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YACHT

Johnny Brenda's Presents
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Johnny Brenda's

1201 N. Frankford Ave

Philadelphia, PA 19125

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YACHT with Juiceboxxx at Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia

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  • 7PM - Doors
  • 8PM - Juiceboxxx
  • 9PM - YACHT

YACHT

“We wanted to find a way to interrogate technology more deeply,” explains Claire L. Evans, one-third of the Los Angeles-based pop group YACHT. “From the ground up,” adds her partner and YACHT founder Jona Bechtolt.

The group—rounded out by longtime collaborator Rob Kieswetter—would know: their seventeen-year career has been marked by a series of conceptual stunts, experiments, and attempts to use technology “sideways,” from rock-and-roll PowerPoint presentations to their Webby-award-nominated campaign for I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler (2015), which featured, among other things, a music video that played only during Los Angeles’ rush hour and an album cover that could only be seen via fax. Even the band’s name speaks to this: YACHT is an acronym for Young Americans Challenging High Technology.

CHAIN TRIPPING is the band’s seventh album and third with DFA Records. Recorded between the band’s home in Los Angeles and Marfa, TX, the ten-song collection marks a shift in the group’s relationship with technology and their art. Rather than trying to comment on existing platforms from within their own filter bubble, the band stripped their process down and rebuilt it using a technology entirely new to them—Artificial Intelligence, and more specifically, machine learning. The result is an album that merges invention and intimacy, “challenging” technology from code to content.

In order to compose CHAIN TRIPPING, YACHT needed to invent their own AI songwriting process. It was a journey of nearly three years. They first tried to discover any existing YACHT formulas by collaborating with engineers and creative technologists to explore their own back catalogue of 82 songs using machine learning tools. “We listened to raw audio samples of a neural network trying to sing in Claire’s voice,” says Bechtolt. “We reduced our entire compositional output to MIDI data. We flattened our lyrics into text files, into words among millions that would be fed to a weird custom algorithm. We talked to pioneers of algorithmic composition, and to startup founders who promised us they could reproduce our sound in two hours or less.”

Eventually they created their own working method, an uncharacteristically low-tech approach to a high-tech possibility, painstakingly stitching meaningful fragments of plausible nonsense together from extensive, seemingly endless fields of machine-generated music and lyrics, themselves emerging from models created with the help of generous experts in neural networks, deep learning, and AI. Armed with these custom and custom-tweaked machine learning models, YACHT was able to generate massive volumes of lyrical and melodic information—much of which was “hiding in-between” melodies in their our own back catalogue—which they then approached as source material, using a process more influenced by analog cut-up writing techniques than anything explicitly technological.

“We’re a band that has always loved to operate within constraints, so for this we created a strict set of rules. We were allowed to subtract and rearrange, but never to add a note. Everything on the album is generated, but the structure, arrangement, and performance is entirely ours,” explains Kieswetter.

YACHT have always been multifaceted, willing to collaborate with thinkers far beyond the pop realms. In the past, they’ve created perfumes, apparel, apps (the beloved Los Angeles calendar app 5 Every Day among them) and sculptures, and Evans has a considerable career as a writer; her first book, Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women who Made the Internet, was published by Penguin in 2018. This project was no different. The list of collaborators for Chain Tripping is a who’s who of the art and machine learning community, from the senior research scientists at Google Brain’s Magenta group to the award-winning creative technologist and poet Ross Goodwin; artwork, typography, liner notes, lyric videos and even YACHT’s band photo were all created using different visual machine learning models in collaboration with artists like Mario Klingemann, Tom White, Allison Parrish, Barney McCann, Tero Parviainen and Sam Diggins.

“This process is not so much about collaborating with the machine as it is about collaborating with people through the medium of the machine,” Evans says. “Creating this kind of work requires that creative and technical people work together, and that’s a good thing in our increasingly siloed culture.“

The results surprised even the band. Although the process might sound opaque, even impersonal, it was deeply human. The band culled phrases, melodic moments, and unexpected patterns manually from a morass of generated material, painstakingly assembling songs rich with lucid imagery and stuttering rhythms; they performed and recorded everything live, wrestling the complicated machine melodies into their bodies and often breaking themselves out of highly embodied habits. Chain Tripping is full of phantom earworms and pop strangeness, and yet it is unmistakably their own. “We think the final result is more human than human, more YACHT than YACHT, “ says Bechtolt. “And easily the thing we’ve made that most reflects how we see ourselves.”

