Musicians have been writing and recording tracks about the future since pretty much forever, and we’re marking our 100th issue with 100 of our favourite examples. They’re mostly electronic, of course, but you might find some surprises along the way…

The Beatles
Tomorrow Never Knows
Parlophone, 1966

The clue was in the title. The final track on ‘Revolver’, its lyrics were about the meaning of death, but the sonics gave the millions of Beatles fans a coruscating glimpse of the future. Their casual genius placed loops, field recordings, radical filtering and droning electronics into a three-minute explosion that sounds three-dimensional and vividly ahead of its time to this day.

Push A Little Button
Pye, 1966

“A gentle warning against accepting too much automation” is how composer Tony Hatch described this charming folk-pop single, sung by his teenage sister and featuring clunky tape loops. “The world’s gone mad just pushing little buttons,” she quips, bemoaning instant hot chocolate and impending nuclear annihilation. “‘Cos one little man can push one little button / And – whoosh – goes you and me.”

The Rolling Stones
2,000 Light Years From Home
Decca, 1967

A single night doing porridge and Mick Jagger was already dreaming of interstellar travel. Reputedly written in Brixton Prison following a famously short-lived drugs conviction, it’s a decidedly psychedelic trip to the cosmos. “See you on Aldebaran,” he sings. “You’re 2,000 light years from home.” Hey, check your spaceship’s mileometer, Mick. The star of Aldebaran is, in fact, only 65.2 light years from Earth.

Pink Floyd
Astronomy Domine
EMI, 1967

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Say what you like about Syd Barrett, he was impressively au fait with the moons of Uranus. The Farfisa-fuelled psych classic that opens ‘The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ includes disarmingly accurate predictions of “icy waters underground” on Oberon, Miranda and Titania, even though it would be another 20 years before this was confirmed by NASA’s Voyager 2 space probe. Syd knew, man.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)
Reprise, 1968

Anticipating a Soviet missile attack, Hendrix decided to escape “giant pencil and lipstick tube-shaped things” by heading for the sea to live on the submerged island of Atlantis. “My darling and I make love in the sand / To salute the last moment ever on dry land,” he purrs. In 1968, even global thermonuclear conflict wasn’t going to put a self-respecting rock star off a bit of how’s-your-father.

Zager & Evans
In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)
RCA, 1969

Nebraskan college mates Denny Zager and Rick Evans tapped into the post-hippy mood of 1969 with this account of the next 7,626 years of human history. Their predictions? Thought pills, robotic limbs, genetically modified babies and an 8510 AD Judgement Day instigated by a god who decides to “tear it down and start again”. So have we learned our lessons? Doubtful. We’re not even sure what “exordium” means yet.

Scott Walker
30 Century Man
Philips, 1969

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Walker’s pragmatically titled third album, ‘Scott 3’, left behind the supper clubs and wallowed in divine bedsit melancholy. This statement of acoustic intent sees our hero staving off a decision about his public image – “See the dwarfs and see the giants” – for at least another 100 years. “Play it cool and Saran wrap all you can,” he offers. For the benefit of British readers, it’s cling film.

Bruce Haack
Electric To Me Turn
Columbia, 1970

A former instrument developer and children’s music composer, Canadian Bruce Haack is rightly considered one of the major electronic pioneers. From ‘The Electric Lucifer’, a futuristic concept album about a war between heaven and hell, ‘Electric To Me Turn’ is an impish psych frolic fusing Moog riffs and Haack’s vocoded voice to great effect. You can see why Stereolab and Add N To (X) paid due homage.

Black Sabbath
Iron Man
Vertigo, 1970

Heavy metal? In Electronic Sound? You bet. Partly because of the ring modulator on Ozzy Osborne’s intro, but mainly because this famously weighty track from Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ album is the tale of a discarded robot, once the saviour of mankind, now wreaking revenge on ungrateful humans. The junkyards of the 22nd century are going to be terrifying places.

Marvin Gaye
Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
Tamla, 1971

Lines like “Radiation underground and in the sky / Animals and birds who live nearby are dying” were a jarring departure from ‘It Takes Two’, but Gaye had been deeply affected by the letters his brother sent home from the Vietnam War. The resulting album, ‘What’s Going On’, was written from the perspective of a disaffected veteran, and this ecological classic remains one of the most touchingly resigned headshakes in music.

