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Rising hyperpop star Fraxiom talks new music, robots, and the magic of Thos Moser

Fraxiom’s dancefloor-ready experimental pop has soared to national attention over the past few months, most notably through the Gupi collaboration “Thos Moser.” The joyous dance-punk anthem and its accompanying video contain a joyous energy and craftsmanship that, in retrospect, seemed destined to blow up. Now, we are treated to the new Fraxiom EP “Feeling Cool and Normal,” which takes the strengths of “Thos Moser” and runs with them. I sat down with Fraxiom to talk about their explosive new EP and all that lead to its creation.

Tracklist:

  1. cishets (i don’t want it at all)
  2. burnout
  3. This Guitar
  4. fly with ü

Jam the record here.

John (J): So this new EP?

Fraxiom (F): It’s a Fraxiom EP, but it’s all produced by Umru. I’ve been working on a lot of music, but the Fraxiom and Gupi album and all these other big projects aren’t going to come out for a while. I wanted to give people something to listen to in the meantime. The cover art is crazy because I basically went on google and looked up, “Top 10 Best Remixes Coolest Songs,” “Chart Topping Number 1,” you know just big ‘music words.’

My roommate James, who’s a very good photographer – James Baroz, shoutout James Baroz – took this picture, and then I found a bunch of images related to ‘Chart Topping Hits and Sounds’ and sent them to Umru, then he added the graphics.

The EP is called “Feeling Cool and Normal.” I called it that in the same mentality of calling music, ‘music,’ because I had the album pushed back and a lot of unexpected things have been happening in my life, which I’m sure is true for all of us, because nothing seems stable at all during COVID. I’m very unsure of what’s going to happen to me in the next few months – sort of hanging on by a thread (laughs) – but you know, feeling cool and normal! Like fuck it! Cool! Normal!

I don’t really know how to put that energy into words without giving that much context. But I don’t think you even need context because you see “Feeling Cool and Normal,” and be like, oh, you’re feeling ‘cool’ and ‘normal.’ And I just love chart-topping hits and sounds which is why all that is on the cover.

One of the songs, “Fly With You,” is a remix / cover of the outro Uncut Gems theme song, “L’Amour Toujour” by Gigi D’Agostino. We used the melody and chorus from that but reproduced the whole thing and added all these new verses, so it’s like a whole new song.

J: How did Uncut Gems come into this?

F: Oh, Umru just made the beat and asked me, “Do you want this?” And I was like, yeah. It was just something he was making on his own.

When it was time for Lavapalooza and we were thinking of things would could do, and he was just sending spare ideas that he had. I had just seen Uncut Gems with Spencer (Gupi.) It was just a nice time – a good movie. Basic A24 shit but yeah. We basically made this for Lavapalooza, because we wanted to play a bunch of new stuff for Lavapalooza.

Without Lavapalooza, two out of these three songs would not exist, which is cool because it shows how quickly we made it. This was all in August and it’s coming out in August. We’re literally finishing it tonight – the first and second songs are 100% done and I just sent final vocals for the third, and Gupi is recording some guitar for the third tonight. Then that’ll be mastered by Umru probably tonight, so I’m hoping to drop it before the 23rd. If not, no big deal, I just want to drop it in August. This could be a post-Lavapalooza EP launch. I don’t know if the Minecraft parodies will ever come out.

J: I didn’t go to any Minecraft festivals before Lavapalooza – obviously, it’s more appealing now because it’s the only thing that’s going on. I was shocked at how much of its ‘own thing’ it was. It wasn’t like, “oh, COVID’s happening, let’s throw together whatever we can.” It had its own identity – people were playing minecraft covers. Like, yes! It’s a new being.

F: Well it’s not new – the reason why it feels like that is because my group of friends has been doing this since 2018, like, before COVID was even a thing. We’ve had time to condition what everyone has to do, so the whole Open Pit crew has a leg up. They had that extra time and already know what’s cool, so now that everyone wants to do URL show, Open Pit has all these big names and of course they’re going to throw the best ones. You see nothing but passion from them, and they throw everything into charity. They’re literally the most passionate and well-intended group of people in URL spaces. The passion shows in the quality of the events and how they’re curated for people who love internet music. I don’t know if you saw, but I built some things in the Minecraft world if you looked at the world at all.

