The word “vaporwave” is like my bat signal. Mention it within a 20 blog radius and in minutes I’ll be sliding into your DMs with three paragraphs of unwanted deconstructionist analysis. This is, of course, exactly how Alina baited me into doing this interview with Lindsey French (Negative Gemini) and George Clanton. The two are NYC-based musicians, partners, and the founders of their own label, 100% Electronica. They don’t draw much attention to themselves, but the label has quietly put out some of the most highly praised releases of the last couple years. Most recently, Negative Gemini’s album Body Work was critically praised by FACT Magazine and The FADER for its cutting lyricism and soundscape. This spring, the two will launch a nationwide tour so keep your eyes peeled.
Having your own label means forgoing the promotional ability of larger organizations. But Lindsey and George seem to have a special invulnerability to the pitfalls of musicianship in the 201Xs. They’ve grown alongside the vaporwave scene but have stayed independent from it; at the same time, they’ve avoided the hype machine that makes many artists burn bright and just as suddenly burn out. It seems to me that this untouchable quality can be attributed, at least in part, to their dedication to the music.
Counter to popular practice, Lindsey and George don’t do collaborations. Lindsey and George don’t want to be in a scene. Lindsey and George care about writing timeless songs. Lindsey and George want to build a label full of music you are still humming 20 years from now. One day, Lindsey and George are going to be famous. I hope they’ll let me interview them again then.
Negative Gemini/Lindsey French
Toby Shorin for The Hundreds: I listened to your FACTmix this week, Lindsey, and watched your performance on Tuesday, George. It was a heavy 100% Electronica week. Very internet artist. Do you consider yourselves internet artists?
Lindsey French (Negative Gemini): It’s hard to define what an internet artist really is. I wouldn’t call myself internet famous, that just sounds conceited or something.
George Clanton: We each do have about 4 people who tweet at us every other day…
[Laughs] Where are you now?
L: Yes, in Richmond. We met here.
G: We left New York to record and that’s what we’re doing now [George gestures toward desks with instruments, computers, and recording equipment in the background]
Moving to NYC has been pretty transformative for you, yeah?
L: I’d say that both of our careers highly benefited from it. The idea of being from New York seems to be really exciting to people and grants you some sort of legitimacy for really no reason.
G: The past two years have been the best two years, but it’s better every year because of the internet. I like selling sweatshirts that say NY on them, but it turns out you don’t actually have to be in NY to sell the sweatshirts!
That’s some post-modern logic.
G: You could be in Africa and say, “This is NYC baby, New York dance music!” And nobody would know.
Yes, you’ve played with the Discwoman crew.
L: Yes, I really like them. But when I perform, I’m playing the keyboard and I’m singing the whole time, which is totally different from their vibe. So it’s not exactly a perfect fit, but I guess that’s also what makes me successful!
I see two options in NYC or anywhere: trying to make your way into a scene and building your way up in it, or working to create a scene around yourself. It feels like you’re doing the latter with 100% Electronica, which you basically just up and started. Has that been more difficult while you’re out of NYC?
L: I don’t think it does—in that way it is an internet thing. A lot of our interaction and presence is online. We don’t go out often so we aren’t even physically that present in NY.
G: This brings it back to “are you internet famous?”—well we’re not yet, but we’re trying to be. We, or at least I, risk falling into this vaporwave thing, but they always put an asterisk on my name when they talk about me. That’s the position I’m comfortable with in any scene. I don’t want to be totally labeled into it.
Many other like Blank Banshee and James Ferraro who have been associated with vaporwave from early on try to avoid that label in their interviews. But neither of you mind slathering it all over your work. It even says “seminal vaporwave artist” on George’s Bandcamp and you’ve got it in both of your tags. What’s the difference in your attitude?
GC: It’s a marketing tactic. People who are into vaporwave will go to the 20th page of that tag and listen to everything, looking for 14-year-old kids with tape labels and trying to find the next big thing. Even if we don’t get involved in the scene, when we have stuff come out we’re always #1 on that vaporwave tag. It forces everyone to take notice and discuss “is this actually vaporwave?” “Fuck this dude! Why is he singing?” I think that’s hilarious.
So labeling it vaporwave is part of your slow-drip internet marketing technique?
