A A decade ago it was fashionable to worry that the future was on hold. Where were the flying cars and glittering cities that we had been promised? People were concerned that the culture was increasingly trapped in its own past, awash in reissues and remakes. In contrast to most of the 20th century, very little in the world of music or film felt radically new. It seemed that we had lost the will to even imagine a challenging path to follow.
But this was not because the future had stopped. The technology was simply delivering it in a way that seemed undramatic. We’ve come to think of the instant availability of just about everything as unavoidable, yet what streaming platforms like Spotify offer – with YouTube as a vast and rudimentary backup – is historically remarkable. And of course, it feels liberating. But aren’t there downsides to a centralized omni file? And, after the pandemic, where could pop culture end, all culture? Will it continue to recycle the past or will it assail us once again with styles, sounds and visions previously unimaginable?
One problem is that revenue streams have shrunk for individual artists – even before Covid, most creators were receiving uselessly small slices of the royalty pie. We saw musicians back off, when they could, on every tour, get-together, and album re-enactment of the year (until the year of the pandemic, when live performances disappeared too). The market for new is still bleak. The pandemic can be rejected, but a a great cultural extinction threatens, aimed not only at musicians, but also at stand-ups, actors, poets, and more.
But if the arts are struggling, they have never been in such demand either. Mental comfort has been very important in recent times, the safest past is always the most relaxing option. And so we spend 2020 joining in on LP listening parties or streaming old classics late into the night. As the algorithms tinker, from time to time they can push you into the most unexpected confines of the familiar. But algorithmic healing is also very limiting: each new pass through what is already popular pushes it into the safe mainstream.
The culture industry is quite happy with this as the status quo. In an excess, all prices fall, and the cultural past is an excess that cannot be exhausted. It pays for, it’s easy to harvest, and transmission machines can feed off of it forever. Its size fills the attention space and its solid hum reduces the novelty to a sterile screech. Once upon a time, self-respecting avant-garde artists such as dada and punk artists could simply walk away from the practice of consensus, to better plan to one day overthrow it (maybe). But refusing to cooperate with the culture industry, as music activist Terre Thaemlitz has said. urged for a long time, you can risk artists being completely erased from their platforms and thus from memory.
So what should those who want to break with the past do? One option is for them to fund themselves by subscription, to become curators and heads of their own individual sound empires, through Bandcamp, Patreon, GoFundMe, OnlyFans, and more. The bettor gives up outright and the creator promises to remain both productive and different. Price is a ruthless program, isolated from peers and enemies. No commitment to rivals, no community.
But cultural communities matter. Creative collision is the stimulus for new sounds and shapes. The bars, the places, the letter-pages of music magazines disappeared like Whore jockey or Terrifying They are all gone, but one thing the future has always fostered is curious new species of community. There are Twitch broadcasts where professional and amateur gamers play with audiences and friends, and viewers fill in the comment threads. Money still flows into games, as do user-led arguments: “Update a good thing? Why this silly song here? Music is mostly soundtrack (cartoon sound effects, moods taken from movies), but any feature that commenters can identify is one that can be turned into an animated joke or meme.
And here, working from home at the core of the whole machine, is an energized mass of militantly unproductive Bolshevik millennial screen workers, some now with two decades online and always cracking jokes. Sometimes there has been politics in what they do and sometimes it is evil politics, but often it is about dealing with a world of “shit jobs”, technological dystopia and climate catastrophe. A new inspired art form slipped into those corners of the internet: weird Twitter, so called, from @horse_ebooks, with its lovely spam poetry, to @denim, the great comic character of our time, confused, belligerent, always frustrated, never edited. It’s as if the algorithms have come to life and are making fun of us in a language that we don’t fully understand.
Music that intensifies this evolves in the same collective space. Let’s remember April 2020, and that crazy TikTok video from Dancing pallbearers from Ghana, now forever attached to the Russian EDM track Astronomy – a mocking invocation of death that is also a celebration of life, an unexpected ambush of an emotion that is both complex and cathartic and proliferating.
TikTok’s freedoms may not last, and any meme can be monetized and ruined as copyright laws stifle creative conversation, but the thriving energy of these countless unpaid collisions remains. Each pre-existing shard is reused multiple times to be extremely weird. this it was the future that was being overlooked in 2010. Of course, we can’t know what the 2020s will bring. But as long as every app update causes the internet to break down, all of this will survive too, like parasites failing to flow . And so, as long as the machines remain connected, we will be exhausted, bewildered and without kinks.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism