• Published 17th Jan 2017
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A Survey of the Work of Vinyl Scratch (Abbreviated) - Meta Four

“Make no mistake: DJ PON-3 is the most important dance musician—and perhaps the most important musician—working today. But first, let me tell you about my childhood …”

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5. The Face of the Enemy

From Sound on Sound, 12 July, 1006 issue:

Spacetrawler EP

Label: Forty Records
Release date: 7/20/06

By Spilt Ink (staff writer)

DJ PON-3 coaxes a million different sounds out of her 303 bass synth. Only a tenth of them actually sound good.

Once upon a time, on the western border of the old earth pony nation, there stood a vast, dark forest. In the middle of the forest, there was a steep, deep canyon. And at the bottom of the canyon, there was a cave.

One fine midsummer’s day, a wealthy tradesmare set off on a journey. She hiked all the way to the heart of the vast, dark forest. She climbed all the way to the bottom of the steep, deep canyon. She marched up to the entrance of the cave, then rapped three times upon the threshold.

“Who disturbs my slumber?” a voice called from inside the cave.

“My name would mean naught to you, but I am a wealthy tradesmare, who would pay handsomely for your services.”

“And who do you think I am?”

“Are you not the rage goblin? The choleric creature who lives by drinking the tears of insulted musicians?”

“Nay. I am but a pony, and my tear-drinking has been greatly exaggerated of late.” At this, the owner of the voice stepped forth from the cave. His body was twisted from years of his own rage, but he was still merely a unicorn pony.

“Well, that’s a pity.” The tradesmare pulled a 10” vinyl from her saddlebag. “Because DJ PON-3 just put out a new EP, and the few ponies who’ve heard it won’t stop gushing. I was hoping the rage goblin could give everyone a little perspective. But if he’s not available, I guess the critical consensus will just have to be overwhelmingly positive …”

The unicorn grumbled and took the EP. “Very well. Return after three days and three nights, and you will have your review.”

The tradesmare bowed and departed. The unicorn retreated into his cave and listened to the EP. When it ended, he immediately listened to it again. And again. And again. He did not pause to eat or sleep, but listened to the EP nonstop for three full days and nights.

Finally, the unicorn heard the tradesmare rapping upon his threshold again. So he emerged from the cave and stood before her. Dark storm clouds filled the sky above as the unicorn delivered his judgment:

“Twenty miles directly east of here, there is a mountain. Near the peak, there are grassy clearings in which grow a rare blue flower, found nowhere else on Earth. On the night of the full moon, at midnight, pluck a single petal from one of these flowers and release it upon the wind. The petal will show you the way to the secret tomb of Deathstalker the Dauntless. His mighty warhammer is entombed with him.

“Bash yourself in the head with that hammer once or twice. The ringing inside your skull will be better music than anything on the Spacetrawler EP.

“DJ PON-3 has passed the point in her career where most ponies start running out of ideas and rehashing themselves—but she’s done nothing of the sort, because there’s no justice in the world. Instead, she keeps discovering new, never-before-imagined-by-ponykind ways to make us all curse the invention of music. Allow me to list a few of them:

“One. Those backmasked vocals sound like a cat choking to death on a kazoo. Or is Red Tape from the Equine Resources office a guest singer on this album?

“Two. The drum machines and live breakbeats mix together almost as well as the ingredients in that disgusting chili that Dubplate brings to every damned office potluck lunch.

“Three. Orchestra hits? Seriously? Did we accidentally time warp back to 997? Are Off Beat’s goatee and Mersey’s dumb paisley ties coming back into fashion, too?

“Four. DJ PON-3 coaxes a million different sounds out of her 303 bass synth. Only a tenth of them actually sound good, and she’s stingier with those than Bottom Line is with reimbursing me for business-related travel expenses.

“Five. Why is the low end so thin? Whose brilliant idea was it to tune the bass synth so high? High Fidelity, your review of Dial M for Magic made me want to vomit.

“Six. This flute solo is a ripoff of ‘7 Kilograms’. Hey, remember seven years ago, when we declared Stereotype A the Album Of The Year? I tried to sell my copy of Stereotype A five years ago, but the used music store wouldn’t take it, because they already had too many. Why are you still reading this magazine?

“Seven. Oh, for the love of Luna! I haven’t even gotten through the first song yet!”

The unicorn slumped to the ground, exhausted. The tradesmare smiled and reached into her saddlebag for her money. “You did good, kiddo.”

