PRINT February 2017


Via App

Via App (Dylan Scheer) performing at the Sixth Stitch LP-release party, Bossa Nova Civic Club, Brooklyn, New York, December 10, 2016. Photo: Luis Nieto Dickens.

“FREAK TECHNO,” “haunted house,” “dark electro,” “noise”—any number of genres have been affixed to the sonic stylings of Dylan Scheer, a twenty-two-year-old electronic-music producer and DJ from South Carolina who has been performing under the alias Via App since 2012. Based in New York since 2014—the same year Vancouver label 1080p put out Via App’s first official release, the ten-track cassette Dangerous Game, to critical acclaim—Scheer has quickly ascended within the underground electronic scene, where she is celebrated for her unique and infectiously sinister output of extravagantly strange dance music.

Via App’s debut LP, Sixth Stitch—released this past November by Break World Records—is a polyrhythmic feast of distinct textures: The album’s fifteen tracks range from minimalist studies that focus on only a few motifs to multilayered percussive excursions that fluctuate wildly in pitch and volume. Scheer has described the album as “a series of uncanny disturbances stitched together towards an encrypted noir”—a soundscape of industrial decay that bristles with the concentrated tension of a coiled spring. This description also applies to in-the-flesh Via App performances, during which she employs an arsenal of hardware that includes semimodular and digital synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, and FX processors. In fact, all but one of the tracks on the album were recorded live, with Scheer playing the complete arrangements from start to finish. According to the press release, Via App’s “studio recordings exist, in part, as documentation of her performances.”

Scheer’s conceptual approach to composing these live sets involves “thinking about them as stories or trips” in which sounds are “characters or subjects interacting.” The narratives that emerge are often “mutant interpretations of our reality,” “songs of upheaval and regeneration.” Some of the tracks—or, to mirror Scheer’s terminology, “stories”—on Sixth Stitch are told through only one or two primary “characters.” Examples include “Narthex,” the shortest track at one and a half minutes, which repeats a simple pattern of trilling bleeps over a thumping kick drum, and “Disappearances,” a chorus of clacking pincers with little other embellishment. Elsewhere, Scheer flexes her skill as a master collagist, such as on the eight-minute “Far She”—a din of rapidly fired synth arpeggios, kick-drum thuds, and the sustained ringing of a fuzzy siren—and “Con Artist,” which opens with a simple snare-drum beat and builds into a dizzying crescendo of jittering bleeps, pulsing four-on-the-floor rhythm, and the wailing of an elephantine trumpet. Unlike a live performance, in which a durational framework (usually only an hour or two for electronic shows) naturally orders a performer’s gestures into a fixed chronology, the format of an album allows Scheer to treat each track as a stand-alone chapter that adheres to its own internal logic. Correspondingly, the listener can play a hand in how narrative forms, dipping in and out of the story as she pleases.

If the songs on Via App’s premier LP coalesce into an “encrypted noir,” the task of cracking the mystery—of reflecting on what we hear over the course of Sixth Stitch’s hour-long span—is ultimately left to us. For Scheer, electronic music should do more than entice its exponents to shimmy: “I expect to be immersed in thought, not just raw emotion. . . . I’m interested in something more than just how you perceive music sensorily.” This is a dictate Scheer shares with DJ Total Freedom (Ashland Mines), whose mangled mixes are meant to move ideas, rather than feet, on the dance floor. Following suit, Scheer keeps her audience intellectually engaged by addling her live sets with abrupt transitions, or turning club-music tropes on their heads by allowing the beat to fall away, or steadily building up a song by revving up the volume and bpm only to withhold the drop or change gears entirely. Via App’s sound shrugs off rational mechanics for provocative interludes that suggest human intervention and erratic drives.

In making “dance music that is challenging,” Scheer takes cues from 1990s IDM (intelligent dance music, the supposed yin to EDM’s yang), avant-pop by groups such as the Residents and Stereolab, and post-punk. Arguably, her attitude toward sound making harks back to an embryonic period in the genealogy of electronic music, with the watershed prewar experiments of Edgard Varèse, who pioneered the somatic and resolutely spatial dimensions of electronic sound and who, decades later, famously drew on Polish philosopher Józef Hoëné-Wroński’s definition of music as “the corporealization of intelligence.” Just as Varèse sought to liberate his compositions from the classical harmonics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, envisioning endless potential in the ability of “computing machines” to “satisfy the dictates of that inner ear of the imagination,” Scheer’s endeavor is a throwback to modernist ideals, an attempt to “subvert conservative habits in club culture” through carefully orchestrated disruptions and harsh aesthetics. Scheer’s fiercely imaginative experiments on Sixth Stitch—from a dialogue between two broken church organs (“Fevered Proviso”) to a manic symphony of drips (“String of Disappearances”) to the staccato tones of a shrill synth racing against a galloping beat (“Phantom Dictation”)—not only showcase her impressive touch with analog hardware but challenge club revelers, sometimes, not to dance.

Jackie Neudorf is head of research at Artforum.