Collaborative works are a special kind of challenge, and collaborative albums are no undaunting task. The artists involved must combine their efforts to take something intangible—a thought, a concept—and find a way to make it part of the physical world. When more than one artist works on a project, sometimes the challenge lies in making the entire album sound like it is consistent. In “Broken Lotus / Hidden Orchid,” 金龍1988年 (pronounced “Golden Dragon 1988”) and Café Nights 카페 나이트 (Café Nights) present a more melancholic, heavier side to the Jeju Digital concept. At first, the thirty one track album might seem like a disconcerting endeavor; however, the fifty-two minute investment is well worth it. With consistent, tasteful repurposing of the same small batch of samples, both 金龍1988年 and Café Nights 카페 나이트 showcase their individuality while keeping their project in sync.
The process behind crafting such an extensive album began the same way most albums are born: with a thought. For this project, Jeju Digital supplied samples to both 金龍1988年 and Café Nights 카페 나이트—samples from old cassettes found around Korea, for example, and clips from other forms of Korean media. The thought was that, with similar samples, the two artists would sculpt for Jeju Digital an album that could showcase the collaborative talents of both artists while allowing them to showcase their individuality. The only stipulation was that it came together into a uniform soundpack. Over the process of a year, the artists began mixing their tracks, trading them back and forth until the music had snowballed into an entity of its own.
Broken Lotus begins the album’s voyage with a graceful warning painted in heavy minors designed to weigh you down as you embark. The tone immediately shifts from the first track’s dark, raw sound to a more playful, almost dreamlike sample that incorporates a synth piano (which does its best to remind you that this journey isn’t all bad—that within the darker, heavier times are dispersed moments of hope). The haunting voice that finds itself on the track First Draft becomes a key player in the album, as does the loop paired with it. Throughout the course of the album, one will periodically hear the sample, quietly coming back out of the woodwork to tag their ear in a playful manner that almost begs, “Remember me?”
As 金龍1988年 continues to allow Broken Lotus to unfurl its petals, we find that it blooms into a soft, hopeful, even dreamy section, one that remarks on listlessness. The first track to present any sort of backing lyric, Cherie 2, gets its name from Cherrie Choi Lap Yee, whose vocals from the song Used to be My Soulmate (曾是我知己) paint a beautifully mournful image. The tone is unsurprising, given the artists’ process for creating the album. As 金龍1988年 remarked on r/vaporwave, “we started by sharing samples and things turned out dark and melancholic pretty quickly.”
Broken Lotus comes to a distinctive turning point in its track titled Fate, which, while among the shorter of 金龍1988年’s tracks on the album, is impactful and finds itself followed by a mournfully romantic Call Me. 金龍1988年 says of the process that he “[doesn’t] know if it has a concept as in telling a story, but those two parts share the same dark vibe (we hope).” With the elegant grace of piano loops, the compilation is seeded with glimmering points of hope through the more melancholic sounding tracks, which helps to keep it from feeling completely overbearing.
Of 金龍1988年’s contributions to the album, the most unique is Guitar Interlude, which features a soulful sample of a guitar. The track itself has minimal distortion, and really showcases the capabilities of the instrument while keeping in with the overlying theme of mournful sadness that grounds this album. The track gives listeners a moment to step away from the reverb and more haunting tones featured in the first part of Broken Lotus, but only long enough for a brief break before they are plunged back into the world of 金龍1988年 with Mystic, which sounds like a creepy track straight out of an SNES generation dungeon crawler like Eye of the Beholder.
Café Nights 카페 나이트’s name derives from two sources. “Cafés in Korea were cheesy hook up places in the 70s-90s,” the artist told me via Facebook. “They served shitty powdered coffee and had a DJ in the corner. The music was sleazy covers of popular hits. That’s where the café in Café Nights comes from. ‘Night’ is short for nightclub in Korea. Again, they were sleazy joints for midnight trysts with hookers.” With that in mind, Café Nights 카페 나이트 approaches half of the collaboration being fully aware of the grimy, dark lifestyle that fits under an exquisite facade of lavish beauty.
“All of the samples are from old Korean cassettes collected in Seoul,” Café Nights 카페 나이트 further explained. “That’s the starting point of all Café Nights tracks and that was the start of the collaboration. This album is a bit of a break from the original Café Nights thing. If it was a cheesy drama originally, this album is a feature length film.”
The transition from the album’s first half, “Broken Lotus,” to its second,“Hidden Orchid,” is distinct. Following a rather toe tapping Final Credits, Hidden Orchid reveals itself with Hotel Lobby, which is soft and lavish, delicate and haunting, but in a friendly, almost childlike way. “I had in mind a kind of opulent hotel in Hong Kong. Kinda classic oriental cinematic style,” the artist told me. As the second half of the two part album begins to peek out, one is reminded of the link between the two albums as Humid Sunrise is reworked into Long, Long Ago…, which sharpens the sound and makes it feel like less of a dream, more immediate.
On Hidden Orchid, Café Nights 카페 나이트 utilizes more vocal samples. Café Nights 카페 나이트 should be thought of as more of a project than an artist. As far as the lore of Jeju Digital is concerned, Café Nights 카페 나이트 is a show that exists in the alternate reality where Jeju Digital has taken over as a multinational corporation, “kinda like an old sleazy Korean drama with gangsters and hookers,” as the artist told me. It features a modest playlist on YouTube where ever-loyal consumers of Jeju Digital can watch “episodes” of Café Nights featuring music made by contributing artists featured on Jeju Digital.
Café Nights 카페 나이트 utilizes the same samples as 金龍1988年 and sprinkles them with loops from dramas, helping to sustain a feeling of immersion within the universe in which the show exists. The tracks dress themselves with reverb and delay, which adds to the work a surreal, almost helpless feeling that tends to cloak itself in both the album’s segments. Hidden Orchid is a concise listen; it sets out with the intention of expanding upon its lore while still being friendly and enticing to a new listener who may not be aware of the series itself. Its final track, A Fateful Ending, ties the entire project together into a continuum by making use of the same sample used in its first track, Intro; however, this track draws itself out slowly over the course of three minutes, and makes an impact as it leaves with the haunting vocals of a woman stacked upon the nightmarish backing track.
The album markets itself as experimental vaporwave, even cyberpunk. The underlying themes of grit and grime, as well as the use of effects on the tracks, help to accentuate that claim. Broken Lotus / Hidden Orchid presents world that could easily put us outside of our comfort zone. But with the musicians’ skilled use of sampling, the journey feels alright. After all, what is life without a little uncertainty?