of attention that are untapped and easy to access. They misuse the platform in order to get the message through. So, for me, porn is good because of the massive traffic that it has,” they explain.
“Which respectable company would promote their business on porn? They haven’t reached the point of desperation where they would be ready to go there. I guess they find it degrading.”
The power of these releases is in their willingness to embrace using alternative platforms and going places others won’t go. And why not? Just look at the numbers. They simply piggy-back off the 14.5 billion spam emails sent each day, the five billion videos watched on Youtube daily and the ten million people actively seeking love (or sex) on Tinder. When you consider that, in the US alone, every second 282,586 people are getting off to internet porn, it’s clearly a market that is ripe to be tapped.
The label publishes the results for each release directly on their website, and on a purely numbers basis, what they do works. The first track released from the label’s first EP ivvill’s Cut You EP gained 28,6936 video views from 14 porn videos and 202 direct plays from 1,000,000 spam emails in April 2018.
Using violent Femdom videos on sites like Xhamster, ivvil’s harsh electronic noise reached a vast amount of unsuspecting viewers over four releases. While some viewers ignore the music entirely, some complain it has ruined their chance to get off. “Would rather hear her than shit music,” bemoans one user, upset he can’t hear the insults of a woman doing unspeakable things to a man’s genitals.
“It’s my favourite part of the project. I’m a bit of a joker,” explains the Racolage voice. “I like to be pulling people’s legs by doing that. It is really hilarious to see them reacting like this. Often people just disregard the music and comment, “wow, super-hot video, I wish they would do that to me” and these things.”
The label’s BRANLR ROOM live music shows, performed exclusively on sex cam websites like Charurbate, took the joke further. “Branleur” is the French word for “wanker”, and thousands of them logged in for a live sex show only to be confronted challenging noise performed live by the likes of avant-garde sonic artist L;ç00ç — like an alternative version of Steve Kardynal’s infamous Chatroulette lipsync videos. Racolage’s shows have been largely hidden on the platform. But they have a new plan to bring noise to the branleurs of the world.
“I am planning to do another one, not 100% confirmed, but this time the artist is going to verify herself and she will be able to receive tokens. We will probably have the live show in the loop for a couple of weeks just to get traffic,” says our Racolage contact. “This is all about hijacking people. Now you have to watch this video and listen to this music!”
Noise collective SM Noise, who build music from sound pleasures direct from BDSM, found an obvious home for the recordings from a recent Japanese tour with Racolage. For them, what other people see as a perversion is a positive, with the basis of their art formed from using sensors, contact mics and amplifiers capturing the bodies reactions. Live, this is done in person on-stage dragging the IRL shouts, groans, whippings and bangs into the mix.
SM Noise ponders why porn is so out of bounds for most artists saying, “It’s a very personal matter, even though porn streaming websites are the most successful in terms of traffic and audience, it’s still a quite hidden practice.”
“Some of us were working on the soundtrack of an erotic film by Maria Beatty, considered as very sex-positive and feminist, still one of the sound artists wanted to change her name for this particular project. Most musicians would rather not get involved with porn, especially mainstream porn. We, personally, find it great to have our music promoted in such a way.”
London multidisciplinary visionary Miink has also pushed the button on porn site promotion for his woozy RnB sounds, having recently released his track ‘Jutsu’ via YouPorn. “I can see porn websites moving into other territories and speaking on real issues, a lot of which have nothing to do with pornography,” he says.
Miink muses that no platform or consumer is one-dimensional and as a result, there is always a chance that with monumental amounts of traffic running through these platforms, a small percentage of their reach will inevitably find the music and audience.
“The places we used to go to be put onto what’s new in culture have become increasingly stagnant,” Miink Says. “No one is getting put on to anything new through magazines, websites and other platforms we used to know for just that, because none of them want to stand up and say ‘we like this, it may not have big numbers yet but it’s interesting’. Being the first to premiere new music through YouPorn proved that people are open to finding new things in those spaces.”
Despite the optimism, Miink isn’t naïve about the fact that people still see these alternative methods as taboo. “Mainstream media still treat porn as an outcast,” Miink laments, “But in time I believe YouPorn and similar brands will be at the forefront in providing platforms for freedom of expression and pop culture, without the old rules that hold us back.”
Racolage’s own ambitions go beyond those as just a conceptual art project — all philosophy and no substance. It is a real label and real artists have been flocking to release through them. Some 22 acts have joined the spam brigade.
After recruiting friends in the experimental music community for the initial releases, an open call soon saw an influx of artists of different styles — drone, noise rock, ambient, IDM — offering their music up to be used by Racolage.
“I was immediately drawn to the absurdly disruptive distribution method that the label used,” explains Ben Glas, the renowned Berlin-based experiential composer who released “Listening Award (Decomposition)” via Youtube, hijacking videos by Cardi B and BTS, back in April 2019.
Glas describes his release as an “endurance test” and a “noise drone that slowly unravels”, assuming the response to be “a mix of short-lived disgust/confusion/frustration”. Despite all this, he sees releasing through Racolage as an ultimately positive experience. “I feel fine with it, honestly,” Glas says. “Big corporations and advertisers routinely are producing images that shape one another’s egos every day, setting up standards and invoking fears of inadequacy.”
In truth, Racolage’s methods aren’t especially extreme by comparison. Arguably it’s not a giant leap from Apple taking advantage of its platform to force a new U2 album on all iTunes users back in 2014 — a move that is surely a bigger invasion of trust than anything Racolage have managed to pull off so far.
Other renowned names have dabbled in the digital dark arts, in the shadows of the web. Aphex Twin announced his Syro album via an elusive .onion web page and dumped thousands of demos on Soundcloud. Experimental hip hop revolutionaries Death Grips have a strong relationship with 4chan seeding cryptic clues to releases, starting threads and engaging in meme creation on a platform renowned for being a haven for dark ideas from fascism to murder.
Still, none of these examples are regarded as seedy as the Racolage approach. “It’s happening everywhere, but it’s happening in socially acceptable ways, and I am not sure why. The project is to try and show the wild side of this and try and shock people,” muses the voice of Jane.
For now, it seems that until the unknown potential and moral ambiguity of these alt methods of distribution are ironed out, Racolage is likely to remain part of many people’s dirty little secret.
This article originally appeared in Issue 89 (Winter 2019) edition of Notion magazine