In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we asked, “What’s your favorite song that originated on the Internet?”
Born in 1988, Australian producer Nick Bertke is a member of the first generation to grow up in a culture of on-demand video—albeit of an analog nature. That makes him well suited to the YouTube stardom he’s achieved under the pseudonym Pogo, with millions of views and subscriptions accrued via kaleidoscopic remixes of vintage Disney features, 1990s kiddie fare, and other objects of VHS-era fetish. By far Bertke’s most popular upload, “Alice,” is a hypnotic distillation of 1951’s animated Alice In Wonderland, a woozy rhythmic confection wound around a pair of orchestral hits digitally stretched into atmospheric gossamer.
These bits of clamshell hauntology are to the shuttered video-store industry what albums like DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. or J Dilla’s Donuts are to the corner record store. They’re reclamations, ways of paying tribute to influential works while re-imagining them in the artist’s own image. However, the Pogo approach differs in two key areas: First, the majority of Bertke’s output is, like “Alice,” sampled from a single source. Secondly, the crate-digger’s compulsion for obscurity has largely passed the artist by. Bertke’s preferred source material plays on big stages, whether it’s movies fondly remembered by the online masses or the customs of communities from around the globe. “Alice” is a singular work tooled for mass consumption, as its 11 million-plus plays attest.
Yet for all of the ways that “Alice” panders to the Internet’s seasoned nostalgia receptors, Bertke’s track eschews the cheap rush of familiarity of a Girl Talk banger or a quick-and-dirty YouTube parody. There’s an expression of longing in the best Pogo tracks, Don Draper’s “delicate-but-potent” brand of nostalgia that poignantly, yet futilely, tries to fill the void of something lost: time, youth, innocence. Bertke has put that sense toward Draper-like ends in recent years, making commissioned tracks for Microsoft as well as the movie studio that is his most frequent starting point. (Perhaps one of those former patrons could throw its weight around and help erase the visa snafu that prevents Bertke from touring the United States until 2021—yeah, probably not.) That’s just part of staying afloat among dozens of like-minded artists playing surgery with their old VHS tapes, but it slathers an additional layer of lost innocence on earlier works like “Alice.” Like the song’s “lead vocalist,” Bertke finds himself navigating an untamed wonderland, marveling all the while and occasionally turning up something strangely, enchantingly winsome.