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Electronic Pop Has Roots in Early Werks

September 18, 1997|D. JAMES ROMERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Baby boomers have had an unprecedented hold on pop, a three-decade domination, seeing the worlds of subculture, popular music and politics through the eyes of the 1960s. This psychedelia-infatuated, guitar-centric view has been maintained at the expense of anything new. But as sure as time itself, newness rises.

The movement of the moment in popular sound is electronics-based dance music, a genre shunned for decades by this country's cognoscenti who derided it as shallow and soulless. The roots of electronic pop are in Germany, where the four-man group Kraftwerk rebelled against the unoriginal, often awful "kraut rock" of the '70s. Members of the quartet turned for inspiration to the electronic experiments of one of their music school teachers, noted composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. The result was an otherworldly sound of robotic beats and simple, innocent melodies that culminated in 1977's seminal "Trans-Europe Express" (Capitol). Every genre of pop that utilizes electronics--from hip-hop to techno to ambient electronic--probably owes some part of its heritage to Kraftwerk.

In "Kraftwerk: Man, Machine and Music" (S.A.F., $19.95, 192 pages), Pascal Bussy, the head of the jazz department at Warner Music France, does a thorough, detailed job telling the tale of these unlikely heroes. The book is a journalistic brick in the wall of pop, the story of the triumph of the first wave of short-haired techno-nerds in a world of long-haired rockers. A reprint of a U.K. edition, it is available through Tower Records and Virgin MegaStores.

In "Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House" (Serpent's Tail, $16.99, 314 pages), British music journalist Matthew Collin spins the tale of one of Kraftwerk's most significant legacies--the all-night, outlaw dance phenomenon of the late '80s and early '90s known as acid house and rave culture.

With precision and detail, Collin traces its roots back to British enchantment with U.S. techno, disco and soul, and a generation of young travelers for whom Ibiza, Spain, was the Haight-Ashbury of the '80s. In the summer of 1988, some of those travelers attempted to re-create the uplifting Ibiza vibe by putting on all-night outdoor parties fueled by a new feel-good designer drug called Ecstasy and Kraftwerkian beats known as "acid house." The result was a swell of post-modern, computer-controlled psychedelia that is only now beginning to flood the American mainstream, providing youth culture with an alternative to boomer-molded rock. "Altered State" is a fascinating look at the clubs, people and records that molded a movement.

Timothy Leary defied the kind of my-culture-versus-yours triviality that divides modern America. Though he was a seminal force behind the '60s counterculture--promoting open-mindedness as dogma--he evolved and became a promoter for each youth culture that came next, including the cyber-psychedelic rave scene that found an American base in his adopted home of Southern California.

Leary's prostate cancer was diagnosed in 1995, and "Design for Dying" (HarperEdge, $24, 239 pages) was his final word. He wanted his death to be performance art of sorts (he threatened to have it broadcast live on the Internet, though he never did). His book, written with cyberculture guru R.U. Sirius during Leary's last months, is a how-to on dying with dignity, humor and optimism for existence beyond the physiological. It includes a collection of raves, rants and philosophies espousing technology and the concept of hyper-reality or life in cyberspace. It also gives several of Leary's friends, including David Byrne, Ram Dass and Laura Huxley, a chance to weigh in on his life.

Courtney Love has gone from drugs and death to bona fide Hollywood stardom. The mystery of this strange, painful life is unlocked in "Courtney Love: The Real Story" (Simon & Schuster, $25, 253 pages), an authorized biography by Poppy Z. Brite.

Brite traces Love's prolonged girlhood back to San Francisco. A hippie love child (her parents named her Love Michelle Harrison), Love rebelled and became a punk groupie and jet-setting exotic dancer. When she first saw a band named Nirvana, she wasn't too impressed with its music or its leader, Kurt Cobain. But she bonded with him over drugs, she said, and eventually they married and had a daughter, Frances Bean.

When Cobain committed suicide in 1994, Love went into a drug-induced tailspin that included an overdose, unproductive love affairs and physical altercations. It seemed she never would ascend the dark clouds of backstage culture. But she did. For starters, according to Brite, she put the drugs in check. Then she proceeded to woo Hollywood with her performance in Milos Forman's "The People vs. Larry Flynt." Love her or hate her, Love at 32 looks like she's here to stay.

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