/mlp/ Fanfic Reviews

Electro Swing

FimFiction Link - Short ID: 502282/electro-swing

Published: Sep '21Dec '23

Review in No. 40764487
Electro Swing is a 423k word slow-burn Romance Drama. It's a sequel to Forbidden Melodies and Gloria Celestia... though that may not be obvious at first sight.
We start our tale with an innocuous high society party. Due to a variety of shenanigans, there won't be live music, but rather a disc jockey called Vinyl Scratch will be in charge of providing the entertainment. Due to different shenanigans, the party ends in disaster, and most of Canterlot's high nobility mark the poor DJ as a pony non grata.
Most nobles, that is, with the exception of Fancy Pants, colloquially known as the Kingmaker of Canterlot due to his ability to seemingly always make the right suggestions that can make or break a pony, setting them up for a path of greatness. And it's him who has realised the untapped potential of Vinyl Scratch.
As with any story that reaches a wordcount like this, there's more to it than just a simple premise. Way, way more. I mentioned this was a slow-burn romance, and it certainly lives up to that. I like it when a romance doesn't take the short path from strangers to lovers. It can work, and that has resulted in some of my favourite tales. But there's a certain charm in taking the scenic view, so to speak.
Vinyl starts the story with a complete mistrust of all nobles, and who's more noble than Fancy Pants? One of the richest ponies in Canterlot, if not all of Equestria. Somepony who is on a first name basis with the Princesses, and is a former diplomat who has worked for Equestria's betterment for years.
It's honestly endearing seeing them go from strangers, to reluctant acquaintances, to friends, to confidants, to eventually lovers. As each layer is built on top of the previous, you can feel how their feelings develop. Not only that, but while a more shallow romance would throw excuses as to why the main characters don't just get together, Electro Swing takes the time to explore those reasons, the why of their reticence, and the obstacles—external and internal—that impede anything stronger from blooming.
Obviously, it's not just romance for several hundred thousand words. There's an actual plot. As I mentioned, Vinyl got blacklisted by high society. This normally wouldn't mean anything to her. She's still got her regular gigs in the clubs. Plus, she's a research student in Celestia's School.
Review in No. 40764488
Minor tangent, this story is slightly sci-fi~ish. The entire world is just like regular Equestria, with one exception. There is this very complex gem technology regarding how audio systems work. It can be boiled down to "sound goes in gem and then it goes out," but there's more to it. And it's not just a tangent of science-magic wankery. This research is important for Vinyl, and it's her ability to use these that kicks off a big part of the plot later on. Not only that, but her experiments with these gems and Cacophony's theory of sound set up and set off important developments through the story. It's genuinely interesting on its own as well as how it relates to the development of a few characters.
Going back to that blacklisting issue. Sure, Vinyl can still get by with her DJ gigs at night clubs. The problem is that her bad reputation extended to her CSGU research grants, which also cover her lease agreement. And what do you know? Non-regular musical performances and under the table work at (illegally) hosted raves do not constitute a solid revenue stream, so Vinyl finds herself out of a large chunk of her work, facing issues with her research program, and is going to get kicked out of her apartment. Ain't life great?
Well, this is where we circle back to her crystal storage research. While Vinyl is more concerned with optimising the storage system so she can cram more information in one crystal and not have to haul crates worth of the stuff for her concerts, this makes her perfectly qualified for storing old music into the more reliable gem system for archival.
And what do you know? The reason Fancy Pants is so wealthy and able to make multiple investments is because he was left a sizable fortune from his parents, who each were famous musicians back in the day. And they just so happen to have left a treasure trove of studio recordings that have never been archived. Since some ponies from the CSGU's music program—Octavia's husband from the first story—have been bugging him for years about getting those records preserved for posterity, he decides it's finally time.
The obvious development happens, but knowing that Vinyl has a deep-seated distrust of nobles, Fancy Pants makes it clear this is a job. He's not doing this out of pity, or as charity. He acknowledges Vinyl's talents and that she's been treated unfairly by the Canterlot Elite, so he wants to hire her to get his parents' recordings preserved.
Also, he has been unsuccessfully trying to run damage control for the accident that happened during Vinyl's performance that night. I say unsuccessful because other parties have a vested interest in Vinyl's failure for reasons that will be explored much later.
One thing I've neglected to mention is that Vinyl and Fancy Pants share one previous connection in the form of Fleur de Lis. Let's take this chance to talk about her and the supporting cast.
