I Was There for the Real Vibe Shift
A psychedelic excursion into the world of internet clout one year ago
Writing is the art of weaving together different narrative threads to make clear their underlying connections in a transformative, dialectical way; a good writer always makes note whenever things in the world just line up too perfectly. The other week my friend Devon Welsh sent me a link to a Dean Kissick tweet celebrating the one-year anniversary of the great “Vibe Shift.”
I have been meaning to write about that trip to New York for a while because of its significance in my move to the city later that year. Devon is an interesting character I’ve wanted to introduce in this Substack: he’s a Canadian musician who played in the indie-electropop group Majical Cloudz from 2010–16 (I remember seeing his band’s music in Pitchfork’s top 50 albums of the year lists back when I was in college) and now lives a pretty zen existence deep in the woods of central Wisconsin, where he creates music and art that mostly avoids the clout-seeking behaviors that the music industry demands. Devon and I became internet friends and content collaborators when I was creatively destroying the old “M. Crumps” persona (which had become stagnant and confused in part because of the toxic, egoic incentives of social media), which was at a time when pandemic isolation was pushing people to seek more “real” social connections on the internet. So when I met Devon for the first time in person in New York last year, we had already talked a lot over our regular Twitch streams and poetry writing group meetings that Devon organized over Zoom.
The New York trip was literally a deeply psychedelic excursion into the world of internet clout. First of all, going to New York City itself is already like walking inside the Twitter feed. And on that particularly beautiful early June weekend the city was oozing with ecstatic, joyous release, with new life, which seemed to be because most people had been vaccinated and bars were open and now people felt safe and motivated to go out and live again, or at least that’s what some of the locals were telling me. It was against this background that Devon and I shared a glowing psilocybin experience (my first psychedelic trip in several years), had a fascinating meeting with the guys from Chapo Trap House at a virtual music/comedy festival they were organizing, and was briefed on the new scene known as “Dimes Square.”
So when Devon and I saw that Dean Kissick and some of alt-lit’s angelicist heirs (who are genealogically related to but aesthetically and ideologically opposed to my own writing) were memorializing this particular timeframe, June 1–5, as the moment that the Vibe Shift happened—that catchy, annoying, nebulous, intriguing, contagious meme about the cycles of cultural transformation that’s been popping up everywhere—it was as if the stars were aligning and the gods were returning to the earth to tell me to make concrete the abstract “Vibe Shift” by weaving into it my own personal narrative of transformation. Devon was right—I had to investigate further.
Dean Kissick and the Angelicist Vibe Shift
To tell this story I first had to know what the angelicists were on about with the June 1–5 thing in the first place. Why then? This was not at all obvious, and their form of writing is notoriously impenetrable by design. And had I just assumed that they were talking about with the “vibe shift” was the palpable post-pandemic joyous life energy I witnessed that weekend in New York, I could be hopelessly, embarrassingly wrong. Indeed, when I asked Dean what the deal with June 1–5 was, he said that it certainly didn’t have anything to do with people being vaccinated, that New York had already opened up with the George Floyd protests, that the vibe shift was “essentially a meme, a very online whisper on the wind, and doesn’t really mean or refer to anything,” and that nothing concrete realty happened on those dates. The idea of a “Vibe Shift” as it took off in the mainstream media comes from a guy named Sean Monahan, who wrote a Substack post called “Vibe Shift” on June 9, 2021 that uses the term and soon went viral, but Sean’s concept of vibe shift is unrelated to the real vibe shift that Dean is talking about, which supposedly comes from angelicism01. Sean lives in LA anyway, not New York, and the vibe shift ultimately has very little to do with things happening in New York, despite whatever connections it seems to have with the downtown social-aesthetic-ideological sceneworld. Dean referred me to a Wet Brain podcast that he said was the best source on this.
This podcast was recorded in February 2022, right around the time when The Cut wrote an article called “The Vibe Shift Is Coming. Will Any of Us Survive It?” that credited Sean Monahan as the originator of the term. I listened to it—no answer to the question I had about what exactly happened on June 1–5. The general idea I got from the podcast was that angelicism01 and his online literary circle came up with the idea of the vibe shift, which is really about “network spirituality,” and that Sean Monahan was stripping it of its angelicist zoomer avant-garde context and making it about the aging anxiety of millennial ex-hipsters, and then treacherously getting clouted by The Cut for it. I’ll get into more detail about Sean later, but at this point I’m much more interested in the June 1–5 thing, which I learned has nothing to do with him.
