Pop music and popular culture have long proven fruitful sources of inspiration for harsh noise and harsh noise wall. James Killick’s Love Katy project can probably be considered the pioneering voice in the particular niche of pop music-inspired HNW, and plenty of others have followed suit, such as Killick with his own Carrie, as well as projects inspired by the likes of Garth Brooks and Jane Birkin, on top of a slew of other projects centred around popular culture figures (Chloë, Skönhet, to name two) – which doesn’t even scratch the surface of the many, many individual releases dedicated to some pop star or another. I made some modest contributions to this particular niche under the Panic moniker; 2011’s Hunter C30 did so in name only (it was named after the Björk song and used her image in the artwork – hidden amidst washed-out Xerox textures, though), 2013’s Jewel C30 incorporated samples from the Ayumi Hamasaki song of the same title (and visually was also a truer pop-themed HNW tape), 2014’s BESTie series was the first conscious attempt at pop song length walls (at 12 C10 tapes in all), and the culmination of all this was, evidently, the series of tapes themed around Ariana Grande songs.
One Last Time was the first in the series, announced as follows:
My latest release (and the first in a new series) is dedicated to my #1 pop idol, Ariana Grande, and takes the form of what is essentially a split single, with Ariana’s outstanding track ‘One Last Time’ on side A and my HNW reworking of that same track on side B. Playing them back to back will once more remind you of how wonderfully complementary pop idol fandom and HNW fanaticism are. The inserts and tapes are royally sprayed with the singer’s favourite perfume to ensure complete immersion into Ariana fandom. Full-colour insert on heavy card stock featuring a still from the equally outstanding MV (be sure to check it out) and transparent-golden C7 cassettes. Edition of 4.
All the tenets that would become central to the concept of the would-be series were clear: taking a single song as its theme (and a single at that, no album tracks), it featured the original on the A-side and its HNW counterpart – at the exact same length – on the B-side. The cover featured a single, distinctive screencap from the music video. The insert and tape were sprayed heavily with, initially, Ariana Grande’s favourite perfume, Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb (this was prior to the release of Ariane’s first own perfume; later tapes in the series were sprayed with Ari). I had not conceived of it as a series from the start and had thought One Last Time would be a one-off.
In January of 2016, what had been a one-off initially then became a series with the release of six more tapes, each equally featuring a single Ariana song on the A-side and a wall on the B-side. There were four tapes which featured solo walls: Baby I, Break Free, Focus and Bang Bang. On two other tapes, I collaborated with fellow pop aficionados James Killick (for Right There) and Mitchell Rotunno (for Love Me Harder). Whereas One Last Time had been released in a particularly scant edition size of 4 and had been issued on a transparent tape with golden inner liner, this second batch was released in a slightly more generous (but still small, yet generally genre-appropriate) edition size of 8; the tapes colours were coordinated to the colours of the screencap and overall insert design: Break Free on silver, Baby I on yellow, Focus on aqua, Bang Bang on pink, Right There on transparent ruby red, and Love Me Harder on transparent midnight blue.
The second batch of six Ari tapes was comprised of the then-final entries in the series, and, contrary to another series that had once seemed to have finished but has recently been expanded upon (Down Sluts), I don’t expect this series to be revived. The Ari era up until My Everything I hold in particularly special regard, and while Focus was a very decent single still (even if it could not stack up against earlier bangers), my interest waned with the release of Dangerous Woman, whose titular single I have always found an abomination (though the acapalla video is absolute eye candy); the album itself has also not managed to excite me much. Although there have been some decent things since certainly (Sweetener and thank u, next are decent efforts; her featuring on Nicki Minaj’s Bed elevates the song to something brilliant; 7 Rings was the source for a magnificent dembow flip), the absolute reign of this pop queen, to me, is over. This wall series may stand as a testament to the pop brilliance of Yours Truly and My Everything.
A small final note on the J-cards for these tapes: each featured the title of the album the single was culled from on the reverse underneath Ari’s signature. When Focus was released, it was a stand-alone single; at the time, the rumored follow-up album to My Everything was tentatively titled Moonlight. As such, the J-card for Focus makes mention of Moonlight; in fact, of course, the following album was ultimately called Dangerous Woman. Focus has, in fact, stayed a stand-alone single in Ari’s discography. It is, in the end, an odd duckling that perhaps signified an important transition in Ari’s career. Whichever way, it definitely marked the end of an era.