The virulence of minutiae in our strange integrated age has managed to work towards opposed ends: a reductive erasure of the self through proliferation of detail and a generative erasure of the self through non-referential fashioning of an identity. The former is a simple idea we contend with daily as we march through the morass of Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, and targeted advertisements. Such a complete scrutiny, a tireless panopticon, requires of its citizens a sanding-down of the self since the same information that can be used to categorize us and can also be weaponized against us. (Proposition for Paranoids: what are the limits of control?) The other end is an immanent genesis, a creation of a virtual identity with no anchor to the real, a radically free self capable of unfettered play. Privacy becomes the escutcheon of the artist. These are the figures who can hitch onto the very channels of communication that seek to root them out and make them visible. We are fascinated by artists who can disseminate their work while skirting the periphery of scrutiny. Electronic producers seem especially fitting for such a non-identity. The processes that create the music are the exact same as the ones that formed the artist. All the sounds and voices that comprise such music are steps removed from reality, synthesized and sampled and distorted. This distance and facelessness figure prominently into the presentation and consumption of Body Boys’ second release, No Face, an anonymous collection of drifting and serene ambient techno.
The enchanting aura of non-identity that used to grace such producers as Burial and Zomby still hangs about Body Boys. With little information—and what’s available seems contradictory—there’s no indication if we’re dealing with a she or a he, a one or a many, a human or a non-localized cybernetic consciousness. That’s probably for the best. These transmissions from nowhere, sent from a body—but whose?—are better for being undisclosed. Whether it’s the rattling, raining snares on “Alone” or the Doppler whoosh of “Nosebleed,” the spatial exercises of No Face thrive without the burden of context.
In the same way these are songs from nowhere written by no one, they are meant for nowhere and no one. As they filter in through Bandcamp stream, or sneak out of the polyvinyl chloride, the songs reshape their auditor and surroundings in their own image. The curious, pacifying effect of “Yunnan” is a remarkable example of this. The slow atmospheric rumble of the synths and subterranean bass sigh might recall a Stars of the Lid cut in its tempered pace, but the samples of voice turn a plodding melancholy into something insidiously beautiful. The speaker, dampened as if he were coming through a radio three rooms away, goes on and on unintelligibly over the pneumatic production before being scribbled into an even deeper meaninglessness by the cassette rewind. “Peter” closes with a passage of simple, shimmering tones that sounds like the chirping ring of a cybernetic cricket.
However, it is important to note that the ambient aspects of the music are just as well integrated into the meatier techno slices. The aforementioned “Nosebleed” joins its stretched-out sounds with car-alarm synths and steady kick-drum pulse. It’s a lethargic type of dance music, fit for rave night at the local new age bookstore, but through all of its variation and development manages to engage all the way through. Closer “Stutter” is a little more menacing, picking up the beat a bit and outfitting the production with all kinds of ominous echoes and grinds. The standout track here is the opener, however. “First Time” is a nigh-perfect slab of peaceful, protean techno, once again grounded by a sort of ambient echo. The recording that ends the song, two woman learning how to smoke a cigar, sounds like it could’ve been cribbed from someone’s video diary uploaded to YouTube. It’s a curious effect, these anonymous, buoyant voices shifting in and out of gentle static, and especially in this context. Where do these voices come from, some unsourced communique sitting at a fair 97 views? What could we do with that information if we even had it? These questions constantly tantalize us and constantly resist interrogation, but at least we have gorgeous techno as a consolation.
Is there anyone not connected? It’s something we think about a great deal as we approach our art, even in regards to art in advance of the creeping distribution we have naturalized as the everyday. The persona, the influences, and sources of their work all become integral into how we conceive the artist. Celebrity conducts from this notion of the individual everyone wishes to understand and has the capability to. However, when these details fall away, we are forced to confront art as devoid of transcendental signifiers. No Face is not an empty gesture, but it does gesture toward a blank, a techno incognito. Anonymity and virtual identities are not new to the internet, but the ways we consider and address them are. Body Boys will not become a household name and whatever assemblage of identities made No Face will not be beholden to the panopticon, to the sub rosa circle that bounds us. You can seek the name on Twitter or Youtube, but all that is to be found is some virtual residue, a trace of faceless presence.