For many years, artists of the sonic ilk have attempted to forge their way through a landscape of copyright law and appropriation discussion, both issues exacerbated in the Internet-age, with varying success. On the one hand, there’s the owners of the Dope Jams record shop; masters of acerbic banter, but more importantly, unrepentant bootleggers. The two owners, who also go by Slow to Speak, have been pressing classic pop 12″ for years (with the addition of their own edits) and while their CORE series is a completely legitimate business in the eyes of copyright law, they’ve made a name for themselves as anti-ASCAP Robin Hoods of a sort. On the other hand are the countless musicians who have been expunged from the annals of Soundcloud, Pro payment or no, for violating the website’s increasingly draconian rules and algorithms, only to recreate their profile and pull out the credit card at the next possible turn.
On the creative side of the debate, especially with regards to outer realm dance music, lies the conversation on appropriation, sampling and, especially, sound collage art. Portland duo Magic Fades have spent the past several years dappling in R&B, hip hop and the weapons-grade fallout that was/is vaporwave, grabbing onto bits and pieces of pop music ephemera from the past twenty years to craft seemingly tenuous, yet deceivingly affecting collage work. But interestingly enough, Magic Fades started out as an act that seemed to have the potential to fit itself into the singular world of digital-filtered, big room R&B alongside acts like Autre Ne Veut and How To Dress Well. 2012’s Obsession LP, released through Mishka, didn’t necessarily see the duo draft an original sound out of the ether, but the album’s nods to The-Dream, Usher and Prince didn’t overwhelm the project and, in the end, were nothing more than reverent flourishes.
Fast forward a few years and R&B still forms the central column of the Magic Fades sound, but the remaining sonic aesthetic has splintered and broken apart, only to be brought back together in a disjointed frankenstein of influences, effects and digital mementos. Earlier this year, the duo collaborated on an album with Soul Ipsum, the Zirconia Reign LP, which was released by 1080p in April. Sounding more like E+E or Lotic than R. Kelly, the LP featured soundtrack-inspired grandiosity and a drastically improved production value that lifted Magic Fades out of the proverbial bedroom. And Zirconia Reign not only sounds larger than the duo’s previous work, it’s crashing pastiche of flutes, piano, violin and rave digitalism has highlighted, by drawing together disparate elements from across the pop and avant-garde landscape, a distinct Magic Fades sound.
Since the release of Zirconia Reign, Magic Fades have dedicated themselves to elucidating the collective phantasm through club music, drafting a number of edits and blends that bring together key figures in the progressive club music realm (Neana, Air Max ’97 and Sudanim) with the likes of Tinashe, their most barefaced attempts at collage work to date. The result is far more cohesive than the aforementioned E+E, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get across a chaotic, decomposing affect. What started on Obsession as stylistic appropriation has grown into full-fledged aesthetic smash-and-grab, a gravity-less melange of sounds, melodies, riffs and vocal lines that smash into each other as often as they coalesce in harmonic perfection. Coming back to copyright and appropriation, Magic Fades don’t necessarily play the conscious role of insurgent, but their work flies in the face of the traditional, rockist conception of originality. And their Astral Plane mix epitomizes that ethos, a series of edits with no clear start and no clear end, grafted together with apparent slapdash abandon. It’s a channel changing epic that frazzles the mind as much as it dazzles the senses, but this time around it has a function: dancefloor efficacy.