“A twilight world of magick without a New Age sugar-coating, and darkness without Goth cliches”: John Coulthart on a particular variety of recent British electronic music (Arthur, 2007)

An Invitation to the Electric Seance

by John Coulthart

Posted Dec 14, 2007 on the Arthur blog at Yahoo


At precisely 20:02 on the 20th February, 2002 (20/02, 2002 in the UK date system), nine people gathered at the banks of the River Thames where it passes the Greenwich Observatory at 00 longitude, the world’s Prime Meridian. They were there to perform “a mass for palindromic time,” “to celebrate and to devastate, to perform an act of chronological terrorism, strike a blow to the heart of the Great Wyrm time” as one of the participants, Mark Pilkington, described it. If use of the word “terrorism” seems ill-advised it should perhaps be remembered that the Greenwich Observatory was the site of a genuine bomb attack by a French anarchist in 1894, an event which inspired Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel, The Secret Agent.

The 2002 ritual is one of the more striking manifestations of a largely unobserved current of inspiration running through the margins of British electronic music in recent years. A loose network of musicians have been following similar paths of interest or obsession, paths that frequently end up in places where ritual, magick and paranormal occurrence are the spur for musical invention. Themes and reference points include weird tales and ghost story writers (especially some of the names that influenced HP Lovecraft), psychogeography (or the physical examination of the psychic qualities of our cities), renegade science, and nostalgia for half-remembered (or mis-remembered) films and television, typically science fiction and horror. These groups are eager to use their work to lift the veil on the mundane and shine a light into occluded zones. What they’re delving into might be called “occulture” (for want of a better term), “occult” meaning hidden, and it’s with hidden, forgotten or secret arts that occulture concerns itself.

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