You may not have realised, but there has been an incredibly long trend of environmentalism within music. Tracks like ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ by John Denver, ‘Earth Song’ by Michael Jackson, and ‘Blackened’ by Metallica all represent the influential wave of environmentalism (If we conveniently forget the hunting passions of Metallica frontman James Hetfield).
Classical music has always had a strong connection to the living planet. From Vivaldi’s lush, sweeping, magnificent Four Seasons, to the more contemporary classical, such as John Cage’s ‘Child Of Tree’, in which the composer amplifies the sound of cactus and pea pod shakers to add to the timbre of the piece. More obviously an environmental piece is Ludovico Einaudi’s 2016 ‘Elegy For The Arctic’ – a stunningly beautiful piano composition, which you can watch below. What makes this recording even more awesome and shocking is Einaudi plays while on a raft, as large chunks of ice break off the glacier around him and tumble into the water. It’s almost as if nature is supplying the percussion to it’s own destruction.
Now environmentalism, or the inspiration that comes from the living planet, has seeped into the realms of contemporary electronic music. The netlabel Eco Futurism Corporation – a group of forward thinking artists and producers, have even come up with a name for the genre, and it is exciting: Eco-Grime.
Eco Futurism Corporations is a label dedicated to artists such as HERBARIUM, tropical interface, SHYQA, Gem Thee, LORD Ø, and soullets, and proclaims itself as ‘Wrapping ‘anti-club’ tunes and abrasive sound design around CGI-inflected visions of the organic.‘ Our first listens have introduced us to a rapturous, mutating, bio-mechanical, elated, and yet also dark, twisting anthemic landscapes. This is no everyday club music. It is the cousins of Bjørk’s 2016 album, Utopia, produced by both the Icelandic auteur and the Venezuelan producer Arca, which proved to be a scintillating look at when an album surpasses itself to become a soundscape, sort of a aural version of the lengths Tolkien went to in creating Middle Earth (a work itself steeped in environmentalism), and just as intricate. These artists make their own languages.
These languages entertain multiple stories; the wilful destruction of humanity by AI in an effort to save nature, the evolution of animals to survive off plastic, the discovery of human life being the evolution of biological contaminants left behind by extraterrestrial travellers, a.k.a. ‘Garbage Theory’. The stories, while surrounded by beautiful, fragile melodies and samples, are themselves dark and foreboding. These are the inventions of the Eco-Grime proponents, inspired themselves by ecological themes, crafting music to score the slow and wilful eradication of the living planet by the consumptions of modern life.
Sounds of chimes, birdsong, waterfall, the chirps and chirrups of birds, insects, and other creatures. The music of these artists present full and biodiverse environments of sound, championing the natural samples they compose around. Like the water used in many of the tracks, these artists have fluidity. The soundscapes ebb and flow into one another while remaining very much autonomous. It is exciting stuff to listen to.
“Roots of such ecologist utopias unconsciously existed all this time in the field of eastern way of harmony with surrounding against western anthropocentrism, which crystallized into architecture, infrastructure design, human relationships and many other things, including Eco Futurism Corporation.” The label explained about it’s origins in an interview.
“It’s expressed in samples from cult films of the future like “Blade Runner” or “GITH” and ends with the title tracks. From the other side, eco futurism have a positive outlook for the future, utopia, the opposite post-apocalyptic and alternative to cyberpunk. We suggest another way.” EFC shares on the influences of eco-futurism expressed within their work.
In a Facebook post about their album, ВЕЖЕСТЬ (Freshness), HERBARIUM wrote “The main idea is to immerse the listener in different scenes using the contrasts between artificially created effects, ‘computer’ synths, and common sounds that surround you in real life. The process is more like painting; I’m trying to create a unique atmosphere for each track and transform it into dynamic futuristic collage.” This phrase seems to be emblematic of the whole subgenre itself.
The Ecomodern series, a mixture of different contributing artists, is itself an incredibly biological work, a work that would class itself as symbiotic. It is not a mixtape, it is an ecosystem. The track ‘eco world’ by tropical interface could itself act as the grim anthem of this movement, containing an artificial voice that declares “Welcome to the new world, the world of ecological future / High technological artificial intelligence had to take over nature to exterminate humanity, because nature has a higher priority than humanity.” This mixes with powerful beats, trickling water sounds, and undulating synth beds that project a sort of serenity that jars with the AI’s proclamation. It almost surrenders you to this hypothesised end to humanity. The soundscape created helps you to accept.
Earlier this year, Prague-based label Genot Centre released a limited-edition cassette of Plastisphere by the Finnish producer Forces. Within the work, EDM is deconstructed into a medium that can be used to explore the lives of organisms who have been affected by climate breakdown, most specifically, plastic pollution. Eco-grime seems to focus itself as mood board, mirror, and social commentary on the environmental catastrophes we face. In an interview, Forces said “I don’t know what would be the solution out of this mess we have made. I can only try to circumvent the issue with my music and art.” Plastisphere was created in part in reaction to an ecological disaster near his home, where toxic cyanobacteria blooms grew off the Scandinavian coast, rendering swimming in those waters impossible.
The Eco-Grime movement is constructed of a thriving community of artists and auteurs, who are currently pushing against the creative grey areas of underground club music, representing the more contemporary, niche side of environmental advocacy. Whether it is a city commute, an afternoon desk-bound work, a casual jaunt through a local green area, the environments that this movement creates are ones well worth getting lost in.
For an in-depth look at key Eco-Grime tracks, check this article from Bandcamp Daily.