But!” The unicorn rose again, his legs shaking. “But when you think about it, this EP is almost inspiring in its terribleness. These ‘songs’ are the ramblings of a pony following her own muse, unconstrained by anything that might hold her back: record label meddling, editorial gatekeeping, logic, good taste, etc. She doesn’t give two figs about this review, either—even though I know she’s reading it. (Well, there’s one part she cares about, and here it is: Yes, I kept my half of our bargain.) Vinyl Scratch is free as an eagle, soaring high in the sky and pooping on all our heads.

“It’s such a pity that 9.8 OUT OF 10 ponies can’t appreciate that. Aside from her actual songs, her example is really the BEST one anypony could aspire to. I wish I kNEW more competent MUSICians who did.”

As he finished his monologue, the storm clouds broke overhead. Beautiful, golden sunlight shone down upon the unicorn and the tradesmare. Then a sudden landslide buried both of them under a ton of rocks.

P.S. To everypony else at Sound on Sound magazine: Was my two weeks’ notice too subtle for you?

Staff rating: 5.7

Three weeks before ...

Vinyl Scratch shook her mane out of her face yet again—flinging purple beads of sweat onto the dancers around her. If they noticed at all, they didn’t seem to mind. She ceased dancing, becoming a still rock in the churning, purple sea of moving bodies.

It was almost time. Vinyl briefly considered waiting for a song transition, then shook her head and made for the edge of the dance floor. She dodged and weaved between other ponies, taking advantage of gaps that appeared and disappeared seconds later—like a fish beneath the waves, moving closer and closer to her target without disturbing the other dancers. She was heading for the bar. Though dim, the bar’s purple neon nevertheless shone like a beacon across the strobe-lit dance floor.

Arriving a minute later, Vinyl found just one other patron—sitting on a stool, his back to the bar, with a glass of something purple, fizzy, and possibly alcoholic on the counter next to him. He was a unicorn, and certainly easy on the eyes. He had a purple coat, a slender build, and a long horn, and his purple mane was swept to one side in a way that didn’t really match any style, but he owned it, somehow.

Vinyl swept her own sweat-slicked mane up, approximating her favored ’do as best she could, then approached the stallion. “Hey, handsome. You waiting for somepony?”

The stallion stared out at the dance floor. He barely glanced at Vinyl before replying, “You’re not my type.”

“I see.” Vinyl snorted. “And such a winning personality! You must have to fight the ladies off with a stick.”

“Touché.” At that, the stallion finally did face her, a faint smile on his lips. “My apologies. Being a jerk is kind of a hard habit to break. No, I’m not waiting for anypony, I’m doing research for a magazine article.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“Thank you.” He extended a hoof. “Name’s Spilt Ink. And you are …?”

Vinyl stared at the offered hoof a few seconds. When she finally bumped it, she wore a wry smile. “I’m the Second Horse of the Electropocalypse. At least, that’s what you called me in your last review.”

“Oh.” Spilt Ink flinched, his eyes widening. “Well, then. If you expect me to rescind any of my statements …” He narrowed his eyes.

“Nah.” Vinyl climbed onto the barstool next to him. “It’s cool. Actually, maybe you can help me with something.”

Spilt Ink floated his drink up from the counter and gulped down half of it. He resumed staring out at the dance floor.

Vinyl continued, “It’s about this thing you wrote in one of your reviews. I can’t make heads or tails of it, and my friends can’t, and all the cats at the label had no clue. So my friend and I made a little bet about what it really means …”

“I don’t make a habit of dumbing down my writing.”

Puh-lease.” Vinyl waved one hoof in the air and leaned against the counter. “I’m not asking you to spoil the ending of ‘The Pony or the Tiger’ here. I just wanna know why you called me Sweet Cheeks in that one review.”

Quirking an eyebrow, Ink looked at Vinyl again.

She continued, “Soooo, was that supposed to be an insult, or just ironic? Or, like, double-ironic, where everpony thinks you’re joking, but nope, you really are insulting me? Orrrr ...”

Vinyl leaned until she was sprawling, more of her weight on the bar than on the stool. “I think it was a subconscious slip. That you went through a nasty breakup just before you wrote the review, and Sweet Cheeks was the name of your ex.”

“Well … actually …”

“Come on, dude, help a sister out! I got twenty bits riding on this!”

