Armagideon Time

Pick your future past

April 9th, 2015

1970s retrofuture or 1980s retrofuture? Rollerball or Blade Runner? Orange plastic or neon-illuminated chrome? Corporate Syd Mead or Hollywood Syd mead?

It’s a tough call to make, as my formative years were evenly split between the two aesthetics and I love both equally. So instead of making an impossible choice between Brunner’s and Gibson’s visions of tomorrow, why don’t we split the difference and take a gander at the transitional weirdness my wife has dubbed “The Cusp.”

“The Cusp” is imperfectly interchangeable with what I’ve previously described as “the Low 1980s,” but while the latter term is inclusively encompassing, the former one refers to a particular phenomenon which unfolded in fits and starts between 1978 and 1983.

Cultural transitions are rarely cut-and-dried affairs, especially when mapped to boundaries as arbitrary as decades. Even when the rare “extinction event” occurs, there will be a host of hold-out hybrids, false starts, and other ephemeral contenders seeking to occupy various niches within the transformed popcult ecosphere.

Even then, there’s a sense of continuity underpinning the paradigm shift. So it was that the synthesized tones of experimental composers, Krautrockers, and Eurodisco producers blended with the proliferation of affordable and increasingly ubiquitous technology, punky apocalyptic dread, the vestiges of disco-glam decadence, and an end-of-decade embrace of science fiction to produce this standard-bearer of the New Wave…

…even if that designation was applied in hindsight to what was seen as an outlier at the time, a novelty act who managed to take momentary advantage of the increasing fractalization of the U.S. pop charts. Meanwhile, scores of other artists were working their own angle on the formula, combining the the same memetic components in differing proportions.

Some were too avant garde for the masses. Other were too rooted in regional tastes to break wide.

Others were too rooted in the ancien régime to sustain themselves into the new decade.

And some were simply beyond any attempt at comprehension or classification.

It’s a shame really, because I’d love to experience an alternate universe where a bunch of Italian dudes dressed as Blue Lagoon era Christopher Atkins dressed as an Imperial Stormtrooper set the pace for 1980s pop music futurism.

6 Responses to “Pick your future past”

  1. stavner

    Sounds like the Krotons from Doctor Who belonged to Visitors:

  2. BK Munn

    I really enjoy your writing about music and attempts like this to link things together and make sense of (un)popular culture that seems fragmented or unclassifiable.

  3. Christopher Pinkleton

    The Visitors took Devo’s place in the nerdier parallel universe next door.


    The Cusp is my sweet spot. I was born in 1976, and the sci-fi works of both the 70’s and 80’s have a strong hold on my psyche. I think I have a strong attraction to the media from around the time of my birth and just before due to those being the things I saw on TV as a pre-schooler.
    Side note, I managed to completely miss Klaus Nomi until documentaries started sprouting up about him in the 2000’s. My first thought on seeing stills of his stage persona was that this was a very well crafted mockumentary rather than a genuine artifact of the time.

  5. Arik

    I’m surprised that Visitors, Klaus Nomi, and Rockets did not try to ride the coat tails of Daft Punk when they made Robots and sci-fi cool again. Also Sarah Brightman is talented enough to survive the Disco/New Wave gauntlet.

  6. bitterandrew

    Nomi died in 1983, though picked up a cult following (leading to a really weird appearance in The Venture Brothers) in recent years. Brightman and Kate Bush were more incidental participants than principal players.

    It is interesting how the various thematic threads of disco survived its “death” by going underground and resurfacing years (or decades) later, and were better off for being isolated from the self-parody the scene had become by 1979 or so.

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