International sounds of the future

Four who grooved to the space age
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  August 17, 2010


Inside the retro-futuristic world of Stereo Total. By Jonathan Donaldson.
The '90s produced a generation of musicians gorged on the pop culture of the '60s and '70s who conceived themselves as simultaneously retro and futuristic. After all, the future is scary, but the past is fun. Picking up on early-20th-century Futurism, latter-day International Futurism offered an interest in utopian communities (males and females, no leaders) and the design of fonts and layouts (many taken from advertisements), a healthy dose of science fiction (the outfits from Barbarella), and a reverence for the previously neglected easy-listening (Bacharach), new-age-lounge (Enoch Light), exotica (Esquivel), and soundtrack (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) albums then readily found in thrift stores across the globe. Here are four signature purveyors of International Futurism.

PIZZICATO FIVE | This Japanese group were better known for their delicious CD artwork than for their retro electronic-orchestral dance pop. P5's combination of pop-art and mod images was imbued with a sense of drastic fashion that could be attributed only to their national sensibilities.

STEREOLAB | The ultimate tastemakers of the International Futurism scene. If Stereolab were to delete from their music every obscure band, film, author, design concept, and philosophical idea that they filched, they would instantly become Roxette.

SONGS FOR THE JET SET | In the mid '90s, the defunct New York label Jet Set, inspired by the '80s boutique label El Records, put out a series of compilations of fabricated bands with fantastic names like Wallpaper and Loveletter. Songs included elegant covers of obscure '60s sunshine pop, like the Free Design's "Kites Are Fun," and film-soundtrack themes, like Nelson Riddle's "Lolita Ya Ya" from Lolita.

ELEFANT RECORDS | As the contemporary torch bearer of International Futurism, Elefant Records has a roster that includes Spain's La Casa Azul and Argentina's Modular — both of whom you are most likely to see sitting in egg chairs in the space-station lounge, wearing snug, white astrosuits and composing note-perfect analog lounge pop.

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