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satellite cult 5.5
90s alt revival, vintage mall videos, void dive
welcome to another satellite cult dispatch. i’m so glad you’re here.
the artifacts i present this week will sweep you up in a flurry of tube television static, wrap you in VHS tape, and spit red prize tickets at you until you drown in them, gasping for breath. use them to get a lava lamp from the prize desk, if you manage to escape.
please be aware that the void dive section below contains flashing gifs.
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moonlight arcade delight
90s nostalgia peaked during my college years, following a familiar cycle: young adults become obsessed with the decade of their birth as they approach a quarter life crisis, aimlessly turning to nostalgia for comfort while they leave adolescence in the dust. that was the era of soft grunge on Tumblr, a resurgence in popularity for The X Files and Daria, and a time when witchy aesthetics, aliens, and queer punk vibes were cool. it’s been interesting, as someone who is not particularly young or particularly old (i’m 29), watching the aesthetics of the spaces in which i move transition over the last five years or so. my friends who are my age seem split between following trends and keeping the styles of their earlier 20s alive. honestly, the latter are cooler and less susceptible to the power of capitalism. i envy and admire them.
trend cycles now give me whiplash to watch; they explode briefly and then fold in on themselves. everything is a trend, and if everything is a trend, nothing is. finally.
the amount of time that passed between 2014 and the revival of the 2014 Tumblr aesthetic was terrifyingly short. decade trends usually run on 15 to 20 year cycles—the 50s coming back in the 80s, the 60s coming back in the 90s, the 80s coming back in the 2010s. maybe that’s when the cycle began to change, due to the changing nature of what it meant to exist online. 80s revival and 90s revival overlapped, as it would be. 90s revival seemed to die out rather quickly, and there was crossover 2000s nostalgia as younger millennials, like myself, grew up during a time of cultural shift.
while the people engaging with Y2K aesthetics are mostly too young to remember it, i had the seemingly contradictory experience of owning a copy of Oops!…I Did It Again on cassette and the earlier album, …Baby One More Time, on CD. i’m shocked that Y2K revivalists haven’t discovered Garbage yet—their 1995 self-titled was really my first taste of alternative music, even if i came to it a few years late, and the progression of their sound and visual style exemplified the timeline of aesthetic transition. when you get down to it, very few moments in culture are one thing or another. everything is an amalgamation, everything is in flux.
that said, at least on music platforms like Bandcamp and Soundcloud, i’ve noticed an uptick in music tagged 90s. and while music in the vaporwave family, underground hard techno, plenty of shades of electronic, ambient, and dance music make me giddy, my first loves were classic alt, indie, grunge, industrial, emo, and punk, and these are the genres new musicians are working with now.
on Moonlight Arcade Delight’s Bandcamp page, Jess Roveda lists Hole among her influences, and while i can hear them, i’m hearing Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville a little bit louder. that’s a good thing, i think. further, the description reveals that Roveda recorded the album in her bedroom—my mind immediately went to Kathleen Hanna’s Julie Ruin album, not the rehashed 2010s band by the same name, but the solo album she recorded under that moniker in 1997, also from her bedroom.
but i love you without mascara
speaking of 1997, i’m ashamed to admit that i missed a release over the summer. in 2016 after i finished undergrad and moved back home for about a year and a half, i found myself working at my hometown mall as i watched my college friends move across the country, miserable and isolated. my only irl social interactions were with my co-workers and my parents. i became more depressed than i already had been, spending most of my free moments watching tv and wasting time online.
eventually, the smoke would clear a little—i’d start writing again, apply to grad school, go out of my way to see friends. and the thing that helped me do that? a hiking trail near my parents’ home. the trailhead started at a neighborhood park and spanned nine miles—i used to walk about halfway and back at least three times a week. my instagram posts from the time are mostly wildflowers, caterpillars, snakes, and trees. for a while, that trail was all i had, alongside the assortment of albums that never failed to accompany me as i walked: Rilo Kiley, Hole, Tegan and Sara, The Go-Gos, Courtney Barnett, Fiona Apple, The Front Bottoms. but one album was my go to, the one i’d always listen to first, before switching over to another.
Veruca Salt’s American Thighs has remained one of my favorite albums for years. teeming with grunge-pop yearning, wallowing in its feelings so perfectly, it’s the most glittery sludge i’ve ever heard, joyful but in a tongue and cheek way. it winks and you and says jk—promise i’m still miserable and fucked up. it doesn’t hurt that i always read something queer into it.
it’s a little dramatic, but that’s fitting; the band became known for their drama. something always seemed brewing in the music between Louise Post and Nina Gordon, even work recorded before the band exploded (the seether was Louise, if you recall). a series of line up changes followed Gordon’s departure after their 1997 release Eight Arms to Hold You, leaving Post the only remaining original member until they reunited in 2013. but even with Gordon and Post on speaking terms again, i never felt like they quite recaptured the magic.
but this past June, Louise Post graced us with a collection of solo demos recorded between 1997 and 1998, and it flew completely under my radar. five of the six songs, to my knowledge, are unreleased, and one is the demo version of Used to Know Her, which Post almost certainly wrote about her falling out with Gordon.
the release feels timely, in the context of cultural ebb and flow. i doubt it will launch a full on 90s alt rock revival, but i’m so glad i get to listen.
success in the modern age
it’s not a satellite cult dispatch unless there’s at least a tangental reference to the wider umbrella of vaporwave, and this time, it’s from Utica, New York. Sean Siesta’s Success in the Modern Age is in some ways a sampler of the utopian virtual aesthetic, sometimes to a point where i wish it had a more narrow focused—it’s corporate toxic positivity and 90s motivational posters on one end, the six o’clock news on another, with the Windows 95 video guide balancing it out through the middle.
that isn’t a bad thing, though—the result is something that sounds part James Ferraro, part video game score, part Dan Mason’s Electric Elevator albums. it’s tunes from an old instructional VHS, Muzak in an office elevator, waxy green potted plants near the copy machine. it captures old vaporwave in ways that I appreciate—that original critique of capitalism and corporate culture entwined with complex feelings of nostalgia for a time that felt safer to many of us who were young during the era of dot matrix printers and Motorola pagers. this album is what i always imagined my dad did when he went to the office back in 1997.
comfort lives in the aesthetics of nostalgia, even as shopping malls continue to die. but why give in to capitalism as it manipulates your memories to sell you things you don’t need? you don’t need to go to a mall—Hop Topic is different now, and i don’t think you can get an Orange Julius anymore. it’s not worth it. instead, you can visit the mall, in its heyday, from the comfort of your couch.
in the 80s, some kids from NYU’s film program made this doc about mall culture.
there’s also this old CBS news special:
if you want something that feels a little less produced, you can watch these home video recordings.
it was more difficult to shoot in malls before iPhones; cameras were harder to hide from mall security, making videos like these archival gems.
and for something more atmospheric, i love the Sleepcore videos by picsandportraits:
if you like some vapor with your malls, three years ago i would have recommended this video, but it has over two million views, meaning everyone’s probably seen it by now. instead, i’m going to selfishly point you towards one of my own creations, featuring Bernie Sanders and the public access show he hosted as mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
thank you for joining me. until next time.