To try to pin down the June 1–5 thing, I reached out to people that I saw repeating the line about the vibe shift happening on those dates. So I DM’d Wet Brain hosts Walt and Honor (who discuss the date of the vibe shift on their podcast but don’t really give a good explanation for why, and they also claim that they personally experienced the vibe shift happen on another date in July for equally impenetrable reasons), I DM’d Satya Paul (who mentions the June 1–5 thing on his Substack), and I DM’d Sophia Vanderbilt/@alivegirl001101 (who discusses the June 1–5 thing on the Wet Brain podcast with Walt and Honor). I heard back from Walt and Satya, who basically said “you just had to be there.” Well, I was there, I said, I was on the internet with you guys and I also happened to be in New York City for that particular moment of joyous IRL metamorphosis. Walt told me “Idk I think Sean Monahan invented it ask him.” Satya reiterated that the vibe shift happened online and not in New York and pointed me to his Substack:
what feels radical about the great VIBE SHIFT, 1–5 June 2021 is how in a time with algorithmically dominated feeds, in a post-Blog Era, a phenomenon emerged that was the result of a few individuals and entities working in sync, yet without coordination, that was so palpable that everyone seeing it could feel something… following the great VIBE SHIFT, 1–5 June 2021 were a number of imitative ‘Vibe Shift’s, notably the Vibe Shift substack aggregator which sought to attach itself to the clout/followings of more established substacks such as angelicism01 and yours truly in order to astroturf newer substack projects into that ‘realm’ as well as sharing email mailing lists, though the substacks that existed prior to the vibe shift aggregator were not part of this
The best clue for my purposes is in angelicism01’s Substack post “Somebody Please Columbine The Entire The Cut Editorial Staff”—a picture of a tweet from a now-deleted angelicism clone account from June 6, 2021 that says: “The Great VIBE SHIFT, 1-5 June 2021. Where were you?” That’s the evidence for why the angelicists are the real vibe shifters, and Monahan just a vibe grifter. The angelicism clone used the term just days before Monahan’s Substack post, and they have the receipts! As for what actually happened on June 1–5, that’s still as obscure as when I started asking. Recently I saw Dean Kissick post something about how his birthday falls right around this time, so I vaguely suspect that the whole thing had to do with making some esoteric mythology around his birthday party, with the vibe shift being the ritual of his coronation as the downtown scene king and the ambassador for the angelicist movement in New York City. I hope that’s what it is, for there to at least be something concrete and IRL and fun and not just vague internet art-theory mumbojumbo, for there to be a real story. But whatever the story was, none of the angelicists wanted to tell it, so I realized that the true meaning of the June 1–5 thing was to claim that the morsels of clout from the vibe shift concept are rightfully theirs.
June 1–5 was thus an entirely empty signifier, leaving it vulnerable to my literary violence and recontextualization. I would no longer need to weave my story into that of the angelicists at all, I would simply scribble irreverently over their void. Devon and I experienced the true Vibe Shift, and just as Sean Monahan had supposedly stolen the concept from the angelicists the first time, with this Substack post I would steal it from them once more.
In the Wilderness of Vibes…
Before I came to New York my existence was purely virtual. My DC life was thus: take Adderall and go to work copyediting World Bank reports, build my Twitter brand by picking fights with megalomaniacal cranks of Frogtwitter over their misreadings of old philosophers, read PDFs about psychoanalysis, walk home from work to smoke weed (ordered from the internet) and listen to drone music. Inasmuch as I had a social life it was simply recording episodes of the Jouissance Vampires podcast with my friend and Lacanian theory mentor, Daniel Tutt. I didn’t like going out in public because all the people you could ever see there have that look like they could turn into agents from The Matrix at any moment. Then the pandemic freed me from the office, freed me from the humiliation of dressing like any other DC young-professional bourgeois, but it was perfectly continuous with the long inward period that preceded it. The incel period. The Virginia dude version of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, though I managed to keep my day job. Perhaps this is why angelicism01 now calls me a “de-extincted f****t,” because I gave up what was formerly “angelic” about me to come to New York, I un-cancelled myself and ceased to be the “incel whisperer,” ceased to be another node in the anti-woke bourgeois pseudointellectual digital hivemind.