LF: I don’t get labeled in with it as much. Maybe a little more so with my previous EP. But I definitely think that people listen to ESPRIT and George Clanton and stumble upon my music, and they see something in it that they like.
G: And that’s the whole idea. My music is not vaporwave but it’s close enough that people can find something in it they like. Vaporwave is a total meme, but there’s really cool stuff about it. And I can’t think of any other tag where people are so passionate.
People love talking about how dead vaporwave is, so much that “vaporwave is dead” has itself become something of a meme.
GC: Vaporwave is obviously more popular than it’s ever been. It gets millions of plays.
So many communities on Facebook and Reddit.
GC: It’s a split second away from Rihanna dropping a vaporwave album!
I’m not kidding! Blank Banshee could realistically produce a Rihanna song.
It already does happen with the PC Music aesthetic.
LF: Oh yeah, like Charlie XCX getting produced by Sophie, and then that other artist who had a PC Music song. Who was it? Carly Rae Jepsen or something? She’s kind of PC Music...
On aesthetics, I notice that when people describe your music, they always describe it in dualistic terms.
L: It’s because I can’t make up my mind ever [laughs]. I’m indecisive all over the place, and can’t focus on just one thing. It goes back to the band name “Negative Gemini.” When I made the band name, I wasn’t thinking too hard about the meaning of it, but it sounds like “the two sides of a Gemini...” I’m not even a Gemini! I’m a Sagittarius! But I do think there are two sides to my music.
G: [Sarcastically] Wait ‘til you hear the next thing!
Are you taking the dualistic aspect to the extreme?
L: I’m afraid so! Not intentionally, that’s just the way it goes. I’m inspired by so many things, I can’t reign it in. I don’t know if that’s going to be my destruction or if it’s going to help me. I love electronic music but I also love folk music and indie music. I’ve picked guitar back up for a new song and there are rock drums...
Nobody wants to make albums anymore, and you’ve both mentioned the difficulty in other interviews. But you both made albums in the last 18 months, so what’s the deal with that?
L: Well, nowadays it’s smarter to do EPs. People don’t have as much of an attention span, and there’s so much material everywhere.
But there’s something kind of... romantic about the album format, right?
L: And that’s why I ended up doing it!
G: There’s no end of the year “Best EP” list.
L: I’ve always wanted to make a long, full album, where I thought that every song on it was important. Growing up, I listened to full albums and the album experience was really important to me. Having it play for a whole 45 or 50 minutes and falling asleep to it. Having that extended experience with your music.
G: The singles are for recognition, but the album is for legacy. We’re trying to make the best album possible so that when people download our music in the future, it’ll make them say, “Wow, that’s 40 minutes of really good music.” You digest an album in a session. Plus we’re trying to do this vinyl label thing...
Yeah, how is this related to your concept for the label?
G: Well, it had been a vinyl-only label, but we’re changing as time goes on, and it’s turning out to be more of a reissues label. We’re going to start taking over digital distribution for artists who have disappeared. But if you go to 100% Electronica, it says “100% Electronica is a clothing line, it’s a joke, it’s a dance party...” it’s ironic, but a lot of those things are true. We’re just gonna put “100% Electronica” on everything we do so that people think our scatterbrained scene has some sort of cohesiveness. We want our label to be like Lindsey’s FACTmix—just what we like.
How do you split the responsibilities for this endeavor?
L: There’s a lot of hands on work that goes into it, a lot of packaging things up and shipping and taking to the post office. Then there’s a lot of communications—putting in orders, arranging things. I’m dealing with all the sales for my album, he’s dealing with the sales for his music.
G: This next thing that’s coming out is one of my favorite bands. We just found who owns the rights to it, made a contract, and bought the rights, and now we’re repressing it. And that’s all me. Lindsey has found a new artist that she likes—she listens to a lot more new music—and she’s found an artist who’s recording right now and we’re trying to figure out what we can do with that.
L: It’s still such a baby that it’s changing every day. We’re kind of rolling with the punches and winging it a little bit.
Has having this label changed your own music in any way?
L: Not for me. It’s just a place for my stuff to go, a place to put it. It doesn’t force me to conform to it, and that was the whole point. I’m not going to change my music so that I can be on XL Recordings of whatever. I’m just going to be me and that’s why I have my own label.
