Thought I might as well get some content on here, even if it’s dated as fuck.
Here’s an essay I wrote last year on Accelerationism in Club Music. Flawed ideas and grammatical mistakes are a good vibe. For most of this I clearly couldn’t quite grasp the difference between capitalism and consumerism. Why do old people think guitar music still possesses a punk ethos?
Anyway yeah this is really dated and I did a cool interview with Adam Harper which for some reason I decided to barely feature in the essay.
last year me was a prick.
here’s the essay now.
When one thinks of political music it is rarely any form of electronica that first springs to mind. Throughout recent history the dissenting voice of punk rock has indeed been the driving voice in political comment within music, but this is not always the case. Numerous past movements have exemplified how electronic music can satirise, protest, and highlight factors of the political word. From Underground Resistance’s militant political reactions to the downward spiral of economic decline in Detroit to the challenging and provocative themes of industrial artists such as Throbbing Gristle, electronic music has given a strong political voice to musicians and performers across the world. It is easy to write off electronic music as devoid of political or even meaningful content, to view it more as a function to enhance the listeners experience on a much more primal and dance orientated level, but the presence of political comment, protest, and rebellion can be noted in countless examples from the last century.
One such theme that can be drawn from many practitioners from differing genres spanning across the electronic music world is that of capitalism. In the 21st century we are surrounded by capitalism. 21st century man is a media junkie engulfed in a world of logos, slogans, and marketing and this too is the case for the 21st century music consumer. It’s possible to feel overwhelmed in this world of high-energy corporate bombardment in which a task as simple as listening to your favourite song may require exposure to soft drink adverts, online self help gurus, or malicious virus pop-ups.
Some believe that this garish omnipresent sense of mainstream capitalism is an inherently negative aspect of our modern day society that represents a failure by ourselves as a species. They do not however believe that the hindering and removal of capitalism will bring about a better world. Instead they campaign and advocate for the heightening and strengthening of capitalism to such an extreme extent that it inevitably results in its downfall and thus a social and economic revolution. This theory is what is now known as accelerationism. Accelerationism is a form of political belief that can be noted in various different forms throughout history, and whilst the fleshed out concept of accelerationism is a relatively young creation it is recognisable within the works of a number of relevant figures in both politics and music.
Karl Marx displayed early signs of an accelerationist concept in 1848 when discussing how the destructive tendencies of the free trade system could help bring about social revolution. However Marx believed that the expansion of capitalism would be a natural cause and did not campaign for a rapid heightening of capitalism to achieve his ideal of a communist utopia. Past theories that link up with what we today refer to as accelerationism seem increasingly relevant and modern today despite the eras in which they were conceived. One example of this could be the Russian philosopher, Nicolai Fedorov. His work is seen as precursory to transhumanism which is a movement that focuses on the use of technology to combat seemingly undefeatable conditions of human life such as natural death and ageing. This concept of transhumanism fits directly into the accelerationist themes of encouraging the cybernetic cohesion of man and machine.
Accelerationism is of course not just confined to the political world and stems outwards into the arts as well. One early predecessor to today’s artistic accelerationist styles was the Italian futurist movement. The Futurism movement emphasised speed and technology, heralding creations such as the car and the industrial city as the best examples of a successful humanity. This longing for speed and industrial upheaval was greatly reflected in the music of the Futurists who were against the use of traditional operatic music forms performed in what were known as conservatories in Italy. They instead wanted to push forward newer works because, as is written in the Manifesto of Futurist Musicians, “In these hot-beds of impotence, masters and professors, illustrious deficients, perpetuate traditionalism and combat any effort to widen the musical field” . Unlike anything else from this era, futurist music used industrial and mechanic sounds such as load roars, creaking, screeching, and crackling to mimic the sounds of machinery. This is a musical aspect that is noticeably prevalent within modern accelerationist music.
This attribute of machinic sounding musical elements is noticeable in many other genres and forms of music that lead up to present day. A prime example of this is the industrial genre pioneered by Throbbing Gristle who created avant-garde mechanical sounding electronic music taking influence from a range of musical forms such as musique concrète and krautrock. It’s this use of mechanical sounds that now link a number of underground forms of electronic dance music to the concept of accelerationism.
‘Club music’ is a term used to define a range of stylistically varying forms of underground dance music that draw influence from a variety of genres. This predominantly internet based form of music has grown in prominence over the last six or seven years but still remains in relative public obscurity. The plethora of genres from which club music takes inspiration from seems to be ever-growing but fundamentally it can be described as “rebooted ballroom/vogue house and the new wave of instrumental grime, all with a stark, hi-tech machine sheen” . This hi-tech style of production that is prominent throughout the genre that makes it so cutting edge, so new and ultimately accelerationist. It’s this steely, mechanical form of production prominent in club music releases by artists such as MM, NGUZUNGUZU, and L-Vis 1990 that relates directly to accelerationist concepts and literature. Quotes from accelerationist practitioners such as “Imperceptible mutations…” , “…modernity as explosive.” would be equally at home in reviews for this futuristic form of bass-heavy, robotic, cybernetic sounding music.
