Uffie’s Back: Let’s Talk About Bloghouse
Every generation gets the hair metal it deserves — that’s one explanation for bloghouse. The fulcrum point separating half a decade of self-serious indie rock and the early ’10s EDM boom, the era (’07 to ’09, give or take) looks pretty gnarly in the rearview, even for its most faithful devotees. Born of the boredom of Myspace-era hipsters back when people still said the word “hipster” in earnest, bloghouse was the genre that wasn’t really a genre — the music was related by how you found it more than by any specific sound. These were songs that flourished on the Internet, were dispersed at shitty bitrates through amateur mp3 bloggers and aspiring tastemakers, then played at scenester Hollywood parties photographed by Mark the Cobra Snake. Unironic shutter shades, American Apparel deep-v’s, mid-grade cocaine — this stuff was practically as essential to the phenomenon as the songs were. “If you ever wore a neon all-over print hoodie you can probably relate,” A-Trak summarized in the description to his “Bloghaus Revival Mix” last winter, and that was all that needed to be said.
The term was coined, naturally, by Carles of Hipster Runoff, the era’s preeminent satirist disguised as a Perez Hilton–styled scene reporter. “Just as long as the music is free, and the content stream is consistent, that’s all any1 rlly wants,” he wrote, with his usual inscrutable wink, and he wasn’t wrong. There was a “gotta catch ’em all” feeling to the mp3 blogging economy: Harvesting gratuitous dance remixes of buzzy indie singles and baby’s first Logic experiments from Hype Machine–aggregated Blogspots provided a mini-rush of discovery, even if there was a whiff of planned obsolescence to it all.
But what did bloghouse actually sound like? As with obscenity, it’s hard to define, but you know it when you hear it. A brief list: the Ed Banger Records roster, from power duo Justice to French touch veterans like Cassius and Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter; electro mercenaries à la Boys Noize and MSTRKRFT; “indie dance” crossovers like Simian Mobile Disco and Klaxons; the chiptune-inspired rave nihilism of Crystal Castles; Robyn-esque electropop like Yelle and Ladyhawke; Soulwax remixes; Australian nu-disco producers who seemed to exist solely on SoundCloud; indie bands who took the “Losing My Edge” parable about selling your guitars to buy turntables seriously; rappers in skinny jeans (remember The Cool Kids?); the Kid Cudi “Day & Nite (Crookers Remix)” as a genre unto itself; post-M.I.A., pre-Bieb Diplo; pre-Swift Calvin Harris; mash-ups presented as a totally legitimate art form; whatever American Apparel was currently stocking at the register. And of course, there was Uffie, the scene’s unofficial poster girl — a fashion student turned robot-rapper whose 2006 Myspace demo “Pop the Glock” would become bloghouse canon.
In recent years I’ve wondered if the era would see a revival, or if the scene was inextricable from its mostly-defunct moment in Internet culture, lost to the great archive in the sky along with some hundred thousand Zshare and Megaupload links to 128kbps filter house remixes of Lil Wayne's “Lollipop.” But it’s been happening, subtly — you could hear traces of it in the sudden popularity of tropical house remixes, or in nostalgic nu-disco like Nick Jonas’s “Jealous” or The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” Meanwhile, bloghouse mainstays Breakbot, Cassius, and Classixx have albums slated for this year, and just this week, indie label Because Music posted an Instagram photo of Justice, captioned “On our way to new adventures with these boys.” But the ultimate harbinger of a potential bloghouse revival came last week, in the form of two brand new song snippets posted to Uffie’s official Facebook account, a decade after her debut. If anyone could reopen the scene’s neon floodgates, it’s Ed Banger’s former first lady, whom diehards adored and no one else knew what to make of.
