Here’s one for the history books. Maybe the year 2020 is part of the curriculum in your schools and educational institutions? I’m wondering if you’ve been reading my letters thinking: ‘When is he getting to the global pandemic? I bet that’s gonna be something else.’ If that sort of vicarious thrill-seeking floats your fusion-powered hydro-vessel, you’ll be interested to know that coronavirus is upon us, and that it’s toying mercilessly with our tiny minds.
A photo from 2020 taken in Toronto, Canada.
It’s the strangest thing. A virus that predominantly preys on the vulnerable and the elderly. The rationalistic part of me is reluctant to admit this, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re being tested. Tried on our moral convictions and collective ability to adapt and find common ground in the face of a rapidly proliferating challenge. Maybe the overlords running the simulation have unleashed a black swan event to see how we measure up with new upheavals thrust upon us. Or maybe this was bound to happen in one way or another as an inevitable by-product of our failure to engage with the world in a meaningful and sustainable way. It’s the latter, of course. Quarantine has made me go off on a slightly unhinged, quasi-spiritual nerd tangent. I guess that entertaining the fantastical sci-fi fantasy makes it less real and scary for a split-second or two. It’s been very real and pretty scary.
Whenever coronavirus hits a new country, the onslaught consistently induces the same behavioral pattern: indifference; followed by jokey comparisons with the common flu; and then, when it finally lands that this unstoppable viral phenomenon has the very real potential to upend living as you know it, shock and varying degrees of panic begin to set in.
As of April 8, 2020, 82.000 people have died amid nationwide lockdowns, far-reaching restrictions on social interaction and a global economy brought to its quivering knees. Here in Denmark, a generation with little to no experience in collective hardship or adversity are holed up in their homes, frightened and #alonetogether, moods swinging like brittle chandeliers on the Titanic, with dubious, personal information-stealing media as their primary source of connection. In the midst of fear-inducing pandemonium arriving on our doorstep and proceeding to seep into our sheltered home like a highly contagious, invisible ghost, It feels as if reality itself is in some sort of flux. We’ve been shoved out of our comfort zones without a moment’s notice into an eerie precarious existence that grief expert David Kessler calls ‘anticipatory grief.’
‘The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.’
As a learned friend of mine rightfully pointed out, that shitty feeling of uncertainty is the rule and not the exception for two-thirds of the world’s population. The unfairly balanced distribution of wealth and resources means that some of us have gotten free passes up until now. To a certain extent, we’ve been living in a wilfully oblivious fantasy world. An old-world reality, which is now coming to an abrupt, unceremonious end. Some people are calling it the end of globalization. We’ll see. In any event, I hope that doctors and medical experts don’t stop sharing new findings and knowledge across borders. If that positive side-effect of globalization ceases, we’re truly done for. It’s the neoliberalist part of globalization that needs to die, not the part where we collectively get more intelligent.
The deficit of hindsight
We should have seen it coming. Many ominous articles have been written on the dangers of multi-resistant bacteria. Countless warnings have been issued by people we should have listened to. It’s possible that we’ve been too busy lamenting our spiritual poverty in flights of self-absorbed navel-gazing. One thing is clear, however; the world has changed overnight. It’s a fairly unsettling thing to watch.
Certain forms of distancing are required in this virulent, new reality. Social distancing, the preferred protective measure of the world’s governing bodies sounds fancy and academic, but it really just means staying at home to avoid spreading or contracting the virus. Then there’s emotional distancing, the act of removing yourself from reality because it sometimes becomes too heavy and too much to bear. People are dying in droves. Your parents are categorized as being in the ‘at-risk’ group. Jobs are being cut on a massive scale and you can’t be completely sure if you have one in a month or two because the future has never looked more uncertain. You need to keep reality at bay to keep your head above water.
Apparently, this disengagement from the real world means embracing eco-fascist ideas for some people:
Wow… Earth is recovering
– Air pollution is slowing down – Water pollution is clearing up – Natural wildlife returning home
In my book, widening inequality, the handful of corporations killing the planet, and the military-industrial complex are the culprits here, not humanity. We all have our coping mechanisms, I guess.
It’s also been suggested that Mother Earth has sent us to our rooms to think about what we’ve done. To me, it feels more paralyzing. More vindictive and severe. More like a mean-spirited, older sibling kneeling on your chest and writing ‘dickhead’ on your forehead with a permanent marker – and then proceeding to shove you into your room, quickly maneuvering to hold the door shut while you bang on the other side filled with impotent rage and despair.
Grounds for optimism
Still, it’s not all bad. There are actually positive stories to be found beneath the mounting rubble of this world-toppling crisis. Glimpses of what the world might be like if we finally decided to get our act together. C02 emissions have taken a drastic downturn, pollution levels are plummeting and the sky is literally clearer for it.
Maps show drastic drop in air pollution after COVID-19.
The Himalayas are visible for the first time in 30 years as pollution levels in India plummet.
The word ‘solidarity’ has been mainstreamed within the space of a week or two. Collectivism seems to be growing stronger as people are robbed of social contact and realize how much they depend on one another, and prominent voices from across the political spectrum are calling for unified action on climate change.
Don’t fuck it up
This feels like one of those pivotal moments. With the global population being jolted out of their daily routines and comfort zones, comes fear and anxiety, but it also produces a range of opportunities. The chance to change our common mindset and with it the collective trajectory, which is currently set for unimaginable hardship if business as usual continues. The course we’re on has been altered for a moment in time and we’re all scratching our heads in collective reflection and wonderment. New things – things that seemed far-fetched to most people a month ago – are suddenly viable options. And so, what we do next will have significant implications on how we live in the future. As Indian activist and author Arundhati Roy writes in the Financial Times (of all places):
‘Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.’
