Feeding the Troll: An Interview With Proangelwings – Telekom Electronic Beats

Feeding the Troll: An Interview With Proangelwings

Words by elissastolman

We had a heady tête-à-tête with the most infamous tête-à-claques on Resident Advisor: the anonymous and garrulous commenter known as Proangelwings, who’s more than just a troll.

All commenters on Resident Advisor are created equal, but there’s a pseudo-meritocracy at work that rewards the most outspoken and divisive voices. Some posters’ contributions routinely get upvoted and appear at the top of a thread, burying less-popular remarks. Well-known commenters even draw traffic to the site because readers are keen to see their reaction to a given piece (sometimes more than the article itself). And among this class of prominent commentators, there is one account that’s more prominent than the rest, and its name is Proangelwings.

Proangelwings has cultivated renown among Resident Advisor’s staff and readership in part through sheer persistence; there’s a comment from the account on most articles that appear on the site, usually in the form of brief and trivial ejaculations. The content of its more extended posts, which range from witty jokes, mind-bending techno memes, and strident critiques of releases or vivisections of RA’s reviews and writers, have bolstered its reputation as RA’s most visible troll. In some senses, Proangelwings’ logorrheic contributions to the site have become as integral and notable as those of the staff writers, some of whom Tweet about the account, as do PR agents, label owners, and DJs including Anthony Parasole, South London Ordnance, and Objekt.
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Yet as the account’s infamy and divisive reputation grow, the person responsible for it remains as elusive as ever. The mystery that shrouds Proangelwings’ identity has inspired speculation that it’s a secret alias run by the notoriously outspoken DJ Scuba or Chris from the now-defunct blog mnml ssgs. Hours of obsessive sleuthing by yours truly uncovered little conclusive evidence about the poster’s identity, besides suggestions that he’s a boy, he once lived in Japan, and now resides in New York City. So I went directly to the source and contacted Proangelwings via RA’s internal messaging service to ask for an interview.

Although I was initially keen to investigate the person behind the account, any desire to discover or reveal his identity eroded over the course of our exchange. In terms of what’s interesting about Proangelwings, I submit that his anonymity is a red herring, and that what is notable about this Internet shitposter is that he’s willing to talk candidly and at length on virtually any topic related to electronic music. His openness about all subjects aside from himself is a rare quality in an interview subject, but more importantly, it’s a sign of optimism about the potential rewards of participating in user-generated online discussions.

True to form, Proangelwings was loquacious in our email exchange and eager to opine on the pros and cons of RA and other music sites, the function and effects of comments sections, and trends in underground electronic music. We deliberated on the potential for comments sections to foster populist feedback to the publications that monopolize conversations about contemporary culture, and the grim reality that participants rarely actualize that capacity in practice. That is, user-generated social media platforms present opportunities for readers to respond to and digest the media they consume, but for the most part, comments sections and sites like Twitter seem to bring out the worst in their participants. Even generally cool people misrepresent their IRL assets by posting petty or bitchy notes on Twitter and/or other public forums. It’s much easier to be dismissive and rude in public when the witnesses to your dismissive and rude behavior are invisible and intangible, because on some level you forget that they’re even there.

There’s something complex and disheartening about the fact that these messages are not just uttered but published and recorded in a public forum like Twitter, the r/techno sub-Reddit, or the RA comments section. A post that lambasts, say, the author of a 75-word blog post compliments the poster by identifying him as someone who can spot such a breach of conduct and who furthermore won’t stand idly by and let violations against the integrity of music/writing go unchecked, and the Tweeter endorses this message by publishing it on the front page of an Internet profile that exists to reflect or refract some aspect of the user’s identity. It’s meant to cast the Tweeter as a daring integrity and authority, the sort of person who isn’t afraid to call bullshit when they see it.

What’s depressing is that pointing out rubbish does little to rid the world of rubbish, and that other social media users, as well as the sites themselves, seem to reward nasty statements more often than constructive ones. These platforms are built for brief, impulsive reactions over carefully-considered and/or longform compositions, and users are more likely to click on or share a link to an article they think is atrocious than one that they think is well-done, which is tacit encouragement to be flippant and mean. And the fact that the conditions are biased toward insolent and shallow responses destroys exactly what is worthwhile about discussing music with other people, which to me is its potential to enlighten and provide insight.

