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Flop Rock: Inside the Underground Floppy Disc Music Scene

Flop Rock: Inside the Underground Floppy Disc Music Scene

The first computer task I will do in the year 2024 is to insert a 3.5-inch floppy disk into a USB floppy drive that I purchased from an online merchant operating in Singapore, the epicenter of computer piracy in the 90s. I'm briefly startled by the low mechanical rustling of the drive – a warm, ambient background score that instantly takes me back to my childhood. My first painful fifteen magazines were poorly hidden on such obscure floppies. I click on the disc's only file, an MP3 titled "Inability to perform social activities is considered inferior," and Yasuyuki Uesugi's rising wall of experimental noise rolls into my apartment like a rogue wave on the beach. Is. Is. The track is one minute, 27 seconds long, and at 1.33 MB, it almost hits the diskette's 1.44 MB limit.

This is followed by a split release by two artists – Pregnant Lloyd and Team Phosphenes – again filled with a mix of other shorter experimental tracks. These little treasures come from a floppy-only net label called Floppy Kick, a one-man operation run by Mark Windish in Debrecen, Hungary. Each disc is numbered as part of a limited run. My copy of "Inability to perform social activities is considered inferior" is the third out of five, which makes sense since there are a limited number of floppies circulating around the world.

Floppy disk music arguably peaked in the 2010s, but in the 2020s, it's still going strong; shows over 500 floppy releases in the 2020 category, which exceeds the documented number of floppy music releases in the 80s, 90s, and 00s combined. Maybe it's because we're getting a little closer to their impending extinction. Or maybe they're the perfect reminder of how violently smashing together bytes on a thin, weak plastic/magnet sandwich is still one of the most dangerous things you can do as a musician and artist. Can. Can do.

More than 10 years ago, Windish wanted to release his own noise music project, Ioforvin, in an "extreme" format. "I found some sealed packages (of floppy disks) in the attic of our old house, so it seemed like a good idea," he says. "I was already familiar with, so I created a proper listing for the release, a small blog for the label, and even a Facebook page." Within a month, a man from Greece messaged about releasing a floppy demo; Soon, Windish was playing Floppy Kick, getting to know other Floppy enthusiasts, and swapping releases with other Floppy labels. "[I] first used floppy diskettes (the big, flexible ones) for my C64 computer when I was young," he recalls of childhood video game swaps as well as his father transferring MIDI files from his synth. Let's remember about doing. I remember the use of floppy. His laptop. "I like how limited the format is, and it's not easy to show something in such a small amount of data."

For decades, the floppy has been a quiet mainstay in DIY-driven media, especially in the Lobit subculture, which celebrates low-bitrate music as art and practicality. The additional fact that floppies are not made for long-term storage also forces their users to confront the transience of art and information in the face of time and decay. In 1993, Billy Idol launched a multimedia floppy disk with Cyberpunk – the first promo of its kind (inspired by the 1991 HyperCard stack) that left more of a mark on pop culture than the album itself. In 2009, artist and professor Florian Kramer compressed each of the Oscar Best Picture nominees onto a floppy disk, so that each could be represented by an abstract, almost Mark Rothko-like moving image. And floppy music, in its mighty strange little realm, is still alive and kicking, even if the anemic remnants of physical media are badly, short-sightedly being phased out of everyday retail.

There are approximately 2,300 floppy releases listed on, the majority of which are electronic, but other genres include hip-hop, a dash of classical and jazz, a bunch of metal subgenres, and "non-music" such as experimental field recordings. . A spoken word from Norway and China. In 2018, Rolling Stone covered the "mini-boom" of vaporwave releases on floppies, noting that the lo-fi, lowbrow nature of vaporwave was an obvious match for the storage constraints of 3.5-inches. There are net labels like Loser Crew, Pionirska Records and Strudelsoft dedicated to floppy releases, which close as soon as they launch. Floppies also pop up on broader retro labels like Datadoor, which features Commodore 64 music. The floppy disk is the realm of technological extremes and some of the world's rarest and most collectible music.

According to Nick Hilckman and Thomas Valsker of Floppy Total, Discogs is "the most reliable source" for getting a feel for what's out there. The duo started Floppy Total as a festival in Rotterdam in 2014, until it turned into a full-fledged research project on obsolete media as a cultural phenomenon. “We also had cassette programs and minidisc programs, at one point even mechanical concerts with punch cards,” explains Hilkeman on a Zoom call. Around the same time, they became aware of the then-flourishing floppy scene in the Netherlands, mostly through the underground review blog Yes I Know It Sucks, which inspired them to delve deeper into their project.

"A lot of people have fond memories of floppy disks, or a fascination with them, and so we soon discovered that this little piece of plastic was basically a medium that everyone used [and] when they This is what comes to mind when they think of obsolete or residual media." Hilkman says. Last year, Floppy Total published its first book, Floppy Disk Fever: The Curious Afterlives of a Flexible Medium, which includes interviews with Floppy Net label Pionirska Records and Tom Persky, who runs, the only remaining floppy disk Are sellers/recyclers. Business.

"A medium, artistically, is interesting only as long as it is available."

