Dystopian is watching you – and is pretty good at it

There are few labels that are as dear to Ankali as Dystopian. Rødhåd, Distant Echoes and Alex.Do all played there already (Alex even twice), while Tijana T and Vril are coming later this month. This seems as a good opportunity to finally acknowledge where the love is coming from.

A unique bullshit

Let me approach this a little bit broadly, so we can fully appreciate how Dystopian became an essential techno institution of our time. The case is, that today, writing about essentials in electronic music is tricky. It is a weird situation when we consider that thanks to an unprecedented musical production and proliferation there has never been more to say. New tracks and EPs come out every day, while new labels and magazines are set up regularly.

However, this creative eruption is closely followed (and sadly also often compromised) by another trend – that of intense promotion. The logic here is that more and more production leads to somebody’s acute need to distinguish themselves from others in order to get their music into people’s headphones or onto clubs’ dancefloors.

And here comes the tricky part, since this process of making a distinction usually lacks any substance, or at least creativity. Way too often, you read about a ‘characteristic’ style coming from a clear ‘vision’ which creates a ‘specific’ sound. But you read less about what exactly all those ‘visions’ and ‘approaches’ and ‘ideas’ really stand for. You are rarely given the explanation why this or that artist is ‘authentic’ and their work ‘unique’. And let’s be honest – what the fuck does ‘letting my ideas flow freely’ actually mean anyway?

In the end, all those fancy words suggesting something exceptional are in reality rather inflated and empty. They are used excessively, yet there is no real content behind them. Instead of setting a proper distinction, there is a blurriness; instead of an aura, you get a mass production – of bullshit.

The point is: there is a lot to say (and something needs to be said), but not that much is said eventually. As a result, we are left with a contaminated discourse which makes it harder to distinguish the real quality in the world where everything is ‘unique’.

A proper label

The great thing about Dystopian is that it avoids this trap of vagueness, and gives the opportunity to say something actually substantial. The simple reason behind this is that Dystopian has a very strong and easily recognizable aura based on a well-integrated system of top-notch music, rich symbolism, and fine aesthetics.

To understand how this system works, we need to dig into each of its components, and the ways they interact. Let’s begin right away with the label’s mightiest symbol – its name.

Dystopia is a very powerful word on its own – both phonetically and semiotically. It evokes the very distinctive emotion of a corrupt future fueled by dark sci-fi motifs. Yet, it is still a quite broad term. When you modify it a little bit by making the “D” a capital and adding a simple “n” at the end, you will get narrower and more coherent meaning – as if it were an institution monitoring the dystopia. You know that “Dystopian is watching you”, right? So, if dystopia is a phenomenon, Dystopian is its institutionalized form.

The symbolism in the releases is even more straightforward. You can hardly imagine more suitable name for the label’s very first release (DYSTOPIAN001, by Rødhåd) than “1984”. Or take Recondite’s EP “Nadsat” (DYSTOPIAN006) which refers to the fictional Anglo-Russian language from “A Clockwork Orange.” Even the title of one of the latest release (DYSTOPIAN025) “World on a wire” by Alex.Do is based on the German sci-fi movie by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Then, there is a particular aesthetics in which architectural themes prevail – be it on EP artwork or on Rødhåd’s or Alex.Do’s Instagram. Brutalist, gargantuan and often decaying buildings and other structures perfectly capture the tension between ambitious visions and their depraved forms. These images are the manifestation of the idea of transitioning to new worlds – the one of the past, of now and of the (maybe not so distant) dystopian future. When looking at these pictures, the feeling of unrest grows stronger.

These elements make the label easily understandable instead of being over-allegorized pretentious nonsense. It may seem intuitive, but it also contains deeper meanings. Here, straightforward doesn’t mean banal.

And a proper institution

Take the release “1984” by Rødhåd as an example. It is not only the title of a seminal work of modern dystopian thought, but also the year of his birth, which is historically and geographically anchored in some sort of dystopia. Rødhåd was born in East Berlin, right under the eye of the – then already decaying – Big Brother. And it doesn’t end there, because according to him, “in a way, 1984 is actually now” (you know, internet, CCTV, this kind of stuff).

It is even clearer now – with Dystopian you get a proper symbiosis between the artist, his life, his experience and his work (not to forget that Rødhåd is also an architect by profession; hence that particular obsession with brutalist architecture).

And finally, the last and the most important part of Dystopian’s artistic structure – the music. There, the vision is very clear: melancholic, hypnotic and powerful techno – where melancholy comes from unnerving melodies (“Nadsat”), mesmerism from loopy and tense darkness (“World on a Wire”) and power from signature intensity of kick and bass (“Kinder der Ringwelt”).

Of course, it is not only the music they produce, but also the one they play. One of Rødhåd’s all-time favourite tracks is Radio Slave’s remix of “Blacklight Sleaze” by Peace Division. I can hardly imagine a better track to evoke the feeling of a dim and rusty future. Every time I hear it, I get that particular “Blade-Runner” feeling, as if I were sitting in a smoky bar with broken neon lights, cars flying outside, when suddenly this girl comes up to me and starts: “Sometimes, I wonder what I’m doing here…”. Goosebumps, every single time.

Dystopian delivers many such moments, because it creates a complex experience by integrating various artistic elements into one well-functioning and easily accessible system, the parts of which compliment and balance each other perfectly. For me, this constitutes a proper institution – a guardian of its genre.

Author is a professional enthusiast with background in social sciences and civil service. He often gets excited about many things, including dogs, books and electronic music.