Review in No. 40764491
Fleur de Lis, a longtime friend of Vinyl. Fellow CSGU research student, and all around nice girl. I like the way this fic portrays her. While she's not a musician, she's also researching Cacophony's theory of sound as a way to further her voice acting skills. She's a voice actress this time around, and she's able to pull off some impressive impersonations which come up from time to time in the plot.
There's also her mom, Éclair de Lune. Yes, she's French, but don't hold it against her. She's a genuinely charming mare. She owns a small bakery in Canterlot, where Fleur lives, and has always supported Vinyl in her endeavours, practically considering her a second daughter.
Early story spoiler: Fancy's mom was a Donna Summer expy while his dad was totally not Dean Martin. His mom died relatively young and sometime later, his dad married again with a lovely Prench baker and they had a kid. Yes, Fleur is Fancy's half sister.
For... reasons, Fancy tried to stay away from the new family, defaulting to the bare minimum of interactions, until eventually pony Dean Martin passed away. Afterwards, Fancy became more present in their lives and tried to make sure they weren't experiencing harsh times. This extends to everypony they consider family, which includes Vinyl.
I'd spend the entire day if I were to talk about Fluffer Duster, Dapper Dandy, Athena, Octavia, Steeplechase, and so on, but they all are strong, well rounded characters.
Nevertheless, their interactions were always a delight. There was an effort to make familial warmth come through between Vinyl, Fleur, and Éclaire. However, there is a marked hesitance from Vinyl's end. She very obviously cares for them, but can never bring herself to be as direct and outward as Fleur, nor can she fully accept Éclaire's maternal love.
This is in part due to Vinyl's experiences with her own mother. During the first couple hundred words they're never explored in depth. She's more of a spectre that hangs in the background whenever she feels her appreciation for somepony grows a bit too much. The memory of her mother going "Mother loves you very much" right after belittling her, ridiculing her dreams, and generally being a terrible parent haunts Vinyl. This results in her being very uncomfortable around mentions of the word "love". She reacts unfavourably when others say it, and is unable to accept it from Fleur or Éclaire.
Also, while she didn't come from a noble background, Vinyl's family is implied to be well-off enough to partake in high society. At least, they were before Vinyl rebelled and started living on her own, applying to scholarships and getting by with her music work. This—alongside some other experiences—is what lead to her distrust not only for nobles, but for the corrupting effect money and power have on ponies.
Review in No. 40764494
Therefore, Vinyl faces a dilemma. After a long time, she can no longer deny she's attracted to Fancy Pants. But this attraction goes against everything she believes. Nobles are not to be trusted, not even if they're as genuine, caring, understanding, and well-meaning as Fancy Pants. And what about the corrupting power of money? Fancy Pants has enough bits to last a couple of lifetimes. How would she be affected by that? Would she end up a snotty noble who abuses her power?
These are more than just worries, Vinyl gets full blown anxiety attacks over this. Again, in part due to her childhood trauma, but this goes on to show how deeply conflicted she is about her feelings.
And this is where another aspect of the story comes into play, and it's one of the reasons I love Electro Swing so much: Thematic parallels.
By this point, Vinyl has already worked through some of Sauna Summers's collection. As you may guess from the name, this isn't a pony born and molded by music. She was just a pony who loved to sing. Who loved making ponies happy. Who loved to make music with her friends. While several circumstances are different, Vinyl sees a lot of her struggles mirrored in Sauna.
She was an outsider to the established music scene of Canterlot. She was at the forefront of a brand new musical genre. She experienced a lot of pushback from the uppity nobles who didn't like this pegasus coming with her popular music and making a hubbub.
And she fell in love with the King of Swing, Suede Shoes. The last star of the old guard. Someone who represented everypony who was against her and her friends.
Vinyl knows they eventually married. Not only that, but they lead big reforms to the music establishment in Canterlot, to the point that they're the reason the performing arts branch of Celestia's School is, well, about performing arts instead of just music—and some very specific ones, at that. So maybe money and power didn't change Sauna. Maybe it won't change Vinyl.
However, Vinyl does notice that late in her career, Sauna was a solo act. The Queen of Disco. The one who towered above all. The face of a genre. And yet, while going over the earliest studio sessions, Sauna was always surrounded by her friends and fellow performers. What happened there?
The story almost turns into a mystery for a while. Vinyl listens to more and more of these sessions, trying to figure out what happened to Sauna's friends and—more importantly—what happened to Sauna Summers.