Over the phone from Seattle, where she’s been recording material for her first album since her 2010 full-length debut Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans, Uffie laughs when I tell her my 20-year-old self thought she was the coolest girl in the world: “That makes me feel so old!” Born in Miami, raised in Hong Kong, then off to Paris for fashion school where she met the Ed Banger crew, Anna-Catherine Hartley was thrown into the fledgling scene as a teenager. But in the six years since the album, which have passed without her releasing any music, she’s made a complete break from her past as electro club kid and Hipster Runoff muse — in no small part because she’s now a mother of two. “It just got to a place where it wasn’t fun anymore,” the 28-year-old says of her hiatus. “Having started so young, I just needed time to live a normal life — playing house, letting my kids grow up a bit before I came back. Life was passing out a lot.” After the illness and death of her mother, and now with children of her own, she disappeared with her family to Joshua Tree, a desert community three hours east of L.A., where you can’t see your neighbors for miles. “I lived there in my caftan for two years and didn’t really talk to anyone. It was fantastic.” She recorded a second album, but scrapped it entirely.
But this year something clicked on a visit to L.A., and Uffie got back in the studio. “The people I’m working with now are not, like, blog cool kids — it’s such a different process not being part of that DJ scene,” she explains. “It wasn’t like, oh, I’m ready to do a new record and it’s going to be amazing. It just felt right.” She’s been working with Nathaniel Hoho, a guitarist from the band The Walking Shapes, and Ammar Malik, a pop songwriter whose credits include One Direction, Nick Jonas, and Maroon 5, for the past two months, with plans to finish her second album by summer. And though there’ll be a bit of her signature blasé vocoder rap, as evidenced by the snippet of new track “Sassy,” she’s focusing more on pure pop melody these days. Bloghouse revival or not, you can’t rap about busting nuts and dancing on VIP tables forever.
The bloghouse bubble burst quick, or maybe right on time. Amateur music blogs were outmoded by social media, free mp3s were dwarfed by streaming services, and dubstep and EDM pushed bloghouse aesthetics out of vogue. The Cinespace club kids got real jobs. Hipster Runoff’s Carles went off the deep end. Dov Charney filed for bankruptcy. And despite the prime slot “Pop the Glock” will always have within the bloghouse canon, Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans landed without much fanfare upon its 2010 release; Kesha’s “Tik Tok” had exploded the year prior, and one decadent, depraved white girl rapper seemed more than sufficient. But examining the pop landscape of the ’10s, it’s hard not to see traces of Uffie scattered throughout, from Miley Cyrus’s transitional trash-pop to PC Music’s faux-naïf teen girl caricatures. (“Gucci Gucci,” I presume, goes without saying.) And against all odds, Sex Dreams hasn’t aged so badly, with its Roger-Troutman-meets-Britney-Spears vocoder ooze and production from Mr. Oizo and Feadz in their prime. “First Love,” an ’80s-inspired synthpop ballad with a pulse that sounds like The Field, feels like a lost gem, and snotty, Oizo-produced “MCs Can Kiss” is a revelation in the post–Iggy Azalea age. And even if you loathed her pointedly stilted rhymes, Uffie always projected a sense of indifference that made you feel stupid for even caring: “I never claimed to be an artist. I can’t even sing, you know?” she chirped on “Our Song.”
Bloghouse’s hidden gems aside, the whole thing — shitty remixes, DJs wearing Jason masks for no apparent reason, American Apparel sweatbands as club attire, tongues stained orange from Sparks™ premium malt beverage — feels mortifyingly dumb in retrospect, and it mostly was. But despite the sartorial cringes and gigs of Kid Sister edits I still need to delete from my iTunes, I mostly remember how uncompromisingly, uncomplicatedly fun the whole thing was — when the Internet’s infinity felt freeing instead of exhausting, “tastemaking” had yet to fully transfer hands from obsessive nerds to corporate sponsors, and personal-brand bonsai-pruning wasn’t the competitive sport it is today. And for maybe the last time since the festival industry boom, silly dance music felt like an alternative, even if it was all built to self-destruct. “I don’t think it will ever be what it was,” says Uffie. “But I think a lot of people would want it to. It was a fucking good time!” It might have been a kitschy, neon-slathered mess, but it was our kitschy, neon-slathered mess. Bloghouse forever!