J: I looked around, but it wasn’t my focus. What did you create?

F: I made an iHop, and then also my partner and I made a house – and in that house are all the lyrics to the EP. But I think literally nobody found it, so it’s really funny. Everyone wants me to leak the lyrics to the EP, but I already did! You all just didn’t get it! I don’t know what to say. I gave you your chance (laughs). I don’t want to release music – I want to release quests and games.

J: Could you see that happening in the future, where you and your associates create a game? Because, like, what I meant earlier about Minecraft festivals being new isn’t that it’s new – it’s been around for two years – but rather that it’s its own thing. It’s not like a replacement for in-person concerts and festivals; it is a new type of festival. What do you think is the future for virtual interaction with your art and the art of others?

F: There was so much talk and joking about a 100 Gecs ARG (Alternate reality game) or a 100 Gecs cinematic universe because they are such a crazy act that of course they would have a cinematic universe. They hired a magician to open for them at a show. But I don’t know, I don’t strive to build a thing for people to figure out – I thought it was cool, the Minecraft stuff – but we would have to do that in a way that was super authentic.

I mean, Zedd did that for his album launch. I have a vivid fever memory – he did this thing where he was like, “Hey! In Vancouver and Boston and L.A., I’m hiding secret Zedd Points and if you find them, then I get to whisk you away to a private location and you get to listen to one of my songs blindfolded,” and everyone was like, “Hell yeah!” Literally everyone did the challenge and I was just like, this is creepy, this is stupid, and this is Zedd (laughs). If there was a way to do this is an authentic and successful – well not necessarily successful, I don’t care about that – but just in a way that wasn’t cheesy as hell, then yeah. I’m open to anything.

But I currently can’t visualize a way I could do that that wouldn’t feel cheesy or forced. I don’t like overproducing things that don’t need to be. Even for a project that I’m working on now someone was like, hey, do you want to do a huge visualizer for this project? And I said no, it doesn’t need it. And that’s been an issue multiple times. I just don’t like people overproducing that sort of content.

J: There are so many multimedia elements of art in general, especially if it’s super commercial and has a large budget behind it. People will say, “let’s do every version of this that we can.”

F: And it feels so forced.

J: Yeah, and that’s why I liked Lavapalooza too – it is what it is and it doesn’t feel forced. I did explore the world a little bit and I found the place where all the PC Music musicians are represented by dogs that are named after them. And I was like, this makes sense. Also – no one was there, and it’s not like there was a big arrow pointing to it saying, “LOOK AT THIS FEATURE!”

F: Things like Lavapalooza made by the whole Open Pit and Dog Show Record crews are cool for the same reasons Thos Moser is cool – it’s a big inside joke. But everyone is welcome to come in and look at it and join in and get it. Once you take it in, then it becomes an inside joke that you’re a part of too.

We want to make something so provocative that it’s funny and stupid, but also makes you think. Of course everyone tries to do that I guess, but I like the idea of forcing people to adapt their humor to your inside joke. Like, laughing at McDonald’s is psychotic, but I’m going to do it anyways.

J: Something I’ve been thinking a lot about is how at Lavapalooza, everyone was cheering political slogans during songs, rallying for justice and inclusivity. It’s very new and fresh and young – is there any historical foundation that you and others have that you’re building off of?

F: That’s a good question because it’s something I haven’t been asked much or thought much about. I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I haven’t been inspired by a specific scene that had a viewpoint – at least a political one.

A lot of people say that the ‘hyperpop’ sound is a new pop-punk or an electronic punk wave, sort of like how zoomers with computers are making punk music. But prior to very recently, I had never listened to punk music before. I’ve been into a lot of rap music most of my life and electronic music too, but never a music scene that was as strictly political as this one.

There’s a mindset and desire I’ve developed over time as I’ve been more and more disappointed with the world, but that’s a collective mindset because a lot of people in this music scene are marginalized in some way. I don’t want to say it’s a hive mind because I definitely feel like I’m my own person, but you all see each other go through the same horrible things. And it’s like, this makes me very very angry. I had a friend who was arrested at a protest a couple days ago and is in prison now. That shit is very very scary. You just get mad at that and it reflects in everything you do. When a huge thing that you do is art, it’s going to reflect in that. It’s inevitable that your politics are going to reflect in your art. Especially right now.

