65daysofstatic’s ‘Wreckage Systems’ Pushes Algorithmic Music
“We will not retreat. This band is unstoppable!”
These sampled words, which come at the peak of “Retreat! Retreat!,” an anthemic song by the instrumental post-rock band 65daysofstatic, have long been taken as a rallying cry by fans during their propulsive live gigs. The Sheffield-based quartet’s latest project takes that statement of intent to heart: it is literally unstoppable.
Well, almost. Wreckage Systems is a collection of several dozen algorithmic systems which have been playing continuously—barring the occasional crash—since March 2021. These systems— essentially chunks of music-generating code called things like “Mumble Prime” and “Harp Collateral”—generate everything from soothing ambient soundscapes to spiky drum ‘n’ bass workouts, interspersed with occasional robotically voiced “adverts.” There aren’t any tracks, as such: each system simply plays until its time is up, then passes the baton to the next.
On the project’s YouTube channel, a lo-fi screen displays minimal information about the current system above a scrolling chyron displaying enigmatic messages. Its “devblog” is full of updates that mix nerdy music-making details with droll peeks at life behind the scenes at 65Labs, the sprawling (and largely fictitious) global operation of technicians, bots and servers that keeps the machines running. The overall effect is of a retro dystopia: Spotify in the world of Blade Runner.
“We’ve built this kind of deliberate myth about it—a lot of the blog posts and so on are in character,” says band member Paul Wolinski. “But at the same time, they’re not at all consistent. Obviously, no one really believes it so it’s sort of like theatre, a performance, but it’s not a one-way thing for us. We’re encouraging everyone to go along with it.” Fans on the project’s Discord seem happy to play along, riffing on the idea of a semi-sentient machine ecosystem, fueled by episodes such as a glitch in May when multiple systems started playing simultaneously to create a “relentless 56-minute slab of algo-hyper-noise.”
Wreckage Systems isn’t 65daysofstatic’s first foray into endless music. From their origins in post-rock, their output has steadily become more electronic and experimental. Forays into danceable techno and film scoring eventually led to a commission in 2013 for the soundtrack to the universe simulator No Man’s Sky—or more accurately, an infinite array of soundtracks, since the game’s USP is its never-ending supply of procedurally generated planets to explore.
To meet that challenge, the band recorded both a conventional soundtrack album and hours of related audio snippets and cues that could be reassembled by the game engine to resonate with the player’s environment and actions. That led to the 2018 Decomposition Theory series of concerts, in which audio and visuals were partially generated on the fly each night, with unpredictable results—an approach more akin to the algo-rave and live-coding scenes than to their previous live sets—and then to replicr, 2019, an album’s worth of chilly, heavily computational snippets.
When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, 65daysofstatic, like most bands, found themselves unable to record or tour in person. Unlike most, they were already equipped with algorithms for making new 65daysofstatic music—some of them earmarked for a project to “broadcast” the results to the world. So while releasing compilations of unreleased tracks under a Patreon-supported subscription project, A Year of Wreckage, they also started working on what would become Wreckage Systems.