I met Devon on Twitter in the revolutionary summer of 2020 when he DM’d me after reading some of my writings on incels, and we got along well immediately. This was at a time when I was rethinking the entire trajectory of my writing and figuring out how to transition from a static fixation on irony-poisoned extremely-online subcultures toward some real, material radical political commitment that matched the militant uprisings happening at the time. There were some good things in my earlier writings that I think Devon was correct to recognize, but I felt that my project had come to a dead end. And trying to draw some latent subversive kernel of truth out of incel mass shooter screeds looked particularly silly at a time when it was the liberal-left “normies” who were getting radicalized enough to go out and break stuff.
The biggest problem with my writing was that, in trying to make an original critique of the incels and Frogtwitter and other reactionary tendencies, I had unconsciously internalized their values, basically a result of trying to tweet my way into a writing career. Social media rewards reactionary resentment and satisfying the prejudices of the ignorant. Twitter urges you to become a comedian, and comedy is a deeply sinister art. In some sense, this is a problem right at the core of the “Dirtbag Left,” which I was politically aligned with at the time, even though I found the discursive mysticism of Frogtwitter more interesting. Both reproduce a kind of incel subjectivity in their audiences, which is the essence of “populism” in the digital age. But digital populism only really works for the Frogtwitter rightists, who are outright asocial and get exactly what they wanted with Trump and “owning the libs” and all that, whereas the Dirtbag Leftists always struggle to reconcile their unconscious asocial tendencies with meaningful socialist organizing. But where the Dirtbag Leftists succeed is in sometimes finding mainstream respectability and fame, whereas Frogtwitter rightists remain loser chuds begging for money on Gumroad. The exception to this, of course, is Red Scare, which started out ostensibly aligned with the Dirtbag Left but gradually incorporated the aesthetics of Frogtwitter and helped popularize it for New York City’s young tastemaking bourgeoisie.
In the winter of 2020/21, Devon and I started a weekly Twitch stream where we did close readings of Erowid trip reports. Even though the psychedelic motif has been recurring in my recent writings, at that time neither of us had taken any psychedelics in years. On the stream we would take turns reading interesting trip reports out loud and then discuss them—we started with the common psychedelics and then got to more obscure research chemicals and even the spooky deliriant datura. This little project was intended to be the opposite of my readings of incel texts. Whereas my reading of the incel texts identified in their anonymous voices of absolute negativity some ironic truths that (allegedly) can be sussed out by thinking like a savvy psychoanalyst, our readings of Erowid trip reports emphasized the ways that the anonymous internet authors were earnestly trying to liberate their minds. Both investigations were close readings of “weird internet texts,” but Devon and I were determined to move on from the sad passions of the incels toward the joyous passions of the psychonauts. Aptly marking this transition, our first stream explored the report of an incel-adjacent person whose LSD trip helped them rethink how they relate to other people in a groovy, constructive, and hopeful way. This Substack post is an Erowid trip report.
In spring 2021 Devon told me he was going to visiting New York City at the beginning of June and that we should meet up, since I was only four hours away by bus. His girlfriend, Nika (better known by her stage name, Zola Jesus), was booked to perform in a half-podcast half-music festival headlined by Chapo Trap House that would be livestreamed from Elsewhere in Brooklyn. I had just been vaccinated and was dying to get out of DC, so I agreed, and we booked an Airbnb in Williamsburg for a long weekend in early June.
THE M. CRUMPS VIBE SHIFT
Tuesday, June 1–Wednesday, June 2, 2021
On these days I prepared for the vibe shift.