As an optimist by choice, I have to believe that this historical event, challenging and grief-riddled as it undoubtedly is, can steer us in a direction that recalibrates our systemics, repurposes the way we organize ourselves, and reimagines how we engage with our natural surroundings. But that’s for you to know and me to find out, I suppose. For now, I guess I’ll just keep going a little cray in the quar. While we’re on that topic, I, for one, hope that the unpredictable whims of the benevolent Simulation Overlords don’t take us too far over the edge.
We’re big on fictional dystopias in my time. Maybe this is down to some warped, Freudian impulse or maybe it’s just plain, old human boredom manifesting itself in decadent, thrill-seeking fantasy. In any case, I’m pleased to report that Blade Runner 2049 just got propped-up by Blade Runner Black Out 2022, an Anime short-film made as a prequel to the main event, scored by Flying Lotus with music by the illustrious Kuedo. Watch the whole thing here.
With 2049 weighed down by mounting soundtrack complications, this expansive cyberpunk gem directed by Cowboy Bebop creator Shinichiro Watanabe is a breath of fresh, wide-eyed replicant air in the increasingly cynical human media racket surrounding the new Blade Runner movie.
Who knows, Blade Runner 2049 might still be great. But this tight, little short packing deliciously melancholy Anime-noir is kind of amazing. Denis Villeneuve needs to stay at the top his game to keep up with Blade Runner Black Out 2022.
What does the Venus Project, Silicon Valley hype men, Italian Futurism, Ray Kurzweil, David Lynch, Holly Herndon, new age prophet Terrence McKenna and the abonimable snowwoman Ayn Rand have in common? They all feature in this week’s letter on the benefits of utopianism, that’s what. If your tolerance for emotional earnestness is of the lower variety, now would be a good time to disengage your ocular viewing configuration. If, on the other hand, your interest in self-indulgent tirades from around a century ago have been piqued, I suggest you get locked into your interface because it’s about to get real.
First off, I should probably come clean. It’s a precarious state of affairs, but a lot my contemporaries look at me funny when I speak in utopian terms. When I venture the offensively uncomplicated opinion that the world would be a much better place if everyone thought happier thoughts and that the solution to a lot of the problems we face is optimism instead of pessimism, I get accused of propagating the sinister, shiny-surfaced, dream-colonizing rhetoric of modern advertising.
As soon as I lift the lid on my belief that we’re bound to overcome the challenges faced by the entirety of humanity, and that we’ll do it by collectively aligning our thought patterns along more positive pathways, I’m suddenly cast in the same category as Silicon Valley hype men disguising their hidden, megalomaniac, Ayn Rand-inspired agenda with progressive, world-changing aims. Either that, or they patiently take their time to politely let me know that I’m full of shit.
You see, I surround myself with people of a certain persuasion. Creative people, writer people, academic people, people of a certain ilk of whom Tolstoy would likely say that their lives are passed in ‘idleness, amusement and dissatisfaction.’ Open to experience and informed by power-critiquing strands of postmodernist thought as they are, they seek complex answers to complex questions.
Old man Tolstoy.
It’s not that I blame my friends and learned acquaintances for shooting me dirty looks when I state my optimism. All things considered, I realize full well that I can sound like a bit of a dickhead. Bearing in mind how zealots, terrorists, fanatics, Italian Futurists, Steve Jobs, Bono and other self-aggrandizing fringe groups and individuals with utopian agendas furthered untold devastation, fascism and questionable, rose-tinted eyewear, my utopianism is, somewhat understandably, regarded with guarded skepticism and overbearing glances among the cognoscenti (also, in my day, this is pretty much par for the course when you dare to suggest that the human condition can ever be anything, but an interminable struggle in the presence of people who make a living thinking about things).
The funny thing is that I’m not even that happy, so it’s not as if my utopianism comes easy to me. I mean, I’m happy enough, I have a lovely girlfriend whom I love, reasonable health and all that, but for various reasons, I am, like a sizable part of my generation, what you could call ‘existentially challenged.’ With no religion or fixed belief system to give me an overarching sense of purpose, I fail to see what the big deal about existing really is. What the point is, to be accurate. In that particular respect, I’m probably not that different to my worldly buddies.
Still, despite these reservations about the sanctity of existence, I remain, forever and always, an optimist on the part of humanity. Maybe it’s the excessive Star Trek TNG-watching of my impressionable youth, which drummed it into me that we’re destined for escaping the minor quibbles of Earth to sail among the stars, forging neorealist, diplomatic relations with samey variations on humanoids who’ve somehow all mastered English.
Or maybe it’s just that I’m so deeply embedded into the capitalist matrix’s modus operandi of ‘working hard, applying yourself and not whining about it’, which is giving me tunnel vision, effectively blinding me to the irreconcilable contradictions of our age. Whatever it is, I can’t seem to shake it. Don’t really want to, in all honesty. And I have my reasons. Reasons that I’ll now send your way because, well, you’re not even born yet, so you don’t really have a say in the matter.
1) David Lynch has my back – No, really!