“I honestly don’t recall ever writing that.”

“Really?” Vinyl slid back to a mostly upright position on her stool. “Lame.”

Spilt Ink snorted. “Scoff all you want, but I make a point not to reread my own writing once it’s been published. As a wise philosopher once said, ‘I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.’”

Vinyl snickered. “You never look back? That’s rich.”

With a sharp smile, Ink replied, “Almost as rich as DJ PON-3 coming to this club and dancing to this dreck, am I right? Or should I have seen that one coming?”

That wiped the smile from Vinyl’s face. “What the hay? Are you seriously going there?”

“You’re not defending this music, are you? It’s—”

Vinyl struck the counter with one hoof, cutting him off. “It’s straight-out-of-the-box digital synths, run through exactly the same effects pedals I’ve heard a hundred times before, all arranged in rigid verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. Literally copied verses, as often as not. The whole set is so homogenous I honestly can’t tell when one song ends and the next begins. You don’t need to tell me that this is mediocre.”

Uncowed, Spilt Ink shot back, “Then why dance to it at all?”

“Because I don’t have a stick up my rear.” Vinyl tried to prod Ink’s chest, but he batted her hoof away. She continued, “And it’s not even my real reason to be here, anyway.”

“And dare I ask your real reason?”

“Last week. Throwback Thursday.” Vinyl bounced in her seat as she recalled that night. “The ads promised a butt-kicking acid house set, so I came. And DJ Subliminal did more than kick everyone’s butts, he surprised me. That beautiful pony played a bunch of white label mixes that even I hadn’t heard before. So I found him afterwards, we got to yapping, and he offered to make me a tape copy of that whole set. Said he’d have it for me in a week. And here I am.”

Vinyl turned to the side, looking at the opposite end of the bar. “Annnnd, speak of the trickster, there he is! Smell ya later, Inkspill.”

Vinyl leaped down from her stool and trotted to the other DJ, another purple unicorn stallion, waiting for her at the far end of the bar. Spilt Ink called after her, but Vinyl couldn’t make out what he said—yet another generic bass drop swallowed the words completely.

The quickest path out of the club took Vinyl once more past the bar. Again, Spilt Ink was the only pony there. But he was no longer watching the dance floor—in fact, he wasn’t watching anything. Instead, he was sprawled face-down upon the counter.

“Uh-oh,” Vinyl muttered. She prodded his cutie mark. “Spilt Ink? How much did you have to drink?”

Ink mumbled something into the bar.

Vinyl continued, “Because the drinks here are way overpriced. Seriously.

Ink mumbled again, then floated his glass into the air a few inches. It was exactly the same glass Vinyl had last seen him with, and exactly as full as before. He lifted his head and finally said something audible: “You know what my problem is?”

“Aside from being a complete lightweight?”

“I’m a clown!” he cried, slamming his glass against the counter. “I wanted to be a serious music journalist. Challenge ponies’ assumptions, introduce them to bands they’d never heard before. Capture our most ineffable of feelings about music and distill them into ink on a page. But is that what I’m doing?”

“Umm …”

“No! I’m just banging on my typewriter until my editors are happy, then everypony reads my word-barf and laughs.” He spun on his stool to face Vinyl. “Even you! I eviscerated your last album in my review, and you don’t even care!”

“Yeah, of course?” Vinyl rolled her eyes. “Thick skin, dude. You kinda need it to get anywhere in music. As a very wise pony once said, ‘You can please everypony sometimes … or you can fool some ponies all the time … but if you fool me twice, you might just get what you need.’”

Spilt Ink boggled at her for a few seconds, then lifted his drink again and sniffed it. Apparently satisfied at what he smelled, he took a sip. “You’re lucky, you know.”


“You’re doing what you want to do. You arrange your own songs, self-produce your albums, and the indie labels are totally hooves-off about it. Most of your music is still garbage, but at least you can say it’s your garbage.”

“And your ridiculous, self-indulgent album reviews aren’t really yours because …?”

“Well… You’re right, they’re me. But they’re only part of me. Do you have any idea how many reviews I write that never see the light of day? A lot. The editors tell me the article is great, then they just sit on it and publish some tripe from a guest writer about the same subject instead.”

Vinyl blinked. “Huh.”

Ink snickered. “News to you? Didn’t you ever wonder why ninety percent of my published reviews are so negative?”

