Last November, Jerry Paper played his set at the Center for Digital Arts in Brattleboro, VT, wearing nothing but a pink satin robe and grey socks, bunched at the ankles. This was, apparently, not atypical. Before the show, I’d familiarized myself with the work of Jerry Paper, whose ‘host body’s’ name is Lucan Nathan, by reading his feature with The FADER, where he discusses his typical show attire, as well as his attraction to pre-linguistic sensory experiences, both in musical and religious settings.
During the set, Paper moved in ways I’d never seen anyone move. It was oddly seductive, the way he belted into his microphone, the farting and belching sounds he made between songs. Oftentimes, he’d crouch low to the ground, as though he were attempting to hide underneath his synthesizer, while also stomping his feet in alternate wide-legged strides.
In the other room, through a Christmas-lit doorframe, a set of iMacs displayed Jerry Paper’s new video game, which accompanied his latest album, Big Pop for Chameleon World. Nathan, in addition to being a musician, designs digital worlds in which he is the main character, pottering through his own dreamscapes. I’d been standing over the shoulder of my friend Julia, who was seated at one of the computers, when she pronounced, “I’m about to score some MDMA.” The digital version of Paper stood at the bar in a mostly empty nightclub. Julia hit the T-key on the keyboard, which prompted the digital Paper to give some of his virtual coins to the bartender in exchange for ecstasy. Immediately, the club began to quake and all we could see was the back of Paper’s head as his brain began to suffer the effects of the virtual MDMA. Julia hit a slew of keys, trying to get the shaking to stop. “I wish I hadn’t done that,” she said, sighing. On screen, in fancy print, appeared the words: I DON’T THINK THAT MDMA WAS PURE.
Jerry Paper’s set came as a relief seeing as I had spent the last half-hour trying to force myself to enjoy the opening band, whose conceptual drivings had almost certainly overshadowed the consideration of musical craft. A tall skinny boy with long black hair had sung into the microphone the way one sings into a comb while pretending to be a rockstar in front of the mirror, at home, alone. He used his other hand to make wild gestures above his head, arm outstretched, fingers reaching for the stars. He sang in a mostly broken and frantic falsetto while twirling his lean body around the carpeted stage. Occasionally, he knocked knees with the people sitting in the first row. This did not faze him. “Everybody wants to be somebody upstairs,” he crooned, over and over, during one particularly heartfelt song, whose background track played on his iPod and which he sang over. After each song, the iPod would immediately begin to play the next track and the boy would rush to it, pause the music in order to consider which song he wanted to play next, and then press play. Throughout all of this, a sea-themed screensaver projection colored the stage, the boy, his iPod.
When he was done, the audience screamed for more. This both baffled me or did not baffle me at all. While I’d found the music itself intolerable, there was something about the performer’s abandon, the bright reverb-laden tracks, and the porpoise projections that seemed important. I was skeptical of this sentiment then and still am, but I can’t shake the feeling. In the middle of his set, I turned to another friend, who was seated to my left. “Maggie,” I said, in the quiet between songs. She turned to face me and I stared at her for a moment before whispering, “What is happening here?” She laughed, but I stared on. I gestured toward the Christmas lights, the metal folding-chairs, the dorm-style lamps, the eroding carpet. “This all feels so familiar. What is happening to us?” She shrugged, but not before nodding in agreement.
There is a sound I hear all the time now, in the music that surrounds me. Or rather, it is a type of sound that I can only describe by listing the things it reminds me of. It sounds like nostalgia for the future, like robots at the beach, like the darkest depression and the brightest cheer you’ve ever felt. It sounds like carefree but not because I don’t care but because I can’t care. Like, these are the times we’re in, the world is ending, we have no future but I promise I’m having fun.
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