So after completing the ‘Tomorrow Trilogy’ (quadrilogy? though really only parts 2, 3 and 4 are a true trilogy; I think of 1 as an overture), I… made some more.
I had songs left over, and feelings I wanted to explore. They turned out to fall into two ‘double albums’ of 20 songs. The first one, ‘Movies/Stars’ is a sequel of sorts to… Playlist Zero, ‘Go Forth’. The second, ‘Machines/Ghosts’ is much more directly a companion to Tomorrow.
Well, that was (un)expected. My 80s synthpop playlist project is now a quadrilogy.
I’d been thinking since the last one that I did have quite a few loose ends left over from Tomorrow, mostly on the Space and New Age themes, but it’s taken me several months to find enough puzzle pieces in Youtube’s junk drawer to be able to fit something together that worked for me, thematically and musically. And again maintaining the ‘concept playlist’ fiction that it’s a soundtrack to a cyberpunk science fiction film series that was never made.
But yay, we have liftoff at last! This one really does bring the project to a close, I think: I have Tomorrow, sort of generalised widescreen space opera, which then unpacks into a thematic trilogy on nuclear war, rebellion, and transformation. 16 tracks each (because it’s synthpop, it has to be a power of 2) at about an hour each, 48 tracks in total. Until the tide washes in and the Youtube sandcastles fall.
This one is a little slower and more meditative, due to its more New Age themes, but there’s still a pop and Italo Disco thread running through it.
Early 2017. Donald Trump has been elected, and from nuclear war my Twitter timeline is turning to thoughts of revolution. My Youtube playlist is now branching from synthpop into punk. I’ve already got a few songs like ‘Breakout’ and ‘Different Morning’ which feel like they need a context to place them in.
And then I discovered ‘Solid State Logic’ and everything just clicked and I had to make a third playlist because all the pieces were there and I had a through-line.
I like this playlist as much or more than the last one. There are some songs I’d forgotten for years which have deep resonance for me.
I’d made an 80s playlist and I was done. So here’s how ‘Radiant Energy’ happened.
It’s late 2016, Trump still hasn’t been elected, but the world is already screaming in pain. I’d already made a short playlist with some songs that weren’t in ‘Tomorrow’ for an IF game jam; my 2015 blog series ‘Moments Lost In Time’ has kind of ground to a halt because it takes too long to write and research the deep history of each band – and more, despite my fears that it would all quickly be taken down, Youtube’s New Wave and synthpop collection is still be growing, and so is my selection of interesting songs.
Now I’m finding I have an bunch of songs specifically about nuclear war, and itch grows to put them together and just let the Bomb drop. And so I started out doing that, but it just became too dark. And besides, I also had a lot more songs about computers, and I wanted songs I could listen to. And the twin threads of war and artificial intelligence have been wound together in movies since at least Terminator and Wargames, but in the music they were there much earlier.
And once I had these two thoughts, this one came together much quicker and seemed to have a clear and strong musical as well as lyrical focus. I’d found ‘Nova Heart’ a couple of years ago, with its apocalyptic and yet cybernetic imagery, and I wanted something that would let it and its sense of new life shine against the likes of ‘Radio Silence’.
In finding the right mix, I suddenly realised that there were a group of nuclear war songs I loved the most because they had this odd sort of childlike, detuned synth keyboard riff that drew me like catnip. And I finally figured it – and the radiation theme – must have come from Kraftwerk, with England and Canada and the USA picking it up over half a decade later and all making their own copies. (In ‘Tomorrow’, this riff occurs in ‘City of Night’ and also ‘Modern Living’).
I love this playlist particularly. It’s tight musically and thematically, I think all the songs are absolute standouts, and in the imaginary movie in my head it’s the story of a group of machine intelligences who rebel against their assigned role in the nuclear war grid and save the world. (I may have been listening rather a lot to Mainframe’s ‘Tenants of the Latticework’).
Here are some of my notes on my New Wave music playlists. If this kind of minutiae bores you senseless, feel free to look away. I’m mostly just interested in trying to document my creative process (whatever it may be). Also some of this music has personal memories for me – or what I assume are memories, since most of it I hadn’t heard since the 80s, or early 90s, until I started this project.
‘Tomorrow’ was my first playlist and started because I’d stumbled on some music – I think it was Danseparc, actually – and began wondering what else was out there. I was looking mostly for music I wanted to listen to, that had a space and future kind of vibe. After I’d collected a bunch I found I wanted to try to chain songs together based on their flow – again, mostly just for my own listening pleasure, to avoid jerky changes.
At some point though it started building toward a climax and resolution, and by that point I knew I had to have nuclear war as the climax.