Shiloh: Ghost Outside The Machine

Image: @shilohdynasty

The internet is a haunted place. People linger long after they’d rather leave, locked in social feeds, CV banks, the time-stamped tag of a comment thread in the digital backwoods, our ghosts dried and hung on the branches. Unless we request it, most of us will die before our Facebook profiles are removed. And who does? Isn’t it easier to sit and imagine what people are thinking about us from the scant traces of who we were? If Warhol said we’d all want to be famous for 15 minutes, maybe now, instead, we want to be anonymous, because it’s harder. That’s the curious pull of Shiloh Dynasty – we can’t square her in our heads because she is a somebody and a nobody all at once. For a person who drops such heavenly lo-fi music online, she remains a shade. Unimpeachable. Dead, if you keep asking. 


Reclusive musicians are nothing new. Scotland’s Boards Of Canada fire emails to the New York Times about their demo remasters, refusing to play a gig for almost two decades in case a camera snares their soul. Daft Punk busted their media obligations back in the 2000s, while acclaimed guitarist Buckethead has still been wearing his KFC adornment interminably even though we know he is Brian Patrick Carroll. But at least we have their faces. At least we can search snippets of their speech, the way they move and handle conversation, to help them seem close to us. The difference with Shiloh is that we only have the music. And not much of it. 


In 2014, a user named Shiloh Dynasty began posting videos on Vine. 13 clips, six seconds each. Barely a minute and 18 seconds of material from a dark bedroom. A super tight camera on denim or a t-shirt, lips, small teeth; an acoustic guitar trapped in the grain. But a voice of clearest water. The kind you stop in the street for, happy to stand for hours until you’re rolled under the street sweeper but you don’t care since there’s a single extra moment’s bliss to take with you. She is soulful and ghostly like Tracy Chapman and Ray LaMontagne duetting in a basement. Her mood is dark, chill, exhuming. You could play a video game to Shiloh and play her again after a hard phone call with your girlfriend. Tens of thousands of fans picked up on that. Her channel views ran to millions. 


Two songs hit SoundCloud – ‘Downtown’ and ‘Nicole’s Garden.’ Others accumulated. All of them are short; few throwaway. Not every track pops but it doesn’t matter, as they seemed to be a knock on the door before she leant back and kicked it open. Yet so far, that moment hasn’t come. Shiloh’s final Vine surfaced in April 2015. A year later, she vanished. No more material. All she’s left us is a black and white photo with a cap

You might say her fans went into overdrive. You also might say it’s a good goddamn thing that Shiloh Dynasty is not an artist for rambling, orchestrated symphonies – her music is made for sampling. That’s how we know about her. A lo-fi producer named Potsu ripped her vocals and laid them over his beats. They caught the ear of XXXTentacion, who assimilated Shiloh into ‘Jocelyn Flores’ on his debut LP 17, as well as sister track ‘Carry On.’ Other samples followed, such as TSUKI’s ‘Who?’ and Young Thug’s ‘Climax.’ The phantom breeze of Shiloh’s singing began to possess the internet underground, then the mainstream, as questions of her supposed death gained air and momentum.  


If you look at two of the best Shiloh Dynasty threads online – her Reddit community, and Discordia’s discussion, although you have to endure a rattle of shitposts – you’ll find a few pieces of common knowledge and a bunch of speculation. One of the first things people assumed was that Shiloh had killed herself. Even before it was generally agreed she is female, listeners worried that her sudden disappearance – as well as inclusion on the ‘Jocelyn Flores’ project, which centres on a troubled girl who committed suicide – meant she was gone. “I heard Shiloh is hanging out with Tupac in Cuba,” reads a comment on XXXTentacion’s subreddit. “Don’t let haters take control over you,” says another. “You matter.” These are the offerings of a listenership perplexed by obscurity. Tellingly, we jump to death over a resistance to fame. 


Thousands of fans ran down the rabbit hole and saw darkness. But in 2019, the consensus appears to be more positive. Shiloh is alive. What’s more, we may know her name. Here are a couple of near certainties. 


Shiloh Dynasty was born Ciara Nicole Simms. The discovery came from a vinyl credit; before his death, XXXTentacion seemed to sample her again for the first song off his Skin LP. But it wasn’t just a straight remix of her vocals. Record owners were informed of a co-writer: Ciara. In February 2019, the album’s producer John Cunningham hosted an AMA and confirmed he’d met her – in a studio, no less – on the Skin sessions. All he’s say is, “Shiloh’s an amazing person.” He probably goes to bed with an illuminati-brand hot water bottle. 


Supposed fact two: her manager is or was called Anthony Specter. This was semi-confirmed when a nutjob called Atlas-bassington dove into her website’s source code and found Specter’s name embedded there. Cunningham has attested to his validity, describing him as British, which leads us to the Specter artist management agency in London. At some point, Anthony represented her. Anyone looking for more answers is welcome to message the shit out of them and get digging. 


Fact three: Shiloh registered a company (Shiloh Dynasty LLC) in 2017. Ciara Nicole Simms is listed as the owner, registered with the government of California. The address is 611 Maltman Avenue – on Google Street View, you’ll see an unassuming house with a front porch off Sunset Boulevard. The company is listed as a ‘branch’; its original home is Delaware. It was also reregistered under a different status in both February and December 2018. What’s going on? We can only speculate. Yet Shiloh is at least keeping her name active. The Maltman Av. place could be a hangout, business squat, second home, or a random addy to throw us off the scent. 


Four: her friends are worried too. Back in August, a Genius video broke down the Shiloh phenomenon. Devin ‘Saki’ Johnson was one of their so-cold-it’s-almost-a-popsicle leads – a childhood friend of Ciara Simms, who claims he briefly played in a band with her and has the low-res footage to prove it. “I used to actually call [her] the light-skinned Lauryn Hill because she could play guitar so well, rap so well,” he told the Genius crew. “The voice recordings from her phone have changed the world.” He hasn’t spoken to her for three years, but he’s happy she’s become an enigma, which is like saying you’re glad Diane Arbus took a photograph with her arse once and never developed anything again. 


Then again, it’s privacy. We should accept it. The enshrouding of a figure is more impressive than being a very good singer. When a Shiloh release comes, who cares if she’s unknown? Greater reason to cherish those recordings and let ourselves fill in the blanks. We could be denied a live singer for the ages, or maybe she isn’t so sharp onstage, which would make the pervasiveness of her mystery more nourishing. I only ask for new material. A real record, so the art is naked, even if the person isn’t. 

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