Prescience in art exists on a spectrum. At its richest, it can say something about where broader culture is headed far beyond the sound of a genre. 8485 was operating at that level when she released plague town, her debut EP, in 2021. Its five songs outlined a post-hyperpop arena for underground pop music — the roughshod, extremely online aesthetic was rejected in favor of a lovingly tailored genre collage. But she put an equal amount of care into the tape’s surrounding lore, which involved an AI installed inside of a young singer-songwriter by the collective Helix Tears for purposes unknown. Just two years later, this vision is not far from reality: pop stars are being duplicated, writers are striking out of fear of robot replacement, and one of AI’s godfathers is ringing the existential alarm bells. It’s 8485’s world, and we’re just living in it.
Or more specifically, it was her world. The narrative of 8485 has undergone a radical shift in 2023, purging any mention of AI’s influence. Now, it’s just Eighty behind the songs, a human with autonomy. Speaking with me over email, Eighty articulated how the AI lore erected unnecessary creative barriers. “I got tired of evaluating everything I did by how well it proved I was more than human. Even plague town, which came from a really emotional and naturalistic space, had to frame that space as something to escape; being Eighty was the only way out. My humanity was always such a necessary part of the process, and I had to try to access it while constantly condemning it. It was impossible to work that way.”
8485’s next step is Personal Protocol, a new EP premiering today on The FADER alongside the music video for its new single, “COOL_DNB_SONG.” The act of searching was key to plague town in how 8485 browsed both through her internal jukebox and her own IRL relationships with faith, nostalgia, and hope. Drum and bass serves as the north star of Personal Protocol (production comes from a variety of artists including drainpuppet, Taylor Morgan, and Shinju), and the newfound cohesion works: Personal Protocol is 8485’s most robust body of work with a new confidence shining through. The focus on soul-rattling drum loops is the spinal cord giving 8485’s singular vocal presence new emotional flexibility — she’s the voice of your youth struggling to be heard as time slips through your fingers, the pages of a water-logged journal found steps from your childhood home, and a mythic siren living in a SoundCloud feed, in full command of her entrancing powers.
Personal Protocol is the sound of 8485 finding her footing, and getting there was a journey. Her statement on the project is a scientific abstract with references to real personal and professional struggles peppered in. In short, Eighty has reclaimed control, regimenting her intuitive approach to songwriting: “I became very intentional about being spontaneous and tried to figure out what the underlying patterns were in that process, what was happening under the surface.”
Over email, I spoke with 8485 about the new lore surrounding Personal Protocol, how the visual components are essential to the EP as a whole, and the creation of the music video for “COOL_DNB_SONG.”
One of the themes of your statement is how easy it is to compromise in an effort to be understood. How did your experience of the music industry post-plague town factor into this idea?
“Industry people” want for artists to be able to explain themselves in about three sentences: How did you get started? What have you done? What are you doing next? I think we’re doing away with even that level of nuance, though, because now artists are submitting music directly to data systems where we pick 3-5 keywords and that’s it. Sometimes I generate a physical drop-down list in my brain before a song is even finished, out of pure habit. I usually have to lie down for a while when that happens.
When we last spoke, you said “I do kind of love this concept of unstable identity, but you have to figure out what your core is.” Did you have a stronger sense of your core going into the creation of Personal Protocol?
Going into it, absolutely not. Now, going public, yes. A lot of the external stuff has fragmented in the past few years, and with Personal Protocol, I wanted to put it back together in an arrangement that makes more sense for where I am now. The way that started was fairly chaotic, but it’s easier to see what makes something tick when you’ve taken it apart. For the record, I do still like the outer shell to be made up of moving and replaceable parts.
Did you use a sonic mood board again when you were writing Personal Protocol as you did with plague town? If so, what did it look like?
Inspiration worked in reverse for Protocol. I have the producers I worked with to thank for that. The instrumentals I wrote to set me on the path for everything else. I wasn’t actively looking for drum & bass-inspired instrumentals, but a lot of producers I liked were sending them out, and I was super drawn to them. They inspired a much looser and more intuitive approach to my writing. And then I built the whole thing audio-up. One of the central pieces of the Protocol is basically a five-foot visual mood board, but that came after most of the music was finished.
“COOL_DNB_SONG” is a great example of a particular emotional landscape you work in: deep gratitude mixed with endless melancholy. The music video reflects this feeling, too. Can you tell me a bit about the creation of the visuals and how you tied them so closely with the feeling of the song?
“COOL_DNB_SONG” has the widest lens of anything I’ve written. It’s about how everything that exists is exactly the same: cyclical, or self-similar, so finding the images was easy. I went out with my friends and a digicam with a broken monitor, and pretty much anything we pointed the camera at confirmed what we needed it to confirm. My friend Sylvia’s bedroom has the universe inside of it, so that helped a lot, and the comfortable magnetism between her and her girlfriend Kate reflected a lot of the movements of the world around us in a really beautiful way.
While editing, I wanted to reflect the idea in chaos theory that things that seem random actually tend to follow patterns. So there’s a lot of jumping back and forth between flashing dissimilar images in sequence and then two different objects or places that look the same. The music gave me a lot to work with in terms of timing: the drums inspired a lot of fast, frantic cuts, but all that overlapping reverb and delay made me want to blend the images together as they flashed by. In the end, the song and video reverse to the beginning. I think the video is interesting to loop back a few times and is designed to be seen that way.