December 9, 2023

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Greatest Hits ’88 – ’16

The duo of Arca and Shayne Oliver, founder of the successful fashion brand Hood By Air and the multidisciplinary creative studio Anonymous Club, WENCH is the musical collaboration of two club kids, who—in their kinetic alignment and disdain for the mainstream—became two of the most influential people in their respective fields during the 2010s. WENCH formed shortly after Arca, aka Alejandra Ghersi, met Oliver during the latter’s days as resident DJ and co-host of the prolific underground party GHE20G0TH1K—a queer punk/rave space founded by Venux X where artists like Total Freedom and Nguzunguzu came up, a space extremely formative to the trans clubscape of today. Their first stint working together produced the Swaggot Trilltape in 2013: a sample-heavy, 33-minute “goosebump pop” mixtape that jumped between hip-hop, industrial, techno, bass, noise, and more; they described it as “the sounds you remember after you exit the club on your way home.”

WENCH eventually produced more projects, including the HBA Galvanize soundtrack and Arca’s cult classic Sheep. They had plans to release a full-length LP, where they promised to capture a “hypercharged” sensuality, but that never came to light. A compendium of unreleased productions, Greatest Hits ’88 – ’16 marks the duo’s official debut, finally capturing the erratic energy that beatmaker Arca and vocalist Oliver fomented at the height of their partnership. Like much of Arca’s previous work, Greatest Hits ’88 – ’16 rejects normative forms in favor of an amorphous embrace of the abject. In its reproach of the mainstream emerges a celebration of the queer-of-color punk, industrial, and electronic sounds that dominated raves of the 2010s (and continue to do so today). Supported by Arca’s sludge-tinged explosions, Oliver interjects with ballroom-esque one-off phrasings that cement Greatest Hits ’88 – ’16 as a document of queer euphoric defiance, sexual emancipation, and sweaty club intoxication.

Sexually charged sound design and subject matter gives Greatest Hits ’88 – ’16 its bite. Elements of hardcore techno and digital punk excavate righteously horny revved-up representations of queer sex. “Fister” is a blown-out ambient-industrial track that’s as hard hitting as the act from which it gets its namesake. “Primal Pussy” hypnotizes, pairing Oliver’s repetitions with droning alarm-signal synths: “Primal pussy/Got you oh so gushy, it’s so pussy.” On “Snake,” Oliver hisses, “Take my body like a snake, take my sss/Take my bussy, recreate,” against booming bass synths that evoke a humid, heaving dancefloor. The erotic mode they evoke—an act of relinquishing bodily and sexual control in the name of music—was birthed in the spaces that WENCH called home, and it continues today in quintessential trans spaces like Club Carry or For the Gworls.

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