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Phonewifey and CY AN are making extreme pop for the terminally online

The pair’s joint project Waifan is a genre-hopping mixtape infused with Web 2.0 nostalgia. Here, they talk the joy of collaboration, the extremities of popular culture, and why Britney Spears is black metal

“I heard your song and it’s trash,” spits Phonewifey in the opening track to Waifan, a joint release between the artist and London musician CY AN. Their voice, a warbling baritone, cuts through the bassline with blunt force. The track is meant as a friendly cipher, each line a playful act of one-upmanship more dialled-up and absurd than the next. “I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, I don’t need to,” CY AN later asserts.

With a friendship dating back over ten years, there’s a frenetic affinity that characterises the pair’s interactions. They met at college in London and formed a band that nearly made it, but disbanded when half the members went to university. CY AN would go on to become a member of FKA twigs’ live band. Phonewifey, now a seasoned regular on Spotify’s hyperpop playlist, studied music and composition at university, before earning a doctorate at King’s College. It wasn’t until 2019, however, that the pair rekindled their friendship and began work on what would ultimately become Waifan.

The pair invoke a DIY attitude to music-making that can be felt in their genre-fluid approach. “The whole process was, ‘what if we just did this’,” explains CY AN. “Space Time”, for example, is a springy marimba house tune, while “Spinner” is a sugary pop song imbued with Web 2.0 nostalgia. AutoTuned croons kick off “I Can Hardly Breathe”, before climaxing into a floor-to-wall EDM breakdown, and “Super Hollywood” is a moody look at mid to late-2000s consumerism. This could be construed as jarring, if not for the intentionality that runs through the album. Like a cohesive string, each song is tied together by a terminally online outlook that blends together sounds and concepts with maniacal glee.

The final track is emblematic of this: the 13-minute epic starts off as an arena indie landfill anthem and ends in a helicopter crash. A pastoral scene breezes through the speakers as we hear a lone survivor jumping into a car and switching on the radio. Easter eggs of discarded songs flicker through the static. “It’s songs that didn’t make the final cut but we’ve repurposed. They’re still on the record but hidden in a back end,” explains CY AN. “Yeah, songs that would appear on the Japan-only CD release,” quips Phonewifey. They both erupt into laughter. 

Below, we speak to CY AN and Phonewifey on the making of Waifan, the joy of collaboration, and why pop is the most extreme form of music.

How did you both meet?

Phonewifey: We met at college in a music tech studio. We were both doing A-level and had a band called the VC Spectrum Enigma, which was pure synth pop. But we all had really different trajectories for a while, like I went to uni and studied composition and this overlapped with CY, who started to work with twigs. She actually played our final gig at the Roundhouse, which was a comical disaster. 

CY AN: (laughs) It was an industry showcase and I thought it was going to be our big break. But it did the exact opposite. Though I don’t think that was because of the gig itself, but rather my reaction to it. 

Phonewifey: We’d managed to do one song really well which twigs was a guest vocalist on, so it ended well!

What was the pull towards music?

Phonewifey: I couldn’t escape it. My parents were both musicians. My dad played viola da gamba, so he was into English baroque and Renaissance music. My mum was a violinist and used to play with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. So I’ve always been around it.

My dad was really into Bob Dylan and Bach. I think he thought that was about as good as music could get. So that cultivated an interest in alternative music and pop. But the stuff that really hit me first was nu-metal and then dance music. CY was trying to make proto industrial, neo 80s stuff at the time.

CY AN: All of my family love music, they think it’s a really big deal that I make music.

Phonewifey: The burden!

CY AN: I wanted to make music from as far back as I can remember. As soon as I started secondary school I had already formulated everything I wanted to do with it. I turned up to a guitar lesson and was like, ‘cool thanks. I know how to play guitar now’.  On the first day of school I walked around picking who would be in my band. I was probably around 13-14 years old (laughs).

As soon as I became interested in making music, I became interested in recording music too. I had a little tape machine that you could overdub on and a little guitar and a shit mic and one of those Yamaha keyboards, like ‘DJ, DJ, ONE, TWO’. There was a programme on Windows XP that was an audio recorder that you could record things onto but never hear any of it back ever again.