During our email exchange, Proangelwings told me that he posts in the RA comments section rather than other platforms like Reddit and 4chan because it’s the best one available—not because the conversations are deep and meaningful. Proangelwings’ willingness to engage in the least horrible dialogue about electronic music is a twisted sort of optimism, because his participation is affirmation that there are some potential rewards to talking about music, even if the environment in which those conversations take place make it almost impossible to be capacious and considerate. I’m not sure I share that optimism.

Obviously, I’d like to start with asking you to tell me as much about yourself as you feel comfortable revealing. 

12/F/NYC/Asian…Just kidding, sorry. I just don’t really want to give too much info about myself online.

And I’m curious as to when and why you started the Proangelwings account.

I started posting under various names around 2008, a year or so after I started getting into electronic music, and settled on Proangelwings in like, 2009. Proangelwings isn’t a concentrated effort to “be a troll” and there’s no motive nor incentive behind posting as Proangelwings beyond wanting to express my own opinion on electronic music. I grew up on forums/text/image boards MMOs/RPGs/games/whatever, so it’s always been natural for me to join communities for discussion surrounding whatever I’ve been interested in.

I’m also keen to know how long you’ve been into techno/electronic music, how you got into it, and how you’d characterize your taste.

I’ve only really been into it for a little more than half a decade. I got introduced to it through watching Counter-Strike and World of Warcraft videos. That’s a really awful way to get introduced to music, but before then I’d just been listening to grindcore and local-ish hardcore bands. Actually, one of the first tracks I remember liking a lot was Justice’s “Waters of Nazareth.” I’m from a really white suburb, and at that time (around 2007) all white kids listened to was guitar music, so telling people I was into A State of Trance, Justice, and Deadmau5 was some groundbreaking shit.

A little later someone introduced me to Basic Channel and I fell in love with “Phylyps Trak” and “Quadrant Dub.” For a couple years, I became a hyper-consumer and listened to everything electronic under the sun. Nowadays it’s 90% techno and 10% ambient for relaxing at home. Recently I’ve been a huge fan of Stanislav Tolkachev, everything on Untold’s offshoot label, that new Lee Gamble album (fuck!! it’s good), and I love everything coming out of the Droid Behavior camp. They throw great parties, and I’ve been to every single one in NYC. I’ve also slowly been going through STL’s discography. He’s one of my favorite producers of all time.

Have you seen people speculate about who you are? If so, what do they assume? I’ve heard several people guess that you’re Chris from the Japan-based mnml ssgs blog, but I don’t think you are because I found a thread on RA from 2012 about something he wrote, and you had commented on it from a since-deleted account on RA. You mention that you lived in Japan in that thread, but it seems that now you live in New York, which is further evidence that you’re not Chris.

Jesus, you found a thread from my deleted account years ago. *Real trap shit voice* daAaamN sOn wHered ya FiNd tHAAaaAt. I’m not Chris from mnml ssgs, but someone asked me if I was Scuba, which I found strange because if I were him I’d make Triangulation, Part 2 instead of whatever he’s doing now. I occasionally get the odd marriage proposal.

How long have you been reading RA, and why do you only seem to comment there instead of also lingering other sites (electronic music ones or otherwise). Do you even read other sites? 

I see RA as a good balance of being an actual authority on a pretty niche market, while also providing a decent platform for discussion that actually gets read. I like to use Pitchfork as a polar opposite example of RA. Pitchfork provides no opportunity for reader feedback—they just (somewhat arbitrarily) appointed themselves authorities on “new music.” I try to avoid sites like Reddit, which for the most part quite literally encourages hivemind mentality. You can bury dissenting opinions or posts you don’t like to the point that a user can automatically be ignored.

You said there’s no motive behind Proangelwings, and you’re not trying to troll electronic music or RA or RA readers, and that you just want to express your opinions, a desire and impulse that was ingrained in you as a former forum kid. But are there any specific opinions (on music, or on music writing) that you want to communicate? I ask because some of your comments are aimed at the site, like recommendations for expanding the ratings system to rank from 1-10 or critiques of specific writers.

If I had any kind of a general message that I’m trying to convey on a subconscious level, or any message that’s prevalent in my posts, it’s that I really hope people will listen to music and make judgments for themselves. There are few things I hate more than a hivemind mentality, and you can really see that manifest in music trends, like the obsession with “bass music” that happened a few years ago. Bass music was a fad, and to everyone now it’s clear as day that it’s just about run out of steam, but if people had stepped back and pulled their heads out of [the now-defunct distributor] STHoldings’ asshole for half a second during the mad craze for bass music releases, they would have realized that the majority of that garbage was trendy and, most importantly, didn’t even sound good. Nobody even wants to be associated with bass music anymore because it’s that embarrassing.