It’s also the sense of darkness and foreboding danger that accompanies and compliments these industrial sounding musical motifs that relate to accelerationism. The dark, haunting style of instrumentation is likely adopted by club music artists from predecessing genres like early dubstep and garage but this is not to say that it is not accelerationist. One could argue that an accelerationists goal once the downfall of capitalism through hyper-accelerationism has been achieved would be a brighter and happier future but this is not the case as the accelerationist manifesto states “…what we are arguing for is not techno-utopianism. Never believe that technology will be sufficient to save us” . The apocalyptic sounds of artists such as Rabit, Celestial Trax, and Amnesia Scanner could easily soundtrack the ascension to a new cybernetic dystopia through the means of capitalism’s downfall.
Not all electronic music that follows accelerationist themes has to have an instantly noticeable dystopian feel. The PC Music group are a prime example of this with their ultra-kitsch, ultra-poppy, and ultra-kawaii (meaning cute) take on both mainstream and underground forms of dance music. Upon first listen it can be said that the music of these artists such as SOPHIE, A.G. Cook, and Hannah Diamond sound entirely opposite to the cyborg-like darkness of club music but there is still a strong link to accelerationism. The actual concept behind PC Music is still open to debate but many believe it to be a satire of modern mainstream music and culture that drives the cutesy, catchy, and cheesy aspects of pop music almost beyond recognition. It’s the same theory as accelerationism whereas instead of heightening capitalism itself they are accelerating musical connotations of it. As Breitton writes:
“Accelerated, increasingly perverted kawaii starts to realize itself as an industrial sound, as controlled by a menacing entity which cannot help but poke out from the veil of innocence as kawaii now buckles under its own weight.”
It could be assumed that the conceptual slant of PC Music could be entirely false. That the producers and artists behind the group simply wanted to produce variations of mainstream pop and it has been the discussion in the press about PC Music that has led to the group being linked in with certain political and artistic ideologies. However it does seem to be a conscious effort made by the group to satirise capitalism and consumerism in a number of ways. Firstly, frequent references to mainstream popular culture, technology and consumerism are notable in PC Music tracks such as USA (GFOTY, 2015), Wannabe (Lipgloss Twins, 2015), and Hi (Hannah Diamond, 2015). If these artists weren’t creating music inspired by and also satirising capitalism and consumerism would they have such a heavy amount of capitalist connotations in their lyrics? It seems unlikely.
As well as the lyrical content of the PC music output their recognisable visual representation, that works almost as it would for a brand or corporation, that screams accelerationism. The visual side to PC Music including album artworks and music videos is garish, over-processed, and high sheen. A number of the artworks for releases are produced by Diamond Wright which is a “collaborative image making and portrait project” of which PC Music artist Hannah Diamond is one half of. There’s clearly a real sense of involvement with the visual output within the PC Music group meaning the consumerist connotations that link the visuals to accelerationism are surely a conscious decision. These high definition visuals also often display a theme or concept with an undeniable relation to mainstream popular culture.
The “Hey QT” release was accompanied by advertisements and promotion for a fake soft drink named ‘QT’. On this surface this may just seem to be an artistic promotional tool with high production standards that fit within the PC Music rhetoric but it appears to be much deeper than that. Now of course the intentions of the PC Music group are never truly announced and remained shrouded in mystery this fabricated soft drink is another example of the group satirising and mimicking trends in the mainstream pop music of the last decade. The QT soft drink concept could in fact be a mockery of real life corporate endorsements by musicians and public figures that have become commonplace in our society. This concept becomes much more valid when compared to artists such as Britney Spears, Beyoncé, and One Direction who have endorsed and appeared in adverts for PepsiCo, Justin Timberlake with the McDonalds chain, and Taylor Swift with the Coca Cola Company.
The pristine, glossy, high definition of this artwork is also mirrored in the production value of the songs put out by the group. These tracks sound a world away from the current trends in electronic dance music for the use of analogue saturation and lo-fi production styles, instead sounding hyper-digital and almost over-produced in some cases. PC Music producers such as A.G. Cook and SOPHIE have embraced the HD sound quality that is possible when using entirely digital forms of music production and have created brash, high frequency laced yet bass driven tracks that are the exemplification of futuristic computer programmed production. Their releases are littered with intriguing sound design and synthesis, high pitched anthemic synth lines reminiscent of happy hardcore, and repitched vocal cuts used as much as a digital instrument as a human voice.