One prolific figure who introduced Hilkerman and Valsker into floppy music early on was Kai Nobuko, a critic for Yes I Know It Sucks who makes music under the names Toxic Chicken and Kovolks. Nobuko's catalog is vast and diverse; A trip through their old SoundCloud account offers up a heady ghost of '90s Warp Records electronica, rich, horn-filled drum and bass, and gritty lo-fi pop, while their latest Bandcamp covers trips into psychedelia. , improv sampling experiments, and gamelan music.

Nobuko says, "I started by creating MIDI music files that were small enough that they were easy to store on a floppy disk." “It was [my] first time…using a floppy. Later I started using Fasttracker to create sample-based music,” he explains, sticking to low sample rates, small samples and mono/single-channel sound to keep the file size small. "To be able to make the music sound good (to my ears) and to be able to adapt the space of the floppy to accommodate about 10 minutes of music I had to experiment quite a bit with Lobit encoding, in which the sounds They were listenable and separable." In his mind, creating these 10-minute mini-albums became a kind of game, with the added benefit that the data loss inherent in excessive lobit would produce a "good ringing tone".

Nobuko believes that the spread of floppy music in Western cultures is linked to strong punk movements with DIY aesthetics. "Also, the Lobit scenario seemed to be larger in countries that had poor Internet connections, so they would already use Lobit encoding to upload or download things online," he explains. Similarly, Hilkeman believes that floppy recording is an explicitly anti-capitalist space that exists outside the usual means of publishing music on Spotify and other streaming services today. “A medium is artistically interesting only as long as it is available,” he says. “Floppy disks are now becoming more difficult to obtain; they have become almost a collector's item, whereas a few years ago , it was almost like a useless medium that you could quickly get your hands on and do fun things with.”

Hilckman and Walsker soon realized that the floppy world – at least the one they were able to explore – was mostly Western-oriented, with artists and musicians based in the US, Europe, and sometimes Canada. “With the language barrier, it's a big issue,” says Valsker. “If you can't find it, it's really hard to find it.” He told me that the term "floppy disk" varies by country, not to mention the many variable terms for different musical subcultures and local slang. “The most famous example is that in South Africa the floppy disk is actually called a stiffy disk, because it's not floppy at all,” Hilkemann says with a smile.

However, on Discogs, it is possible to find some Chinese and Japanese floppy music, to the extent that it is searchable on the Anglophone Internet. While sifting through floppy releases, I came across an Argentinian powerviolence band named after a campy Argentinian actor; This 1995 prog rock soundtrack to the adventure puzzle game Milo; and Rob Michalchuk, who runs a floppy-friendly label called Poor Little Music. It's also interesting to note Floppy Kick's offerings – many of its Bandcamp record pages don't have playable tracks embedded in them, meaning the only way to hear them is to press the "Buy Now" button. Windisch, who traveled to Rotterdam in 2019 to conduct a workshop for Floppy Total, is still surprised and delighted by meeting new customers, especially those who go out of their way to follow the artists they release. Not attracted towards newness. Floppy. He says, "There are only a handful of floppy release collectors and labels in the world, but I can't say we all know each other." Floppy Kick is, to this day, one of the oldest floppy labels still going strong.

Everyone knows that the floppy is on borrowed time. Persky, the self-described "last man in the floppy business", has about half a million floppies in stock, but he also told Floppy Total that he doesn't actually know the true value of his stock. Valsker recalls that 10 years ago, floppies were relatively cheap and easy to get and "people were basically throwing them at you for free." Today, it is a different story. "Now, if you go to eBay or any other version of eBay and try to find floppies by price, they're very expensive," he says. “If you want new old stock or unused old floppies, like straight from the packet, that's getting expensive too. Tom Persky confirmed this to us.

"When we think about media, we sometimes forget that these are actually physical objects that are slowly depleting."

For Valsker, the floppy disk has become symbolic, especially since he is a graphic designer with an eye for visual meaning. "It's still a symbol of savings," he says. "I don't think the CD will be the 'saving icon' of the digital world. [The floppy] remains a kind of residual media, where it's stuck with society." Hilkmann described the floppy as a memento mori. Sees. “It shows us that nothing is eternal and that anything that seems too vague or nebulous, especially in the digital sphere, is not the same at all and will eventually go away, change, and that is something we We can change for ourselves, in our own memories and in our own way,” he says. ''I'm looking at it from a more romantic perspective. But I think it's important to do that too. When we think about media we sometimes forget that these are actually physical objects that are slowly going away.

Cramer, the filmmaker who made the best Oscar movies floppy and brutally dissected the film adaptation of David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch to fit on 3.5-inch, once told the world that "the floppy disk must die." Pointing out their useless, toxic plasticity where it shouldn't exist. Holding my new Floppy Kick order in my hands, I understand the idea behind Kramer's words, but have sentimentality not only for floppies' place in history but for their presence as a solid part of my own life. I keep it. I am stuck between the waves.

In Nobuko's eyes, they are a kind of mysterious treasure, hidden in offline uniqueness and very real scarcity. "To me, the floppy represents a few things," he says. “Nostalgia, but also a punk ethos. This feels very personal. Floppies, no matter how fragile, have to be handled with care. The label or musician put a lot of thought into it. And I think they're adorable.”

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