I mean, it’s not like I can call up one of the most brilliant directors on the planet and get him to explicitly state that he agrees with me, but the director of Twin Peaks and the creator of tons of other genius, mind-bending stuff is a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation also known as TM. TM, if you’re unfamiliar, has as one of its core tenets that if the square root of 1% of the world’s population acted according to its beliefs, we’d be on our way to an enlightened tomorrow. Sound crazy? Stupid? Dangerous, even? Possibly. But you know what else sounds crazy, stupid, fucked-up and dangerous? The fact that we’re blithely skipping on the precipe of the biggest catastrophes mankind has ever faced without taking necessary steps to fix things. That’s literally the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard. With that in mind, I’ll take what I can get, quite frankly. And if David Lynch believes TM might provide some kind of structure or solution that makes everyone unite and come together, who am I to disagree? Some people might call it grasping for straws. I call it actively looking for alternatives to a mindset with a proven track record in failure.
2) We fucking need it
Pardon my potty mouth, but I can’t think of a time in history when we’ve needed utopianism more than the present moment. Nuclear war, the impending collapse of ecosystems, the cannibalization of resources, loose cannons at the helm of the military-industrial complex; these are all very real threats to our way of life occurring right now in my present, while we’re sitting idly by, feeling smug about impotent Trump-roasting tweets, garnering 4 hearts and a retweet. Utopianism might feel dangerous and difficult to control, which, I suspect, is why so many are apprehensive about letting the utopian genie out of the lamp, as it were. But quite frankly: the shit is, by qualified accounts, so close to hitting the fan that you can practically smell the contents of last night’s dinner being wafted in your direction by a cool fanning system on a globally-warmed summer’s day. As prominent braniac Stephen Hawking isn’t shy about pointing out in the Guardian:
‘Now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it.‘
Adding to this dire clusterfuck is the fact that the hottest 17 years on record have all occurred since 2000. In other words, there’s literally no other way out. We have to step up. It won’t be easy or pretty, but, in my opinion, the grand, sweeping utopian, narratives of positive change need to be invoked if we’re to have a shot in hell at turning things around. For all their dewy-eyed corniness, imagined utopias are pretty much all we have at this point.
3) Contemporary Visions of Utopia Don’t Suck in the Slightest
Are contemporary visions of utopia really that untenable and/or quixotic as certain people claim they are? Whenever I see the proposition of a radically new model of civilization, like The Venus Project you get the inevitable cynical, smartass on social media commenting how humans are inherently selfish and that ‘communism doesn’t work.’ I’m sorry, but it’s not a case of ‘communism vs. capitalism.’ We need to break out of this reductive, simplistic, binary, fift-grade conceptualization of societal modes and get more nuanced about the essential matters determining our future.
The Venus Project isn’t without its flaws, but in the light of the rapid, accelerating decline of everything we hold dear, this bold attempt at transforming the world, has to be admired and encouraged. It has to better, in any case, than making snide, inconsequential remarks on Facebook? Or posting resigned, fatalist articles on the coming ecocide?I love you, Motherboard, but this kind of thing is doing infinitely more harm than it can ever do good
4) It might even give some of us a sense of where we’re going
If anything does actually give me a sense of purpose it’s utopianism. The notion that we’ll eventually overcome our primitive, moronic barbarisms and create a world where we function as reflective caretakers instead of mindless locusts, makes me feel like I’m taking part in something bigger than myself.
Today, part of the problem and one of the reasons, I think, that clinical depression statistics in the well-off, industrialized world are soaring is that we’re left to our own devices in personalized, atomized bubbles facilitated by intimacy-faking social media. We’ve been individualized and trapped in our own little algorithm-orchestrated worlds, which runs counter to the sense of cohesion, characterizing earlier models of society. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a return to feudalism, or anything like that, but maybe there’s a way to incorporate the productive, collectivist social dynamics of history into our own behavior and letting it work to our advantage? It would be pretty arrogant to assume that our ancestors were all hapless cretins and that we are, in every way, the apex of civilization. As an atheist, I can even find it within myself to listen to Alain de Botton when he tells me to borrow from religion from time to time. Maybe it’s time to do some serious Spring cleaning in our inventory of ideas and philosophies.
5) Capitalist realism is obstructing our view – dismantle it and we’re free to dream big
Within the all-encompassing sphere of capitalist realism, all radicalism and novel ideas are inevitably stunted, assimilated and rendered toothless. Robbed of their original intent and radical potential, and transformed into novel ideas fuelling the voracious engine of capitalism. This is a very important point, I think. As Slavoj Zizek puts it in his Occupy Wall Street speech:
‘Let me tell you a wonderful old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent to work in East Germany from Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends, ‘Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say; if it is written in red ink, it is false.’ After a month, his friends get a first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: ‘Everything is wonderful here. The stores are full of good food, movie theatres show good films from the West, apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot find is red ink.’ This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want, but what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom.‘
In today’s seemingly endless cycle of newness and appropriation, those who dare to dream big, agents and actors whom I would consider the utopianists of our age, like Elon Musk, David Lynch and Holly Herndon are easily reduced by cynics to savvy marketers whose ideas, new and potentially transformative as they may be, lend themselves well to the assimilation of capital – that amorphous, omnipresent system without a face that devours our resources and seems hell-bent on sending humanity on a precipitous descent into Mad Max-like instability. But here’s the thing; imagining life outside this system is crucial to the betterment of our future. Our survival as a species, even. Bringing Zizek’s red ink into existence, the language and culture in which we can express ideas that fall manifestly outside the current paradigm is a matter of life and death. As the electronic artist and self-proclaimed optimist Holly Herndon says it:
“If society is ever going to progress, and move beyond certain oppressive institutions and infrastructure, then the idea of fantasy is essential.”