Thursday, June 3, 2021
On this day I spawned IRL in New York City after several years of purely virtual internet existence based in the Washington, DC area and met Devon and Nika in person for the first time at the Airbnb on Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, a few blocks from McCarren Park. They were coming from their goth-hippie existence deep in the taiga of central Wisconsin. It’s Trump country, sure, but the people there are apparently pretty chill for the most part, in a Midwesty/Canada-adjacent way. It was cute how flustered Devon and Nika were by the hustle-and-bustle of the city. I couldn’t exactly relate—I found it rejuvenating, and I felt like I had seen a greater variety of “types of people” on the first subway ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn than I had seen in months, if not years, in DC. The ambient vibes of the city were utopian.
I didn’t bring any weed on the Amtrak because I read online that they sometimes bring drug dogs on the train, and since I’m a cat that’s already gone through a bunch of his nine lives, I was definitely not trying to lose another one here. It wouldn’t be hard to find weed and other drugs in NYC anyway, and Devon and Nika already had some numbers. But we soon found out their best plug wouldn’t be available until the next day, and none of us were aware of how many bodegas and headshops there are that openly sell weed without the mediation of the internet.
When I was on the train up to NYC, I saw on Twitter that the popstar Grimes, Devon’s college ex-girlfriend, was trending because she had made a TikTok talking about how artificial intelligence would lead to communism and a world without work. “So basically, everything that everybody loves about communism but without the collective farm,” she says of AI’s promise in the video. “Because, let’s be real, enforced farming is really not a vibe.”
Friday, June 4, 2021
At around 9AM Devon woke me up because the delivery person arrived and we had to pay her for the weed and shrooms she was bringing. She was tall and attractive like an R. Crumb fantasy Amazon caricature who could knock us all out with a roundhouse kick (I pity anyone who’d try to rob her on the job). She listed all the other goodies she had in her goodie bag, the white powders and tabs of this and that and the candies and chocolates. The plant and fungus strains were labeled, and the powders were tested. We said no thank you, just the weed and shrooms, we’re just a bunch of hippies not cool kid club types, actually maybe throw in some THC gummies what the hell, and then we paid and then she left, telling us to just hit her up again if we changed our minds.
Then we went into Manhattan to pick up some piece of musical equipment for Nika’s performance from Nika’s friend who lives in the East Village. Other than this brief excursion to Manhattan, we were in Brooklyn the whole time.
Back in Williamsburg in the early afternoon, Devon and I cut up the shrooms and ate them straight up. Nika didn’t take any because she had to prepare for her performance the next day, but she was excited to trip-sit for us boys. Devon dimmed the lights and laid out all the pillows and cushions and blankets from the couches onto the floor, which made the place preposterously cozy for our mind-expanding purposes. Then we both sat blindfolded and silent for several hours. This silence was interrupted only by a brief monologue from Devon on the nature of the “Fan vs. Enjoyer” meme about two hours into the trip. The Fan’s gaping, soyfacing mouth symbolizes his insatiable thirst and his embeddedness in samsaric attachment, whereas the Enjoyer’s elegant gaze conveys an arahant on his last dharmic cycle who appreciates the beauty of the cosmos from a perspective of pure disinterest. After Devon’s little monologue we returned to primordial silence for a few hours that felt like eternities.
As the shrooms slowly started to wear off Devon and I grew restless and began to acclimate ourselves to our egos. I opened the door to my bedroom and the light of a sticky post-thunderstorm Brooklyn afternoon came rushing into the rest of the apartment, quickly followed by the honks and roars of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, breaking apart the timeless and placeless wombspace that Devon had constructed. We took a walk outside to McCarren Park two blocks away. It was a very radical change of space. We sat by the track and watched people run around it. Devon got up and ran a few laps, too. He told me he used to run around here all the time when he was in New York recording music for Majical Cloudz years ago. Meanwhile I watched a group of old Polish ladies do aerobic exercises. Nearby, a guy hung a punching bag from a tree and was hopping around punching it while listening to the entirety of Drake and Future’s collaborative mixtape What a Time to Be Alive.
Saturday, June 5, 2021
Saturday was the day of the event that we’d all come to New York for. I’ll just copy the description for the event that I found on last.fm:
FRQNCY1 is a music, podcast and comedy streaming experience, broadcasting live from Elsewhere in Brooklyn. On June 5th, 2021, 10 of the best independent music and podcast acts in the New York area will take the stage to perform a unique one-day Festival exclusively on FRQNCY.
