(Photo by James Winstanley via PR)
It can often just start with a softly breathed “hellohellohello.” By now, if you’ve got a favourite genre of ASMR content, you probably know what it is. I still have to google what ASMR stands for (Autonomous sensory meridian response – why can I never remember this?) but spend about half of my working day listening to Korean women or Spanish men whispering and tapping cardboard boxes anyway. Look, it helps me concentrate. These are the basics: ASMR makes your body and brain tingle, in a way that is NOT sexual and NOT weird. It’s sort of like a massage coming from inside your head, through sound. Those sounds can be anything from light stroking (shout out to Tenaqui using acrylic nails on an eyeshadow palette), to brushing straight fine hair, crunching on fried chicken skin, whispering about crystals, literally saying “sksksk” and rubbing your fingers together real fast like you’re trying to get rid of stray cat hairs.
Then, slime arrived. Personally, it’s a no from me, with its videos of hands plunging into the sticky depths of squelching, rainbow-coloured goo or a sequin-stuffed mass that crackles as it’s manipulated. It looks good, sure, but slime doesn’t make a sound that in any way feels satisfying, calming or hypnotic, the way really good vocal ASMR does for me. And so maybe it’s just as well rowdy garage-rock group Drenge – brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless, who are joined live by bassist Rob Graham – have ripped the piss out of chirpy YouTubers in a new music video that’s all about slime. It’s… absurd, in a good way. Here’s a bit of what they had to say about it, in a sort of 700-word mission statement almost as batshit as the concept itself.“The YouTube slime craze has left us beguiled. What’s behind our connection to these polymer-based environmental hazards?” they asked, before describing ASMRtists as “auteurs of online content” whispering “spine-chilling ASMR magic” which absolutely fair enough. “‘Can you hear that?’ they whisper as they slap the wet, submissive, colourful blob on their clean counter surface.” And that made Drenge wonder whether there’s “a deeper connection,” some way to explain why ASMR attracts and affects so many people (myself included). “Amniotic fluid? Anal retentiveness? Dipping your fingers into a wobbling pot of slime is surprisingly calming. You can almost feel your pupils dilate when watching a pair of hands sink into a fresh pot of goo. It’s comparable to stepping into a pristine snowy field or discovering an untouched continent of the world. Slime makes you believe unbelievable things.”
Though this should already be obvious, let me state it bluntly: you will not be calmed by this video for single “Never See the Signs.” The song itself is a hulk of melodic, dirgey rock underpinned by buzzing synths. Eoin’s “It’s so serious in here / it’s so claustrophobic / Get me out of here” vocal hook reaches menacingly for your neck, even over a midtempo groove. But hey, Drenge haven’t ever really been about tunes to mellow you out. Since debuting widely in 2013, off the back of a Tom Watson (ie: right-on politician in his forties) co-sign that probably still haunts them to this day, they’ve consistently put out the sort of guitar-heavy tracks that make people want to use words like “meaty” and “janky” as descriptors. Theirs is music designed to be played loud, preferably somewhere you can slam your body around, ideally while wearing breathable cotton/no shirt at all. As they gear up to release their third album Strange Creatures on Friday 22 February, we’ve got the first watch of that Samuel Higginson-directed video.As Drenge put it to us, “the online slime craze popularised through Instagram and YouTube has touched on something deep within us.” According to the hypothesis that they tested with the video itself, “short, attention-sapping clips of Technicolor liquids reacting to a variety of stress tests tickle the base nerves of the brain. MRI scans show activity in the same parts of the brain that react to hypnotism and childhood comforts, brought on by warm blankets and lullabies. Scientists are reluctant to reveal any secrets but rumours are swirling with regards to an obscure cortex known as Deep Baby Brain. We are beginning to unlock deep secrets about the human psyche.”
One part of that forage into “Deep Baby Brain” involves introducing you to ‘YouTuber’ CuteKid4950, and his tub of Strange Creatures goo. He starts off with the usual setup, doing his piece to camera before getting out the gunk. But then… things get weird. “Expanding upon the YouTube infotainment vlog format,” Drenge said, “CuteKid4950 takes us from kitchen to basement to warehouse to cave and emerges unscathed and enlightened. We can see the time and space properties of the real world crumble into insignificance. Unusual patterns emerge. Colours and shapes of forgotten solar systems reveal themselves amid the paint and the goo. This is more than something to keep you lightly amused. People will tell you that you are mad. They will try to denounce you. Ignore them. Let history be the judge.”
All of which is to say, watch the thing. It comes from an album that honestly made me think, ‘hang on, where have Drenge been and were they always sounding this good?’ I think I last saw them at Glastonbury 2014, a year when I accosted them backstage and filmed a short video interview for the publication where I worked at the time. They seemed very tired but very cheerful. At that stage, they were bang in the middle of their first wave of hype. They’d released their self-titled debut album in autumn 2013, seemingly coming out of nowhere (in fact: Castleton) with a fully-formed sound. They both also seemed so young, grinning gamely in interviews – I could’ve sworn they were teens and not, in fact, in their early twenties by the time they broke through.But it’s hard to follow hype. And though critics also loved Drenge’s 2015 followup, Undertow, they seemed to fall off my radar for a moment. In current music terms, four years is a long time away – which, of course, is hilarious, especially considering how much of that time they spent pouring their energy into touring. On Strange Creatures they’re more prone to flattening the reverby, more spaced-out vocals of Undertow, kicking the urgency back into their work. Now, their voices cut through more directly on tracks like opener “Bonfire for the City Boys” and as-yet unreleased track “Teenage Love.” They’re sounding both experimental and limbered up, ready to experiment – making a fake ASMR video shows, if nothing else, their playful streak.They leave you with a few parting words. “Could slime become an Oscar category or a module at film school? Will progressive kitchens expand their repertoire for textural success? Will we see relaxed rules regarding production and distribution of slime? The answers are only just revealing themselves.”You can find Tshepo on Twitter.