Going back to my pessimist friends and acquaintances, the people who were skeptical of my utopianism, I’ll grant them that complexity comes with the territory when discussing the future of everything. However, building a better future, a future that’s fair and just with the potential to liberate all of humanity from the seen and unseen reins impeding progress, doesn’t necessarily require complex, ideological frameworks. It is, quite simply, a matter of collective will. Of daring to dream the collective dream and instilling a collective fantasy – a utopia accommodating the entirety of the human experience. It’s that thing where if everyone got off their asses right now and demanded that their government took real action against climate change, we’d be on the right path tomorrow. Call me naïve or one-dimensional, but in my view, it really is that simple. In the end it’s about faith. Faith in the Tolstoyan sense that we’ll get on top of it all despite grim-looking prognoses and statistics. As a concept, faith tends to get a shitty rep with my friends because of its religious overtones. But quite honestly, what do we have if we don’t have faith? Feelings of superiority by playing the jaded misanthope at dinner parties? Also, if you think about it, why would you get up in the morning if you believe that humanity is doomed – and that it’s bound to end pretty soon? Personally, I can’t really get my head around that.
6) It’s a phase – a very scary, apocalyptic-seeming phase but a phase all the same
Look at history; you’ll find that most civilizations from the Mayans until today have been obsessed with the apocalypse. It’s very human to think that we’re special enough to be the last humans on Earth. However, being the optimist that I am, I can’t help but think that the present moment of uncertainty and instability, represents a transition phase in our history. That what we’re seeing is the death throes of the old paradigm anticipating the next stage of evolution. Whether that’s some form of Ray Kurzweil’s singularity I don’t feel brave enough to predict. I do feel brave enough, however, to show you a video featuring Terrence McKenna that sees him elucidate his leftfield take on the intensification of our world using cosmology, thermodynamics, the Mayan Calendar and other phantasmagorical, imagination-fuelling agents. McKenna’s worldview, warped as it may seem to some people – particularly the cynics of this world – is enticing to say the least. For those of you with an attention span as compromised as my own, I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting one, important point:
‘Human technologies, languages, migrations, art movements, ideologies, are not something different from nature. They’re the same download of process that we see in the movement of continents, the evolution of new species of animals – except that these human, novel emergent situations are happening much more quickly. So, I see the cosmos, if you will, as a kind of novelty-producing engine. A kind of machine, which produces complexity in all realms: physical, chemical, social, whatever. And then uses that achieved level of complexity as a platform for further complexity. Well, this explains our present circumstance. It explains the rush towards new technology and all forms of social organization in the new millennium.’
What uncle Terrence is saying here, I think, is basically that we’re not separated from nature. That the nature/culture divide is elaborately orchestrated bullshit. And that the fact that everything is speeding up and complexifying is intense as hell, but a natural process, which means that we’re not an exponentially procreating virus, but an integral part the planet. For me, that puts a different, very productive perspective on things. But I highly recommend sitting through as much his ingenious rant you have time for. I promise that’s it’s thought-provoking. Consider it psychedelic poetry, if that makes it more palatable.
Speaking of rants, that was one of the longer ones one my part. If you’re there in 2120 and you made it to the end, a tipping of the hat is in order. Brevity has never been my strong suit. What’s more, a lot of this stuff is probably so self-evident to you that it’s making you embarrassed for me. The thing is that in my time this needs to be said over and over. And the people who I think should be saying it, people who have the ears of the influencers and decision-makers of the next generation, aren’t saying it nearly enough. With brilliant, lucid and capable people like Jonathan Safran Foer holed up in a navel-gazing midlife crisis, less brilliant, less eloquent people have to step up and give it a go. This is me giving it a go. Curious as that sounds, even to me.
So if you’re listening, I’d like it noted somewhere for your future record that I gave it a try. If it all goes south, contrary to my utopian hopes and dreams, here’s written proof that I actually did something.
Aphex Twin, the grand, ponytailed wizard of electronic music, has a new a track out. ‘Made to test out the Poly CV feature on the Cirklon sequencer,’ produced by sequencer manufacturer, Sequentix (hence the dodgy Sequentix video), it’s classic, soaring and shapeshifting, Aphex sinisterness.
That is all. Except to say that if you don’t know Aphex Twin in 2120 something is about to go seriously wrong fairly soon.
I’ve got a case of ‘the Mondays.’ Here in my time, you see, a lot of us spend Monday to Friday toiling, restless and beaver-like, in undignified hierarchical command structures with the weekend as the week’s only saving grace, the light at the end of a treacherous tunnel filled with passive/aggressive confrontation and mediocre coffee. In the 10s, the weekend is widely regarded as the time to unwind. We ‘let off some steam,’ and forget our woes through stimulant-driven, physical exorcise like raving or, if you’re slightly older, going to a bar and shouting directly into someone’s eardrum over loud music while simultaneously keeping an anxious, watchful eye on the fickle attention of the alcohol-dispensing bartender.
I could write long-winded diatribes on the oppressive nature of capitalist realism (and don’t worry, I shall), but having had my energy and joi de vivre depleted by alcolhol-fuelled, dopamine-stealing activity and the afore-mentioned shouting, I’ll take the typical, lazy shortcut of my post-reflective generation by conveying my Monday melancholy and escapist yearning in easily disgestable sound, image and, of course, GIFs:
I imagine that you’re busy. Busy doing things unfathomable to us, but pedestrian, maybe even tedious to you. Be it communicating techno-telepathically with the entire world all at once; purging yourself, odourlessly, of feces in some wonder machine of the future instead of taking a smelly, old-timey crap; or maybe just cleaning up the steaming pile of crap we left you with. My sincere apologies if it’s the third, turd-shovelling option. In that case, we failed to get it together for some deranged reason. ‘Together’ being the operative word.
