Sometimes when one is driving through certain landscapes, the musical accompaniment just feels right. In fact, one should probably assemble one’s tapes, CDs, and iPod playlists around said landscapes, because, well, it’s what 19th-century Romantic composers and Debussy would do. And they’re all right, right? And given that some of the best urban driving takes place in burned-out, post-apocalyptic industrial areas, we here at Running Downhill have decided to assemble a list of things that will make your journeys through North Minneapolis, Jersey City, Youngstown, East Cleveland, Toledo, Long Beach, and Elston Avenue all the more modernist. So, without further ado, the top ten musical selections for industrial night driving:
10. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros – “Tony Adams” – An adequate amount of reverb, distinctly urban reggae groove, siren-ish background sounds, and lyrics about life in the city. Probably okay for any sort of urban driving project, but works especially well in sparsely populated industrial neighborhoods. “Waiting for the sun,” indeed.
9. GAS – Königsforst – Cologne-based techno producer Wolfgang Voigt put some music together on the side in the mid-to-late 90s. Highly atmospheric, ambient, and fully reverbed out, GAS may be best applied in larger, flatter industrial areas, where the expansiveness of the sounds on hand mix in nicely with an open visual field. Avoid if steady 4/4 kick drum makes you steer erratically.
8. A Place to Bury Strangers – A Place to Bury Strangers – This Brooklyn-based spacey shoegaze/psych trio has reverb to spare, works mostly in alternating major/minor swaths of whooshy noise, and sounds like it was recorded in a nuclear power plant dungeon. Note to drivers: do not attempt to watch youtube clips of videos from the band whilst driving.
7. Burial – Untrue – This garagey Londoner makes music that is danceably empty – it sounds like someone forgot to put the other things on a track with the techno drums, and instead just left a microphone on in a railyard somewhere in East London. A railyard where somebody left contemporary R&B records playing.
6. Kraftwerk – Trans-Europa Express – These German fellows from Düsseldorf are pretty much the daddies of everyone else on the list here; these guys had the driving at night thing down as early as 1970. Their 1977 effort, Trans-Europa Express, as well as 1975 single “Autobahn” would seem to cement their place on the list (don’t let the name fool you; it works equally well on American highways through industrial parks as well). Probably best to avoid “Europa Endlos” at night – it’s much too sunny of a track, and may disorient the more vampiric pilots.
5. Swans – All – Michael Gira and friends kickstarted the American Industrial scene by banging on lots and lots of metal things, as well as drums, in the early 80s. Select early Swans (c. 1984) for heavier, more treacherous industrial roadways; opt for mid-to-late period (c. 1990) for more relaxed, world-conquering sounds. Of particular interest is the piano-fueled major section of “Love Will Save You”, which is probably best saved for the moments before dawn.
4. Portishead – Dummy and Portishead – 1994 saw the debut of English trip-hoppers Portishead, led by the Billie Holliday-esque croonings of Beth Gibbons. Slow, boomy percussion, sampled film noir soundtracks, horns that sound like they are playing in distant and lonely nightclubs, and the scratches and pops of old vinyl add up to make the perfect rain-soaked city accompaniment. Recommended if you drive in black and white.
3. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures – Ian Curtis and buddies got together with producer Martin Hannett to put their crazed, desperately clinging tracks onto record in 1979, an event well documented in Michael Winterbottom’s film 24 Hour Party People. It is probably Hannett who is most responsible for this record’s echoes, but the band had already laid the groundwork with their sparse guitar lines, basic drumming, and lyrics of failed modern life. Electronic whooshes on “Disorder” complete the sparse, yet almost uplifting, cry of mechanical ecstasy. Of particular use to all Northern UK residents (hey, if the music came out of Manchester, it will sound good driving through Manchester, you know?)
2. Vangelis – Blade Runner (Soundtrack) – One of the most evocative (along with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) sci-fi dystopias, Ridley Scott’s 1982 film based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? clearly required a soundtrack that would complement the overwhelming visual displays. It would be hard to write music that would underline a slow opening shot of a burning, black, fully active industrial area somewhere in LA’s future, but Vangelis manages to do it. That he took a somewhat unconventional route, choosing to write mostly euphonic and pleasant major-key sounds, may look like a bad choice on paper, but in practice, it functions as a totally sweet counterpoint to the crisis on the ground, keeping the film from sinking underneath its own postapocalypic weight. For more Vangelis, dig up Heaven and Hell, which was a clear precursor seven years previous to the work here.
1. Wilderness – All – Probably the finest band in the vein opened up by Kraftwerk and Joy Division and Swans, these Baltimore fellows (by way of Florida) write sweeping, majestic, ambient, hammering songs that suggest a combination of dirty B’More basements and old Soviet towns. Vocalist James Johnson’s repeated shouts of Marxist angst suggest nothing more than life in a grimy factory, hammering away at machinery, over and over again. Best enjoyed on cassette for lower-fi reverbed experiences.