Videogames have been a continued influence on the work of Cologne-based, DC-originated big picture maximalist Swan Meat. As a composer, producer and DJ with a background in poetry and audio engineering, Swan Meat AKA Reba Fay has incorporated an ‘everything, all at once’ approach to her music – much in the same way games apply their interactivity across audio, visual and literary media. Her narrative-driven mixes have been known to toss up emo and metal alongside classical, trance, breaks, distorted riddims and Silent Hill soundtracks. Similarly, her releases have sought to create nightmarish soundscapes drawing on her own experiences with chronic illness, body dysmorphia and time spent in hospitals, through spiky industrial dance and uneasy ambient experimentations.
Much of her work revolves around the transformative potential within dystopian environments, where characters might channel their traumas into newfound sources of strength. While she’s envisioned some of her previous work as music for boss battles and bullet hell games, Swan Meat switches thematic abstractions for sonic foundations on new EP Fleshworld, declaring it “a chiptune manifesto”. And while early records took more time to revisit and reify traumas, Fleshworld is 100% third act, full throttle redemptive character arc.
Chiptune, 8-bit and videogamey FX run undercurrent through the EP, locking everything somewhere between hardcore electronics and glitch. Within that space, it’s all fair game as Swan Meat crams just the right amount of genre overkill into her kaleidoscopic tour through the Fleshworld universe. “Mechanical Bullgirl” dresses dembow and hardcore with janky, stabbed-out fairground melodies, conjuring the sort of uncanny valley present in character creation screens. Still, the record as a whole is far from mechanical, with its swinging rhythms, bursting energies and tracks like “Literally Seething”: a demented funk strut best filed under EBMvania.
It’s not just the occasional chiptune touch through which game and anime influences manifest, but through the deployment of breaks and anthemic piano, and how that dizzying sense of turbulent action is achieved. “Eugenia Marionette” brings all of this together, opening with a salvo of vocaloid and glitch, dazzling arpeggios and a hands-in-the-air synth refrain Sub Focus would’ve killed for. A vocal whisper, “Forgive me,” signals a drop into jump-up drum and bass, wubs and all. The toytown techno of the early ‘90s is dragged into an eerie darkworld of dancefloor retro-futurism for the final track. There’s much more to pick apart on Fleshworld, thanks to Swan Meat’s expansive imagination for world-building and her dedication to the micro-edit, but it’s the restraint that comes hand in hand with her maximalist vision that makes this EP stand out so much. Fleshworld is an exhilarating and overwhelming record, dancing upon the precipice but never quite falling into the trap of becoming incalculable or numbing – and it feels all the more real for it.
Swan Meat – Fleshworld EP is out now via Infinite Machine. Buy it here.
Photo: Frederike Wetzels