“My sole ambition as a composer is to hurl my javelin into the infinite space of the future.” – Franz Liszt
The term ‘Futurism’ has a curious history through the arts. Its earliest incarnations can be found in Marinetti’s description of Italian society during the early 1900s. Here, art had become transfixed by the innovations of the modern age: the racing car, the aeroplane, the industrial city. Where the Romantics held a nostalgic longing for a pre-industrial age, the Futurists embraced modernity, in all its brutal reality. Music soon followed. Luigi Russolo in particular became one of the first ‘noise musicians’ in history, designing and performing with his own homemade mechanical instruments. It’s rumoured that Russolo’s first performance of futurist music – entitled ‘Awakening of a City’ – caused riots amongst the audience. Such was the shock of this movement. The Futurists worshiped technology above all and encouraged its enforcement through order, violence and industry. Little surprise that fascism also became central to their cause.
Fast forward 50 years, and futurism re-emerges in the clubs and factories of industrial America. As companies like Ford began automating the labour market in Detroit factories, the city responded with post-industrial afro-futurism. The Detroit techno DJs, influenced by Kraftwerk, soundtracked the widespread mechanisation of labour. The Futurist fixation on technology found a new God: the drum machine. “We want to make music of the future” they said. And for many, this future looked bleak. Club music began to lose the soulful vocals of house and the tempos accelerated to dizzy new heights. Nick Land, the ‘Neo-Reactionary’ father of accelerationism dubbed this sound as ‘Manically Dehumanised Machine Music’. But the body of work produced during this period is often heralded as the benchmark of a successful club music culture, perhaps the most compelling artistic example of futurism to date.
Today, futurism in electronic music has many different guises. The Sci-Fi ambient soundscapes of Oneohtrix Point Never and Vapourwave hold a strange nostalgia for the futurist visions of the late 20th century. Forged from the ashes of cyberpunk, they take their source material from TV advertisements, VHS cassettes and Windows 95. The attitude is far removed from the dynamism of 20s Italy and 80s Detroit; instead lending itself to pot-smoking, basement-dwelling and introspection.
Now there is the ‘accelerationist’ side of modern electronic music. Pan, Janus, NON and PC Music have pushed for an increased ‘need for speed’ in music to match our accelerating society. The music feels like how using the Internet feels: fragmented, frenzied and fleeting. Its subjects are corporatism, consumerism and capitalism. But it’s often hard to discern parody from sincerity.
Understanding contemporary projections of the future gives us an understanding of our present moment. Future-oriented music is crucial in this regard. If, as Marx says, revolution is the locomotive of world history, we ought to be listening out for its arrival. After all, as David Bowie put it, “the future belongs to those who can hear it coming”.
On this month’s Resonance FM show, we spoke to Rena Minegishi (aka Object Blue) and Emile Frankel about acclerationist music: its historical connection to futurism, its aesthetics and its politics. Listen below:
Akzidenz - Legacy Support
Rhythim is Rhythim - It Is What It Is
Object Blue - In The Station of the Metro
Holly Herndon - Unequal
Atom TM - My Generation