David Bowie
Drive-In Saturday
RCA, 1973

Humans have forgotten how to make love, so they spend their Saturday nights watching old films to help them remember what to do. A “crash course for the ravers” indeed. A UK Top Three smash from ‘Aladdin Sane’, Bowie once said that this wonderfully atmospheric song was set in 2033, six decades after it was released. Or as we now know it, a mere 10 years away. Gulp.

Sun Ra
Pathways To Unknown Worlds
Saturn, 1973

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Sun Ra claimed to be an alien sent from Saturn to bring peace on Earth, but you won’t find much of that on the title cut of his ‘Pathways To Unknown Worlds’ album. Backed by the 13-piece Astro Infinity Arkestra, this space-jazz epic captures the legendary Afrofuturist at his galaxy-trotting best, imitating extraterrestrial life forms through the sub-lunar squeals of his Minimoog and Yamaha YC-45D combo organ.

Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth
Island, 1974

A soaring baroque pop warning shot from the brothers Mael, addressing the fragile nature of Mother Earth. “When she’s on her best behaviour / Don’t be tempted by her favours” are prescient lyrics that have greater relevance today than they did in the 1970s. Later cover versions by Martin Gore and Associates frontman Billy Mackenzie elevate the song into even more atmospheric realms.

The Cosmic Jokers
Im Reich Der Magier
Kosmische Musik, 1974

The Cosmic Jokers were a German improv supergroup (in the loosest sense) consisting of Manuel Göttsching, Klaus Schulze, Jürgen Dollase, Harald Grosskopf and Dieter Dierks. Featured on Kosmische Musik’s ‘Sci-Fi Party’ label sampler, the woozy, proto-electronic ‘Im Reich Der Magier’ captures the Jokers at their transcendent, space-faring best, likely fuelled by LSD. Plug in, tune out and take a trip.

Mothership Connection (Star Child)
Casablanca, 1975

With Bootsy Collins on bass and Bernie Worrell on a gazillion different keyboards, the swaggering funk of ‘Mothership Connection’ announced the arrival of George Clinton’s messianic alien alter ego, Star Child. Parliament’s live show at this point, which cost around $250,000, included a massive flying saucer that zipped above the audience on wires, all flashing lights, spitting fire and belching smoke.

Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft
Daffodil, 1976

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

It’s a reformed Beatles operating under an assumed name! OK, that’s not true. Klaatu were a delightful Canadian pop-prog trio, and this epic single begged “interstellar policemen” to establish contact with any aliens out there and put the human race back on the path to righteousness. The galactic peace corps remain conspicuous by their absence, but this earnest plea did at least give The Carpenters a global hit in 1977.

Be-Bop Deluxe
Life In The Air-Age
Harvest, 1976

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

This sharp art-rock track from Bill Nelson’s outfit centres on a forlorn time-traveller marooned in a steampunk landscape. “My world is not like yours / I come from somewhere long ago / I’d dearly love to go back to my own time,” mourns Nelson. Only his beautifully mellifluous guitars provide respite from a fate “grim enough to make a robot cry”.

Atlantic, 1977

What was French disco producer Cerrone expecting when he asked an unknown London singer to provide a handful of English lyrics? Possibly not a stark warning about intensive agricultural practices awakening swarms of mutant beasties determined to exact “sweet revenge” on mankind. Such was Lene Lovich’s uncredited contribution to this hit, as “science opened up the door” to one of the bleakest floorfillers of the 1970s.

The Alan Parsons Project
I Robot
Arista, 1977

The synth-propelled title track of Parsons’ full-album tribute to American sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov. With the English Chorale Choir providing alarming, wordless vocals, it’s the gateway to a record decidedly uncertain about the merits of artificial intelligence. As the sleeve notes warn, “His brief dominance of this planet will probably end, because man tried to create robot in his own image.”

Spirit Of The Age
Charisma, 1977

Cryonics, cloning and intergalactic travel are among the themes of ‘Spirit Of The Age’, the opening track of ‘Quark, Strangeness And Charm’, Hawkwind’s most overtly electronic album, and an epic sci-fi saga of love and loss across space and time. “I would’ve liked you to have been deep frozen too,” begins Robert Calvert. “And waiting still as fresh in your flesh for my return to Earth…”

The Normal
Mute, 1978

The first single on Mute, no less. Propelled by a throbbing, strangely chipper MiniKorg 700S backbeat – think punky Kraftwerk – Daniel Miller envisages a grisly scenario where humans overdose on the gogglebox. “I don’t need a TV screen / I just stick the aerial into my skin / Let the signal run through my veins,” he intones, predicting the present-day obsession with screens and smartphones.