G: It’s like an anti-label. A label that doesn’t mean anything. It’s almost dangerous for us to think what it means because then we might start pandering to the idea of what 100% Electronic is. I’m glad at this point nobody knows what the fuck it is so there are no expectations. If I put out Japanese pop album from the ‘70s, that’s just going to totally make sense right now.
Do that! If you can find some Tatsuro Yamashita...
G: People who think that kind of thing is interesting are going to fall in love with us.
Both of you have talked about how you help each other with music, bounce ideas off one another, but you don’t work on each other’s songs in an official capacity.
L: In this project, specifically, I haven’t really done collaboration. That was the whole reason for starting Negative Gemini. I wanted to take full ownership of my music. I had been in a group where, because I was female, people had a lot of assumptions about me. So I started this solo project. Of course, George is a big part of what I do. We’re subjected to each other’s stuff constantly. Any time I finish a song, I show it to George, and he’ll give me his honest opinion—
G: —without trying to put my stamp all over it, and being like, “Oh, you know what would be cool? I rap, so let me rap over this.” That wouldn’t wouldn’t work. Collaborating isn’t necessarily for the best of the music. We’re more like checks and balances. I could be working on something for a long time and if Lindsey doesn’t say, “That sounds cool,” I delete it and try something else. It’s just a semi-conscious thing that happens. And if Lindsey says, “That’s a really cool sound,” I’ll think, “Hey, that is cool!” and get inspired.
L: I make tons of versions of my songs. There’s this funny thing where I’ll be playing one randomly and I’ll think that it’s shit, and George goes, “That’s it!! That’s the way it should have been the whole time! I wish I could do that!!” And I’ll think, “Maybe you’re right!”
George’s most recent music video for “Bleed”
“Pop sensibility” is this buzzwordy term that gets thrown around quite a bit, but both of you have an extremely good sense of what a melody should be, and you talk a lot about good musicianship and songwriting. Even when you brought SURFING onto the label, you talk about how they write great melodies.
G: That’s the most important thing.
L: If there were a defining element of our label as a whole, that would be it.
G: That’s it!
L: The importance of the melody...
G: Strong... like really strong melody...
G: Negative Gemini’s “You Never Knew” is that song that has a melody you just cannot forget. It’s that song you’re gonna hear 20 years from now and remember the good time in your life you had when you first heard that song. A melody is what cements something beautiful in your mind. I can like all kinds of stuff, but the melody is what I remember. It’s what I love. I can get down and think, “This is a good dance song, I’m vibing right now,” but a song with a perfect melody is just a gift from god.
What taught you to write pop music like this? Lindsey, not all of your music has melodies—
L: Because it’s hard!!
—but when it does, it’s golden!
L: Growing up, listening to a lot of Beach Boys and James Taylor, that probably did something for me. And when I was a kid I went to songwriting camp in the summer. We would spend weeks writing songs with a whole group, with mentors discussing and dissecting the songwriting—what makes a good chorus, what makes good, like.. [trails off] … it was really in-depth, and that was probably the most important thing for me.
G: I think that everybody goes through this. It’s not necessarily Beach Boys and James Taylor, but everybody goes through that. The melody is what you first fall in love with about music. If someone acts like their version of that is not a big part of their life and why they are a musician, it’s because they’re trying to forget about how important that is. Because it’s the hardest thing. You can’t do it in a day. It takes months to stumble upon this perfect melody. The hardest thing is to write a melody that you didn’t steal from someone that is good enough to never be forgotten.
100percentelectronica.com. Both Negative Gemini and George Clanton will be embarking on a 2 month-long nationwide tour at the end of March. Check out the dates below and see them at a venue near you:
4/1 Easton, PA
4/3 Washington DC
4/4 Boston, MA
4/5 Burlington, VT
4/6 Swarthmore, PA
5/4 Gambier, OH
5/10 Tampa Bay, FL
5/13 Savannah GA
5/17 Santa Barbara
5/19 San Francisco
All photos taken by Lindsey French and George Clanton on disposable cameras in Richmond, Virginia. Creative direction by Tom Winslade.