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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

Electronica Time-Slip of the Month: Sci Fi Cafe

Though the joke fell fairly flat, director Barry (Get Shorty) Sonnenfeld’s retro-chic vision of the future in his summer sci-fi blockbuster, Men in Black, made its point. When MiB-designate (and former Fresh Prince) Will Smith entered the MiB headquarters, the locale was decidedly futuristic, albeit circa 1965 — right down to the white, vinyl-seated bucket chairs. Time, DJ Einstein once told us, is relative — and in pop cultural terms, that means that one generation’s vision of the future often as not looks like subsequent generations’ vision of the past. Hypnotic Records and its Cleopatra mother label know Einstein’s axiom well, packaging as they do both the current faves of electronic music (Kinder Atom, Future Sound of London) and past progenitors (a flurry of goth, Hawkwind and Space Daze box sets). Sci-Fi Cafe (Hypnotic, just out) melds past and future; it features a dozen current electronic acts covering the theme songs of three decades’ worth of science-fiction film and TV classics, from Lost in Space (by Pressurehed) to Doctor Who (by Astralasia) to Liquid Sky (by Space Ship Eyes). Loop Guru and Electric Skychurch are the best-known acts on Sci-Fi Cafe, which probably explains why they scored (so to speak) two of the better themes: Star Trek and “Dune (Prophecy Theme),” respectively. The latter, the liner notes remind us, was scored by ambient godfather Brian Eno. Leaetherstrip‘s “X-Files Theme” doesn’t add much to Mark Snow‘s original, aside from a burbling bassline and a vaguely Psychic TV-flavored vocal. And Kinder Atom, probably the brightest of the bunch, is saddled with the theme to Escape from New York, written by the film’s director, John Carpenter. None of the remakes are particularly memorable — compared with, say, those halcyon disco takes on the themes to Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind — but Hypnotic definitely deserves novelty-gift kudos. Fact is, the original themes are kind of timeless in their own way. Few melodies are as fixed in our memories as the ones collected here. By comparison, there’s good reason to suspect we won’t remember Smith’s Men in Black rap 10 years down the road.

Originally published in the August 15, 1997, edition of epulse (3.32).

By Marc Weidenbaum

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