The event of digital music

As the Design Museum opens its new Show Electronic, we speak to curator Gemma Curtin and staff from The Chemical Brothers, Smith & Lyall about the genre's further impact on creativity and culture, and what the music industry might look like after the pandemic

It is a surreal experience to enter the Design Museum's new exhibition on electronic music amid a pandemic. When I visit the show in late July, Britain is already in the fourth month of a nationwide ban, and it's been an eternity since I interacted with real people outside of a zoom call, let alone the rush of other human bodies in a crowded nightclub or music festival.

As I walk through the darkened showroom, I'm bombarded with sensory experiences – flashing flashing lights, a booming soundtrack, and electrifying footage from the past few days of live shows – to bring you back to the dance floor. But when I enter the last exhibition, an haunting installation by Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall, longtime collaborators at The Chemical Brothers, that mimics one of the band's live shows, I instinctively notice how familiar it smells.

A photo of one of Kraftwerk's live performances, taken by German music photographer Peter Boettcher

If I catch up with Smith and Lyall after the show and ask them about the distinctive scent that I can't quite go into, I am informed that it is just the smell of the smoke machine. "It's like freshly mowed grass for ravers, isn't it?" Says Lyall. With the introduction of electronic, the Design Museum tries to restore this intangible feeling of electronic music – albeit in a different environment – and at the same time to examine the broader social and cultural influence of the genre.


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