FRQNCY transforms streaming into a real live concert experience, allowing viewers to applaud and cheer from home and have the performers actually hear it on stage, enabling close friends to hangout and video chat, connecting fans directly with the performers backstage, and creating curated public text chat groups. It is a one-of-a-kind way to experience FRQNCY1's one-of-a-kind lineup.
NOTE: THIS IS A VIRTUAL EVENT. DO NOT GO TO ELSEWHERE.
What this meant was that Elsewhere was set up like a film studio: just the film crew and organizers and the performers and their plus-ones and, as with myself, the plus-ones of the plus-ones. “Classic film set vibe,” Devon said, “reminds me of being on my dad’s film sets when I was a kid.” Everyone except Devon and I seemed to be at work, and we needed to stay out of the way and not make too much noise. It dawned on me that I had been in DC for so long that the idea of working in film or music, or doing really anything other than imperialist office work, seemed exotic.
One of the musical acts had dropped out so Nika’s act was moved to the very end. Since the organizers’ plan was to alternate musical acts and podcasts, and since they wanted to finish with a musical act, Nika was to perform after Chapo Trap House, which was still many hours away. Devon and I left the cavernous nightclub-qua-film-studio and wandered around that corner of Bushwick looking for something to eat (Nika stayed behind because she had sound check). We had also realized that we were not smoking our weed fast enough to be finished by the time we would leave New York (neither of us planned to take it home), so we had to pick up the pace. We walked around that weird industrial warehouse-nightclub zone around Elsewhere, crushing all-green joints Devon rolled under the hot sun that cooked the concrete into resonating with an otherworldly noontide glow.
We eventually found a good vegan food truck next to Maria Hernandez Park. I was so hot and stoned that everything had a sepia tone like the racist depictions of Mexico in Hollywood movies.
When we rolled back into the dark coolness of Elsewhere we still had several hours to go until Nika’s performance. So Nika, Devon, and I sat in Elsewhere’s green room with the other performers waiting around for their time to go on. Slouched on a couch directly across from us was Felix Biederman of Chapo Trap House, shirt halfway unbuttoned down his chest, scrolling on his phone. Most of the other performers that had been waiting around in the green room were gone, so it was just us and Felix for a bit, until a young blue-haired skater dude with a fancy camera came in. The skater was Felix’s friend. Our crew’s conversation gradually drew the interest of the skater and Felix, and then Devon kept it going by continuing to ask them questions. We soon learned that Felix met his friend playing CounterStrike: Global Office (CS:GO), and that the friend was a professional or semi-professional CS:GO player and photographer from New Jersey that Felix invited to take pictures of the event. Felix told us that he wanted to make an A24 movie about professional CS:GO players, and the conversation included a few interludes of Felix and his friend talking to each other in CS:GO slang dialect. We discussed different approaches to political organizing and revolution, and the skater brought up his admiration of Mao and the concept of “mass line” to defend the so-called populist aspects of the Bernie Sanders dirtbag-left democratic-socialist program against the sanctimonious radlib elitism embodied by Elizabeth Warren. As a former $27-giving Bernie Bro, I said that I didn’t really think mass line applied to this antagonism within one of the main bourgeois political parties in the imperial core, especially considering that the United States is a settler nation with no peasant class. I could feel the Maoist skater’s annoyance. We talked about ordering food from delivery apps, prompting an impassioned defense from Felix of the integrity of ordering food for pickup. Felix reminisced about the good old days when his family would get on the road to go pick up a pizza, something that he intends to start doing more often. He also said that he wanted to do a bus tour with the rest of Chapo, just for the memories.
Our conversation with Felix and the Maoist skater must’ve gone on for hours, but there had never been a point where any of us had actually introduced ourselves (except for Nika, who had mentioned she was Zola Jesus and would be performing after Chapo’s act). Felix and I had already been Twitter mutuals for a while, and he and the other Chapo guys would retweet me every now and then. I was pretty sure I sensed some vague look of recognition from him, but who knows. The parasocial bonds that form around the Chapo Trap House podcast are notorious; several “post-left” reactionary Twitter personalities are former Chapo stans who turned fascist after not having their affections reciprocated.
