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South Korean lo-fi shoegaze artist Parannoul’s sophomore album, To See the Next Part of the Dream, is one of those cultural phenomenon drops you remember hitting the timeline. Emerging from a cloud of internet buzz and, conflictingly, mysterious anonymity in early 2021, the self-released body of work sparked instant intrigue; In its blow-up, it was met with critical acclaim which earned it flagship status amidst the budding East Asian shoegaze scene in record time. That’s about where the story of Longinus Recordings begins. A little earlier than the rest of us, as one would expect from a shoegaze geek and avid Rate Your Music user, then 20-year-old Matthew Cruz came across To See to positive astonishment. A 2 a.m. email to Parannoul’s Bandcamp contact, asking the musician if he could make cassettes of his project, would become the catalyst for the college student’s eventual commitment to running a, now, well-rostered independent label from his dorm room in East Lansing, Michigan. Cruz shared with EnVi his insight on the ins and outs of the job, the musical nuances of Asian shoegaze, and the rising global interest in the genre.

Shoegaze from South Korea and Beyond

Plenty have tried to articulate “the thing” about shoegaze. Beyond your standard “atmospheric” or “textural” descriptors, writers tend to resort to analogies of nature, commonalities of the human condition, terminology that reads rather existential — if not straight-up spiritual. Fuzzy guitars, endless feedback, and oftentimes indiscernible vocals that melt together into hazy, reverbed-out walls of sound seem to mark an intersection of shoegaze, dream pop, noise rock, and noise pop legibly understood by most. 

Matthew Cruz describes the genre as “representing a delicate balancing act between texture, rhythm and melody that appears deceivingly simple, while being impossibly complex.” This is the type of music the 23-year-old immerses himself in for hours upon hours a day. “I never stop thinking about it. Shoegaze is my favorite genre. I will probably get my ashes pressed into a [shoegaze] record or something…” he joked over Zoom.

A marketing graduate besides passionate record collector, Cruz owns Longinus Recordings, an independent music label home to names spearheading South Korean shoegaze, Parannoul, Asian Glow, and Della Zyr, with the addition of São Paulo-based sonhos tomam conta. For the last three years, he has been regularly receiving pallets of vinyl records and shipments of cassettes to his house, while working closely with his globe-spanning roster on the practical side of getting their music out into the world — be it through digital and physical releases, or press visibility. A day in his life at work is split between answering label inquiries, packaging orders, and communicating with manufacturers, sound engineers, and the artists themselves about production technicalities. “I wouldn’t say it’s that intensive, but the most demanding days are when I have to fulfill a bunch of orders,” he revealed when asked about handling the workload on his own. “It’s something that comes with practice. I don’t really dread sending out hundreds of vinyl records. I just turn on Seinfeld, or whatever, in the background, and just kind of pack up — it’s really straightforward. […] I would say [that] the quantity of work is high, but the challenge of it is low.”

Defying Conventions through a Non-Western Lens 

From its base in the US, Longinus Recordings addresses an audience scattered across multiple continents, which varies in demographics and demands. When it comes to the role cultural nuances may play in the marketing field, pricing accessibility is the first thing Cruz considers — citing as an example the difference in purchasing power between the won, the yen, and the dollar. “I try to keep my stuff cheap. […] I’ve listened to a lot of music, I’ve bought a lot of music — I don’t like to walk into record stores being like, ‘Why is this CD 20 bucks?’ [But] I know how much these cost to make, even when they’re not making 1000 of them,” he said. As to the sentiment which informs such pragmatic decisions, he is transparent: “I just try to keep in mind [that] I’m a music listener. That’s how I see myself, [not] as some CEO of a big indie label, or somebody who is looking to get a gig in the music industry full time with this.”

The second is press. “I will try and send press releases of [the artists’] albums to journalists in their home country. I’ll usually try and get a good press release written in Korean or Portuguese, and hopefully it can get them on the radar [there], because it’s incredibly hard for them to get press in the US,” Cruz explained, while making the acknowledgment that even someone like Parannoul, whose cult following has managed to set coverage expectations for American music outlets since the release of To See, is “pretty low-hanging fruit as far as the true extent of South Korean indie rock [goes].”

Surely, it can’t be understated how far the West still is from uncovering deeper corners of Asian music. K-pop’s gradual upgrade to mainstream staple over the last few years has opened many doors once thought permanently shut, yet its coverage only scratches the surface of South Korea’s rich, broader musical landscape — let alone wider Asia’s. In historically anglocentric genres like shoegaze and dream pop, the spotlight has perpetually failed to shine on artists on the margins, whose perspectives may have deviated from the solidified canon of European and American styles. Longinus’ mission is to platform those takes: to encourage executions that breathe new life into the scene in their own distinct ways, offering layers of complexity beyond atmosphere and texture. “The reason why I was so attracted to the people on my roster is because I could hear Western sensibilities be subverted, whether that meant incorporating structures from J-rock, or jazzy chords — because one of my artists is from Brazil — or Korean folk music, and instrumental elements and arrangements from that genre, or from their culture,” Cruz shared, emphasizing the importance of his roster’s music’s conceptual nature as a novel contribution to the grand scheme of things. 

