Despite the all-pervading influence that the internet has over our lives nowadays – pretty much any information we need, many purchases, interacting with Government at almost any level, not to mention almost any form of entertainment you can think of in some way or another – it is actually a little surprising that there aren’t many, many more songs about it.
But then, you maybe need to dig a little deeper. To different corners of the web, to the details and events that happen in plain view, that we don’t always notice.
This is another Tuesday Ten that has been sat in my “to do” pile for years, and as it turned out all it needed was a fresh look at the theme. Initially this was planned to be a wider look at technology, which I might well look at separately sometime, but I realised that narrowing it down to the internet made for a more interesting subject, frankly.
So here we are. Songs referring to differing elements of the internet, and to begin with, we need to go back some way into history.
A warning, by the way – the YouTube playlist has some flashing visuals (the Clock DVA video for The Hacker in particular) that are absolutely not suitable for those who may be affected by them.
Thanks firstly to Jonny for reminding me that I needed to include this. Seeing it live in 2013 reminded me that Kraftwerk were extraordinarily prescient on this album, never mind this song. Of course, they’d been working deeply with electronics and computers by this point, having built their own studio (Kling Klang) in Düsseldorf that became as important to the Kraftwerk legend as the music was. This album foresaw a future based around the computer, and at the time the public internet was barely even a pipe dream, they were predicting the kinds of networks and connections (and corporate dominance) that would come a couple of decades later.
To my knowledge, this was one of the first songs to explicitly reference internet culture, which makes it all the more striking as a piece of work. Industrial music was always somewhat future looking – or at least that’s always been the way I saw it – and what could be more futuristic than writing about internet culture before that culture was even remotely close to the mainstream? The stabbing synths near match the tapping of the keyboard at the beginning of the track, and the drum pattern pulses like streams of information.
The song – from the liner notes and the video intro – is explicitly dedicated and inspired by hagbard (Karl Koch), an early computer hacker who died in mysterious circumstances in earlier in 1989. Officially a suicide, his connections to the KGB (he was selling stolen US military secrets to them) have long meant that the official line has been questioned.
Zeroes and Ones
Another band some way ahead of their time were Jesus Jones, not a band I might have considered with that description (their music nowadays sounding very much “of it’s time”, to me). Apparently one of the very first albums to be recorded almost entirely digitally (with the exception of vocals), this album put them alongside The Young Gods whose industrial-rock masterpiece TV Sky was also recorded in a similar way.
The lyrics though, make this another to be rather forward looking – and indeed its pessimistic future suggested twenty-four years ago is nowadays rather close to the bone:
“This time, we’ve split the world once more
There’s those that have and that don’t in information wars”
I had never actually noticed previously that this song – one of Funker Vogt’s strongest, before they became a more, er, questionable band – is actually about online gaming, and particularly arena-based first-person shooters. This absolutely belting industrial dancefloor monster doesn’t need the lyrics to make it a great track – just check those sweeping synths that herald the chorus, or those treated vocals of the “Get Connected” hook, or that rave-synth breakdown, it’s like all the good bits of millenial electro-industrial condensed into one five minute track – and I guess the slightly clunky lyrics provide something of a historical curio now. Back then, when good internet connections were still not an especially common commodity (I can’t recall what my connection was then, but it sure as hell wasn’t the 150Mbps cable broadband I have now), online gaming like Quake was a rare treat, and it certainly wasn’t the mainstream attraction that it is now.
Get Off The Internet
From the Desk of Mr. Lady (2001)
Being ahead of time is perhaps the key to most of the songs featured here – especially as internet culture has evolved so, so fast. Just think about some of the social media platforms that were the “big thing” only ten years ago – Myspace is all-but-dead, Livejournal most of us have now deserted, to name but two, never mind the brief burst that the newer ello gained (and few of us continued with that for any great time).
