Monday, July 2, 2012

Do Tangerines Dream of Electric Beats?

This is another post from the archive pile, first drafted in June 2011, but rewoken in honour of Disasteradio's awesome new single Drop The Bomb...

Recently in the Monkeyhouse while watching Tron Legacy (courtesy of Al - cheers!), I turned to Mrs Simian and said "Is it wrong that I'm enjoying the music so much?" Of course it wasn't, she said. Daft Punk were an inspired and logical match for the movie, and of course it didn't take me long to recall that the combination was naturally appealing to me, because friends - deep within the recesses of the Simian brain is an Eighties techno fan.

As a teenager interested in movies and Sci-Fi and comics the desire to look for a musical genre that would naturally accompany these was strong. Electronic music chose me in the end, courtesy of TVSF. For a while I collected Jean Michel Jarre albums, then any synthesised soundtracks I could get my hands on - mainly dubbed tapes from friends (Manhunter, Blade Runner, and I seem to recall liking Toto's soundtrack to Dune a fair bit). But the most eclectic cassette I had was this one - the 'Jive Electro'  Disc Drive sampler. Check out that blue neon Vitruvian Man!:

Lots of Tangerine Dream was on there, which was pretty cool, as I'd thought they were just hippies before that. And I really dug Mark Shreeve, who had based some of his compositions around Stephen King's The Stand (which I was also reading at the time), so that got an easy pass. Here he is playing live in the UK. Apologies for the Eighties-ness - it's time travel, dude.

I still like a bit of retro futurism, and the media I consume as a fan these days confirms that each iteration has formed its own SF subgenre in a way. Every decade has its own version of the future, and in every example I can think of I find there's more to explore and enjoy in the 'retro' version than the future we might predict today. I can't fully explain why. Is it because it's a safe blending of nostalgia and optimism? Naive motifs unsullied by modern science and the reality of life in the twenty-teens? I do know I get more pleasure (guilty and genuine) out of seeing how we imagine the future than seeing how we do now, even if it's an Eighties vibe which has, to my mind, a lot more to do with post-apocalyptic ruin and nihilism than before. The Seventies and Sixties both predicted worlds shattered by nuclear warfare, but usually one in which the nuclear threat was the closing act of humanity - the Eighties, whether in the Mad Max movies, Terminator series or even our own little knock-off Battletruck , saw a way past the bomb and a chaotic, macho world beyond - a new barbarism. Its soundtrack was unrelentingly synthesised, anticipating perhaps the world's future to not be that of men and women, but machines. Any sufficiently advanced music suite could therefore be indistinguishable from your better-than-average video game backing track down at your local arcade.

This marriage of pulp Eighties SF kitsch and synthesised music is a strong element of Disasteradio's music, and while Gravy Rainbow will likely haunt alter ego Luke Rowell until his dying day, there's a shared aesthetic in his videos for Visions, No Pulse and Drop the Bomb that show Eighties retro futurism is alive and well and sounding pretty cool. I may have traded in Disc Drive over twenty years ago at Records Records in Dunedin for the beginnings of my Flying Nun collection, but it's very good to have this stuff (and Daft Punk's End of Line) around as well.

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