Even so, in the hope that you might be interested in hearing about what went before what is now, I’ve written a message for perusal at your convenience. I’m hoping that it might offer some insight. Maybe even some kind of explanation for whatever you currently find yourself in.
It starts in my formative years, the 1990s. That’s when I got into skateboarding, music, beer, marijuana and girls. Back then, we listened to angry, militant hip hop, abrasive metal, grunge, techno and indie-rock. Sometimes the genres would merge and cross paths, creating bastardized off-shoots like rap-metal.
Public Enemy and Anthrax fistbumping in the early 1990s.
Running through it all was the narrative of what you might call transgressive subversion. Public Enemy and NWA, the voices of black, disenfranchised youth, stuck it to systemic oppression, Rage Against the Machine raged against the machine, metal stuck it to prevailing notions of bourgeois decency, Autechre, Orbital and The Prodigy stuck it to the Criminal Justice Bill and Kurt Cobain stuck it to just about everyone – including, in the end, himself. Telling ‘the man’ to fuck off was what it was about back then. In hindsight, some of it was probably a tad self-righteous and naïve. The youth cultural movements of the 90s purported to speak for the downtrodden, but largely neglected the unfairly stacked challenges faced by developing countries. To a certain degree, it was untamed neoliberalism with a humanitarian sheen – as thoroughly documented by Naomi Klein in her 1999 book ‘No Logo.’
In my twenties, the 00s, awkwardly named the ‘noughties’, it was probably more about transgression than subversion. As the birth of Transgressive Records in 2004 would seem to support.
In the wake of 90s political correctness and identity politics fatigue, the 80s made a big, brazen comeback and with it cascades of electro, punk, synth-freakery and cocaine reentered culture’s cutting-edge. Revivals come around every 20 years where I’m from (I suspect that you might have an astute observation to make about that based on your historical overview) and the 80s in the noughties was, overwhelmingly, about partying hard and ‘not giving a fuck’ in skillfully disheveled, punk-tinged ensembles. About transgressing boundaries and doing things deemed off-limits by your hippie-baby-boomer mother/father. Looking and acting like a douchebag uncle with a filthy little mustache and an ilicit drug habit, was suddenly your ticket to getting laid. This all made sense at the time, believe it or not.
Death from Above 1979 being their very 00s selves.
On the whole, I think that the unifying theme in the transgressions of the noughties was the quest for freedom. Freedom from constraints, freedom from shame and guilt, freedom from categorization and labels, the freedom to be an arrogant diva and/or a self-centered asshole, the freedom to dress like a confusing mess with a jumbled-up aesthetic somehow existing outside the tyranny of being nailed down to a specific era. That, and not taking things too seriously. There was definitely a playful element to things back then.
In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with wanting freedom. The trouble with an urgent belief in freedom from everything, including responsibility, is that it impinges on other people’s freedom in unseen an unforeseen ways. It’s just plain antisocial. Admittedly, this went way over my head when I was 25 in 2005.
Photo of a careless me getting ‘hyphy’ circa 2005.
At some point in the late 2000s, what started out as refreshing irreverence in the face of stale, self-righteous sanctimony began to fester and transform into its own kind of stifling bullshit. A wanna-be reckless, heavily orchestrated lifestyle, (which shall remain nameless here mainly because I’m sick of uttering said lifestyle’s deeply problematic label) that so desperately tried to be free and new, but was ultimately snared in by all the unseen reins of the past. In any case, countless blogs and articles dedicated to calling out and mocking the allegedly oblivious, ego-centered cultural elite started popping up left, right and center.
Broadly speaking, in somewhat simplified terms, I think it was the combination of the global recession of 2008 and the growing, physical realization that we were doing irreversible harm to a planet with finite resources, creeping in gradually through the cultural cracks, which ultimately permeated everything and made mustachioed creatives and fashion-forward designers seem irresponsible and oblivious. Knowing that you’re fucking the planet on an abstract, theoretical level is very different to knowing it physically. When it really gets under your skin, when it seeps into every pore and the all-too-real real possibility of your partaking in the escalating apocalypse intermingles with your molecular structure, it completely knocks the wind out of your sails. To the point of needing an escape route; an exit from the great depression caused by the seemingly impending End of the World. For some people the escape became the identification of a scapegoat. Sure enough, around 2008, creatives became that scapegoat. People needed a vent and the vent was aimed squarely at all the designers, graphic designers, musicians, artists and gallery owners who purportedly failed to care about the important issues of the day (paradoxically, though, a lot of so-called conscientious observers were targeting themselves with their bashing. But that’s another story).
So, to sum it up, we went from the narrative of transgression to the narrative of restriction. Limiting yourself in all aspects of life, living frugally, reflectively and conscientiously while sporting ecologically-grown facial hair was the logical conclusion to the recklessness of the 2000s. It was the responsible, detoxing hangover cure following a decade of being mindlessly drunk on extroverted fun and games. PC and ID politics dusted themselves off and tried again, to paraphrase the great poet Aaliyah, clearing the stage for new and fresh takes on 90s anti-patriarchy, like intersectional feminism, the Black Lives Matter Movement, LGBT rights and innumerable, other worthy, ‘woke’ ways to limit and restrict the damage done by the careless, self-absorbed noughties.