Kathleen Hanna, though, appears here – in 2001 – to be more interested with getting people away from the internet, seeing those people on it as isolated from social change, unable to get involved in social and political discourse and agitate for change. Which is interesting, I guess, as fifteen years later, almost all of it happens online. The social changes that have been wrought in that time – and indeed in my own lifetime – are mind-boggling, and I suspect it will take many years more yet before these changes are fully understood.
Magnetic Man (2010)
One of those things I’d never even considered until thinking about this song was exactly where the term “bug” came from. As always, Google was my friend, and it tells me that the first bug was actually a bug in 1945, and said bug was actually…a moth. Obviously.
But in much more recent times, there has been the Millenium bug, Heartbleed, many more lesser examples, and bug bounties. Finding a bug and reporting it – or fixing it – is a vital and necessary part of information technology and the internet, and I’m rather amazed that this was the only song I could find that covers it. Magnetic Man – a kinda dubstep supergroup – never sounded more futuristic and thrilling than on this ghostly, bass-heavy track, either.
The Future’s Void (2014)
Remarkably, within two months of each other in early 2014, two fascinating female musicians each released striking songs on a similar subject. One of the pair was Erika M. Anderson, otherwise known as EMA. Most of The Future’s Void – an album curiously almost entirely ignored on her recent tour – was preoccupied with our interactions in the digital sphere, but the most shockingly intense song was one whose title came from another digital seer (and indeed the person that coined the term cyberspace) – and questioned the need to share every last piece of information on social media. The mechanical beats and processed, stretched vocals have much of the humanity extracted from them, leaving a digital howl into the void – and her latest album has dug further into the impact of internet culture, but from a very different angle.
St. Vincent (2014)
That second artist was Annie Clark, and her take on internet culture around the same time took perhaps a more light-hearted take on the subject. The gloriously catchy, technicolour swoosh of Digital Witness asked the seemingly-eternal question: If it doesn’t get posted on Facebook, does it happen in real life? Unfortunately for Clark, of course, her private life swiftly became “public” property after a couple of high-profile relationships that saw her become tabloid and gossip fodder whether she wanted to or not – and the failure of those relationships has had one positive side-effect, I guess, in that they have inspired her absolutely extraordinary new album MASSEDUCTION that came out last week.
100% No Modern Talking (2011)
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever really listened to Knife Party – the side-project from Pendulum that as drum’n’bass began to be less cool, and dubstep became more cool, magically filled the gap and allowed them to side-step into the next big thing – and this raises all kinds of questions for me.
So yes, this is all about the darker, uglier side of internet life, that of the abuse, both online and in person. But, but – it’s a female voice, escalating the abuse from a few words on a computer screen to implied violence. Extraordinary numbers of internet users have reported either seeing or being victims of abuse in one form or another, and those same figures – and quite a few elsewhere, although there are some dissenters – suggest that younger women bear the brunt of this abuse. So why did the two men in Knife Party use a women’s voice, I wonder?
Not all social media is used for friendship and related connections, though. Social media has now got it’s tentacles into the world of work, too, meaning that it is difficult to get away from it even there (and has made restricting the use of it in the work environment ever harder, too – which is obviously either a blessing or a curse).
And, like the members of Foxcunt, I’m also sick of “connection requests” on LinkedIn. The way this gets ever more shrill with the refrain replicates exactly the way that LinkedIn nags the fuck out of you to respond: and it does it more than any other social network. Fuck off, LinkedIn, I’ll check my notifications when I’m ready. And don’t get me started on the legions of fucking recruiters who want to add every last person they’ve ever seen on it. Social media fatigue, it’s certainly a thing, at least when it comes to this site.
Rick Lyon & Stephanie D’Abruzzo
The Internet is for Porn
Avenue Q: The Musical (2003)
Finally, there is one thing about the internet I’ve not mentioned yet.
Initially astonishingly lucrative (it is reckoned that the porn sector was easily the first profitable sector on the internet), it has struggled since as the proliferation of it, much of it free, appears to be making more people less money.
So let’s hand over to the muppet-esque characters of Avenue Q, one of whom tells it like it is. The internet, a wonderful world of opportunity…for porn.