OPINION: Azealia Banks and Skrillex Co-opt Net Art Trend With New Video Games

Posted November 30

Welcome to the O Music Awards guest writer series, a place where we hand the proverbial reins over to qualified writers/musicians/etc and let them share their thoughts about music, technology and more. Today’s guest blogger Sophie Weiner, of the Twin Peaks-inspired band, Silent Drape Runners.

In case you missed it, a few weeks ago the web-based art and music scenes were in a tizzy over Rihanna’s use of “net art”/#seapunk inspired visuals for her Saturday Night Live performance (in our opinion that wasn’t even the main problem with the mediocre performance, but that’s another post). This debacle generated a multitude of questions about whether someone can own an aesthetic they create, and what happens when the underground (or what’s left of it), bubbles up into the mainstream.

If you need a quick primer, net art is a loosely grouped set of artists who use the Internet and our technology-infused lives as their inspiration, taking the good with the bad of web-based design and producing art that looks like a glitch from a Windows 95 program — or an early version of Internet Explorer. #Seapunk is an Internet-based music genre that takes that aesthetic and throws in vintage rave culture and… dolphins.

You may be asking yourself, “Why is this relevant to Azealia Banks and Skrillex’s new video games?” or perhaps “WHY DO AZEALIA BANKS AND SKRILLEX HAVE VIDEO GAMES?” or maybe even “WHO IS AZEALIA BANKS?” These are all valid questions.

Azealia Banks is a hip-hop artist who is quickly gaining popularity both in the underground and mainstream. She made a #splash the same week as Rihanna by releasing a video for a song off her mixtape Fantasea with similarly blatant #seapunk inspired aesthetic, which equally pissed off #seapunk OGs. Skrillex is, well, you know who Skrillex is.

The point is –- both artists have new video games, and both deal with the mainstreaming of net art in unique ways. Skrillex’s attempt at gamification (get it?) is actually pretty interesting. His game, Skrillex Quest, is set in a nostalgic Zelda-esque game that has been plagued by a speck of dust on the cartridge. Your mission is to fight the glitches in the game to save “Princess Keys.” This meta-game is a pretty cool take on the 8-bit movement that’s been starting to feel a little stale lately. It was inspired by his music, which “sometimes sounds like a broken video game,” and it seems to be a hit with aging nostalgic gamers. We’ll take it.

The same can’t be said about Azaelia Banks new game Fantasea: The Game, which comes off as an empty marketing attempt (winners have a chance to win vinyl and other prizes) that had little effort put into it. The graphics are somewhat similar, at least in color scheme, to the #seapunked video for “Atlantis,” but aren’t nearly as stimulating. All you can do is swim around and collect stars, and honestly the most enjoyable part of it is listening to her very good song “212” as you laze around the ocean. On a scale one to #wet, we found this pretty dry.

My final analysis is that sometimes underground cred isn’t enough to make good art (or video games, as the case may be). Skrillex Quest comes off as genuinely fun and interesting, and while I may like Azealia Banks’ music better, the game is cheap, and all I can see is a straight line from its mediocre-but-not-in-a-cool-way graphics to whatever was going on in Rihanna’s marketers minds when they decided to co-opt an aesthetic that had absolutely nothing to do with the song itself. Don’t go that way, Azealia.