I’m transferring to a university in Boston for the upcoming fall semester. This isn’t meant as a veiled flex by the way, I just wanted to set up some context. That is, I mean to explain this is but one of a few major events in recent years that’s marked ‘the end of an era,’ so to speak. What’s more, is the fact that within each of those little eras of my life, a specific playlist of music has defined that time. And now, noticing that this is yet another proverbial stopping point—if I could be so sappy as to use such a metaphor—I’ve been reflecting on the music that has come to define each individual period. Funny enough, but perhaps not too surprisingly, the most audibly nostalgic music I’ve listened to in my reflection have been my playlists from around the end of 2013 to the beginning of 2015—or rather, put in more coherent terms, the end of my high school experience.
It was the summer before my senior year, and nothing was on my radar save an inordinate amount of ‘party favors’ and ‘social gatherings.’ I was living day-to-day like some kind of amatuer, degenerate lush. Hardly showering, hitching rides from whatever friend would come pick me up—I didn’t have a car or a license—and reveling in my zero responsibility utopia like a kind of Dionysian subject in that cloud of trackless jouissance. Needless to say, it caught up to me—around October 2014—and I was subsequently sent to live with some family friends up in LA to finish out my prospective, desolate senior year in isolation from my hedonic ecology of high school bacchanalia. And such was the end of that era.
While that time is no longer, what remains persistent is the music. Like some historical element from a radical epoch of history, its inherent effect is still felt to this day. And it sounds insane to put it in these words, however, the emotion that each individual tune elicits is as powerful as any sociological impact of some great famine or economic boom. Songs like What So Not’s hyper, nearly forgotten ‘How High You Are,’ with its firecracker synth intro—the singer’s vibrant falsetto echoing in a trance-like reverb dripping over the track’s computer-generated instrumentation—paints such a vivid picture of that time, it would give any number of Rembrandt’s masterpieces a run for their money. Moreover, hip-hop joints like Juicy J and Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Stoner’s Night 2’ and ‘Smoke a *****,’ with their misty, stoner trap beats, creating an atmosphere only lean and marijuana smoke could inspire, is enough to send any 16-year-old into an oneiric, bleary space. Still to this day, whenever either of those songs plays, I am transformed into some unkempt and glaze-eyed kid, flying over the speed limit beneath the soft halo of streetlamp yellow, rushing off into a subdivision oblivion.
What’s clear about my music taste from this time is it’s just as unfocused and schizophrenic as it is informed by my social context of that era. What I mean is that my playlists from that time are a product of the environment I was in. A perfect example of this can be summarized by my hyperfocus on two artists who, today, I would never think to listen to or take very seriously. What’s more, today they are all but resigned to the sidelines of my conscious mind—all the while, however, they remain as much a part of my psyche as the neurotransmitters that fire when I happen to give them a listen. The Swedish internet hip-hop sensation, Yung Lean, and everybody’s favorite mid-2010 electronic music heartthrob, Flume. What at first might seem like opposite ends on the polarity of some strange, electrifying planet, are phenomenologically products of the same source: 2013. And yes, okay, technically Flume broke ground in 2012 with Flume, however, for me, the source is 2013 summer. Moreover, the fact that, together, these artists so distinctly define an entire period of my life warrants further attention. Furthermore, of all the artists I listened to at that time, Flume and Yung Lean are rarely even referenced today—much less listened to—by myself and friends, making their music even more cemented in that era’s ambiance.
Not that I would never have listened to them if I had never had friends who listened to them. But it didn’t hurt. The fact that I was introduced to their music through friends of mine who, more or less, had as sophisticated a music taste as any normal high schooler, is not a strange origin story. I more so just liken my fascination with their music much to how people who grew up in the 80s view Jazzercise, or how kids in the 90s view Juliette Lewis or Backstreet Boys—you can see their appeal for the time they originated in, and would never take that away from that era, and at the same time realize they could have never made it in any other time period. I can never see myself listening to Flume today, at least not on any consistent basis. An argument could be made for Yung Lean, as his vaportrap style still remains appealing today, and his DIY, Soundcloud ethic still defines a lot of what I look for in new, exciting artists—but still… Their music is as much a part of that period of my life as Juliette Lewis’ atypical A-list beauty was a part of the 90s celebrity world.
With a playlist that could fill more pages than Joyce’s Ulysses, and more obscure, unrepeatable songs than a 90s kid’s Discman mixtape, 2013-2015 will forever remain a couple of years whose music taste was a product of its day: madcap, random, hyper, and a little mainstream. For all that time’s faults and tribulations, it was fun. No responsibilities, no care for grades or GPA or which transcripts to send where or what courses to take to secure what major; there was such little thought of the future on my part that I barely even graduated high school. Perhaps this is the crux of my nostalgia right here—the fact that I shouldn’t even be in this position, going to some school out in Boston, at all. But perhaps, in this case, it’s not even nostalgia. That time was fun, and the music is a testament to that. But I wouldn’t go back there if you paid me. Right now, maybe for the first time in my life, rather than ruminating and longing for the no longer, I’m actually looking forward to the future. So, rather than traveling back there, this music can act as a beacon. Signaling to me, through this marine layer that settles between our past and present, that that era is still there in some way—and at once assure me I never have to go back. I can just look forward to something else.