Years later, I’d started to think that “metro-ko” had been a figment of my imagination; an artificial memory of the collective virtual unconscious.
But it’s still out there somewhere, fidgeting within optical fiber tunnels / cradled in the warmth of overworked processors. And the ephemeral micro-genre’s consummate grandmasters are out there too; in Oakland, to be precise — because what better place is there to celebrate silicate sleep?
The trio goes by juche, and if metro-ko rings a bell then no introduction is necessary.
… but it probably doesn’t ring a bell. No, this isn’t about “hipster” credibility. It’s just that metro-ko surfaced and vanished in the span of a cold heartbeat, and its dogma was never quite pinned down. It was in sync with vaporwave, its thematic cousin — but was even more elusive. Virtually the only way to have been “in the know” was through membership in a Facebook group of about 50 followers. There may have been a Reddit page too. Who knows.
As the name suggests (“ko” is one Japanese stem for “child”), metro-ko reinterprets hectic, crowded urban spaces as lonely and meditative ones. Its muse is the city skyscraper; its setting the subway line. But even while coveting, even fetishizing impersonal modernity, somehow metro-ko elevates our relationship with the cyber-sublime (cf. vaporwave, which satirically condemns it). Not only is the music radically introverted, but — for electronic music — it’s stunningly comfy.
Metro-ko lacks anything like an extensive catalogue; it’s mostly amateur music, to be fair. Still, juche’s self-titled 2012 record will go down as the micro-genre’s definitive statement.
Then everything went dark. Surely its own pioneers had put the moment behind them, I’d thought. But juche returned in 2016 with a formidable sophomore record.
No, metro-ko wasn’t quite “back,” but the subsequent release of the METRO KO LOVE KO EP this summer would indicate that the trio is.
Yet nothing about the new EP recalls anything that juche — or the metro-ko hive mind — have produced before. First of all, this is a mixtape, and the warm beats recall instrumental Soundcloud hip-hop before anything else. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the trio holds its own surprisingly well for a team that usually focuses its efforts on meticulous atmosphere and sound design.
But the choice of samples — in particular the naively New Age aesthetic — is telltale juche. Unfortunately, some of these clips rub off as unselfconsciously cheesy; I’d compare them somewhat unfavorably to the early music of “comfy” genius Tycho.
Also like Tycho: The mixtape is pleasant listening at best. Maybe it’s just that I like my music daring, but METRO KO LOVE KO strikes me as uncomfortably inoffensive. As for the urbanity of metro-ko and its penchant for retro electronics — it’s only vaguely there. It’s certainly not prominent enough to stand out above anything that includes that crackling vinyl effect.
The verdict: It’s worth a listen. But to get a true sense of that ephemeral micro-genre that was / is metro-ko — give juche a spin.
Favorite Tracks: N/A
Others: Tycho, Ramona Andra Xavier