In part 2 of “what have the futurists ever done for us”, Ross Bicknell continues to draw a tenuous thread between the futurist’s art movement of the early 20th century and modern Techno from the likes of Donato Dozzy. Read part 1 here.
It’s a blessing Russolo’s device has only scantly surviving auditory evidence of its existence. Firstly for me as a writer because it means I can invent whatever I damn well like about it, and also because it fires the starting gun on any imagination concerned with these things to run headlong into the beautiful, dystopian distance, (toward a dying, bleached out sun perchance). Much like the work of the Italian producer Donato Dozzy, who frequently works with sampled noises in the Russolo tradition in combination with transcendent, ambient atmospherics and synths and comes from a long line of sampladelic techno and ambient artists captivated by the power of found sound from the Orb to Objekt/Randomer/Untold etc and their abstract techno experiments. The Orb preferring a summery palette of biplanes and blissed out southern American combine territory evocation, the others punctuating B-movie beats & clang captured on worn out tape with ‘oof’s, ‘huh’s, and ‘wurp’s from humans (‘huh’s are almost my favourite kind of sample, just behind hoovers I think). Donato’s latest album ‘Vaporware’ is a collage of meditative, uplifting soundscapes. Maybe Russolo would have turned his futurist nose up at it for having too many ‘musical’ notes. This is not exactly a sign of lack of quality, he was a bit of a techno fascist, but Donato’s acid workouts would probably have got him going and perfectly capture the steely futurist principles he maintained.
Techno has come along way since Russolo. So what of that?
Techno 2019: Big business.
Techno engages with this temporal acceleration and its enjoyment today can frequently fit into an accelerated and addicted behaviour pattern involving the selfie, the excitement of the first dance, the boshing of a pill, a dab, a snort, a double vodka and redbull in a cup emblazoned with propaganda for a product, the woop, the hands in the air, the spin round and the do it all again. Purists might claim (or they might be too fried or rich now…) that this is far from the Underground Resistance DIY ethic Mike Banks talks about here: There are definite messages there through tonal communication, we are silent and deadly and that’s the best way UR credits announce No hope, no fear, my only hope is underground.
But what about the discussion I touched upon about the ideological thrust and wanton statements made by the Italian Futurists? If it shares such an affinity with techno musically/ideas wise e.g. Russolo, as I have hopefully demonstrated, what else does it share? Ideology? Let’s see. I went to Londons Tobacco Dock last year to see some big name Techno DJs at an all-day mega techno event. I was met with wall to wall white people (of which I am one) from the same part of England (kind of where I come from originally, not IN London..), but wearing the same clothes, doing the same moves, (I had slightly different clothes, less.. it was a stag do for christ’s sake) completing the same patterns of behaviour as aforementioned and all to a mechanised and violent soundtrack akin to an Italian Futurists dream in an industrial carpark under a relic of slavery and colonial might.
There was joy in the collective thrust and togetherness of this group, marching forward who cares where, but marching, and only in a way that a 4/4 techno beat can make you. Nothing wrong with any of that of course, in fact I was having a whale of a time, but I was getting a sense (or when I thought about the sense that maybe I had got, a few days later, I got the sense) that there was a distinct lack of appreciation of history in this space, both the history of the place, and probably the week that had just occurred, if not the moment just been.. Obliteration of memory seemed to be on the agenda. Being in the now is a desired feature of meditation, but also the pursuit of it through any means necessary could be conducive to an unquestioning state you could call apathy, or just total unadulterated befuddlement. I think it really depends on the quality of the moment you are trying to stay in as to weather being in it is as sacrosanct as some might wish to believe. Now maybe all this is just a reflection of the current state of Britains 20 somethings and their collective need to rid themselves of a social media induced miasma, but erasure of memory, and history is a distinctly fascistic trope (ya know, book burning n stuff), just saying (having said that Im going back this year). I have to hand it to this generation though for reportedly drinking less, although drugs and techno can still fuck you up kids!
In one sense theres not much mystery to techno like there might be in DnB & Jungle. No questions asked. I think this is the point. As punk also sought to destroy what was there before, techno embodies this in sound. So I suppose it can mirror the full throttle attitude of futurism in this way. Techno probably attracts the far-right as much as punk did in it’s day, with its global reach.. but then again anti war commie rap-metalers Rage Against The Machine (RATM) were used in Iraq war death missions to gee up the US troops into trigger happy killing engines, so most loud/fast music is capable of being appropriated in one way or another.
You could also say communism or any other regime like system of government is alluded towards, so basically this music has militaristic and dictatorial vibes (although turning up wearing a Nazi uniform would probably be taking it too far, and more likely to be done by a royal whilst getting down to Ocean Colour Scenes greatest hits, so the techno scene does still have some decorum). Lose yourself in this heady mixture and you will never need pay the price, it says, although there is always those that do.
Techno pulls from the Futurist Manifesto those parts that the Futurists deemed splendid like speed, noise, mechanised violence, erasure of memory and industrial might and runs with them as its central theme. Its capable of exploring them critically and many forms of techno exist which are reflective/meditative but in its overall musical and cultural essence (cos I have special essence receptors that are 100% accurate, so you know) this is not tantamount to the soul of techno. Maybe other forms of electronic music can perform this particular function a little better? Perhaps DnB and Jungle? Stay tuned to the next chapter to read me scrabble around trying to justify why I think so.
So what have the Futurists ever done for us?
Their radical belief in a modernity in the arts that did away with the muling human soul has its manifestation as techno, whether as critique or exhilarating embrace or both. Russolo laid the foundations for how it would be achieved with his little intervention in the natural order of things and whose ripples still get musos all hot under the collar today. So thanks Futurists, wanton, bonkers desires lie in your initial spirit and however it’s manifested in the last 100 years it lives on in techno. That multifaceted dancing machine that keeps on giving regardless.
*A modern day Futurist comes to town this week at Jaeger when Donato Dozzy comes to Jaeger for another Frædag x Filter Musikk.