“The thing that I think separates my label’s sound is the fact that it’s cosmopolitan, […] novel, and […] more representative of the shoegaze scene now than a lot of the romanticization of [it] now — except for the music that came out 20, or 30 years ago.”

Matthew Cruz

A Matter of Taste and Perspective

Interestingly, 2023 saw shoegaze explode among younger generations. Through TikTok’s enigmatic, musically-aligned algorithm, US-based teen artists like Wisp, quannnic, and flyingfish have found virality unprecedented in the long-sidelined rock subgenre. Of course, somewhat in parallel with Parannoul’s “unorthodox,” tech-exclusive creative methods, this new wave, which has given birth to the hot topic of “Zoomergaze,” doesn’t fully subscribe to traditional shoegaze conventions such as live instrument purism, or even a clearly defined sound mold. In fact, it leans heavily into the idea of revisionism, drawing upon influences across slowcore, nu-metal, and definitive dream pop, — spurred by the anachronistic, similarly TikTok-aided rise to fame of bands like, respectively here, Duster, Deftones, and Beach House, who met their original heyday in the late ‘90s and (in the case of the latter) mid-’00s — while experimenting with stark digital elements reminiscent of hyperpop and alternative hip-hop pockets — in the vein of 2010s-prominent collectives PC Music and Drain Gang. 

It could be regarded as surprising that a number of these online-popular, “bedroom studio” musicians are actually seeing their creations reach beyond algorithmic trends, as they seem to be developing legitimate fanbases, and promptly selling out live shows. In some cases, deals with major record labels have even been signed, while in others, they are being considered. On the other hand, it’s no secret that a pervasive, internet-induced fragmentation of the entertainment sphere, joined by several tangible incidents across the music industry in recent years that have resulted in a collective disillusionment with major player systems, could be hinting towards an imminent rise in the appeal of indie labels for many newcomers looking to be supported on their artistic journey. 

Despite the latter, Cruz doesn’t have plans for Longinus to expand into the Western side of things, placing value on the cultural implications of his label’s presence within the larger scene, and on maintaining its ethos as a facilitator of outsider perspectives. “[My label] is very highly curated from my taste — what I wanna see, and what I think is good,” he casually clarified. “I’m more concerned about releasing good music, and I don’t think that’s temporally bound. I’m not chasing after a trend. I am looking to platform who I see as some of the most visionary artists in this genre from a contemporary standpoint.” Not at all cryptic about his awareness of the ephemerality of his current position, as well as that of music cycles in general, he is also adamant about not holding high hopes for a future in label management. “I do not intend to ever make this a full time job. I’m not crossing my t’s [and] dotting my i’s praying at night like, ‘God, I hope I can get rich off shoegaze,’ because there’s really not that much money in music. As much as some people would like you to believe the contrary, I do this specifically because I love music.” 

“To me, it’s about looking at the past, present, and future of shoegaze and dream pop, and saying, ‘What can I do to leverage my notoriety and resources to bring some attention to stuff that I think is really good?’”

Matthew Cruz

The Next Part of the Dream

So, what does the — near — future hold for Longinus Recordings? Cruz mentioned currently trying to get reissues off the ground, of records he’s loved since he was 17 (the limited edition I Am Not Shinzo Abe vinyl pictured above is one of the label’s latest physical releases). He has also been busy working around Asian Glow’s February 4 drop, titled Unwired Detour — the artist’s last album released under the Asian Glow moniker, or a “dot to that chapter,” as they put it. 

In a time where plenty of international legacy acts still haven’t gotten their due in terms of recognition on a cultural scale, and younger non-US-based musicians struggle to break in the West, Longinus continues to build a name in the industry as a space aimed at exploring and showcasing cosmopolitan, culturally-loaded viewpoints in the shoegaze, noise pop, dream pop and noise rock genres. Cruz is more than selective with his picks, careful with physical release practicalities regarding listenership and costs but, most of all, grateful to have been allowed to contribute to the circulation of projects he considers really important. “I love this music so much, and I’m in the fortunate position where people pay attention to my opinion on it, by how I disseminate music and curate my label,” he shared. “My quality standards are so high, and my commitment to the genre so unwavering that what I’m concerned with is just making sure that good music is getting out there. That comes with time, and I’m not worried about not having the ability to do that — because good music is being made every day.”

Keep up with Longinus Recordings on Instagram, X, Bandcamp, and their website.

Interested in keeping up with the latest news and releases in the music sphere? Check out the latest installment of our Sunday Spin series, here!