The band’s characteristically frenetic pop sound is toned down on songs like “(Downtown) Dancing,” a scotch-tape disco track that marries an anxious, funky bass groove with the lo-fi sound of the NSynth, a neural synthesizer that uses a machine learning process called latent space interpolation to imagine new sounds in between traditional instrumentation. The NSynth appears all over Chain Tripping, notably on the jewel-like “Blue on Blue,” a euphoric love song wound with surprisingly omnidirectional melodies. The generative composition process “broke us out of a mold of concise, formal, four-bar patterns and let us accept longer, meandering riffs,” explains Kieswetter; like most of Chain Tripping’s standout tracks, the song contains lyrical fragments that coalesce, collapse, and reform into new patterns with fluid ease. The process also surfaced a wealth of surreal idioms, like “Loud Light’s” anthemic “I’m so in love / I can feel it in my car,” or the lovely phrase “palm of your eye,” which pins the lilting chorus of the driving “SCATTERHEAD” into place, a song that splits the difference between postmodern rock and no-wave dance music with wiggly ease. “It’s vaseline on the dance floor,” suggests Bechtolt.

“We saw this album as an opportunity to teach the machine our values, our history, our community, and our influences,“ adds Evans. “This record is a product of a technological moment that is rapidly evolving. It’s wonky and sometimes dances at the edge of meaning. It taught us everything we wanted to know about ourselves: how we work, what moves us, and which ambiguities are worth leaning into. We didn’t set out to produce algorithmically-generated music that could ‘pass’ as human. And we didn’t want to use AI to write push-button pop songs, either. We set out to make something meaningful. Something entirely our own.”

YACHT will be playing their Grammy Nominated album “Chain Tripping” in its entirety

JUICEBOXXX

It’s no easy task for an artist to sum up who they are in one album, much less in one song. And yet, here, at the start of the first verse of the first song of his newest album, Juiceboxxx lays it all out for you:

Out of my mind but I’m a hell of a guy, I got the PMA, that’s just an FYI / I got a J-O-B and that’s to stay alive, 24/7 not 9 to 5…

So begins “Freaking Out” on Freaked Out American Loser, the latest album from Juiceboxxx, the Milwaukee-bred punk rap artist who is quite simply the first and last of his kind all at once. (In fact, the same could be said for this album, chronologically speaking: while it’s not technically his debut, and will live among the dozens of JB collections that exist in the internet’s ether and on scratched CD-Rs, vinyl singles and cracked cassettes, for all intents and purposes it is a rebirth, if you will, and thusly the first and last of its kind as well.)

But back to that couplet. Juiceboxxx might be out of his mind, but in all the best ways—he owns it and commits to this unstoppable onslaught of creative ideas and outbursts, and he’s still a positive person, not a lunatic. Yes, he is an optimist when it comes to art, despite the times and the reality we live in (this, as you note, is an old Bad Brains trick). Yes, he’s employed. No, that job does not have a clocking out time. Music is, as Juice himself says, essential, and for life. And no one else on earth is approaching it quite like him.

“My story is a bit counter to how most people in independent music have worked over the past decade,” he says. “It’s really a story of my life. I’ve done this for over half of it now, trying to see something through and connect these dots. It’s been my quest to synthesize all the stuff I love about American music into one singular project. I think that’s why it’s taken so long. The reason I continue to do this is because it excites me.”

For Juiceboxxx, his music is “an attempt to merge a bunch of things I have in my head that I don’t necessarily see being executed by anybody else. The music I make could only come from me, the mix of styles and the way I perform it and present it, it’s an attempt to do something that’s has some totality. It’s also just the story of me growing up and hitting all these brick walls and moving forward… I just have to do it.”

