The Design Museum’s celebration of electronic music comes at a time where the imminent lockdown, closure of clubs and an ever growing list of social restrictions have choked this dynamic yet seemingly fragile industry. The exhibition is a fitting reminder of the sudden absence of nightlife culture and the rippling effects on so many communities. Throughout the exhibition, you are reminded of the intersections between technology, design, music and art which have elevated the genre to a visceral and sensory experience.
You are greeted with Andreas Gursky’s ‘Union Rave’, a large-scale photograph of young people dancing, epitomising the era of ‘anti-establishment’ and ‘debauchery’. Similarly to the pioneers of electronic music, Gursky himself led a transformation within modern landscape photography by making use of technology and digital tools to manipulate space into abstract yet seemingly realistic shots. This is followed by an interactive timeline of electronic music starting at 1901 with the invention of the first synthesiser, moving on to more seminal technologies like the Moog synthesiser in 1964, the Roland drum machines of the 80s, through to the ‘Golden Age of Techno’.
Listeners can plug in their headphones throughout points in the timeline to experience the transformation and refinement of the genre which led to the more recently commercial successes of artists like Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Giorgio Moroder. The timeline demonstrates how, in recent years, the genre has transcended into the mainstream while managing to consistently retain its underground presence. The music itself promotes experimentation, optimism, creativity and expression; for decades electronic music has provided security and acceptance to the marginalised. This in turn has created safe spaces for extraordinary creative communities to develop.
The exhibition focuses on these pioneering electronic movements in Detroit, Chicago and subsequent pockets within the UK and Europe. Videos in the exhibition room called ‘Detroit-Machine Soul City’ play scenes of the city’s deserted industrial streets overlaid with the hyper techno music born from it. The contrast of these abandoned scenes with a music genre so associated with packed and chaotic venues, highlights the requirement for a harsh and industrial environment as the origins of such sounds. Spanning a large black wall, the exhibition provides an insight into the iconic advertising associated with electronic music culture in the UK. Posters from the ingenuous campaign by the Liverpool club Cream show the enduring appeal of the club night for the British working classes living for the weekend. Further down, a cartoon poster depicts the usual scenes and interactions of club goers at the legendary and exclusive Berghain club in Berlin.
A poignant part of the exhibition demonstrated how laws enacted by the UK, US, Japan and France have quelled club culture within recent decades. Within the UK, the Disorderly Houses Act 1751 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 were both cited as legislation that inflicted repercussions on grass root and community led events imposing penalties which disproportionally effected marginalised ethnic groups.
Other highlights include the famous clip of Jeff Mills playing four vinyls simultaneously in rhythm and the complete sensory experience of the video for the Chemical Brothers 2019 Glastonbury set ‘Got to Keep On’ by Smith and Lyall. To fully reap the benefits of the exhibition, noise cancelling headphones are a must!
The exhibition is scheduled to show until 14 February 2021 and must be booked in advance using this link.