Sunday 3 November 2019

Tears In Rain

I've been waiting to make this post for a couple of years now. Purely so I can use the image above. Yep it's time that I celebrate my favourite science fiction sub-genre and more importantly, the effect it's had on electronic music as a whole. This isn't going to be limited to a singular post mind you, I have a couple lined up for this month (again purely so I could use the above image). As for this post, well, there isn't really a plan for this one beyond some thoughts I've been having recently so apologies if it comes across a little rambling, lets get stuck in.

It's only fitting that I start with the actual namesake of this post (and source of the above image), Vangelis' soundtrack to 1982's Blade Runner has been a mainstay in electronic music circles for an incredibly long time, though curiously the soundtrack didn't see an actual release until 1994. Chalk it up to the film being fairly unpopular in its day, and the strength of its cult following in the years to come. Personally, I point to Vangelis' work for the Blade Runner OST as evidence that more films should be using electronic music in their OSTs. Granted, I am slightly biased because I love the film and electronic music and you could argue that it's thematically appropriate to the movie, but just listen to how iconic Blade Runner Blues sounds all these years later, especially compared to a generic orchestral score.

You should already be able to hear similarities going forward, most prominently being the work of Daniel Lopatin under his Oneohtrix Point Never alias. Beyond just the love of arpeggiated analogue that they both share, Daniel's signature sound in the early days of Oneohtrix Point Never revolved around using the exact same models of Roland synthesizers that Vangelis did on Blade Runner. Daniel's sound has since evolved and moved quite a ways away from this analogue noodling, but I will always hold a special place in my heart for these works, particularly those on the Betrayed In The Octagon release.

We're going to jump backwards a little bit now to talk about another series of releases I'm incredibly passionate about. In the early 1990's, Warp Records set out to revive what they called 'Electronic Listening Music', evoking images of Kraftwerk and Pink Floyd on the sleeve of the first compilation that would give the series its title; Artificial Intelligence. To quote Warp Records co-founder Steve Beckett on this decision:
That's why we put those sleeves on the cover of Artificial Intelligence – to get it into people's minds that you weren't supposed to dance to it!
— Steve Beckett
It's this vision and mission statement that comes to mind for me first when thinking of Warp Records, at this time electronic music in the popular sense was Acid House and Hardcore and the associated rave culture, so for Warp to push the envelope like this was an interesting decision. Not an entirely unforeseen one though, given the popularity of chill-out rooms and the release of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85-92 that same year on R&S Records. Still, Warp stuck to this idea for the next couple of years and would release 6 albums and another compilation under the {Artificial Intelligence} label.

The reason I think these albums appeal to me so is that for as long as I can remember I've been fascinated by just the actual sound of electronic music. I've shared that story of being enthralled by my dad's cassette of Kraftwerk's Autobahn and just how different it sounded compared to anything I'd heard before. Though I didn't fully dive into the world of electronic music until I was a teenager, it twinned nicely with my interest in technology too, a high tech sound for an increasingly high-tech world.

Which leads to an interesting contrast for me. To me, the Artificial Intelligence series has an almost positive sound to it, like technology is going to guide us through the 1990's and beyond. Maybe it's just the hindsight, but I can definitely hear the sound get more cynical, more jaded over time. This comes to a head around the 2000s, with Electroclash ironically embracing the shallow celebrity culture, Massive Attack taking on their now trademark melancholy tone with Mezzanine and most importantly for me, the release of James Stinson's Lifestyles of the Laptop Café, funnily enough also released on Warp Records.

While not officially part of it, to me Lifestyles of the Laptop Café represents the end of the Artificial Intelligence series; it carries with it that Electronic Listening Music sensibility for one, but the tone is now much more focused on very personal themes like disconnection and loneliness, with the technological element forming a backdrop to this. Again, maybe it's the hindsight (and to be honest my own personal experience in these areas) talking, but those themes have only gotten more relevant with time, even if the cover art has become a little dated in those 18 years. And in one final twist of fate, Lifestyles of the Laptop Café was originally released on September 3rd 2001, just 8 days before the world would change forever.

Well, this post took a direction I wasn't expecting. Aplogies again if it's a little rambly and more thinkpiece-y than my usual output. The other Cyberpunk Month posts I have in mind are much more structured so stay tuned for those if this one's been a miss for you. As always, stay safe and enjoy the music.

-Claude Van Foxbat

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