Finitude and finality of resources, the idea that our planet is anything but a boundless reservoir of fossilized energy, finally etched itself indelibly into our collective psyche, creating vertigo-inducing, introverting cerebral wounds that we’re likely still recovering from. Hence all the apathy and failure to act. Adding to that, I think a certain transgressivist individualism, as mapped out by Adam Curtis in several documentaries, is proving incredibly hard to shake. It seems to underpin everything from the person-obsessed art world to the upper echelons of global capital. Negotiating the paradigmatic shift from the cult of individualism to a new kind of collectivism that gets everyone onboard regardless of political orientation is undoubtedly the great challenge of our generation. As the late, great cultural theorist and author of the highly recommendable book Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher AKA K-punk puts it in an interview on the book:
'The thing is it's nobody's fault, you can say, in a genuine sense, but that is the problem - because there is no agent
capable of acting. There's no agent at the moment that's capable of taking responsibility for a
problem on the scale of the environmental catastrophe that we're facing. Instead, it's contracted out
to us as individuals as if we could do anything about it by simply putting plastic in the right bin. That
won't solve the environmental catastrophe that we're up against. The only thing that can solve it is
the production of an agent capable of acting. But of course nothing like that has ever existed
throughout human history until now - which doesn't mean it can't exist, but that we're in very new
As an incorrigible optimist, I have to believe that we’ll somehow produce this first-time occurrence in the history of the world: a collective agent capable of acting on behalf of the atomized human race. Dropping the ball on the future of the planet isn’t really an option. If this message is to have a recipient, we clearly need to jettison our cynicism, stop our pathological fixation on fictional doomsday scenarios, curb alarmist clickbait headlines, and relinquish a billion bad habits that have colonized our biological harddrives into submission. Moreover, it’s essential that we make doing the right appealing to everyone. Not just people with fancy educations and unlimited surplus energy.
Thankfully, progressive initiatives following that line of thought are in the works. Danish architect Bjarke Ingels has recognized that restriction and limitation aren’t among the most inspiring or sexy virtues in the world. He calls his architecture ‘hedonistic sustainability’ presumably as a way to dispel the notion that sustainable living has to be about tasteless vegetables and acquiring nervous tics about carbon footprints. On the face of it, at least, it seems a progressive philosophy, attempting to reconcile the forces of modernity with the critical necessity of reconfiguring the cannibalizing consumption of late capitalism.
The Hualien Residencies in Taiwan designed by BIG/Bjarke Ingels Group.
Other than attempting to make us an interplanetary species and possibly overdoing the acid, Elon Musk is making sustainability look dynamic and appealing by creating swish, affordable electric cars and nice, solar roof shingles that don’t cost an arm and a leg. It looks like sustainability can actually be good for your bottom line, not to mention your cultural capital, all of which you have to understand is incredibly important here in late capitalism. In the long run, people here in 2017 usually prefer the dynamic and the active to the static and restrictive.
Still, we have long-ass way to go, to use a a contemporary colloquialism. These initiatives are at best small, anomalous ripples in a sea of excrement. Trump was recently elected president and he instilled a cabinet, which largely denies the proven reality of anthropogenic climate change. In turn, reality in the early 21st century is getting increasingly surreal and scary.
If you’re living in a worst case scenario, this message might seem the like the deranged, deeply offensive, frighteningly clueless cries of a 7-year-old, convinced that the world will bend to his petulant whims. On the contrary, if you’re living in a best case scenario, if we made it, and you’re living the fifth generation or so of the internet, you’ll probably just be hopped up on some benign version of Soma, thinking that I’m old, stuffy and irrelevant.
All things considered, I guess I can live with that. Just know that in a hundred years from 2120, someone will probably think the same about you, old sport.
As 2017 marches on relentlessly, providing shock, awe, frustration and disbelief in equal, abrupt measure, Regular Joes like me are left in the dark as to what kind of world we’re entering. The nature of truth seems to be in a state of flux. In the age of social media, it’s clear that the age-old axiom: ‘there’s two sides to every story’ is becoming increasingly irrelevant on an interconnected planet where people are flocking, fugue-like, to the internet to give their two cents on anything from a man getting kicked off a plane to Trump’s intervention in Syria.
Adding to that, powerful and persuasive propaganda machinery is working overtime to sway the hearts and minds of the global population, creating more confusion, less transparency and a consistent blurring of reality. There isn’t necessarily two sides to a story; there’s around three billion of them – all piled up on Facebook Twitter, Instagram, etc., in angry, sad, elated, euphoric and ultimately conflicting, little soundbites empowered by technology.
A strategy of coming to terms with this overwhelming, new uncertainty and its byproducts of paranoia, anxiety, apathy and moodswings, is attempting to grasp the elusive, incomprehensible hyperobjects governing our reality, so that they can be expressed, communicated and felt in immediate, comprehensible ways. Condensing your reaction into music is one way of going about this. What’s more, not only does music resonate and speak to the visceral complexities of the present, it has the added benefit of hinting at the future, as French theorist, Jacques Attali, so boldly points out in his book: Noise: The Political Economy of Music:
‘Music, an immaterial pleasure turned commodity, now heralds a society of the sign, of the immaterial up for sale, of the social relation unified in money. It heralds, for it is prophetic. It has always been in its essence a herald of times to come. Thus, as we shall see, if it is true that the political organization of the twentieth century is rooted in the political thought of the nineteenth, the latter is almost entirely present in embryonic form in the music of the eighteenth century.‘
In the attempt to traverse the insurmountable barrier of time and communicate with you in a language you’ll experience more directly, the language of music and emotion, we’ve compiled a playlist that echoes the tumultuous now while potentially hinting at things to come.