By the way, I recognize that there are still record labels doing good work, like Keysound Recordings—but Dusk & Blackdown have been doing that thing for a decade now, and never really made adjustments to ride on bass music hype.

But, again, it’s really a stretch to say that I actively try to transmit this message, because I make a ton of meaningless posts just for laughs. I mean, I could try to construe meaning out of my one word “lol” and “nice” posts, but I’d just be bullshitting. I don’t have brand loyalty. As a consumer, as a music fan, and as a forum shitposter, I’ve never really had a problem with moving with the times. So, with RA, it’s not that I particularly like it, it’s just that at this point in time, there’s no better platform on the Internet to have your voice heard about underground electronic music than RA. Where else should I go to discuss dance music? dubstepforum?? Or some dead techno forum that gets a post every other week, like Subsekt? Or 4chan, where everyone is so busy trying to make a distinction between “ladhouse” and real house music? None of these other places really foster any interesting discussion.

Beyond tangible reasons like the size of the site’s readership, or the specific genre a music site covers, it’s really hard to articulate why exactly I choose to post specifically on RA. I feel like the RA demographic is a big part of why posting on RA is interesting. It’s not only dance music fans, but also the DJs and producers who are written about.

Also, RA seems to focus more on content than presentation. All these other sites seem more focused on presenting artists that are “getting big” or “doing big things” and then leveraging these artists’ momentum and fueling hype. RA, at the very least, reviews so many releases, releases for lesser known artists, without too much of an obvious agenda in mind, and even often straight-up shits on new and/or unknown artists. That feels kind of real to me. I’m starting to sound like a shill for RA, but believe me, if there was a better place to talk about the music I listen to, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

This is why sometimes I’m vocal about the site. I figure that, if RA is going to be a reliable place to discuss and learn about underground dance music, they might as well do it well, and that’s why I’ll sometimes say stuff like, “Hey, maybe we should change to a rating out of 10 system, because this release is 3/5 and so is this other release, but they’re just so different in terms of quality that it’s kind of not fair.”

Why do you think it’s important to voice your opinions and respond to or discuss the media you consume?

That’s easy; it’s because the media we consume is so directly influenced by the Internet. That’s a canned response, sorry. The discussion about dance music exists on review sites now. I guess it also happens on forums, and podcasts, so when you think about tracking trends, the evidence of what’s popular doesn’t exist solely as SoundCloud or YouTube hits, or on Twitter. Trends are also dictated (or indicated) by comments sections and places like dubstepforum.

Were you motivated to become a prominent opinion-expresser? Would you have lost interest in commenting if you hadn’t gotten so much attention for it?

It really wasn’t until recently that I thought anyone paid a lick of attention to my posts. Almost the entire reason for doing Proangelwings would be for me to have a no-filter outlet for saying what I think about a topic I’m interested in, and if I started adjusting my posts for upvotes or because people think I’m funny or whatever, I’d stop posting, because then it’s completely pointless for me. I think it’s important to keep in mind just how transient things on the Internet are—especially a person’s reputation. One moment somebody’s a hero or a funny and witty Internet personality, and the next moment he lets a racial epithet slip or somebody finds out he likes to get pegged by his girlfriend, and everyone’s shitting on him. So in short, no, I would not let attention dictate the contents of my posts through the Proangelwings account.

You used Pitchfork as a counter-example for what RA does well, or what you like about RA. You said that Pitchfork is the opposite of RA because it doesn’t allow readers to comment, so there’s an authoritarian element to the role it plays in the music industry. What power or agency do you gain when you’re allowed to comment on articles and reviews? Do comments sections undermine the authority of a website?

In short, obviously not. In RAs case, I think having a comments section actually gives the site more credibility and makes it more “relevant” within the context of underground dance music. The “Hey QT” thread, for instance, probably defined the backlash against PC Music. RA’s comments section is the cornerstone of the backlash against that release, and just having that position exist at all in the scene is good for the website’s credibility.

The top-rated comments on RA's "Hey QT"-related thread.
The top-rated comments on RA’s positive review of “Hey QT.”

