Recently there have been a series of exciting electronic albums released from artists such as Lazerhawk, Miami Nights 84 and Mitch Murder which use the sounds and rhythms of 1980s disco music; the focus of these albums is as much to create such music for the modern age as to slavishly imitate the past. This is done through making the music self-consciously retrospective in every sense; the use of classic synth sounds and rhythms is combined with spoken-word and found-footage segments which evoke the period from which the music is supposed to come. Similarly, the videos for the songs use archive footage both of people of the time and the pop culture of the time; Lazerhawk’s Space Is The Place uses footage from Space Battleship Yamato to form its video.
This is a different kind of musical retrospection to simple remixing or appropriation; the songs produced are original yet out of their time, an artificial imitation of the past that makes its status as an imitation part of its own identity. Mitch Murder’s album Current Affairs makes this clear; it takes archive footage and remixes it to tell different versions of history, beginning with a news segment claiming that it is fruitless to try and categorise history by periods. In considering different aspects of American life through its different tracks, Current Affairs is essentially a concept album in electronic dance music; it tells a distinct story, albeit one based on interpretations of the past. This semi-analytical approach is what defines Current Affairs as a self-conscious imitation; the selections of footage, framed in the documentary format and reinforced as allegedly being contemporary, present a specific view of the 1980s that is informed by the possibilities afforded by hindsight.
By contrast, an album like Visitors or Redline by Lazerhawk is a straight musical evocation of a period made nostalgic by use of strong visual and audio cues. The video for Space Is The Place may use footage from a classic anime, and a song like Space Trash might be heavily inspired by Kraftwerk, but its imitation is almost purely musical. Without the narrative that defines Current Affairs, there is not the potential for an evaluative aspect. The albums are more straightforward nostalgia pieces evoking a specific style and creating an entire image based around an specific era. Current Affairs uses its sound and style as a background for a look over the period and an estimation of the society via its use of soundclips; songs like Inner City Chronicles or In The News are inherently something more than musical nostalgia by their references to gang violence, the Cold War and the rise of technology creating an impersonal society. Between In The News and Palmer’s Arcade, the latter focusing on video game fans in the early days of amusement arcades, one could argue Current Affairs is – in referring to 1980s social concerns and technologies – a very “cyberpunk” concept album despite its firm grounding in real history. The “cyberpunk” subgenre of science-fiction is founded in concerns about the effects and abuses of future technology, yet they are common and timeless concerns.
Such a retro obsession is arguably part of the modern day remix and reappropriation culture that is coming to define creative works; as ideas of pure originality and inspiration become more blurred, musical experiments based on looking backwards at styles and then taking them into the present day have a growing presence. This trend in evoking and reworking the concepts of 80s electronic dance is paired with futuristic images and titles intended, in part, to try and recapture the scientific and economic popularism of that era that gripped Japan and defined its science-fiction. Using films, series and OVAs like Akira as a source – as the group Flashworx do on their EPs Futurisma and Two Guys In Japan – provides the evidence of both the science-fiction optimism and the necessary cyberpunk cynicism. A recurring theme in cyberpunk SF anime – from Akira to Bubblegum Crisis and even comedies like Dirty Pair and Dominion Tank Police – was that the future would be a great time for crime and corruption. Much of the action was based around police forces, or pseudo-police entities that were required to take on criminals making the most of new developments in science.
The idea that prosperity brings with it greater opportunities for crime is no new one – stories of space pirates, smugglers and crooks are pervasive in the genre – but the themes of the videos and album titles of new 80s-derived electronic dance are heavily based on these super-police dramas of 80s anime. This corporatist future is combined across the genre with the superficial materialism of 1980s America to essentially create a fictionalised 1980s myth; an exaggerated era built on hearsay and hindsight and defined more by fiction and stereotype than actual history. Current Events recuts archive material and history into an evaluative narrative. Lazerhawk and Flashworx use SF anime – a small subsection of 80s pop culture – as a starting point for 80s-inspired music. And the picture is ultimately completed by bands like Anoraak and Electric Youth which take a more chilled approach, rejecting the car chases, cops and robbers and enduring threat of nuclear war for songs like Nightdrive With You that skew more ambient. As a musical movement, this new “80s” electronic dance, built as it is on self-conscious imitation of the past and conflating science-fiction and skewed history to create an image for the music, is interesting; the songs are exciting and pleasant to listen to and the nostalgic image created around them – and common across several of the top bands in the genre – offers an interesting look into remix and imitation culture.