Joy Division
Factory, 1978

If you’ve ever doubted how far ahead of their time Joy Division were, consider the fact that their first release was a track called ‘Digital’. One of two contributions to the double seven-inch ‘A Factory Sample’, the title was apparently a reference to the then still largely unknown digital technology that producer Martin Hannett used to hone the band’s early sound.

Dee D Jackson
Automatic Lover
Mercury, 1978

Dystopian disco! “He’s programmed to receive automatic satisfaction,” sings Ms Jackson, who dressed up in blue lurex and cavorted with a low-budget C-3PO on ‘Top Of The Pops’. For all of that, this unlikely UK Top Five hit was a genuinely dark rumination on futuristic, depersonalised, machine-assisted sex. Vibrators have feelings too, you know.

The Human League
Circus Of Death
Fast Product, 1978

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Bowie said they were “the sound of the future” and the B-side of the League’s ‘Being Boiled’ single is an arty, witty and ominous statement of intent. Analogue electronics swirl menacingly as Phil Oakey sings about a nefarious clown administering a poisonous drug to the masses, hell-bent on wiping out civilisation. Hammering home the doomy prognosis, the final verse is “a shortwave radio message from the last man on Earth”.

Yellow Magic Orchestra
Behind The Mask
Alfa, 1979

Tokyo, 1979. The mega city of neon and population density was alive with the sound of the synth. Masters of the machine were Yellow Magic Orchestra, though the English lyrics of ‘Behind The Mask’ were written by British poet Chris Mosdell. “I was talking about a very impersonal, socially controlled society, a future technological era, and the mask represented that immobile, unemotional state,” said Mosdell in 2011.

Gary Numan
Beggars Banquet, 1979

Numan’s fixation on all things android was, as we now know, partly informed by his own sense of disconnection from human warmth. ‘Metal’, synth banger that it is, imagines a confused android with a Mallory heart (Mallory subsequently became Duracell) and is a sci-fi vision of the ethical and philosophical issues we’re only now beginning to confront, as AI increasingly infiltrates our lives.

The Buggles
Video Killed The Radio Star
Island, 1979

On the surface, this deliciously whimsical track references a very specific period in popular culture, but at its core is the prospect of a time when technology infiltrates every aspect of ordinary life. “It came from this idea that technology was on the verge of changing everything,” said Trevor Horn, the song’s co-writer and vocalist in 2011. “There was a shift coming.”

Kate Bush
EMI, 1980

It’s scary stuff – “After the blast / Chips of plutonium are twinkling in every lung” – and then some. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan reigniting the dormant Cold War, ‘Breathing’ was in the vanguard of a slew of 1980s nuclear-powered pop hits. But only one took the viewpoint of an unborn foetus contemplating the effect of radioactive fallout being absorbed through its mother’s womb. Number 16 in the UK charts, everyone.

Chrysalis, 1980

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Encompassing the jittery, paranoiac energy of the Cold War years and with singularly soaring powerhouse vocals from Debbie Harry, ‘Atomic’ is widely viewed as one of Blondie’s most treasured songs. The band’s biggest-selling single in the UK, it’s a rapturous fusion of disco, new wave, and jangly country and western guitars. An evergreen floorfiller that speaks to a strangely joyful dystopian future.

Michael Bundt
The March Of The Martians
Blubber Lips, 1980

Nine minutes of pure, unalloyed escapism, as former progger Bundt cuts loose with a thrilling blast of galactic futurism that draws on krautrock, Berlin School and sci-fi tropes. Taken from the German’s acclaimed ‘Electri City’ album, it vividly depicts hordes of armoured aliens on parade. Check out Bundt’s ‘Just Landed Cosmic Kid’ LP from 1977 too, another wigged-out journey into the outer reaches of space.

Home Computer
EMI, 1981

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

A highlight of ‘Computer World’ and another perfectly realised artistic statement from the Kling Klang Mysterons. Way back in 1981, Kraftwerk’s almost childlike electronic poems about humans and computers living together sounded like sci-fi comedy. By 1990, we all realised they’d nailed it. “I program my home computer / Beam myself into the future.” You sure did, Ralf.