J: Something I think a lot of people are interested in – and this is personal, so feel free to say you don’t feel comfortable talking about this – and something that I’ve experienced over time is knowing that constructs of sex and gender and sexuality don’t fit my experience, don’t fit my identity. What do you think of gender as and how do you view yourself in those constructs, and do you have ideas or feelings that you think fit into gender or don’t fit into gender?

F: I don’t think gender is very important. All of my complicated feelings about gender come down to how many rules there are and how often you have to think about it, just because it feels like another constraint.

My frustration hasn’t really been with a lack of rules, but moreso that gender is too defined and people care way too much. I’ve been frustrated with that since mid-high school, and I found myself not wanting to wear a mask. Everyone in high school thought I was so weird because I painted my nails. I went to school in a rural area and everyone thought I was weird, and I was literally just chilling and being normal.

You just have to think too much about gender, and too much of society is built around it. It shouldn’t be a commodity or a special event to have gender-neutral bathrooms. I haven’t bought clothes in a while because I don’t like shopping and you can’t use fitting rooms now. No one taught me which girl’s size I am so I’m afraid to buy any clothing. There are so many things that you don’t get to learn when you’re raised one way. I guess it’s ok if you don’t have that desire but it’s so unfair to assume that everyone is comfortable how they are in their own predefined existence. When you assume that, it’s so hurtful.

Everyone should be given the chance to explore every avenue of expression and hobby. I’m just frustrated at the amount of things I was never taught because of rules that were there for no reason and the amount of things I couldn’t do because of rules that were fake.

Gender and genre and money are all fake, and they all control so much of society and you have to worry about all of them sometimes in order to participate in society. Especially during quarantine, during those day stretches where I don’t go outside and I’m not interacting with the world, it’s just like, so much is fake. I can decide what time it is, you know? What has always bothered me is who decided how long a second was. Like, O.K., God! My frustration with gender comes from that same energy.

J: That’s very similar to how I’ve felt lately. My background’s been really odd in a lot of the same ways, odd meaning I was always different with my ideas and expressions of gender compared to my friends. I think one of the things that made it very easy for me, being a bisexual cis person, I didn’t have to know or really come into conflict with the fact that I was different for a very long time and I felt very secure being a straight white man – a very protected group of people.

When I got into hobbies like perfume and poetry, things that are not seen as masculine even though historically, they are, those things never really challenged me and I felt comfortable doing them because my identity was so safe.

Now that I know myself and I’m out, it’s a little different. I have nail polish from one of my best friends that I don’t wear and I haven’t worn because I’m still looking for a new job, and I’m scared that if I go into an interview and my nails are painted, I’m gonna get criticized and looked at differently for no reason.

F: Yeah – I used to shoplift makeup because I didn’t want to be judged for buying it. I worry about that too. I’m worried about treated as lesser in places because I’m looking super visibly queer that day. Just changing into a hoodie before you go out at night – all that stuff you shouldn’t have to worry about – it’s just so much added stress. Professionalism…professionalism is just anti-queer and anti-Black dress code honestly.

J: I got my degree in English and a minor in Education, and the way women are expected to look in the classroom is insane. Men can show up in anything. You can show up to class in a T-Shirt and ripped jeans and no one cares. When a woman comes into the classroom, at a high school or at a university, they often get worse reviews and less respect just on the foundation of their presented gender. And for queer people, it’s similar.

What opportunities do you think the pandemic offers artists? For me, I always just feel horrible and like it doesn’t benefit artists.

F: Literally, nothing. I guess if you really wanted to get something good out of the pandemic, you could say people on unemployment have time to collab, or that people in emotional turmoil are inspired to make art. But shows are not going to come back for a long time and that’s so many people’s livings that are compromised. People have relatives that are dead…I hate it when music blogs explain how coronavirus is a good thing.