Phonewifey: It’s crazy what you used to make music on before you get access to a real DAW right? I used that Playstation 2 game MTV Music Maker 2 to write my first EP.

CY AN: Oh yeah like Music 2000. But it wasn’t until I was 14 that someone gave me a cracked copy of Cubase, and that’s when I started making electronic music.

So, how did you get back to working together again?

Phonewifey: It was when CY came back from tour in mid-2019 and we reconnected and started making music together again. That’s all the material for this record. The vibe was, ‘come around, bring your laptop, I’ve got my laptop’ – it was just total freedom. We generally put files together on my computer and would make a lot of the tunes on CY’s. 

CY AN: You’ve got extraordinary executive function.

Phonewfiey: I’ve got a 17-inch thing that’s plugged into this Animus sort of cockpit of dreams. 

CY AN: Yeah and I’ve got a cracked-up laptop that has been travelling around the world. It’s seen a lot and refuses to do most of it. 

How similar are your approaches to making music?

CY AN: The thing that we’ve always connected on is having a similar perspective to hearing pop as extreme music. Like, Loreen’s (2012 Eurovision track) “Euphoria” is one of the most extreme songs ever made. “Til The World Ends” by Britney (Spears) is black metal. Convince me otherwise.

Phonewifey: In the way in which grindcore is intentionally overwhelming because it’s fast and distorted – it’s a sensory overload – there’s a more sugary version of that baked into pop music. We’re always looking for the most extreme emotion out of music.

CY AN: Similar to how the Fast & Furious films are the extreme art of spectacle – the extremities of popular culture.

Phonewfiey: The scene that got me in Fast & Furious 8 is when it starts raining cars in the bit where all the electrics in the city have taken over. In the context of a bombastic action film, that scene is narratively justified because a megalomaniacal villain is taking over. It makes sense but it’s giant and sensational. That scene in the abstract is the most beautiful and chaotic thing I’ve ever seen.

“The thing that we’ve always connected on is having a similar perspective to hearing pop music as extreme music” – CY AN

Is Waifan the sonic version of cars raining?

Phonewifey: I’d love to think that but I think there’s music that embodies cars raining a lot better. The album is very free associative, I think. We ended up in a space where we were building on sketches. Like, I’ve made this marimba house and then we’ll add a giant fucking wedge of organ and play some omnious chords.

CY AN: The whole process can be boiled down to: ‘what if we just did this?’

How would you describe the sound?

Phonewifey: It is inherently inconsistent in a really intentional and vibrant way. It starts off as mixtape rap and then ends up in the melodic EDM sphere. Then there’s some emo rap, lo-fi with massive 808s. Then there’s the hardstyle Skrillex track. 

The last track starts off in a stadium and ends in a helicopter crash. What was the thinking behind this?

CY AN: This was probably the most ‘what if’ part of the record. The last track pans out from an Indie Landfill anthem and then it pans out at 50,000 people at Knebworth. 

Phonewifey: And then we were like what if someone was crying, walking through the crowd at a stadium.

CY AN: And then they jump into a helicopter and crash into a field. Then they move through this pastoral scene and have to find a car back into civilisation. 

It seems emblematic of the record as a whole. This idea of leaning towards chaos.

Phonewifey: I’m comically put together for someone who loves chaos. I am a beacon for chaos, all my friends are deeply chaotic people and I get a warmth from it. Even though I don’t personally embody it, aesthetically I’m simpatico.

CY AN: For me, it’s a totally unavoidable thing. It’s the most natural state, it’s always there trying to burst through the cracks.

What are your plans for the future?

Phonewifey: We both have albums dropping this year: I won’t spoil anything for CY but I’m finishing up a full length project that’s kinda like a straightforward pop record but also it’s entirely weird and destroyed itself halfway through. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to use more mainstream tropes in my music but still preserve the frenetic intensity of the sound I’ve been developing. It harkens back to what CY said about thinking of pop music as a form of extreme music and really leaning into that, and like actually presenting it in that way. Idk if that will make any sense but stay tuned.

CY AN: I have a collection of songs, a triptych of triptychs, coming out over the rest of the year/start of next. I think it's my Coldplay record but you’ve heard it and I think you know better than me!