Synthesised human voices are another form of instrumentation that is commonly notable in underground ‘club’ music. However these do often tend to be releases that sway towards ambient grime as opposed to more club ready tracks and tend to focus on a more dystopian celebration of capitalism. The use of this production method by club music/sound art producers such as Fatima Al Qadiri and Visionist are a prime example of the representation of the cybernetic cohesion of man and machine in dance music. This futuristic play on the human voice also links in to the countless references to the concept of “post-humanism” that can be found in numerous accelerationist texts particularly those by philosopher and writer Nick Land who strove for a post-human state (Noys, 2014). Fatima Al Qadiri is a producer with closer links to the accelerationist movement in her work than many other artists and she displays clear political messages in both her music and the accompanying visuals and artwork. One of the key themes in her work and her collaborations in the group Future Brown that relates to accelerationist concepts is that of accelerated globalisation and internationalism. Her works draw from numerous cultures and supposed western stereotypes of cultures to create globally eclectic releases and this is something that has similarly occurred across the club music genre in the last year or so. In relation to this, music journalist Adam Harper stated in an interview:
“There’s often been a dimension of ethnicity to accelerationism, with the impression that Japan (vaporwave), China (e.g. sino grime, Fatima Al Qadiri’s Asiatisch) or the Middle East are more accelerated cultures. In some ways it’s the same old exoticism and cultural appropriation.”
This concept of accelerated globalisation is something that makes ‘club music’ appear increasingly forward thinking and current. Especially when compared with other forms of electronic music based off of stylistic rigidity such as techno and garage. Browse for club music on the internet and it’s possible to hear releases that take inspiration from all corners of the globe and then emphasise this further. Due to this inherent sense of hybridity within the internet based you’re not unlikely to hear for example a track inspired by grime that uses a latin tresillo drum pattern layered with orchestral samples or r&b vocals. This heightened crossover of cultures is driven by the internet which encourages producers to incorporate countless musical forms that they can discover at the click of a button into their productions.
Despite all of these examples of accelerationist themes that are prevalent in electronic music one issue still arises. It’s clear that accelerationism is being consciously practiced or demonstrated when you analyse the work of artists such as Fatima Al Qadiri and PC Music who present clear political commentary in their work but this is not the case with many of the other practitioners that I have discussed. What can instead be observed is most likely a trend for accelerationism in electronic music. For example, whilst it is not something that can be directly proven, there can be doubt as to whether club music producers who create music that sonically relates to the cybernetic ideologies of accelerationism are actually aware of the concept or have merely been inspired by its aesthetic values. To these producers without an understanding of the workings of accelerationism this aesthetic may simply appear current and belonging to this present day as opposed to something that seeks to look forwards into the future. As put by Adam Harper:
“We simply expand the borders of humanity to include what we’d previously heard as alien. One listener’s accelerationist is another listener’s modernist.”
This is of course just a theory about the use of accelerationism in electronic music and today it seems that despite its relevance in both society and electronic music, accelerationism and its potential is something that is rarely considered by the average music listener or performer.
One theory I formulated when researching accelerationism and its link to electronic music painted this use of the ideology as a musical aesthetic in a negative light. I questioned whether pushing the acceleration of capitalism, consumerism, and technology as a musician is actually detrimental to your craft. With the advancement of technology new musical forms will be invented, new instruments, and new interactive ways to create and perform music. What this could lead to is the requirement for human input when creating music becoming potentially obsolete through the invention of music producing algorithms or software, or indeed artificial intelligence. Whilst as a music listener you may argue that it is the human element of music that gives it any true meaning and that this will always prevail as the true source of music. However there have been developments in recent years that show a movement towards nonhuman music performance.
Hatsune Miku is a Japanese performance project that has garnered a great deal of attention and support in Japan. Hatsune Miku herself is a 16 year old girl who performs in front of audiences, singing with a live backing band. What makes her existence so poignant in relation to my theory is one thing; Hatsune Miku is a hologram with an entirely synthesised singing voice. The character is projected in front of audiences and sings programmed vocals which are crated using Yamaha’s Vocaloid singing synthesis software. The fact that performances such as this garner such a large audience (she is currently touring North America) shows that the public may be open to this form of inhuman musical output and it may be a precursor to my theory of a world without any human musical involvement. However the existence of Hatsune Miku is clearly not an inhuman creation as her synthesised voice is programmed by a music producer. Perhaps audiences would not be so welcoming of a form of performance that could be developed that runs simply off of computer capabilities or artificial intelligence.
Who is to say that the eradication of human involvement with music is detrimental to the art? Accelerationists would argue that art is bigger than the concept of being human and that the art itself is the creation of technology that can surpass the human ability to produce and perform music. Many may disagree. Accelerationism may never become a mainstream way of thinking about music and may be destined to remain a trend, an aesthetic that for now is relatively popular in electronic music, even if the music producers are not aware of it.