- Electronic music has made great leaps because of science fiction. In the '50s and '60s, some of the world's most sophisticated electronic instruments lived at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, an experimental sound laboratory that developed TV and radio stories. Composer and engineer Delia Derbyshire wrote one of the groundbreaking works of the '60s during her time there—the theme to Doctor Who, one of the first pieces of electronic music to appear on television. Stories about the future often require imaginative sound design, not only for convincing sound effects but to evoke the feeling of truly being somewhere else.
This comes to mind when listening to Demon City, a new collection of collaborative tracks from experimental producer Elysia Crampton. Her teeming audio collages smack as much of spectacular futures as distant pasts and a very real present. The title track—produced with Rabit—almost sounds medieval, with synths and chintzy horns descending in an unstable minor key. Acoustic drums mix with jets of cybernetic steam and clanging metallic noises, sounding like an FX sound board gone haywire. "Dummy Track," featuring Why Be and Chino Amobi, is built from skipping hand drum triplets and stacked with big, cheesy samples of ghoulish laughter. Like most of the tracks on Demon City, it's got a strange mix of textures—some are rich in detail, while others feel intentionally low budget.
The record is full of blockbuster movie techniques: explosions, tectonic sub-bass, sentimental strings. The drama levels border on camp, hovering between sinister and cartoonish. Demon City opens with a single piano note struck with the regularity of a ticking clock in a quiet room—the sound full of anxiety, uncertainty, dread. That tension simmers as paranormal synths begin to swell around meaty rap beats. It doesn't boil off until the penultimate track, the relatively cheery "Esposas 2013 (No Drums)," produced with London artist Lexxi.
Crampton has called her album an "epic poem," which makes sense given her live performances, where she reads verses while DJing her own tracks, backdropped by harsh projections that frame a loose narrative. A recent show at Lincoln Center in Manhattan told a sci-fi horror story about a distant future, where mutant spider-humans are incarcerated under the Earth's crust by mining robots who have stripped the planet bare. Crampton's work often touches on the violence of imprisonment and exploitation, and Demon City's liner notes quote American abolitionist Frederick Douglass as well as Lohana Berkins, a transgender activist who passed away this year. Ultimately, these dystopian fantasies may just be contemporary images at a fantastical remove.
Demon City is not the soundtrack to a single narrative or message, but rather an impression that moves like a data cloud. Maybe it's a time or a place—a city of demons, perhaps—or a feeling, a prolonged emotional state. Whatever's at the heart of these sonic fictions, it drove Crampton to reach for new audio possibilities, not for the sake of novelty but to keep pace with the futurity of her visions. It sets the album apart from other pieces of audio collage because it's not sound design for sound design's sake: it's what's required to bring the drama to life.
01. Irreducible Horizon feat. Why Be
02. After Woman (For Bartolina Sisa) feat. Rabit
03. Dummy Track feat. Why Be & Chino Amobi
04. The Demon City feat. Rabit
05. Children Of Hell feat. Chino Amobi
06. Esposas 2013 (No Drums) feat. Lexxi
07. Red Eyez (prod. by Lexxi)