Obviously, a list directed at you guys living a hundred years from now, needs to be edgy and forward-thinking AF (Translation: As Fuck), which is why I’ve enlisted the help of my good, knowing and capable friend Tobias who DJs and also works at Vice, a company specializing in being down with the cutting-edge kids and their next-generation-shenanigans.
So, from the downcast soundcapes of Kuedo, Sd Laika and Actress to the grand lamentations of Arca and the frenzied, celestial trance of Lorenzo Senni, we hope you’ll dig the Letters to 2120 selection when you have a minute to disengage yourself from whatever futuristic activity you’re currently involved in.
If you have a moment to spare away from the futuristic sounds being channeled into your technologically enhanced ears via your retinal interface, I’d like to introduce you to a thoughtful young man from Copenhagen instilled with a prodigious talent for making evocative, electronic music filled with history, memory and uplifting melancholy.
Henrik Koefoed Petersen is a producer/musician who calls himself Erosion Flow; a name that succinctly communicates how he captures the restless flow of the moment in the face of the inevitable, and transforms it into deeply personal, uncompromising dance music infused with spine-tingling flourishes of rave, bass music, house and IDM.
This futurist is of the opinion that Henrik has the required talent, vision and technological wherewithal to create a new musical legacy, and, as the title of my blog implies, I think it might just remain relevant in 2120. Hell, he’s only 23. If scientific research into cell regeneration doesn’t get derailed, he’ll probably be around when you read this message.
Make no mistake, Erosion Flow is the sound of 2017. And yet, part of the reason that it feels so unequivocally now is its flagrant disregard for the majority of musical developments and trends happening right now. With a deftly calibrated balance between the opposing forces of past, present and homegrown idiosyncrasies, it resonates a moment time in its stubborn, intuitive inconsistency. Also, I probably don’t need to tell you this, but owing to a certain president, culture tends to get politicized in this day and age. Henrik, however, has chosen a different path. A reflective sensibility with an inherently skeptical approach to politicized intent in popular music – despite keen awareness of his privilege and the global music scene’s uneven power structures. Currently signed to Martyn’s 3024 label, the output is, in the rising producer’s own words, ‘music for the people.’ Freed from gimmicks and actively opposed to religious, political and ideological agendas, it is, simply put, very no-bullshit and pretty great.
Central to making music is memory. Interestingly, Erosion Flow works in a giant, collective memory bank. Like a younger, dance music version of the BBC archive-dwelling, documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis, the Copenhagener works part-time in the musical archive of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation where he digitizes formats of old while soaking up the dusty, analogue vibrations of the DBC’s vast, inanimate music recollection.
One sunny Friday in March I went to visit Henrik with our photographer, Anton, in his two music lairs. Starting out in the archives of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, we had a chat about musical memory, the ethics of sampling and inspirations and influences, finally ending up in his Nordvest studio for a talk about the Copenhagen scene, the politics of contemporary dance music and intuition in the creative process.
So here we are in the musical archives of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation – what’s it like working here as a producer/musician?
Working at the archives really has made me much more humble. Going through all of the different music has put a lot of things in perspective, especially when it comes to credits on music. That’s also why I don’t sample any of the records here either. I think working in the archives has matured my take on music. And the sampling debate, which has been a hot topic for some years, especially the implicit issues of cultural appropriation, had added to that. All that stuff definitely had an influence on the way I now source my sample material, and has made me think a lot more about my personal relation to the sources I draw upon.
That’s why I’m pretty focused on trying to only use sounds that are of a certain personal significance to me. I still think sampling is great, but I’ve just come to a point where there’s no sense in sampling random stuff; there has to be a connection to the sounds I use. Lately I’ve been running my iPhone through synthesizers, and I’ve found a lot Youtube-clips from stuff like the And1 Basketball Mixtapes and video game interludes, which traces memories back to when I was growing up, so it creates a nostalgic aura in the tracks. Even if it just floats very subtle in the background, it still evokes a lot of emotion for me.
Did you follow the appropriation debate around Jamie XX and Romare and their use of samples?
Yeah, I did read that stuff. I must say, that I’m in no way the right person to judge, since I don’t know either of their personal relation to the music they’ve sampled. But those incidents, definitely made me reconsider how I personally went about sourcing sounds and samples for my music.
The thing is, that most of the people I know making club music today are, like me, from Caucasian, middle-class, suburban backgrounds. And when I started out making music as a teenager, I didn’t have the knowledge about where the records I sampled were from, or what the history behind them were; I only went after the sound and to see if I could add something extra to the track I was producing. But today I feel very different, and I wouldn’t let myself source anything directly from another artist, to benefit my own music.
I think it’s important that the people doing that also stand accountable and acknowledge where the original comes from.
Does the kind of music you work with here at the archive influence you? It’s hard to say if there’s a direct influence. I think it’s more of a subconscious thing. It’s inspiring in the way that you’ll stumble across stuff that has a completely different approach to music, than that of my own. For instance I have been digitalizing a lot of the Folkways Records music, which is an American, state-subsidized initiative from the late 1940s created to record and preserve music from around the world, especially tribal music from lesser technologically advanced places on earth. That thing really blew my mind, as to how you can look at music so differently, due to your cultural background and heritage. And even though local hotbeds around on the house and techno scene still exist today, in a broader picture, there is so much stuff you can’t differentiate because everyone is pretty much using the exact same soft- and hardware.