We all recognize that it’s virtually impossible to sum up something as vast and infinite as the creative eye of an artist with a word, or in a sentence, or—if we’re being honest with ourselves—within a fucking bio for a fucking album. How do you describe a thunderstorm to a thumbtack? Juice knows this all too well. Hence, his life’s work. But first, we have his music. So at least we can start there.

Juiceboxxx grew up in the ‘2000s within the noise, punk rock, and underground rap communities of Wisconsin, and while those banners still fly high independently today, there are very few other artists who not only understand that venn diagram but who are also actively attempting to merge those sounds cohesively. There is something singular about a Juiceboxxx show, wherein he might run through some songs that remind you of Public Enemy—whom Juiceboxxx went on tour with, in Canada—or Beastie Boys. There will be some fast punk songs, and the whole thing might end on an anthemic track like “Never Surrender Forever” that has a Springsteen or Jonathan Richman influence. Yes, there are guitars, but he raps, too; Juice came out of those noise-damaged scenes, and everything he does is coated in a level of intensity. He sticks to his guns. He sleeps with his tension.

“There’s something weirdly eccentric about what I do that puts it to the left of culture,” he says. “I’m trying to do something eclectic but rooted in parameters I set for myself. Almost like when you watch a Beck show from the ’90s… There’s not that many people connecting the dots between rap music and raw rock-and-roll, attempting to use guitars in a different way. I’m not saying I’m the only one, but there’s not many taking classic rap influences and pushing it to more of a damaged-yet-anthemic punk zone.”

Freaked Out American Loser is a punk rap blast that captures the anarchic, aggressive spirit of Juiceboxxx’s live show while also adding a new level of polish, focus, and dare we say, professionalism. “I’m looking at Beastie Boys as the Ramones or something, and trying to build on that language; looking at Public Enemy within the lens of punk rock,” Juiceboxxx says.

Songs like “Guts and Tension” and “Destruction and Redemption” place the listener in the middle of the pit, blazing with frenetic guitar and thick energy. “Freaking Out” and “Go To the Club Alone” display dexterous rap skill and a heavier hip hop feel while retaining a jittery post-punk edge. And the album-closing eponymous track even brings to mind the melodic chime and epic codas of the Pixies. And while the record is without a doubt the first stomp of a new boot, some moments are even more raw than that which came before—with its live guitar and drums, vocal delays, and basslines influenced by eternal heroes like The Fall and ESG.

“I’m putting together these pieces in a way I find interesting as a contemporary record, and not conforming to any trends of the moment,” Juice says. “It’s just me trying to make my own singular form of American music based around a certain lived experience. I think a lot of kids have actually had a similar experience, but oftentimes they end up segregating the music they actually output. I’m trying to smash it all together into one thing.”

To echo that notion, in addition to his music and performances, Juiceboxxx runs a record label and brand called Thunder Zone, whose output includes music and merch by other artists—including cult rapper Lil Ugly Mane, internet sensation Molly Soda and members of the legendary Paper Rad art collective--an energy drink, and a sprawling YouTube channel. His fans are rampant to the extent that a book was even written by one of them, called The Next Next Level, published by the esteemed imprint Melville House. And, as you have no doubt realized by now, all of this is just to say that it’s impossible to say everything and wrap it up neatly. And so, we grab hold of the long tail and just keep rolling.

“On some level it’s insane that I’ve carried on this project I started when I was 15. A lot of the music I make is kind of about that, and there’s definitely a pathos to a lot of shit I do—obviously, the record is called Freaked Out American Loser,” he says. “The idea that there’s a self-awareness that your entire life has this absurdity to it, but a resilience, too--life is fucking crazy and inherently absurd, and this is a thing deep down inside of me that’s unfinished. I’m gonna continue to make stuff. It’s a life project.”

"I would be making music regardless if it was Juiceboxxx or not,” he continued. “Music is something I’m gonna do forever. I continue to believe in this project as a vehicle, as the years go on I think there’s some meaning built into this that maybe separates it a bit. What I’ve learned is that I can cut a lot of shit out of my life but I can’t stop making music and performing. It’s cheesy but I feel like I’m just starting to get good.”

Or, as the man himself said all those words ago: 24/7, not 9 to 5.

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1201 N. Frankford Ave

Philadelphia, PA 19125

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