The Future’s So Last Century

I’m very much looking forward to reading Simon Reynold’s Retromania (talking of which, look who’s on twitter!). Here’s the blurb:

We live in a pop age gone loco for retro and crazy for commemoration. Band re-formations and reunion tours, expanded reissues of classic albums and outtake-crammed box sets, remakes and sequels, tribute albums and mash-ups . . . But what happens when we run out of past? Are we heading toward a sort of cultural-ecological catastrophe, where the archival stream of pop history has been exhausted? Simon Reynolds, one of the finest music writers of his generation, argues that we have indeed reached a tipping point and that although earlier eras had their own obsessions with antiquity – the Renaissance with its admiration for Roman and Greek classicism, the Gothic movement’s invocations of medievalism – never has there been a society so obsessed with the cultural artifacts of its own immediate past. Retromania is the first book to examine the retro industry and ask the question: Is this retromania a death knell for any originality and distinctiveness of our own?

As a utopian theorist I am, of course, particularly interested in the particular brand of ‘retromania’ that harks back to a past when there was a future- of which ostalgie* and hauntology are the most frequently written about- though I have my doubts about the extent of its utopianism. Here’s three tracks which, in their own way, convey this longing for a future that never arrived…

Poppy and the Jezebels- UFO

The future-synths, the sci-fi kitsch, the reference to a ‘Fortuna 4000’. But most of all, the line ‘the future’s so last century’.

And boy, is it an absolutely perfect slice of pop.

EL Heath- We Saw the Future, Only Yesterday

My good friend EL Heath was mildly amused/inspired by my insistence that there was something hauntological in his use of the Ondes Martenot and 80s synths and began work on an EP called ‘Old Haunts’ (which you can hear for free on Soundcloud). This has a track called ‘We Saw the Future, only Yesterday’, which is a nice pithy summation of what’s going on with a lot of hauntological retromania, I think. There’s a sense of disappointment in that comma: ‘only that was yesterday, and we live in colder times now’. In an after future, perhaps…

Mike Ladd- 5,000 Miles West of the Future

This, of course, is all painfully white.  But I’ve long thought this track by Mike Ladd is pretty apt too: ‘I’m 5,000 miles west of my future/Where’s my floating car, my utopia?’. The album it’s from (Welcome to the Afterfuture) can perhaps be seen as the most potent expression of black hauntology, harking back to the Afro-futurism of Sun Ra and Blutopianism

*I’m surprised there hasn’t been a noticeable contribution to music from ostalgie. I’d always thought Jan Jelinek’s Ursula Bogner might fit the bill, but re-reading her ‘back story’ it appears she was a West German capitalist, so bang goes that theory.  I, for one, would be all in favour of Veronika Fischer’s Dann Ist Liebe Ein Teufelskreis (her cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart) being rediscovered, but that was recorded after her defection to the west. Dean Reed, anyone?

One thought on “The Future’s So Last Century

  1. I’ve just discovered that Eat Lights:Become Lights’ debut album (Autopia!) has a track called ‘Monorail’. Monorails are, I think, the ultimate symbol of the future we’ve forgotten. But more of that in another post…

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