It proves to be a tough task. There seems to be no mention of these friends in official records. Certainly not in the official biography of the Queen of Disco. Vinyl just gets more and more upset, because this mythical image of the latter years of her career seems to have overshadowed everything else, including the kind and happy mare Sauna Summers. This seems to confirm her fears. Maybe fame and power changed Sauna. Maybe it can happen to her.
Review in No. 40764495
What about Fancy's side of the story? Well, he's got his own stuff to do, as a very important pony. Mainly, he's serving as Princess Luna's escort at Celestia's behest. He helps her reacquaint with Equestria, learn about the changes that have taken place in the last millennia, as well as helping her navigate the ruthless world of modern Canterlot nobility.
Luna is wonderful in this fic. She's socially inept, but she makes up for it with strong will and determination. I never got the feeling she was an autist or anything. Just how I would expect someone who hasn't been around for ages to behave. Her outings with Fancy also lead to some wonderful moments. Like when they go to a night club and inadvertently feed the fire of a rumour of them being a couple. Or when they go to a Minoan restaurant that Fancy Pants helped set up, and she strikes an endearing friendship with the cutest minotaur this side of Iron Will.
Moving on, a recurring theme in the story—though not obvious at first—is control.
From the start, a specific noble manipulates the facts about the accident with Vinyl for the sole purpose of swaying public opinion against her. Vinyl initially fears Fancy's intentions towards her, dismissing him as just another noble who wants her as another conquest. As the Kingmaker, Fancy Pants holds a significant weight when it comes to the Canterlot zeitgeist. Vinyl fears she has no control over her life as everything starts to fall apart as a result of that earlier accident. She also fears that working for Fancy, as well as living in his property (and finding out he's the main contributor to the organisation that grants her research funds) means he's in total control of her life, even if without ill intent from his part. Adding a last one, it's obvious that in the past, her mother was a control freak, and that has left scars in her psyche.
There's also one very, very big example that is staring right at you from way in the background, but isn't confirmed until very late into the story. It's brilliant, though. I'll talk about it later.
Fancy Pants is an appealing character. You can tell he's a genuinely good pony. He does have good intentions, and trusts his talent to discern the best paths to success, be it for important business deals, diplomatic agreements between nations, or advice to an up and coming restauranteur. However, he also carries his fair share of baggage.
His past is haunted by the stupid attitude of a spoiled teenager who didn't know how to appreciate his parents. A sense of loss due to the early death of her mother, and the loss of a mare he loved. And yet, now that he has it all and could easily have even more, what does he do besides making the dreams of other ponies come true? What of his dreams? What does he want?
Review in No. 40764497
Both Vinyl and Fancy have their own problems, but through hard work and no small amount of risk taking, they're willing to move past them. For the most part. This helps make them sympathetic and made me root for their continued friendship and budding romance.
So! Why is the story called "Electro Swing"? It's not just a cute way to refer to the mix of Vinyl's crazy modern world and Fancy's more classic and refined one. But that too.
CSGU's holds an event where students can showcase their talents. Fleur does an ingenious musical number where she impersonates both Princess Luna and Princess Celestia. What does Vinyl do?
Well, she's been in a creative rut for a while, but while working on archiving Suede Shoes's side of the collection, she manages to find some inspiration. Just like Sauna Summers and her friends tried to skirt around the rules of the music society of her day by incorporating elements of more traditional music styles, Vinyl takes these old songs, breaks down their style, and builds them back up with modern techniques to create electronica swing. But that name's a mouthful, so Fleur suggests Electro Swing.
Despite it being a success—and Princess Luna declaring it her favourite—the nobles don't seem to want to even give her a chance. What's worse is that the press is also still treating Vinyl as the second coming of Discord. After Vinyl storms out of the venue, Fancy follows her to the Royal Library, where she's desperately looking for more info on Sauna Summers and, perhaps, looking for hope.
I have to congratulate the author for making Vinyl's worries not seem like whining, but the results of the many issues haunting her mind. Due to her mother's machinations, the constant pushback from the nobles, feeling how she's being kicked while she's down, she comes close to a mental collapse. But now she's met Fancy, and perhaps she doesn't hate him. But nobles are all corrupt. The power, the fame, the money. They corrupt you. So maybe it's for the best she isn't succesful. Sauna Summers got so big she overshadowed everypony else. If such a good pony could fall like that, what hope does she have?
Her breakdown is so painful because it casts the developments of the last few chapters under a horrible new light.
