What will music be like in 20 years?

Coral Manton recently organised an algorave at the British Library in London – a rave where the DJs generate music algorithmically, often hacking code in real time. The result is raw, glitchy, sometimes unlistenable and undanceable – and popular. There were queues around the block for the event, Manton says, in a year that’s seen algoraves proliferate around the world.

Decoding the DJ

What’s the appeal? “It’s the punk end of electronic music,” says Manton, who, like many involved in the scene isn’t a musician first and foremost: she works as a digital artist at Plymouth University. “Why does anyone pick up a guitar? I picked up a laptop and started playing with it: like anything, it’s easy to start, but hard to get good.”

Manton draws a contrast with the polished performances of electronica performers and DJs, where everything runs seamlessly at the press of a button. At an algorave, by contrast, software crashes, networks go down and the algorithms can run amok. “The best performances are those where you don’t know what’s going to happen and you get a sense of figuring it out,” says Manton. Because the code is usually projected alongside the visuals, the audience can see that happening in real time.

Just as punk rebelled against the conformity of the 1970s, so algoraves pick up on discontent with the digital lifestyle. There’s a strongly open-source ethos – a protest, perhaps, against the perfectionist pressures of social media and relentless commercialisation of online spaces. No doubt algorave will in due course be commercialised and commodified, as youthful protest music always has been. But for the moment, it acts as a reminder that as long as there are human listeners, technology will continue to democratise, not dominate, music: to provoke emotions and sensations just as it has since antiquity.

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