2011: Music’s Most Electronic Year Yet


Vestigial organs like industrial music and the radio dial proved vital in 2011, while house and dubstep were invaded by hordes of uninvited outsiders, proving once again that electronic and plugged-in music is at the vanguard of change throughout the world.

Weird Pop, Skillrex, Maximalism, Hipster House, and Occupy Noises

The whole discussion on this stuff was spawned in the text of Pitchfork-sponsored blog depository Altered Zones, which unexpectedly closed its doors late in the year. If anything, the death of Altered Zones places a kind a bookend on this era, the Altered Zones era, even if its founders promise a return next year. Ironically, he site’s signature chillwave/hypnagogic pop/leftfield basement demo style was initially spawned by a kind of out-of-time/ahistorical mentality. That it achieved a historical relevance out of posing this predicament gives credence to its potency as a 21st century art project.

Any retrospective of the year would be incomplete without a mention of Simon Reynolds’s Retromania, which posits that our current era is suffering from both a dearth and an abundance of history (the concept of musical evolution as a history of subcultures “getting it wrong” is Reynolds’s too, as is the term “Maximalism”). This was exactly what the Altered Zones sonic sounded like -- an unprecedented music constructed out of a series of incongruent precedents.

The Altered Zones spillover resulted in all manner of eccentric electronic pop with unusual contours and emphases by not only Drake and The Weeknd, but also artists who stood out on their own like Zomby, Grimes, Ford & Lopatin, James Blake, Autre Ne Veut, D’Eon, or the unexpectedly slick Destroyer, each of whom produced records with no real parallels in 2011 or any other year. This is not to discredit good old synthpop, of which Junior Boys, Cut Copy, and Metronomy produced excelsior renditions in 2011. Then, there’s the case of M83, deciding once and for all that being ELO is not the worst thing in the world, then aiming ridiculously high with a double album supposed to represent all teenage lovelorn drama everywhere or something, and amazingly enough hitting the mark on a couple of tunes.

Looking backwards, there was plenty to celebrate on the reissue front. We got a good history lessons in the pioneering work by the progenitors of bleep (Sweet Exorcist’s Retroactivity), 2nd Wave Detroit (Drexciya’s Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller), IDM (the Autechre EPs), house (Virgo Four’s previously unreleased trove Resurrection), and minimalism (Plastikman’s entire Arkives). Excursions even further back turned up perhaps even more interesting results. Side projects that may have fell to the margins were given new vitality by the reissue treatment like the Editions Mego albums of Wire’s Bruce Gilbert, Heaven 17 member Martyn Ware’s brazen and experimental takes as British Electric Foundation (B.E.F.), and sometime Ash Ra Tempel member Harold Grosskopf’s lost gem Synthesist, which came packaged with a batch of remixes nearly as juicy as the album itself.

Bruce Glibert - This Way With The Shivering Man (album preview) by experimedia

Meanwhile, Industrial continued to win back a tarnished reputation. Cabaret Voltaire rereleased the lost soundtrack to the forgotten film Johnny Yesno and the four major albums of the Throbbing Gristle oeuvre (plus Greatest Hits) were rereleased in a stunning remaster that added not only previously unheard depths but loads of quality bonus material from the death factory vaults. At the same time, Richard H Kirk and Chris Carter, each from the respective aforementioned bands, accepted invitations to remix new material by postpunk and industrial tinged acts like Perc, Tropic of Cancer, and Black Dog, proving that neither of them find it sufficient to live off their legacies alone.

The grim hues of the Cabs and TG had long served as dressing for the Downwards Records set, who have since diluted into the more austere and techno-minded Sandwell District crew. To these ears, there was something uniquely prescient about this codified ghost labor, particularly when it struck out in nasty snarls as on Perc’s Wicker and Steel. The gloom of Blackest Ever Black, the cold world atmospherics of CLR, and the functionalist crunch of Stroboscopic Artefacts acted out the noises of a world on the brink, crushed by the weight of capitalism’s inequities and ready to use the tools of postmodernism to deconstruct its many deconstructions.

Of course, this vantage wasn’t only cause for despair. Despite the unhealthy prognosis of a world plagued by the phone hacking scandal, London riots, the shootings in Norway, near-nuclear meltdown in Japan, every form of despair in Africa, bankrupt First World governments, austerity, and child rape cover-ups in prominent college sports franchises, there was still cause for hope in 2011. The world is now absent Muammar Gadaffi, Osama Bin Laden, and Kim Jong Il, and people’s movements sprouted in the form of the Arab Spring, the British student movement, and the US Occupy protests. Though riddled with uncertainty, the sheer lack of determinism gave the road ahead a glimmer of hope.

Just as well, music’s complete dissipation carries with it the same degree of precarity, but those forging new paths offer suggestions on how to make it through this dark time. Once again, electronic and plugged-in music is at the vanguard, offering a separate course for those not content to bask in static plaudits and stale sycophancy. In music and in culture-at-large, we might “get it wrong” in our path to absolution, but might that be just what we need?

Prev Page




Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.