When you talk about how artists are adapting, that’s a good thing, because people need to hear about how others are adapting. I’ve had to do a lot of online collabs lately and I used to not like them, but I had to force myself to learn how to do that. That was difficult in the beginning, but I’m glad I was forced to learn how to do that. But it’s like – something I could have also learned on my own and would have been way happier if there was no coronavirus. It’s taken away so much that any sort of stimulation it has caused, like to a URL scene, is so not worth it that there’s no way to talk about it in a positive way.

It’s a difficulty for sure, and the ways people adapt to it are awesome. The way people are doing URL shows is awesome – I didn’t mean to be like, just because it’s coronavirus everything is terrible…

J: It’s just not worth it. Not even close.

F: Even when things are normal and I’ve done all the things I need to do, I’ll feel stressed out and then I remember oh yeah – there’s a contagious incurable deadly disease in the open air. Of course I’m a little on edge. That’s why literally everyone is more stressed out. There are so many times where I have to remind myself, wait, it’s coronavirus – slow down.

J: It’s not like I didn’t face mental health struggles before, but now I can remind myself that it’s a really hard time.

F: They’ve been so amplified! It’s like, new anti-depressants! (shakes bottle and laughs) Everyone is adapting differently but it’s hard for everyone. I don’t know, I think that coronavirus might be bad. Maybe someone should stop it.

J: It’s not looking great in basically any fashion for the U.S. And certainly more than ever, there’s a peak of thinking of trying to leave, like there has to be something better.

F: There are so many ways this could go. I guess my whole stance is that I want shows to go back, but I also would not mind if the entire music industry was on pause while Fascist America collapsed. I would be O.K. if I didn’t become famous if the whole world got a little more empathy. But personally, if shows were happening, Spencer and I would probably be on tour right now and it would be ensured that I have a stable living off of music. Now that’s up in the air, and I’m unsure of what my next move would be. Without the pandemic, I know for a fact we’d have more shows and there would be a different scenario.

J: That must be extremely difficult to think about.

F: I think the pandemic split open the gap between artists who’ve made it and artists who haven’t. Artists in that middle ground who were doing shows all the sudden don’t have them, and they’re back to not being an artist when they were almost there. It’s just a very hard hit that’s been created.

J: I’m going to loop back to the EP real quick. It was generated pretty much because you were creating this Umru B2B Fraxiom set. So it originated out of these loose Umru demos – well not really demos – I feel like people who produce music know that there are just shards of music everywhere…

F: We can call them shards.

J: Shards of music. For you, how do you take one of those shards and travel somewhere with it and create a song?

F: I have a couple different approaches – and it’s different when I’m creating a beat versus using a beat someone else made. I have a different mindset each time. When I see or hear someone else’s beat, someone else’s work I really like – I’m trying to say anything more than I just hear myself on it. But maybe that’s all I have to say.

J: No I get it, it’s just like that. My friend Caroline just sent me a song she wrote – the chords, the lyrics, the demo – and I just started hearing the rest of the song as I would make it. It’s so simple.

F: It’s so simple, it’s so natural. It’s why music will always require humans. There are so many aspects of it that humans can probably ace, sure, but you need that instinctual first moment. When someone sends me something, I’m going to know within the first ten minutes whether I’m going to want to use it or not. If it doesn’t click with me by the second time I hear, I don’t really want it at all.

J: This is a sidenote, but speaking of turmoil, are you familiar with the Super Smash scene at all?

F: I know nothing about the scene, I just know that my roommate’s really good at it, and I’m bad. (laughs)

J: The reason I’m bringing this up is that there’s technology that’s able to take huge chunks of language from different sources and then write based on those sources. The robot’s language is featured in a twitter account called @deepleffenbot and it creates tons of writing that feels like it’s being written by people.

F: That’s really scary.

J: It is really scary, but…no, it’s just mostly really scary. It is generated primarily by human language. Robots can definitely write like people.

F: I was on a MIDI AI site and just for curiosity, I was trying to use any of it, and all of it was bad. I’m trying to think if there’s anything robotically generated that I’ve enjoyed. I definitely love randomly generated tweets and jokes. Those are always awesome. Robots have the best sense of humor. I will say that. Probably in 30 years, robots will be making 100 Gecs…no, probably sooner than that…like in three years where you can vote twice if you have Amazon Prime…then robots will be making hyperpop, sure. 

You can follow Fraxiom’s work on Twitter and Instagram.

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