:cyberpunk: /music/

"Gibson said it in a short story somewhere. Cyberpunk is the stuff that has EDGE written all over it. You know, not edge, it's written EDGE..." - Thomas Eicher


it's almost impossible to point to any particular type of music and say - that's it, that's cyberpunk music. having said that, there are some types of music that seem to fit the genre more than others. the cp2020 rpg suggests "your heaviest rock tapes"; the cyberpunk documentary offers industrial as the central tenet of 'punk music - but they also mention Severed Heads, who aren't exactly industrial. trance would appear to have its place, as well as (rave) dance and dub.

it's a curious question, after all, what epitomises cyberpunk? is it the hard thrashing extreme of punk, or the power of metal? is it ultra-technological electronica? is it industrial, the power and the technology together? industrial certainly appears a logical choice given all the information - lots of technology involved, heavy sounds, meaningful lyrics (yes, yes, generalisation...); it just seems to fit. but then i'm biased.

in the end it really comes down to preference, and what "does it" for you. but you can't deny that cyberpunk would seem to demand music that wouldn't seem out of place in a dark future. perhaps the problem is that the future seen in the greater part of cyberpunk isn't that different from the present, in some ways. some people like one type of music, others will like something totally different.

fiction prediction

many authors have realised that they're writing far into the future and the music should reflect this setting. some have built current artists into the story under the guise of "old classics" which the characters have discovered. others have gone a different way and suggested unusual ways that music could evolve in the future. this is reasonable, since music reflects the society it comes from; including its hopes, dreams, fears and morality.

think of it this way: The Beatles had a huge hit in the 1960s with i want to hold your hand, which naturally enough for the time used the title as the main lyric. this was clean, guitars/drums/vocals pop rorck. in the 1990s, just thirty years later, Nine Inch Nails had a huge hit with closer, which prominently features the lyric i wanna fuck you like an animal. it used a wide range of instruments which simply didn't exist when The Beatles were recording - synthesisers, effects modules, advanced studio processing techniques.

between the 60s and the 90s the instruments changed and the general moral standards of society had changed. closer could not have been released in the 1960s - it would have been banned instantly. yet in the 90s it did little more than raise a few eyebrows.

so, fast forward into the future... what will music be like in the 2030s? the instruments are yet to be invented and the realms of what is "acceptable" can't really be projected accurately. so authors try some odd ideas; trying to create a concept which seems strange now, but could be what future generations will be listening to.

i don't recall (and haven't so far rediscovered) who proposed white noise bands - the idea that instead of melodic pieces, there could be a genre devoted to bands who work with white noise. literally walls of "background" sound amplified to become the feature.

john shirley came up with wiredancing, especially together with a subculture called minimono - a kind of puppet music, where the artists dance on a set of wires to produce the sound. a fusion of changed creative paradigms; a mix of sound and dance.

NewHope hit the stage. He was anorexic and surgically sexless: radical minimono. [...] The wires jacked into NewHope's arms and legs and torso fed to impulse-translantion pickups on the stage floor, making him look like a puppet with the strings inverted. But he was the puppeteer. The long, funereal wails pealing from hidden speakers were triggered by the muscular contractions of his arms a legs and torso. He wasn't bad for a minimono, Rickenharp thought condescendingly.[1]

neal stephenson came up with "nuclear fuzz grunge", the ultimate in distorted grunge mega-rock, with the band Vitaly Chernobyl and the Meltdowns. something of a mix between the white noise concept and grunge/punk rock.

The warm-up band, Blunt Force Trauma, gets rolling at about 9:00pm. On the first power chord, a whole stack of cheap pre-owned speakers shorts out [...] Blunt Force Trauma play a kind of speed reggae, heavily influenced by the antitechnological ideas of the Meltdowns.

Hiro startles and actually jumps into the air as Vitaly Chernobyl and the Meltdowns launch into their opening number, "Radiation Burn". It is a tornado of mostly high-pitched noise and distortion, like being flung bodily through a wall of fishhooks.[2]

other fiction includes ideas like human synthesisers ("synners"); computer-mixed dub being used as a kind of currency; and even the idea of people having soundstracks built into their brains.


  1. Freezone, John Shirley. From the Mirrorshades anthology, edited by Bruce Stirling.
  2. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson.

some downloadable tunes

with everything i've just said, i still think certain tunes are on the right track. these should be fine to distribute since they were released on the demoscene and sent around the world on BBSs.

pkzipped mods

* The two deephouse mods by basshead are probably the best for listening to while you read this page. The others are a little distracting, I chose them more for musical merit than practicality :)

mods? que?

"mods" is short for "modules". The .mod format was born on the venerable Amiga and passed on to PC when Amiga sadly fell down and went boom. Thankfully, most versions of Winamp play these files (albeit not always perfectly); otherwise you'll need to track down a player which can cope with .mod and .s3m files.

They are credited to individuals (in bold), not bands. The other name is their affil (affilliation), or the group they were part of at the time. If all this sounds like greek to you, go read up the demoscene.code - it should explain what this "demoscene" thing is.

other suggestions

Specific bands mentioned or played in the "Cyberpunk" documentary:

* Although Tom Ellard is mystified as to why Severed Heads was included.

my personal suggestions