Had a feeling that something’s been missing from your summer? As one festival after another fell to the curse of the ‘rona, not to mention smaller gigs and jam sessions in your local bar, there’s a notable absence of live music. Well… Whilst it can’t quite compete with waiting for the beat to drop as you’re tangled in a throng of sweating strangers in a muddy field, the Design Museum’s brilliant new exhibition Electronic, is a fantastic consolation prize. Located on Kensington High Street, the event is a celebration of the history of electronic dance music and club culture. Focusing on the tech, music, fashion and art that defined this movement.
As you’re walking towards the Design Museum’s stylish new home in Kensington, you start to hear the bass thump. As the doors open the oh so familiar and dreamy synth riff greats you like an old friend. It draws you into the darkness where you’re met with neon lighting, banging tunes and an extensive, colourful exhibition that is fun and bound to educate even the most die-hard ravers.
To start, we take a journey back in time to the early 20th century where small groups of academics were creating synthetic sound for the very first time. Their early sound recordings and complicated looking equipment are on display to admire and listen to, so long as you remember to BYO headphones. It’s an impressive chronology of innovation, showcasing the creative and academic trailblazing, that enabled music to be created electronically.
These leaps and bounds in technology were quickly adopted by a small group of dance music pioneers, who used the newfound sounds to enhance existing artistic talents. The early synth machines were also used to create sound effects and soundtracks for some of the most iconic Hollywood movies.
The exhibition swiftly moves through to the electronic dance music we recognise today and captures it’s blossoming relationship with club culture. From the genius of artists like Jean-Michel Jarre in the 60s, through to the jazz and disco influences of the 70s and subsequent synth pop in the 80s – the era of Depeche Mode, Gary Newman, Soft Cell and Kraftwerk.
There’s even a room dedicated to a live Kraftwerk recording on huge screens taking up entire walls, complete with 3D glasses. Showcasing their finest German beats and performances that unite audiences all over the world. Man Machiiiiiine. Epic.
As you wander through the dark, taking in the exhibition’s industrial staging, dance music permeates through the air. Laurent Garnier has produced a head-bob inducing mix, especially for the exhibition.
The exhibition then diverges into a warren of rooms and spaces to allow for continued social distancing (safety first). Also paying homage to the separate dance institutions and sounds of Chicago, Detroit and New York. Small enclaves allow you to plug in and listen to music, watch documentaries and videos from artists, producers and collaborators that influenced and evolved the unique sounds of these musical meccas.
Club posters from Cream, Hacienda and Fabric adorn the walls with strobes, smiley faces and beautiful architectural light installations all adding to the rave experience.
The penultimate section looks at influences from sub-cultures and the inclusive nature of dance, including the involvement of LGBTQ+ artists, DJs, club nights and the importance of places like Soho for this community. Beaming ravers strutting their stuff, punctuates the colourful club artefacts.
The finale: a 2019 Chemical Brothers live show booming ‘Got to Keep On’, with futuristic and abstract visuals created by Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall. These giant figures are seemingly the bright pink love child of the Michelin Man and Sully from Monsters Inc. As the song reaches its crescendo, smoke laps your feet and strobes bounce to the beat, making for a pretty epic sensory experience. So go, dance, be happy.
Exhibition runs 31st July 2020 – 14th Feb 2021 @ The Design Museum: Tickets Available Online.
Have a great time,
Love Nonchalant x x x