Electronic music is the most exciting and revolutionary thing that happened to music in the last 500 years. Plain and simple. Beyond genres and styles, its very own nature has meant —and still means— a radical reformulation of how we think of music, how we make music and, ultimately, what music is. But why?
In the “Why Electronic Music is so f**king great” series we’ll see… well, why electronic music is so f**king great through some of the music paradigm shifts it has meant during its first 100 years.
Electronic music is cold and soulless
And that’s OK (part 2)
Why do people think electronic music is “cold” and “soulless”? As explained in the previous post, the early beginning of electronic music was related to a non-dramatic tradition, as it was born in an academic avantgarde context. But most of the listeners that think of this “coldness” do not know much about Stockhausen or Xenakis. They have discovered electronic sounds in a popular context. But how did electronic music, and therefore its “coldness”, make the transition from the highbrow field to the pop charts? Well, that process has a name: Kratfwerk.
Songs about highways, radioactivity, trains and cycle races. Robots on stage. Anthropomorphic beings foreign to human passions. The perfect man. The Man-Machine.
Kraftwerk’s success in the international pop scene started in the mid 70’s —specially since “Autobahn” (1974) — with a bet that collided head-on with pop ethos. In contrast with the carnal desire on which 90% of pop music is conceptually based, the band from Dusseldorf proposed an order ruled by neatness, automation and, lastly, the celebration of everything traditionally considered as asexual, and thus not human, as BETTER. Blood, sweat and tears are now neon, mercury and silicon. New values.
Kraftwerk’s aesthetics evokes the Italian futurism, perhaps the first and most revolutionary of the historical avant-gardes, except for Dadaism. As Marinetti’s followers, the German quartet identify themselves with the exaltation of technology as a symbol of progress and sublimation of the human ability for transformation. As Russolo claimed, they chose “Noise Music” as the soundtrack for the new world. A neat and happy world. A world where artists are androids in the service of our melomaniac pleasure.
Nevertheless, unlike the Italian trend, Kraftwerk replaced certain totalitarian and proto-fascist twitches typical in the futurist movement — which would encourage Marinetti to become a strong Mussolini supporter — by another equally utopian vision of the inter-war Germany. Theirs was a glamorous, romantic and, of course, aseptic idealization of the Weimar Republic, hair lotion and starched shirts all over, which highly determined the aesthetics of Kraftwerk’s direct heirs: industrial music, synthpop and everything in between.
Virtually alone in their crusade, Kraftwerk represent, at least during their first years of success, an isolated deviation in the pop universe. A sort of eccentric uniqueness similar to those of Devo and Suicide. However, the emergence in the late 70’s of a new generation which grew up with them was historically more significant, at least in quantitative terms, in regard to the irredeemable “cooling” of yesteryear’s warm sound of pop music through electronic music.
More belligerant in their intentions, and considerably more perverse in their tactics, Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, among other champions of industrial music, epitomized the dystopian antithesis of Kraftwerk’s bucolic futurism. While the group led by Ralph und Florian used electronic sound and automation as paradigms of perfection, the industrial artists made it exactly the opposite. In their ideology, electronics is a subversive element. The robotic voices are transcripts of the psyche of the serial killer. The frigidity of these bands is just like Michael Myers’ while executing — pun intended — his work.