Martin Steer_Presse2018 by Paul Aidan Pe

Boredom & Panic

In French, "l’appel du vide" connotes the siren song beckoning you to throw yourself into the void, down the abyss – simply because there is no worse idea. But what if what’s calling to you so irresistibly is not nothingness but abundance? It is, indeed, the ever-present backdrop to our lives: information both redundant and relevant, breaking news, fake news, late capitalist memes, cat content, dystopian tech documentaries, iconic music clips, the White House live stream, endless playlists, sponsored stories, unanswered emails, selfies taken before getting up and then after, of expanding algorithms and monologues. And all of it only serves to ask one question: are you listening?

Having grown up with and on the internet, Martin Steer (1986) has transformed its pull into a concept that is just as immediate and intangible as the digital world. Bad Stream is guitars and machines vanishing in the spaces between Radiohead, Notwist and Nine Inch Nails only to reemerge amidst ambient, noise, and drone. It marks Martin’s attempt to release his own history, alienation and loneliness into the chaos of the digital world and to retain their substance in doing so. Needless to say, he will have to fail in order to succeed. Bad Stream, then, is his modus operandi – a soundtrack to the feelings of resignation, isolation, and cynicism within the neoliberal cyberspace and to that strangely numbing comfort of bodies transmuting into zeros and ones in real time.

“I look at my phone even while I’m playing guitar,” says Martin Steer, “and that isn’t even entirely voluntary. The 2010s really changed my perception of how digital technologies and social media affect me as a musician. Through Bad Stream I want to make sense of this particular kind of anxiety, and to use sensory overstimulation as a way to develop an independent and progressive musical language.”

Martin has spent half his life writing hybrid songs; in doing so, he transcends the demarcation lines between rock and electronica, the pre-internet era and our world today, drawing on and transforming his experiences. In Bad Stream, everything coalesces. The past seven years took Martin and his laptop and guitar from Berlin to Mexico and Nepal and, as a founding member of Frittenbude, into the German charts and to various festival stages. And yet, Bad Stream is a true “Berlin album” out of Friedrichshain, Neukölln, and Kreuzberg, one that was recorded in a studio on the outskirts of Munich with real drums by Spur and programmed beats, with shoegaze guitars, piano, smartphone synths, violins and field recordings found on the darknet.

It’s not the first time Martin does “his own thing”: after Pandoras.Box, he founded ANTIME in 2011 as a label and DIY-network for electronic music with more than 20 releases and dozens of label nights to its name. Here as much as anywhere in Martin’s work, opposites attract, transitions blur, and inspiration proliferates.

He has read books upon books, copied citations out from the internet, logged his own digital life and turned it into a psychogram. “Making music to me is a little like archeology,” he says. “I spent so long looking for some kind of balance. Constantly going forward too fast or pausing to think, between boredom and panic.” That’s why Bad Stream works as a name. What holds it all together is this experimental guitar sound, the analogue Tempest drum synth and his voice, whose hopeless timbre conveys reflections on technology, systems, the future, drugs, people, and his own place.

Bad Stream is about what it means to dive into bot likes and unfollows, to drown in the data garbage and the broken links so ubiquitous in the Capitalocene, and to come back to the surface with your battery running on empty and unable to tell what was a dream and whether we haven’t long relinquished control. “The Internet has lost its innocence,” says Martin, before going back in head first. “These days I try not to waste too much time on it.”

Martin Steer isn’t alone in this. He has friends who share his thoughts and sentiments, who feature on the album and who speak many languages, who scanned him for the album’s 3D artwork and who programmed complex music videos and software for his live shows. They make sure that no one escapes this bad stream, keeping the project forever going forward, never at a standstill. “I want it to be like the internet – drawing people in and not letting them out,” says Martin. Communication has been interrupted, but it is still all that we have.

There is a pull, a draw, and it says: are you listening?