rest in peace Ryan Karazija
’Leaving this Earth’s such a beautiful sound’
The weekend, Ryan Karazija died of complications from pneumonia. I think it’s the first artist I have been sad about losing. I remember being a kid and laughing when my Nan told me that she cried when Elvis died — you didn’t even know him, I thought, that’s ridiculous. I thought she was crying because she had made him into an idol, and that was useless in my eyes. I never considered that she might have cried because he wasn’t going to make any more art. I was too young to realise that she might have cried because the music he’d made, that was all there’d ever be. It wasn’t limitless or ongoing anymore, because the man responsible wasn’t there to give the world some more.
Yeah, this is the first time I’ve been sad about an artist dying, and I keep thinking about my Nan and how wrong I was. Because I have felt ridiculous about crying, and at the same time I’ve understood this painful-eye-tinge is there because he isn’t going to make any more art, and the music we have is at its end.* I have also been sad because I didn’t speak enough about how much I enjoyed Low Roar’s music when Ryan was alive and I wish I had. We’re writing a book at the moment but it isn’t due out for a while, but there’s literally a line about Low Roar in there! I don’t want to share it yet, because maybe it’s going to be important to carry on speaking about Ryan’s work even when years have passed. It’s important to sit down and write things like this in the meantime.
Like many people, I was introduced to Low Roar — Ryan Karazija, Andrew Scheps and Mike Lindsay — through the 2019 video game Death Stranding. I’ve written about that 1, 2, 3 times now. All games have soundtracks and most of them are wordless, instrumental, almost classical-sounding, and fine. Death Stranding has its fair share of instrumental music but it also features full blown modern songs that start as you walk through certain parts of the map. The general sound effects are quietened and suddenly it’s like walking through a music video, or like acting in one. The air gets heavier when the songs begin. The lyrics are dark and heavenly and it is hard to bear because someone is narrating the atmosphere – you can’t walk forwards mindlessly, you have to play the game through this veil of emotion, and it’s a lot.
The setting of the game is rough / so ugly, dystopian, poisonous and empty / and hearing Ryan’s voice sing about something else entirely while you’re trekking on the job shouldn’t work but it does. It makes the game painfully cinematic, and the pain is important because the game is hard — and Ryan’s voice delivers that, which honestly makes his death harder to bear. The way he harmonises with himself, and the way his voices quivers — the way he falls headfirst into the hardest feelings with all this beauty I don’t want to have to concede but I do because he leads me there. Ah. His lyrics are a conversation about death and life and mortality and it makes me scared to listen to any of it again. I really, really hate that he might have suffered. I hate that he might know the acute truths of what he was singing about. I hate that he has gone.
Low Roar’s soundtrack did so much to make this game what it is. On Ryan’s passing, creator Hideo Kojima said:
The music was integral to the overall aesthetic affect of the game, which is focused on death and community, and community in spite of death. His voice gave so much character to the story, and now that character has a new depth. I feel dread thinking about listening to the songs again; I feel dread thinking about playing the game. It is weird. It’s a new feeling for me? I think it is going to be a new feeling for a lot of people, though, and that changes things. It means the game’s community has come true.
I have been checking the Reddit page for Low Roar since the announcement and there are a tonne of fans saying this is also their first time feeling sad about the passing of an artist. People are writing things like, ‘Ryan may be onto the next chapter of life, but we are all connected through our mutual love of his art. Never has a death of artist affected me more so than this. I may have never met him personally but I felt deeply connected through his music, as I feel so entwined with you all too.’ If I wasn’t in the fanbase, if I hadn’t been so encouraged to rethink how I view my networks because of the story of Death Stranding and the context of the pandemic I played it within, I would think people were being dramatic. But I don’t. I feel relief knowing it’s not just me.
Ryan used to go live on Instagram all the time, singing up close to the camera, and I would watch him all the time. He was so casual. It felt so generous. People are uploading clips they recorded while he was doing them and I’m so glad, because obviously we never thought they would come to an end.
Some of his friends have also come online to share links to drop boxes full of demos Ryan sent them. How special. You can find them here:
I think that sometimes I don’t talk enough about the culture I like because I think I have to wait until I have something profound to say, or an idea of how to write about an artwork in a way that’s interesting enough that the people who don’t know about it will be convinced to come close to it themselves. That happened with Low Roar. I feel very motivated to write quickly about things that I appreciate in the hopes that other people come to enjoy these pieces of culture for themselves, and that maybe the appreciation will be heard and felt by the creator.
Thank you Ryan for all of your beautiful work. It means a lot to me and I’m so grateful for that.
*Low Roar’s 6th album was recorded before this happened and it will be released in due time. I feel more of the dread, but I also think this is such a gift. A way to mourn him and a way to support his family too.