I’ve always considered music an aspect of the future and far more than just entertainment. It’s part of the fabric of human civilization and a barometer of who we are.
Music captures the energy and pulse of the time when it’s created. Various genres have shaped the present and the future. Imagine what classical or jazz sounded like at the time. It had to be futuristic in context when compared to the music that people were used to.
I feel like contemporary music has become so commercialized that its progressive nature has stalled. Pop radio assaults us with canned, cookie-cutter riffs, beats, and ever-simplified melodies. I fear that the best days of mainstream music may be behind us. I am aware of the current fascination with ‘dubstep’ and was way into ‘drum & bass’ musical phenomenon of the past decade. I am definitely not stuck in the past.
However, while I occasionally find new futuristic bands that blow me away, I still believe that the most progressive and interesting time in the history of modern music was during the New Wave/electronic movement of the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Listed below are a few of the pioneers. I could have made a Top 20 with this topic, but these bands are a great starting place. I honestly think that — when held up to today’s standards — many alternative New Wave acts actually surpass much of today’s music with their creativity and futuristic zeal.
I will never forget the first time I heard this track. Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart created a phenomenon when “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” made its debut in 1982. It climbed to the number #1 spot on the charts. It’s hard to believe that a song this intelligent and futuristic could rule the airwaves and touch people from all walks of life.
Even my parents liked this song at the time. For several years, Eurythmics set the course of New Wave pop with songs like “Here Comes the Rain Again” and “Who’s that Girl.” I miss these two and their initial sound.
2. A Flock of Seagulls
Every time I hear this band’s name, I can’t help but think of Samuel L. Jackson using it to get the attention of a New Wave-haired punk in Pulp Fiction. There’s no question that A Flock of Seagulls was going for a serious science-fiction vibe. With songs like “Space Age Love Song”, this band was not afraid to embrace the future with their sound or their radical look.
This band became an obsession for me when I was in high school. Their use of keyboards was clearly classically influenced. Ultravox was unafraid to explore beauty and a sweeping epic sound in their music.
This track, “Vienna”, is haunting and driven by a slow and intense futuristic beat. It’s incredibly memorable — like many of the other hits like “Reap the Wild Wind” and “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes.” While they were not a huge band in the United States, they were extremely popular in the UK and throughout Europe.
4. New Order
Have you ever heard the dance track “Blue Monday”? I guarantee that you have. It was a highly–successful song in night clubs throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Born from the ashes of the amazing alternative band Joy Division, New Order have always been electronic trailblazers. Their brand of intelligent pop was refreshingly consistent and an important influence on New Wave music at large.
5. Depeche Mode
These guys are probably my favorite pop band of all time (rivaled only by The Cure). I adore their mix of subtle and intelligent lyrics with funky electronic dance and the occasional rock guitar.
For over 30 years, Depeche Mode has ridden the cutting edge. Songs like “Strangelove”, “Personal Jesus”, and “Enjoy the Silence” are just the tip of their post-modern iceberg.
Here’s one of their most popular and memorable songs: “People Are People” was a major influencer for the ‘industrial’ music movement of the late 80’s and 90’s with lots of samples sounds from manufacturing used as percussion. Give it a listen with fresh ears.
Also published on Medium.