Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers
The Design Museum
31 July–14 February 2021
Tickets: From £16
After the long, pandemic-induced hiatus, High Street Kensington’s Design Museum reopened their doors with one of the first exhibits to open since lockdown began: Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers. For potential exhibition goers nervous about overcrowding, the exhibition is showing until the distant date of February 14th 2021 so there should be plenty of time for crowds to abate.
Upon stepping foot into the gloomily lit and beat-throbbing exhibition space you are greeted with a mysterious slogan: ‘There are no UFOs. Machine music is the only way forward’. The quote comes from Juan Atkins’s Model 500 track “No UFO’s” and gives visitors an idea of the techno-futurist ambience of this highly enjoyable, electric exploration of techno-rave culture.
The dynamic and fast-paced beats which echo throughout the exhibition make the visitor feel like they’re back in their scandalous clubbing days and can’t help but provoke a little boogie whilst exploring the space. Accompanied by high-quality graphics and light shows, the Electronic exhibition perfectly illustrates how electronic music evolved from wild-haired visionaries bent over theramins in the 19th century to one of the biggest music genres in the world, with a thriving associated culture with its own rules and fashions.
The exhibition also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the fabled krautrock group Kraftwerk. This West German experimental band are justifiably heralded as some of the central progenitors of the electronic music scene that emerged in the 1970s, and are given pride of place in the exhibition with a full 3D show of Kraftwerk screened in a small theatre, demonstrating the enduring influence of the godfathers of EDM (Electronic Dance Music).
Whilst the exhibition is all about sound, there are plenty of physical exhibits on show. Electronic starts by showing the evolution of electronic instruments such as early synthesisers. Further on into the show, there is a plethora of artwork inspired by the musical scene, ranging from techno album covers to some of the masks and outfits that clubbers in the 80s or 90s wore on the cutting edge of cult fashion.
Visitors are also presented with futuristic light shows in several rooms, which combine the beat of the music into the visual experience. It is advised to bring your own headphones as certain sculptures or videos in the museum are accompanied with headphone jacks to listen to experimental tracks (or sometimes what just sounds like metal pieces colliding). However, disappointingly not all headphones work particularly well with the set-up, with tracks not always clear or loud enough to hear what is supposed to be playing.
Electronic also goes into depth on the subcultures of techno, house and rave music and where they emerged, in Detroit, Chicago and London respectively. This truly gives an immersive experience and will give even the most beat-adverse a grasp of the genre’s global reach, how it became as huge as it is today, and why it is not slowing down. The exhibition goes into detail about other aspects of the club scene such as the acceptance and welcoming of side-lined minority groups like LGBTQ+ and the historical freedom to be who you are, from fashion to simply how you choose to dance. As a flip-side, Electronic also explores how stringent laws designed to shut down clubs could cause irrevocable harm to both the scene and its practitioners.
Finally, the exhibition climaxes with a visual live show from The Chemical Brothers, a famed electronic music group, who helped take the genre from the underground into everyday pop culture. The live show creates a 3D experience by using visuals, lights and sounds to produce a truly memorable and dance-inducing finale that makes it feel urgent and alive rather than just a museum piece.
If you love listening to electronic and dance music, want to know more about the history of the genre or even relive your clubbing days, then the Electronic exhibition is for you. It is an incredibly entertaining and almost mesmerising experience. It is advised however that children under 12 are advised not to attend, and sufferers of epilepsy should be aware of the heavy use of strobe lighting. For everyone else, this is an exhibition worth both seeing and hearing.