The reader is happy that Luna has come to love Vinyl's music. That despite not quite understanding it, Fancy Pants appreciates the effort Vinyl puts and can appreciate her output.
But that's just it. It doesn't matter that Vinyl has accomplished a lot following her passion for music. What matters is that the Princess and the Kingmaker approve. That's what her mother would've liked. The status. Not her.
Chapter 32 is just beautiful. Both Vinyl and Fancy bare their hearts to each other. It's curious how earnestly Fancy manages to console Vinyl and bring her from the brink of darkness by showing her that he values her. On a related note, I love quartz now.
Review in No. 40764499
Fancy brings up an interesting point. His moniker of "Kingmaker" is stupid because kings aren't chosen or elected. They're born into power. Just like many nobles. And he may have more money and power than anypony who isn't royalty, but what good is it if he can't help one mare who didn't do anything wrong?
Their talk is so short and simple, but it marks such a big turning point. And not only because this is the point where Vinyl can no longer pretend she doesn't have a huge crush on Fancy.
You see, there's this common occurrence through Electro Swing. It will establish a character's worry through actions and inactions. Then, it will come to a point where that character has a heart to heart with someone else, and as a result of that talk, that character will slowly change the way they act for the rest of the story. It's so nice to have a clear point of character development in a way that shows progress. And not just Fancy and Vinyl, the supporting cast has moments like these, too, albeit on a smaller scale.
From this point onwards, the plot progresses, but I don't want to focus too much on that. I think I've mentioned most of what I wanted about this fic, sans one exception.
If all this gushing hasn't made it clear already, I love this story. The year has just started, but this is already a contender for my favourite story of the year. I will recommend it to anyone who will listen. This is beautiful, and I think any rough spots do not detract from the heights this story reaches. Do give it a read.
Alright, I've avoided talking about any big spoilers, but there's one thing I do want to talk about. I've hinted at it, but I will now talk about it in detail because I really liked it.
If you think anything of what I've mentioned makes for a good story, go read Electro Swing. If you enjoy it half as much as I did, you'll love it. As a final bonus, Spike doesn't exist in this 'verse. I'm sure that's a plus in many people's books.
Also, if you read the spoilers, I will point and laugh at you and then yell at you for robbing yourself of such an amazing development.
Review in No. 40764500
Holy shit, Celestia is evil. She's not "Bwahaha! I'm the villain!" evil. She continues the character progression from the previous stories. She has a plan and does not care what measures she has to take in order to accomplish them. The degree to which she does not care about the wellbeing of other ponies so long as it serves her greater good is astounding. She has learned nothing since Gloria Celestia. She manipulated so many ponies just because it tangentially served her purpose. "Oh, but she obviously felt guilty over what she did to Sauna", yeah, because she fell in love with her. And then she doubled down on the manipulation just to steer her away from her and into the path Celestia had chosen for her.
And that's not even covering... Everything else. Oh, you won't be nudged into place? Time for you to vanish. Don't worry. I'll erase everypony else's memory of the event! Whoop! What's that? You're a threat to Equestria? Time to unleash the force of the Sun in an extrajudicial execution!
What ultimately makes this so unhinged is the reason behind all this scheming. Celestia didn't orchestrate cultural revolutions, skew academic progress for centuries, and had a hoof over hundreds of different little developments through history because she was power hungry, or because she thought she was the only one who could steer Equestria to greatness. Oh, no.
It was all to make Luna feel more welcome upon her return. I could go into detail as to how that's supposed to make sense, but what matters is that it makes sense to Celestia. She just wants her sister to be happy to make up for the failures of a thousand years ago.
Thankfully, at least one big plan failed tremendously for her. Through the story, Fancy also had to deal with the rumour mill implying Luna and him were an item due to being seen together multiple times. You know, basic shipping rules. It turns out this was also orchestrated by Celestia herself. She found out that Sauna's son had the potential for greatness, so she molded him into the perfect stallion, subtly helping him raise in the ranks of nobility so once Luna returned, there would be no barriers to their love. And yet, they were only good friends. She doesn't take it well.
I should make it clear that this twist isn't an asspull. Her manipulative ways have been foreshadowed since the earlier stories, and there have been little hints of it throughout this one.
With that out of the way, I believe that covers most of what I can say about Electro Swing without spoiling anything big.
Glitterati shattered my heart. I physically recoiled away from the screen at one point.
This has been one of my best reading experiences in a while, and I hope one day we may get more stories in this verse.
Give this story a shot. You won't regret it.