Bristol, England can look pretty ugly. That's the first thing Seamus Malliagh, best known to the world as the producer and visual artist Iglooghost, has realized in the time since he moved there. Parts are loud, the streets are grey, there's graffiti everywhere, it can sorta smell bad in the way that all big cities do. Over a Skype call on his first day of school studying graphic design in the city, Malliagh explains that he's suffering a bit of culture shock after living in smaller towns for the first 19 years of his life. "I've always wanted to live in a city," He says, hesitantly. "But when I look at it really hard, it's like… 'This is fucking gross.'"
Based on the music that the Malliagh has made over the last few years, he doesn't necessarily mean that as an insult. His version of dance music is one that's not based only on pleasure, but mutation. There's dancefloor abandon contained somewhere deep in tracks like "Peach Rift," but his memories of happy hardcore and juke are melty and surreal, their colors vibrant and garish, like a Geocities-era .gif slivered by years of end-user artefaction.
Point is it's both bright, ecstatic, and kinda malformed, which is likely what's drawn him fans from all corners of the electronic music world—from the hi-gloss beatmakers like Slugabed (and his label Activia Benz, which once released an Iglooghost EP as a helium balloon) to Malliagh's childhood hero Flying Lotus, who released some gross-out fare of his own earlier this year and whose Brainfeeder imprint will release Iglooghost's debut LP Neō Wax Bloom on September 29. Over the years, he's expressed some disbelief at the turns that have gotten him to this point, at least in part because he didn't grow up in a city like Bristol, he grew up bored.
In the years before Malliagh started making music as Iglooghost, he lived in a small town in the South of England called Shaftesbury, which he's never had all that much nice to say about. In the past he's said diplomatically that it's "not that good," but over the phone from his new house in Bristol, he expands a bit.
"I grew up in the sticks, in a town on a hill in the middle of nowhere," he says with the relieved laugh of someone who's gotten away. "There'll be people from nearby towns who haven't heard of it. It's kind of a shitty place to grow up in that there's not much to do—it's a place where old people go to die."
He had friends growing up ("I wasn't a hermit boy," the 20-year-old assures me), but mostly there wasn't all that much to do. He says his parents sort of let him loose on their home computer; he was free from the beginning to explore even his strangest impulses. "I say I grew up in this town but I was raised on the internet," he explains. "That's where I hung out from when I was nine years old."
He took shelter in Pokémon forums first, making pixel art of characters both real and imagined, and hand-drawing his own trading cards for beasts more absurd than the original games and animé—some of which he says still lives on the internet if you know where to look. Eventually through those forums, he ended up on the early music social media site Last.FM, which introduced him to all sorts of strange electronic music and inspired him to start making his first productions when he was a tween, unfurling twisted renditions of breakcore and speedcore that he describes now simply as "not music."
From there, inspired by the stylish teens in Odd Future, he started making rap beats, then developed more outré interests when he came upon FlyLo and the rest of Los Angeles' blunted beats scene. He started using the production software Reason and picked up on everything fast. By the time he turned 17, blogs were starting to post his first warped Iglooghost compositions. He mentions, endearingly, in one interview from that era that he still had to rely on "weird 20 year olds" to buy him drinks. In another, he said that he used to "lob cassettes" of his music at Flying Lotus whenever he would tour to cities nearby.
Soon enough, the Brainfeeder boss would catch on of his own accord and offer, via Twitter DM, to release some of Malliagh's music. That resulted in an EP called Chinese Nü Yr in 2015 which formed the basis of the current iteration of Iglooghost. Malliagh envisioned a pantheon of pastel gods that make up of Iglooghost's mythology. "Xiangjiao" introduces a gelatinous worm in a witch's hat whose sad, surreal existence is built upon being shot through worlds of made up of fruit and pink mist, which if nothing else is a potent metaphor for the colorful and malleable music that made up the EP.
Neō Wax Bloom is a continuation of that worm's story, along with a cast of other players—a bug thief, a witch leading a band of anthropomorphized melons, and a multicolored monk—who are represented by Malliagh's warped design work in the album's artwork. The record relates the events an ecological disaster in a land called Mamu that somehow involves the crash-landing of a pair of giant eyeballs. It's wild stuff, and Malliagh responds opaquely when I ask him about it. "It's weird that a lot of journalists are saying that this is a concept album because all this stuff actually happened," he says. "I was literally in my garden and there was this portal, and these little creatures, and I started learning about that this weird world called Mamu."
I ask him if he feels his reeling recordings and vivid artwork these creatures accurately and he offers a smirk: "They doesn't translate into what we see, as humans, but it's sort of an approximation I suppose."
It's the sort of imagination that can only come from life in a small town escaping on the internet—the interminable boredom and colorful retreats into worlds of your own making. "It all kind of stems from the fact that real life is boring as shit," he says. "Everyone's all just walking around trying to fuck each other, escapism is pretty appealing."
But there's more to escape from than just rural boredom or the oppressiveness of modern cityscapes. Malliagh has said that this record is meant to deal with some sort of "primal religious themes." It's a way for him to grapple with the "fucking millennial nihilist thing" that's stopped him from developing his own spiritual beliefs. Iglooghost has become a way of channeling those feelings.
"It feels like there's something missing from my brain," he says. "That's probably the driving force behind why I'm doing this. Which is fine, it's productive. I could be downing loads of tequila or driving 100 fucking miles per hour on the freeway. There are worse ways of having an existential crisis."
So he built a better world. The central narrative of the record—real or imagined—isn't exactly legible on it's mostly wordless compositions, but tracks like "Sōlar Blade" (premiering up above) are still suggestive of whole biomes in themselves. Chirping synths, sprightly woodwinds, and jittery juke percussion wow and flutter with all the life and biodiversity of a rainforest floor, baking in the summer heat. By the end of "Göd Grid," an eight-minute track that blazes by at an unfathomable 220 bpm by Malliagh's count, you'll start to feel like you've been sucked away from your mundane city streets and piles of municipal trash to his world of candy fog, misty monks, and jellied snake people. It's gross too, obviously, but at least it's somewhere new.
Colin Joyce is building a better world on Twitter.