Glitching Out at Holodeck’s Austin Music Video Fest Showcase

by Nick Hanover

Holodeck Records

Brian Eno tends to say a lot of smart things but one of my favorite Eno quotes comes from his diary A Year with Swollen Appendices. Speaking about a theory he coined “the sound of failure,” Eno observed that

“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit – all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided.”

Out at the North Door last night for Holodeck Records’ Austin Music Video Festival showcase, Eno’s theory ran on a loop in my brain. Holodeck is by no means the first or only entity to be defined as much by texture as sound, but seeing their video work collected in one setting drove home how perfectly they represent Eno’s observation, and not just because “the jitteriness of digital video” is a literal description of their logo:

Holodeck Records

With its origins as a cassette label, essentially converting releases by artists like S U R V I V E to a “dead” format, Holodeck has the sound of failure in its very DNA. But as the showcase proved, the label’s embrace of music videos in particular has been a key component of their evolution and ascent up the ranks of hip boutique labels. Working primarily with video artists Melissa Cha and Chris Rusch, the Holodeck aesthetic has come to mean digital murk, the hazy intensity of their recorded output blossoming via videos that look as dark as the songs feel, in a literal and metaphorical sense.

Rusch’s video for S U R V I V E’s “Copter” serves as a convenient representation of the entire Holodeck aesthetic spectrum, with its balance of abstract, glitched out imagery and brutalist urban style. “Copter” doesn’t have the explicit horror elements of the Troller and VVV end of Holodeck, it instead maintains a mood of menace by lurking in the shadows of a city, honing in on the sharp lines and brooding escalation of architecture and development, subtly connecting it to the more expressionist style of earlier S U R V I V E videos.

The Samantha Glass video for “Hidden Arrangements,” also directed by Rusch, is darker in tone and symbolism, emphasizing natural decay and the growth it sparks rather than the cold intimidation of urban development. Not coincidentally, “Hidden Arrangements” also has a more organic texture, with the grain amped up to fit the grit of the dirt that is present in almost every scene, causing moments like a living burial to feel raw and vivid.

Both of these works immerse you in Holodeck’s aesthetic in an almost tactile way but Cha’s videos for Troller take a more symbolic approach, bringing Holodeck’s natural darkness to life through cult imagery and sensuous torment. In “Nothing,” the glitches are in reality itself, as monstrous creatures hold an unholy birthing ritual, impregnating a woman with something more insect-like than human, culminating in her sacrificing herself to bring its dark, grimy force into the world.

It might seem a little odd, then, that Holodeck’s newest recruit is Lou Rebecca, a French pop singer whose music is sensual and airy. But Rebecca’s self-directed “Fantôme” video, which premiered at the event, makes the connection clearer, utilizing washed out film and moody lighting to establish Rebecca as the soft, glowing light peeking out of the darkness. Rebecca’s video aesthetic has always embraced the same distortion and grit Holodeck love so much, but where they tend to skew towards the sinister Rebecca seems drawn to the comfort of a well-worn material.

Rebecca’s passion for choreography also fits in with the Holodeck style, something I hadn’t thought to connect the label with until last night’s event, where Louisianna Purchase’s performance in Troller’s Cha-directed “Not Here” video eventually led into Dylan Cameron’s “Infinite Floor” clip, directed by Daniel Everett. The former is a more subtle kind of choreography, with Purchase doing a solo routine for the pleasure of some creepy masked figures, but the latter is a sweaty mass of passionate bodies. The two videos serve as excellent showcases for Holodeck’s queerness as well, portraying gender fluidity in unique and beautiful ways, offering a welcome change of pace from indie rock’s disappointing fascination with uber-straight titillation.

Taken altogether like this, Holodeck’s video work proves that while their aesthetic focus is extremely disciplined it nonetheless has exceptional range, shutting down any argument that artists who utilize the “weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty” elements of an archaic medium like video only do so ironically or as a gimmick. Holodeck’s ouevre not only breathes new life into technology that others have forgotten but highlights how useful the broken machinery of previous eras can be for creating a truly visceral experience, its natural texture as adept at transporting you to certain times and memories as a unique scent. It seems certain that this won’t be the last time Holodeck is singled out as an entity that understands the power and potential of music videos and digital distortion.

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Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at  Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover