Darkness on the edge of Margaritaville

Also: fingerless gloves, Lavender Island, and Roblox e-boys.

Darkness on the edge of Margaritaville

EX is a research report about digital culture. You can learn more here. This week: the disinfo casino, Korblox legs, and cloned YouTubers.

1. Is disinformation getting more fun?

TrueAnon host @liz_franczak on Twitter

The explosion of joke posts about ebola at Burning Man — and reporters’ objections to those posts — crystallized an idea that’s been floating around for a while. Disinformation is fun now, or at least the most fun you can have in the hostile, low-trust atmosphere of Elon Musk’s Twitter.

There’s always been a lot of forgery among comedy types on Twitter (@leyawn trolling #resistance libs, Alan Wagner’s fake products and posters, @pixelatedboat’s gorilla channel, etc.). But the tone has changed since the 2018 era where a prankster would rename themselves “gorilla channel was a joke” to clue the wider audience in; deception is a core part of Twitter now. In the short run of EX so far, we’ve often reposted joke tweets built on a fabrication, like @jestingtime’s fake screenshot from The Idol. It recirculated last week to an even bigger audience, who seemed evenly split in their assurances of “it’s real” and “it isn’t.” It’s better not to ask. One of this week’s best posts was about a cop putting his office chair to the ultimate test. Is anyone really served by a clarification that the image is Photoshopped, except the cop lurking in the back of your own mind?

Maybe every platform is drifting into post-truth, but Twitter is in a hurry to get there. Beyond dismantling verification, Musk’s move to push Blue subscribers and his own favored accounts to the top of all feeds destroyed everyone’s attachment to their own audience. Now you’re immediately faced with annoying uninvited guests who step in front of all the people you actually wanted to see. For posters, telling a bunch of funny lies is a good way to filter out the people who know you from the rubes who just wandered in, and to turn the gullible into entertainment for those in the know. Filling the platform with low-stakes disinfo might reduce its value for journalists and advertisers, but if you’re only still using Twitter out of spite, that’s cool.

2. A portrait of the artist as an open-world game

Escape From Lavender Island is the latest game by Jeremy Couillard, a developer who frequently appears in variety streams hosted by popular content creators like Vinny Vinesauce and Jerma985. Lavender Island — an open-world adventure game set in a dreamlike city bustling with bizarre characters — builds on the surrealist aesthetic Couillard has honed across his gameography. The player spends the game collecting "poem letters," transforming into a ship at brief intervals, and tending to the grumblings of Lavender Island's many NPCs.

Apart from sharing his distinct artistic style, Couillard's games are united by their existential themes; in spite of their surreal and dystopic surroundings, NPCs on Lavender Island busy themselves with mundanity, obsessing over rent, the view from their terrace, and what it means to live one's life without direction, hoping that one day art will finally save you. Like all of Couillard's games, Lavender Island only barely veils its autobiographical nature — one of his earlier works, after all, is entitled Sometimes to Deal with the Difficulty of Being Alive, I Need to Believe There Is a Possibility That Life Is Not Real.

As game development tools have continued to become more accessible over the past decade, platforms like itch.io have filled up with full 3D games designed by experimental artists. But Lavender Island stands apart by appealing to the player's desire for discovery through open-world systems instead of simply functioning as a virtual gallery of Couillard's work. In this way, it's reminiscent of games like Paradise Killer, Crypt Underworlds, and Betrayal at Club Low, all of which make daring stylistic choices while cohering around a recognizable open-world structure.

3. The public trial of the "headless/Korblox" kids

Image credit: @garspams

After a couple of years in the oven, this pre-teen Roblox e-boy archetype is officially cringe to the greater Roblox community. Since at least 2021, Roblox players have taken to Reddit to express confusion about the sudden popularity of the "headless head" and "Korblox leg" avatar pieces amongst the game's younger playerbase. It's since transformed from a status symbol to a cursemark, a way to identify players who are desperate to project an image of wealth and exclusivity to their peers.

The simple explanation for the two pieces' initial ascent to popularity is that they both possess unique properties that look especially surreal when paired with pieces from other avatar bundles. "Headless head" is a piece from the "Headless Horseman" bundle that scales the player's head to a minuscule size in order to create a "headless" effect; "Korblox leg," on the other hand, refers to the shriveled right leg piece of the "Korblox Deathspeaker" bundle, which was designed to make the player seem like they're floating. Though both bundles were originally released in 2013, they remain two of the most-favorited — and most expensive — bundles on the platform, contributing to their reputation as obnoxious symbols of wealth amongst Roblox vets.

4. Tirzah and Mica Levi find love in a drum loop

A fine policy, if you watch movies in large part for the music, is to catch anything Mica Levi worked on. The classically trained musician began their career with the vertiginous soundtrack for Under The Skin, and has since added an unlikely depth to movies like Monos, Jackie, and @Zola. But Levi’s best work may be their long collab with the R&B singer Tirzah. Early releases wed ramshackle percussion with house beats; 2021’s Colourgrade ventured further afield, pairing Tirzah’s hazy vocals with pneumatic sound collages. The duo’s surprise-release new LP Trip9love is their most singular work yet, a full album built around a single drum loop. It’s an intense thing to love — trap hi-hats spurred on by an insistent thump — but Tirzah and Levi smother it in circular melodies and layers of distortion. Sometimes the loop disappears before returning, warped and leering. By the end of the record, the noise has taken over entirely; we’re practically in Spacemen 3 territory. It may be an album built around a single idea, but it spotlights two artists who refuse to stand still.

5. YouTuber threatens to use AI to replace self, others

So there’s a big kids’ YouTuber who’s been trying to replace himself with AI for years now. This guy, Kwebbelkop (15.1M subs), makes hyperactive Minecraft and GTA V videos with thumbnails of his face screaming or pogging. In 2021 he had a falling out with his YouTuber protégé Tiger that led to him firing Tiger and “cloning” him with an animated VTuber avatar with an AI voice, tweeting “This is worlds first Artificial Intelligence YouTuber.” (The human Tiger then rebranded as Liger.) After a predictable backlash, Kwebbelkop removed the tweets, deleted the Tiger clone videos, and presumably murdered the world’s first sentient YouTuber AI. But he wasn’t finished. One month later, he launched a channel for the AI-voice VTuber Bloo (805K subs), which makes Kwebbelkop-style videos while being some kind of blue-haired animated thing. Kwebbelkop described Bloo as “infinitely scalable.”

Viewers outside of the Minecraft demographic learned the backstory above after watching an August 2022 video by SunnyV2 (3.6M subs), who makes “where are they now”/“decline and fall” type mini-docs about YouTubers. (There are many problems with SunnyV2’s style and his transphobic takes about Kris Tyson, but this video and reactions to it are undeniably the reason many people know Kwebbelkop.) Kwebbelkop himself commented under SunnyV2’s video, saying “Gotta make a comeback now…Thank you for the feedback, I 100% agree with the stuff you’re saying here!” But did he?

On August 1, Kwebbelkop debuted the new “Kwebbelkop AI”: a VTuber avatar of himself with a sometimes-glitchy AI voice that rambles over standard Minecraft videos. This garnered horrified reactions from his community of child viewers as well as professional reactors like Cr1TiKal and Slogo (a former Kwebbelkop collaborator), and was deemed “a huge success” by Kwebbelkop on Twitter. The twitchy “AI” presence then reacted to the reactors in unnerving videos that radiate malice and contempt for organic life. This whole saga is laid out in even more exhaustive detail by the Internet Anarchist (280K subs) recap embedded above. Kwebbelkop commented under that upload: “Lovely video…Get ready for the next update, Kwebbelkop v2 is going to be wild.”

6. An Americana record that deconstructs “Americana”

The mark of a gifted songwriter is the ability to assert one's voice in a number of different contexts, regardless of whatever arrangements and production techniques they use to furnish their songs. Christina Schneider — who releases music as Locate S,1 — is one such songwriter, an artist capable of charting decades of musical influences in a single record without straying from the compositional style that makes her music unique. Her latest LP, Wicked Jaw, is an exploration of Americana and political identity in the post-Trump era, a meditation on childhood sexual trauma, and a "pandemic album" partly written during 2020. Fittingly, the record bounces between sonic worlds, capturing the breadth of Schneider's esoteric songwriting interests. The bright bossa nova groove of "Go Back to Disnee" gives way to the thrumming, dark and arpeggiated synths of "Pieta"; "Heart Attack" evokes the heart-tugging harmonies of '80s soul and RnB before the twin guitars of "The Hard Way" launch into searing, anthemic riffs reminiscent of '70s rock.

Though Wicked Jaw is Locate S,1's third LP, Schneider has an extensive discography outside of the Locate S,1 moniker. Before 2018's Healing Contest, she recorded and performed music under a number of aliases, including CE Schneider Topical, Jepeto Solutions, and Christina Schneider's Genius Grant. Many of her past releases were recorded and published by Zach Phillips of OSR Tapes, a now-defunct label that collected the work of songwriters interested in the avant-garde and experimental. Though Schneider has since departed from the lo-fi, tape-warbled sound of her previous releases on OSR, Wicked Jaw's personnel includes Phillips (Fievel Is Glaque, Blanche Blanche Blanche), Chris Weisman, and Ryan Power, all of whom were members of the OSR scene.

YouTube thumbnail of the week

Vaporsprings mall // mallsoft mix with ambient mall noise // by NIGHT ERROR夜のエラー. The visual is credited to @perrylam29 on Instagram; it’s the first frame of a short looping animation.

Chum Box

That’s it for this week. Next week we’re finally going gamer.