In the studio.
If we talk about different formats a bit, vinyl has experienced a resurgence, and other obsolete formats like cassette tape are rearing their heads. What’s your take on that?
It’s great that people are pressing vinyl and that the pressing plants are keeping busy! I hope that more will follow to open and that it’s not a short-lived resurgence. But for me personally, it’s never really been about the formats, though. I enjoy playing vinyl when out DJing, but my own releases have always been available digitally as well, and I will continue to make them available. I want my music to be accessible to everyone with an interest in it. And I guess I believe too much in technological determinism to only release stuff on vinyl. I do have a proclivity for nostalgia, but that’s much more about personal experiences. That’s also why I think it’s interesting to use the contemporary, digital hell of Youtube and stuff like that for sourcing sounds, even though many would argue that the sound quality is much better through vinyl- or tape compression. But I think it’s interesting to use current technology, and not romanticize the sound of now.
Youtube is an interesting topic. In his book Retromania, Simon Reynolds makes the case that the platform has played a central part in creating a generation of creatives obsessed with the past by enabling them to make 1:1 copies – by looking at videos as opposed to the creative output that comes from misremembering influences. What’s your take on that?
For sure! YouTube is an extremely efficient portal when it comes to tracing down the ins and outs of any type of production, and it has also been key for me when I started making music. But I agree that there’s definitely a flipside to that. There’s so much music simply trying to recreate the past that is being put out, especially within house and techno. But regarding that, I also think it has a lot to do with the origins of the genres being so closely connected to specific hardware. Like the fact that you could easily create a simple Chicago/Acid House track if you were to get your hands on a 303, 808 and a M1 or even if you found some reasonable digital duplicates of those machines and then found out how to make the “correct” rhythmic patterns, chord progressions, etc.
That thing is definitely hard for me to see the point in; not wanting to risk anything and simply putting the least amount of personality into the music.
In your own music, you sometimes use elements that could be considered classic. What do you get out of that?
I’ve pretty much grown up using what I have had at my disposal. I’m very fortunate to be in a studio, where some of my friends have a lot of vintage gear I can use as well. But it’s never about recreating certain sounds I’ve heard before, it’s much more about digging a bit deeper by blending different sonic textures both digital and analog, and trying to create something unique that also captures the vibe and the feeling I’m having when in the studio. In that way I like to see it as a reconceptualization of various elements from club music’s past, put into a new context.
How would you describe the scene in Copenhagen?
To be honest, I’m probably not the best at participating in it – but from what I see, hear and the parties I go to, it seems like it’s pretty healthy at the moment!
For me it’s always been about creating my own bubble. This bubble pretty much only includes my close friend Andreas (producer for Saint Cava – ed.).
I’ve learned that if you let too many in, you might lose your focus. It can end up taking the wind out of your sails, and you can loose track of the vision you had from the beginning. I think it’s about creating a balance where you are in a comfortable environment to create independently, but remain susceptible to impressions with a critical sense, so you can actively select the ones that are useful and inspiring to what you’re doing. Growing older and getting more mature has definitely helped me establish the right balance.
There’s seems to be a carefully tuned balance between melancholy and euphoria in your music. I guess you could call it uplifting melancholy? Is that something you actively strive to work into the music – is it something you’re aware of?
That’s a very hard question. Because it’s down to the feeling I have and the atmosphere I’m in when I write the music in the studio. Something I’ve learned from working with Martyn and releasing on his label was that energy is paramount when it comes to club music. But regarding the melancholic elements, I guess it has become a defining characteristic of my music – it’s just the vibe I’m into. I realized that when I made ‘Syvv’ last year; But I like to think it’s more of a withdrawn, reflective kind of euphoria. I think that’s pretty close to my personality. I’m more the reflective type and I need some kind of emotional triggering in music, otherwise it’s quite hard for me to respond to. Making techno tools, even though I love playing them, just isn’t for me. I need to cram as much personality and emotion as I can into my music.
Does the melancholy thing have anything to do with the general state of the world? Do you get influenced by what’s happening around us?
That’s the kind of question that everyone wants to say yes to at the moment, I feel. I mean, of course I’m aware and I definitely think that those emotions are in everyone’s subconscious. But personally, the only political agenda I have is to get my music as far away from politics as possible in a sense. My music is for the people; it’s really not about politics. It’s created as a free space, where all of that can be forgotten for a moment as cliché as that may sound.
Personally I’m quite opposed to religion and ideology, but I respect people living their lives how they want, of course. I’m just personally more into technology and I think that plays a much more important part in affecting positive change for the future.
Why are you called Erosion Flow?
After loosing my old laptop and all of my music after a burglary, I kind of shifted into a different mindset regarding music. There needed to be more focus, instead of just making tracks with no purpose or no personality. This was around the time when I went out quite a lot in Copenhagen. While we were out, I suddenly started thinking that I’d like a name, which reminded me of that fact that I needed to roll on and keep things fluid somehow. It’s actually the closest thing to a spiritual mindset for me, I guess. If I have any kind of religion I follow, that’s it. So it became Erosion Flow. Erosion is a naturally occurring phenomenon that just happens, and I juxtaposed it with flow, which has these technological connotations – like media that just keep going. It’s not because I want to make it into this huge thing, but it has actually given me a lot in terms of creativity and perspective. In the end, I try to make music in a flow without getting caught up in minor, unnecessary details.