Although it seems more democratic to allow readers to comment, in practice it doesn’t seem like that potential is often realized. Comments sections usually don’t seem like sites of individual agency where readers and consumers are talking back to authoritarian media outlets. On the contrary, they seems to foster pettiness, thoughtless kneejerk reactions, and shrill bickering. Do you think comments sections foster as many negative effects as good ones?

It really depends how you approach comments sections. It’s hard to make a sweeping generalization of comments sections, because different sites with different demographics breed different comments sections. I really love reading WorldStarHipHop comments because they can present insightful ideas and things you can relate to in a funny way without taking itself too seriously, but I don’t think I could read all the redundant politically correct shit in the Huffington Post’s comments.

To that end, do you think Proangelwings takes on some of the attributes of comments sections, since that’s the only medium in which the persona exists? When you’re posting as Proangelwings, do you find yourself at times posting stuff that you regret later? I guess part of this question is about how you think Proangelwings as a persona is perceived, and how you want it to be perceived, and whether it’s hard to be nice, considerate, intelligent, and contemplative rather than shallow, petty, and impulsive.

Hell yeah, dude. Proangelwings can only exist as a commentator. As an addendum to this, I think it’s important to know that if you take on an Internet persona that doesn’t completely reflect your attitude in real life, you have to know your limits. A good example I’d use for this would be RATCHETT TRAXXX. While he was pretty funny on Twitter when he first popped up, and while I still agree with a lot of the things he says, it doesn’t translate well to his artist persona and career. His Twitter persona is brash, outspoken, ALL-CAPS-FAUX-MISSPELLING-AND-I-PRETEND-NOT-TO-UNDERSTAND-PUNCTUATION, but it’s completely inconsistent with the music that he makes, so his tracks don’t reflect his personality well at all. In the end, that just comes off as a gimmick, and having a social gimmick as an artist is detrimental to the longevity and integrity of your artist career 99% of the time.

That’s why I wouldn’t leverage my RA Proangelwings comments section persona beyond the scope of “dance music discussion participant,” because that’s where Proangelwings belongs.

I’m trying to get at a potential discrepancy between your online persona and how you act in real life, and if such a discrepancy exists, why you might be compelled to act differently on the Internet than you would in real life. So, firstly, do you act differently in real life, or is Proangelwings a pretty accurate representation of what you’re like as a person?

I don’t think anyone’s perspective on how they are in person matches up 100% with how they actually come off to others. To be fair with myself, I wouldn’t say anything online that I wouldn’t say in person. Among friends who are into house/techno/whatever, I still hold the same opinions. It’s important to remember that there’s no 1:1 translation for online persona to how someone actually is in person. The format of communication dictates the way people act. It’s funny and cool to post epic all lowercase or all caps one-liners online, but imagine if people actually acted like that in person.

That being said, to answer your question, I don’t ACT like Proangelwings, but 99% of my opinions on music and whatever else pretty much aligns with what I actually think, and when I talk about music with folks, my opinion usually reflects what I say on RA. How someone acts and what someone thinks and says in person are two totally different things, and it’s impossible to act like you do on a forum because real life isn’t a comments section.

Basically, this line of questioning comes from my own theory/experience that platforms for user-generated online discussion encourage people to act like boners. So for instance, I used to get more likes/RTs/interactions when I Tweeted negative or derisive gossip than when I Tweeted positive things, which I took as tacit encouragement to be a bitch. I don’t think all your comments as Proangelwings are boneheaded; some are quite insightful, and I reckon the account is popular because people often agree with what you write. I’m more curious about whether you feel a similar pressure, or how much you think about how Proangelwings comes off to other people, or how worried you are about seeming like an asshole to people who know you as Proangelwings. It’s easier for you not to worry about this stuff because you remain anonymous, but I’m more confused by like, music writers and DJs and PRs who Tweet critical and downright mean stuff on a regular basis, because their identities are tied to their accounts, and so their behavior reflects directly on them.

Your theory sounds about right. Idiots get an emotional high out of saying negative shit for no reason and the proverbial peanut gallery gives them even more encouragement to do so—”Yeah!! haha!! owned!!!!” Personally, I wouldn’t call something out or say something negative without a reason and an opinion actually formed by myself as opposed to just following the general narrative. This is what I can’t stand the most in music: people who even bother to open their mouths just to parrot the common narrative that is often uninformed and completely stupid.

You can comment on this piece…on RA.