As We Remember 1999: Like They Do in the Future
As We Remember is a monthly series devoted to taking a look back at specific years in music. Who doesn't like to get nostalgic?Posted by Tarin Fasano
1999 was something of a big year in terms of futurism, with the impending millennium and all. The theme manifested itself in many artistic disciplines (architecture, design, film, photography, etc.), but very prominently in music and music video production. So here’s a retrospective on the future, circa 1999.
A number of things keep popping up, hammering home an anxiety about technology and order dividing and subdividing to the point of chaos. The music depends heavily on computer noises. In terms of decor and architecture, there are grids of lights everywhere, lots of metal and plastic, escalators. Split screens and distorting camera effects reveal a preoccupation with dualities and simulation.
In the words of El-P, “you should pump this shit like they do in the future.” (If you haven’t seen his music video for “The Full Retard,” click here now, dude). Retro-futurism is perfecto and paradoxical. That’s because (1) the future exists primarily in the whimsical parts of your mind and (2) when you imagine and then “create” something far away in the future, it becomes crystallized and instantly dated. Futurism always nods to retro-futurism because of the nostalgia factor, so the whole concept is recursive: it curls in on itself.
Before delving into the most excellent futurism of 1999, it’s important to scope out how it manifested itself in the mainstream. Here goes.
$$$. “She’s A Bitch” by Missy Elliott
Yay for dollars being poured into production. Hype Williams does it big, and makes a statement. Not an indie-lofi-hipster-obscurity statement, but a significant and culturally relevant record of the time. And, what did those people with deep pockets decide was the trendiest phuture-phantasy?! Robots and rubber suits. Similar aesthetic can be found in “No Scrubs” by TLC, which came out the same year.
VII. “ALL IS FULL OF LOVE” by Björk
Björk is pretty futuristic, and in “All is Full of Love,” she looks like a fembot from that Svedka vodka commercial. The reason this isn’t higher on the list is because it’s not actually futuristic at all. She sings in a weird voice, is generally surrounded by weird noises, and is sleek and robotic. Futurism flunks when it projects too far into the future, like in Missy Elliott’s video. Vague fantasies about creating humanoid replacement labor is old news. What holds more water is identifying the futuristic aspects of the present and taking them to the next level.
VI. “MY NAME IS” by Eminem
Okay, Eminem bloated and faltered but so did Elvis. That doesn’t mean Eminem didn’t kill it in his prime. It’s probably been a while, but check out “My Name Is” (or any other early song for that matter) and you’ll see. There are all the trademark futuristic elements of the era: grids of round lights, disorientiation via mercurial camera angles, images and parodies on TVs, split screen madness. Excellent production. Eminem’s a hipster with grey hair who’s genuinely and articulately angry.
V. “WINDOWLICKER” by Aphex Twin
Distortion, unnerving transformations, reflections, and virtuoso use of computer-generated sounds. Real life has surreal, video game-esque sound effects. It’s a long video, but you should really just watch it… so I won’t waste any more of your time talking about it.
IV. “FREESTYLER” by Bomfunk MC’s
The sleek Finnish “Freestyler” would be more bad-ass if it wasn’t a straight-up MP3 player ad. An avant-garde pre-teen with duo-tone dreadlocks is chillin in a bleached out train station. He’s silent and isolated, but once you figure out that the clean metallic sounds are from his headphones, you realize he’s controlling his world. He’s delicate and small. Aggressive dudes threaten him with their modern dancing or skeptical looks – but his magical MP3 player starts vibrating and it turns out he has control not only over his tunez but his surroundings. Unphased, he swaggers along, gesticulating to ”Freestyla(!) / rock a microphone(!) / straight from the top of mah dome(!)” He can freeze and rewind anyone and anything around him. Pretty girls in duo-tone brand clothing start dancing and stop dancing right when he points his MP3 player at them. A nerdy Asian kid with awkwardly fly yellow shades challenges him with his own MP3 player, but our guy is apparently listening to cooler music so shades gets schooled. In the end, our kid rewinds to his original place on the subway, the technologically-fueled fantasy being 100% real regardless of whether or not it’s fleeting.
What’s funny is that yes, the moment you start listening to music on your headphones whilst out in public, you feel a certain amount of control over your environment. The simultaneous isolation is equally real. Are the Bomfunk MC’s reflecting on that sick new possibility or just being paid off?!?!
III. “LET FOREVER BE” by The Chemical Brothers
Grids divide and divide until they become kaleidoscopes – organization intensifies into fragmentation and chaos. This music video is really low budget yet seems all the more futuristic. All the recursive, fractal-like aesthetics are created through mirrors. Time folds back into itself again and again. Thank you Michel Gondry. Let forever be.
II. “AROUND THE WORLD” by Daft Punk
“Around the World” hosts those same ubiquitous grids of circular lights, those same cool shapes formed by modern dancers in swimsuits, (as well as skeleton suits and robot suits [man is always fantasizing about creating robots to do all his work for him instead of using them to augment himself...]), women are bandaged up like zombies… And there is the recursive reference to that era’s retro-futurism, present in the mid-century-modern furniture. Basically, there are all sorts of strange yet cliché “humanoids” dancing together, “around the world / around the world.” Globalization much? (Okay, okay, “Around the World” came out on 1997′s Homework, but the music video came out in 1999.)
I. “EXPO 2000″ by Kraftwerk
Kraftwerk always wins. A music video released in 1999, called “Expo 2000,” couldn’t go anywhere else than the top of this list. It’s a Sims world with automated voices, robots, and grids off the chain. It’s incredibly reminiscent (hah) of Google Earth, turning reality into a video game. The sounds are fragmented and computer generated. “Expo. 2000. / Man. Nature. Technology. / Mensh. Natur. Technik. / Planet of visions. / Planet der visionen.” Check it.
Honorable mentions include: “1999″ by Cassius, “FLAT BEAT” by Mr. Oizo, and “RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW” by Fatboy Slim. Fatboy had the right idea – the music video is clumsy animation depicting evolution. The future is now. In the words of Madvillain, “Today is the shadow of tomorrow. Today is the present future of yesterday. Yesterday is the shadow of today. The darkness of the past is yesterday.”