Vinyl shrugged. “I assumed you were some kind of rage goblin who survived by drinking tears and eating bruised egos.”

“Exactly.” Ink slumped back over the counter, in a way that couldn’t have been good for his spine, and looked straight up at the ceiling.

Vinyl climbed back up on the stool next to him. Then, since this was apparently a Moment, or it would soon become one, she removed the tinted shades from her face, resting them above her horn. She blinked at the sudden intrusion of colors besides purple: the neon lights of the bar were a tropical pattern of green, yellow, and pink. And Spilt Ink was a pale sea-foam green—a pity, since he’d looked so good in purple.

“Alright.” Vinyl waited for Ink to return her unshielded gaze before continuing, “If you aren’t the Negative Nelly that your editors make you out to be, prove it. What’s your favorite album?”

Ink opened his mouth.

Vinyl cut him off. “From this year.” Ink shut his mouth, and she continued, “I mean, I like The Pets’ old albums as much as the next pony, but if I have to endure yet another editorial about how great they were back in the glory days, I swear I’m going to scream.”

“From this year, huh?” Ink sat up straight once again. “Well, I was going to say that The Pets’ newest album is literally the second best of their entire career … But if you’re sick of hearing about them, then I’d say it’s a toss-up between Duke Ivory’s East Equestrian Suite, and Pepper Delight’s Queen of the Wind.” He gave a bitter snort. “Both of which Sound on Sound deemed ‘mediocre’, I must add.”

“Pepper Delight?” Vinyl smirked. “They’re still making music? I thought they fell off the face of the Earth. I thought their whole genre fell off the face of the Earth.”

“Well, it still did. Pepper Delight switched to playing psychedelic rock.”

“No way.”

“I’m one hundred percent serious. Queen of the Wind is all fuzzed-out guitars with brass and flute solos.”

“Wow.” Vinyl scratched her forehead. “That is … wow. You know, I’ve never really listened to much psychedelic rock. Or any, I guess.”

Ink quirked one eyebrow and leaned in his stool, closer to Vinyl. “Very curious. And whyever not?”

“It’s pretty silly.” Vinyl sat up straighter as she began her story. “I was in high school. I was head-over-heels in love with acid house at the time.”

“You? In love with acid house? I never would have imagined.”

Vinyl batted his shoulder. “Hey, who’s telling this story, you or me? Anyway, I was cruising along, happy as could be with my little record collection. Then I got to chatting with some of my classmates who wore their manes in dreadlocks and smelled kinda funny. And I learned that their favorite genre was psychedelic rock. Only they didn’t call it that at the time. They called it … acid rock.”

“Oh no.”

“So I hear that name and get really excited. One of them lets me borrow his favorite LP. I take it home and pop it on my turntable, expecting some of that squelchy bass-synth goodness.”

“Oh no …”

Vinyl gave him a wry smile. “Yeah, you can imagine how I reacted. Forced myself to listen through side A, then immediately returned the record. And I never listened to acid rock ever again.”

“Well, I say you’re depriving yourself for no good reason.” Now it was Ink’s turn to bat Vinyl’s shoulder. “No matter how good an album is, a pony can wind up hating it if they come in with the wrong expectations.”

Vinyl’s smile grew a bit wider. “Oh, really?”

“I’ve seen it happen to other ponies all the time.”

At that, Vinyl burst into laughter, rocking back and forth on her seat.

“Anyway …” Ink resumed as Vinyl’s laughter subsided. “You really should give the genre another chance. Now that you know what to expect, you might enjoy it on its own terms.”

“Sure, I’ll try that. But on one condition.” Vinyl popped her shades back over her face, plunging the world once more into a purple haze. “Leave Sound on Sound.”

Spilt Ink blinked.

Vinyl continued. “Go write for some other magazine. Find some way to get your unpublished articles out there.” She reared back, balancing atop the stool, and threw her forelegs wide open as she proclaimed, “Set your impenetrable mixed metaphors free! Let your doofy gonzo reviews soar like eagles in the sky! Show the world—whoa!

Vinyl lost her balance, falling onto Spilt Ink. He caught her—then both unicorns tumbled to the floor. As Vinyl untangled herself from Ink’s green legs, she realized: “Hey, where’d my shades go?”

“Here.” Spilt Ink floated Vinyl’s purple eyewear off the floor and back to her. “And, you know, that’s a really hard bargain you’re suggesting there. But what the hay, sure.”