Directly adjacent to the green room was a small outdoor smoking area where Devon and I struck up conversation with a musician named Brynn who was also performing in the festival. Here we finally went through the harrowing anxiety of introducing ourselves. She asked us what we were doing there—at Elsewhere, in New York, in life. We said that we were there to support Devon’s girlfriend who was performing. As for ourselves, that’s a much longer story. “Uh well, you see,” I went on, taking over from Devon, “I’m a writer… no, not for any publication you’d know… I’ve found some degree of modest Twitter fame writing about reactionary internet subcultures with a Freudo-Marxist perspective… mostly about incels, but it’s much more than incels, and my first piece was the introduction to a still-mostly-unfinished critical exegesis of the Elliot Rodger manifesto, you know the 2014 Santa Barbara mass shooter, which I think is interesting because it’s written with this proximity to cultural production, to the glamor of the movie industry and so on, it’s basically an outsider ‘literary’ work that has buried within it some deeper critique of American life of which the shooter himself was never really aware… but I’m also in a transition period with my writing because I’ve basically decided that my whole incel project was somehow complicit in fascist violence, not intentionally so but in a too-smart-for-your-own-good way, in that I was giving oxygen to fascist ideas by reading into them some unconscious profundity and writing about it in neoreactionary blogs funded by Curtis Yarvin… so I decided to make a clean break from this after I received the oracular DMs of an anonymous Twitter user who warned me that I wasn’t evil enough to pull off the effortless debonair obscenity of Anna Khachiyan and that I would become just another disgraced bourgeois intellectual beta-male like Sam Kriss if I continued on this trajectory… so anyway, with Devon here I’m on a path of psychedelic healing to make way for a new kind of writing that liberates the true weirdness of my vision…” Brynn followed along nodding intently as I explained all this. I couldn’t tell if she thought I was on to something or if I was the biggest idiot in the world.
“Well, what’s your Twitter?” she asked. I told her my handle and nervously watched her look me up. She brought up my profile, saw that I had 8,000-something followers including the Chapo guys and dozens of other mutuals, and then hit follow.
The other Chapo guys arrived later as their set approached, but we didn’t talk to any of them. Matt Christman was drinking what appeared to be some kind of blue liqueur out of a plastic water bottle during the Chapo set, which was an elaborate pitch for an action movie about swinger CIA agents and involved a lot of jokes about Russiagate and cringe natsec liberal pundits. Even with a pronounced limp Christman has the most natural, almost mystical swagger of all the Chapo guys, like Jim Morrison circa 1970. There isn’t much to report about Will Menaker other than that he had a mysteriously red face. The Chapo set went about 30 minutes overtime, and then the Zola Jesus set went on. About halfway through Nika’s set the Chapo guys dipped out and went to their afterparty.
Sunday, June 6, 2021
The next day, Devon, Nika, and I met Will Gottsegen, a young journalist in NYC covering the crypto beat. Will had recently interviewed Devon about Pisscoin, a satirical cryptocurrency (“the world’s first loss-seeking anti-speculative anti-asset”) launched by the art collective “Spumante,” of which Devon is a member. Devon presented himself as an anonymous spokesperson for the Spumante collective when Will interviewed him over voice chat on the Spumante/Pisscoin Discord, but the opsec for the whole project is so lazy that Will soon ended up following Devon’s personal Twitter account, and the veil of trolling hacker anonymity was quickly discarded. They struck up a conversation about their mutual curiosity and skepticism about crypto, and Devon had told Will he was planning to visit New York soon and that they should meet in person. Ostensibly we were hanging out with Will to talk about a piece he was planning to write about Pisscoin, but that never materialized.
The four of us met at McCarren Park and aimlessly strolled around that corner of Williamsburg. Sunday was even hotter than Saturday. We eventually found ourselves at the Bushwick Inlet Park down by the East River sitting in the shade and looking at the Manhattan skyline.
