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Noel Skum of VR Sex: “The first time I tried virtual reality I was in Tokyo on LSD”

Who names their band VR Sex? This guy. We caught up with LA post-punk frontman Noel Skum.

VR Sex. Photo: Supplied

VR Sex is a five-piece post-punk band from Los Angeles. Ahead of their concert at Urban Spree, we talked to frontman Noel Skum AKA Andrew Clinco about identity, persona and what the future holds for virtual reality.

Noel Skum is an anagram of Elon Musk. As a Los Angelino, what do we have to expect now that the Tesla Giga Factory has arrived here?

It’s all absurd to me, and I try to interact with him [and new technology] as little as I possibly can. I’m fully in the mindset of technological regression, cautious technological regression — I have a landline in my home, an actual phone line that you can call. All my stuff is old and it’s nice. It’s similar with my music, I’m embracing older sound palettes and trying to dive deeper sonically. Instead of getting into this weird idea that just because something is new, it means it improved. Generally, the obsession with the new is so toxic to me. It’s not like I’m moving to the Antarctic, it actually gives me a lot of comfort and peace. He doesn’t give a lot of that.

Plenty of artists have stage names, but you create real alter-egos. You’ve been Deb Demure and Noel Skum, but you are Andrew Clinco. Does the experience of dissociation from yourself give you perspective on what draws those personas together?

Honesty, since I was 11 years old, I was a kid who skateboarded a lot. Of course, through skateboarding came graffiti writing, and I was very much involved in graffiti. So, I had to have an alter-ego because that’s just how it works and that’s where it kind of started. When you pick a name, your whole self is trying to embody that name in so many ways. First you write it, but then you give it some kind of stylistic voice, and then you maybe even introduce yourself to people that run in the same circles with that name.

I’m fully in the mindset of technological regression — I have a landline in my home, an actual phone line that you can call. 

Early on, I kind of became comfortable with a moniker. That oscillation between my life outside, hanging on the street with my hooligan friends, and going back to have sit down dinner with my parents and be a little bit more civilized taught me something. It was very easy for me to oscillate between those mindsets. Now that’s one aspect of the persona that I do enjoy, because the truth is, I think we’re doing that all the time. Whether in private spaces or in public. For me, more than anything, the persona, the music, is like a social uniform that I slip on and off when I’m operating in these spaces.

Are there elements of Noel Skum, as an avatar born of this culture, as opposed to a person being born into it, that need to interact with or agitate against a world that Andrew Clinco is already too dissociated from?

I think it’s half and half. I choose to do it probably because I need to if that makes any sense. I think it’s because I’m so comfortable with it at this point, also the transformation to Deb [Demure] is a little bit more extreme than my VR Sex persona. Noel Skum is a closer association to me, to Andrew, than Deb is.

As far as the music goes, I still don’t even really understand how these songs get made. I don’t understand the magic, it’s just this thing that happens, and I’m the instrument being played. When I listen back to the recordings, I have almost no recollection of writing it or making it at all. We’re really conceiving it and silly as it sounds, I try not to take too much personal ownership over the music. It’s similar to the personas in a way, it makes more sense to give it a name and then you can start to appreciate this other thing that has always been working subconsciously.

VR Sex frontman Noel Skum AKA Andrew Clinco. Photo: Corinne Schiavone

What does the name VR Sex mean to you?

I like to think of VR sex as a medication for society’s ills in that sex is the sole act that leads to procreation. If we’re not having sex, humans are not being made, and the theory that I’m positing is that having less people on this planet might have some positive net returns. So, it’s an absurd concept. Sex is something that drives the most carnal desires in humans, both good and bad. So, I’m conceptualising a merging of the person and machine as a one-to-one experience that mimics that act of human sex and the simulation of what could happen. What kind of result could that have on society? I think it would just be so interesting if procreation or carnal sex became outdated just like things that were once enjoyed in the analogue realm become passé in the virtual.

I like to think of VR sex as a medication for society’s ills. 

Global birth rates are slowing regardless. For thousands of years, disparate peoples stared at the same stars, and envisioned the same ideas of geometry. Communally, the world came to understand shared truths, without being interconnected physically, socially, or culturally. How does VR change that?

There’s no conclusion yet. I feel like once I’ve made my mind up on the kind of conceptual framework of a project, I find myself creatively limited. I like the pliability of proposing ideas and staying within the absurd because, this concept that I’m mentioning, and the possibilities of it, may not even be seen in this lifetime.

There’s an idea that society shifts in step with major developments in media infrastructure. What the radio did for the rise of fascism in the 1930s, or what TV did for news. The internet started out free but its architecture quickly became centred around a few skyscraper corporations. Now, could it also be that the architecture of VR is not already set in stone and is built in the image of the companies controlling it?

Man, this keeps me up at night, too. I don’t know. I’m probably subconsciously scared. But, you know, I’m feeling the temptation that if and when there really is another world that I can inhabit, I just feel like you have to taste it. The first time I tried virtual reality, I was in Tokyo, on LSD, at a virtual reality park. It was hilarious because it was so poorly designed and it didn’t look real at all, and it was just funny because there was nothing about it that was even remotely convincing.

But then, I fell over at one point in the simulation, and I literally fell down in real life. That’s the moment I thought, oh wow, my analytical brain is telling me that this is so stupid but you can’t deny the fact that I actually fell over. So, somewhere, on a cellular level, something about us changes in a big way in VR and that will always be interesting to me. Once it gets really good, I don’t know, it could be like an evolution.