The Design Museum

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Breed’s founder Olivia Triggs takes a look around the Electronic: From Kraftwerk to the Chemical Brothers exhibition at the Design Museum

Totally Wired

From the moment you step into the Design Museum’s excellent new exhibition devoted to electronic music and dance culture, you can’t help but reflect on how things have changed in 2020. Confronted by images of vast crowds crammed together at raves, you now flinch at the lack of social distance, as you look around at the other attendees, masked up and wandering the exhibition in ones and twos, all keeping to themselves. There’s no coming together in ecstatic unity and hugging of strangers going on these days.

Perhaps that does reflect the nature of electronic music, though. In that, as is often highlighted by the exhibition, much of the music that has featured so heavily in the social lives of so many of us is derived from the pioneering work of obsessive individuals working away alone in backrooms. Individuals like Daphne Oram, one of the founders of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the 1950s or Richard James, otherwise known as Aphex Twin. Even Ralph Hütter and the late Florian Schneider, founders of Kraftwerk, who give the exhibition part of its title, were better known for their secretiveness and robot replacements (who form part of the exhibition).

Once inside the exhibition, there’s plenty to keep both dance freaks and tech geeks happy. A pretty thorough history of electronic instruments takes you from the ondes martenot and extraordinary Croix Sonore, through the aforementioned Daphne Oram’s Oramics machine, which converted drawn figures into sound, to the legendary Roland 606-909 drum machine series and modern synths.

It’s interesting that for an artform that Is likes to see itself as looking to the future, there is also considerable fetishizing of the technology of the past, in particular vinyl. Vinyl plays a major role in Electronic, and quite rightly. There are displays of classic electronic albums of the sixties and seventies as you enter. Further into the exhibition, the vinyl -based work of Christian Marclay and the zoetropic vinyl of Reuben Sutherland and Dan Hayhurst are on display near the photos of DJs record collections by Christopher Woodcock. Graphic designer and musician Trevor Jackson takes this fascination with format to its limit with his 2015 ‘Format’ album, where each track was released in a different format, including various sizes of vinyl, VHS, reel-to-reel and USB.

Designers will be placated by the nostalgia fest of old club flyers and a look at the industrial stylings of the Hacienda in Manchester. The more artistically minded get to see Jeremy Deller’s breakdown of the connections between dance music and brass bands as well as Jimmy Cauty’s smiley riot shield, a relic of the various times that dance culture has found itself caught up in politics.

You also get potted histories of Chicago, Detroit and the gay scene’s influence on the evolution of dance music and the club scene. Not that it’s all looking at pictures and exhibits, there are also more immersive experiences, including Ralf Hütter’s 3D celebration of Kraftwerk and 1024 architecture’s mesmerising CORE lights and music installation.

And just before you leave, the Chemical Brothers provide an approximation of the live dance club experience for their track ‘Got to Keep On’. Then it’s out through the gift shop, which is also full of vinyl.

All-in-all, Electronic is a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours in a museum. It’s just a shame you can’t head out to a club for a proper dance afterwards.

Electronic: From Kraftwerk to the Chemical Brothers continues at the Design Museum until 14 February 2021.

Photos Felix Speller.