As we looked toward Manhattan, we told Will our stories about the shroom trip and meeting Felix from Chapo at Elsewhere, and then Will told us about “Dimes Square,” the metonym for a new social scene that had taken off during the pandemic. Dimes Square, as Will explained, is like a secret society of hip cool rich kids who have a lot of connections in the New York art, fashion, and media worlds and hang out in downtown Manhattan where they’ve been throwing parties while the rest of the city quarantined and did happy hours over Zoom.
Will mostly just knew of it as an outsider, from Instagram memes. I had vaguely heard about Dimes Square before, but from Twitter, usually in reference to how the Red Scare podcast are some of its style icons. But for whatever reason I just assumed it was all some online fiction, another fad internet ideology, or at least that it was inconsequential. I had read a bunch of Dean Kissick’s columns in Spike Art Magazine sort of like how Germans used to read Karl May stories about Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. Nope, Will told us, it’s real, or at least as real as money and The New York Times are real, and we were the ones who only existed online. Learning about being excluded from such a desirable social milieu triggered an incel-awareness that verged on class consciousness.
I remember Will showed us a swarm of “-cellectuals” Instagram meme accounts. He showed us some guy named Sean Glass who was apparently dating Azealia Banks at the time and must’ve had some other significance that I now forget. He told us about the enigmatic Substack writer “angelicism01” whose writing blended the esoteric fascist incel grandiosity of Frogtwitter with an ontological valorization of the waifish beauty of e-girl socialites. He told us about the Remilia Collective and how they were also exploring network spirituality by making hyperfinancialized conceptual art inspired by Nick Land. He told us that his Instagram feed was buzzing with memes about how the Secret Service was showing up at the parties because Ella Emhoff, the stepdaughter of Vice President Kamala Harris and an aspiring fashion influencer, was now hanging out with this scene. And Will told us that these random weird internet things (some of which I had already known about, or at least the things that are the most related to technoreactionary and incel-adjacent currents) are all connected, somehow, in some way that might turn out to be culturally significant. Or at least that’s what the New York media world seemed to think.
Sort of like the writer Nick Burns, introduced in my last Substack and about the same age, Will thought that the Dimes Square people were on to something, but he wasn’t yet sure what exactly that was. But something was happening, it was happening right now. It wasn’t yet bored with itself. “I’m mostly just fascinated by how seriously people are taking this subculture,” Will told me. I went back to DC the next day. That’s my story of where I was during the great vibe shift.
On June 9, Will sent me a link to “Vibe Shift,” a post from the Substack 8ball by a guy named Sean Monahan. The post is just under 800 words, but it had gone viral in the Dimes Square downtown internet world that Will had been following.
I wasn’t sure what to think of it at first. I responded: “Lmao / what did I just read / also who is sean monahan again / ok i see that he follows me on twitter”
Will answered: “he was in k hole / he might be on to something: re vibe shift… something brewing”
It was only once I talked to Sean as I was writing this article that I got a sense for how it fits into this discourse and came to appreciate how his idea of vibe shift completely empties it of the esoteric bullshit from the angelicists. For Sean the vibe shift is simply a straightforward expression of hipster bourgeois class consciousness; its subjectivity is that of the millennial consumer that just wants to stay cool but fears aging and returning to the world after the pandemic. When he helped found the K-HOLE trend-forecasting art collective it was a revolt against the taboo of selling out, which opened a space to shamelessly play on the discourse of corporate trend consulting to describe this consumer subjectivity in neutral terms. He had a lot of perceptive things to say about the millennial experience in this framework. He thinks describing the downtown world as hive of reactionary activity is a bit overwrought, which makes sense given that he’s not trying to make a revolutionary art. He also thinks that rock music is coming back. I asked him what he meant by this, since I had mostly written off rock music as dead. He told me to go to the Drunken Canal Battle of the Bands (which was last night, I went, maybe I’ll have something to say about it later), and that musicians are always going to be exchanging their turntables for guitars and exchanging their guitars for turntables, like in that LCD Soundsystem song. Between guitars and turntables and “IRL” and “online,” this oscillating condition, or Schwebezustand if you want to put it in the quasi-mystical German romantic language that might amuse the angelicists, is vibe shift.