Laurie Anderson
O Superman
Warner Brothers, 1981

Sounding out of this world, yet nonetheless extraordinarily human, Anderson’s surprise hit from her seminal ‘Big Science’ album struck a nerve for many. The eight-minute-plus epic reached Number Two in the UK charts and is certainly as good as anything Bowie ever wrote in terms of extraterrestrial interrogations. Pivotal experimental electronica and a moving meditation on technology and communication.

Heaven 17
We’re Going To Live For A Very Long Time
Virgin, 1981

Martyn Ware and co poured funk, soul and even glam into the machine-like rhythms of ‘Penthouse And Pavement’. With its resounding synth rumble, this satirical closing track – about religious fanaticism, going to heaven and “talking to God on the party line” – ends with an interminable groove that repeats “for a very long time” on a loop. See what they did there?

A Flock Of Seagulls
I Ran (So Far Away)
Jive, 1982

Perhaps the greatest song ever written about meeting a beautiful girl and then being abducted by aliens. AFOS singer Mike Score hoped ‘I Ran’ would evoke sci-fi films like ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’, but the track found little success in the group’s native UK. Maybe we just weren’t ready for Score’s cosmic haircut. It did give them a Number One in Australia, though.

Mike Batt
Love Makes You Crazy
Epic, 1982

Boldly setting aside all things Womble, Batt went full-on Orwellian synthpop with this single from his ‘Zero Zero’ album, an electronic rock opera set in a dystopian near future where human emotion is considered a disease. The lyrics say it all: “I was reading in a history book / Before the seventh war / They used to have a thing that they called love / That we don’t have any more.”

Thomas Dolby
Venice In Peril, 1982

It’s entirely appropriate that a man named after noise reduction techniques should be so troubled by incessant multimedia babble. “Do we only feed the airwaves?” ponders Dolby, anticipating the rise of Twitter 30 years on. Even in 1982, information overload was giving him psychosomatic symptoms. “I itch all over, let me sleep,” he complains, although there’s seemingly still no cure for “the dampness of the wind”. Quite.

Neil Young
Computer Age
Geffen, 1982

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Young’s ‘Trans’ album is perhaps the greatest mass pissing-off of bearded men in plaid shirts ever. But the bold synthpop anthems were inspired by the technology Young used to communicate with his severely disabled son, and this pivotal track has both heartbreak and hope beneath its glacial surface: “I need you / To let me know that there’s a heartbeat / Let it pound and pound / And I’ll be flying like a free bird.”

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Genetic Engineering
Virgin, 1983

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

A positive spin on a biotechnological future with this single from OMD, who cleverly make use of a typewriter and a Speak & Spell children’s toy in the process. It barely scraped the UK Top 20, but should have been massive. As should its controversial parent album, ‘Dazzle Ships’, which was so unnerving and eccentric that it lost the band 90 per cent of their fans on release.

Herbie Hancock
Future Shock
CBS, 1983

Jazz icon Herbie Hancock made the future sound super-funky with this innovative, proto-hip hop remake of Curtis Mayfield’s 1973 hit single, the lyrics addressing both environmental destruction and societal inequality. Hancock’s ‘Future Shock’ album, which also included ‘Rockit’, marked his first foray into electro-funk, his instruments of choice including the Fairlight CMI.

Depeche Mode
Two Minute Warning
Mute, 1983

Depeche Mode tackled some big issues on ‘Construction Time Again’, including everyone’s favourite heartwarming topic – imminent nuclear destruction. Written by band newcomer Alan Wilder, ‘Two Minute Warning’ had a poppy feel, but it was deadly serious, with depressing lyrics sung by Dave Gahan in an awestruck tone over a slick synth sequence.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Two Tribes
ZTT, 1984

Frankie’s follow-up to ‘Relax’ found singer Holly Johnson protesting at the futility of war amid the 1980s arms race between the USA and the USSR. Produced by Trevor Horn and using musical elements sampled from both America and Russia, ‘Two Tribes’ is positively gleeful as its relentless slap bass rhythm sends the track careering towards armageddon.

Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
Chrysalis, 1984

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Fears of an irreversible escalation of nuclear tensions were clearly omnipresent in 1980s synthpop, probably reflecting a sense of existential panic in the wider world. Framed by a gloriously muted euphoria, Ultravox frontman Midge Ure leads a final dance with his loved one on the eve of annihilation, his delivery full of pain, loss and resignation.

Model 500
Metroplex, 1985

This is where techno starts. The first Model 500 release from Detroit legend Juan Atkins, who has often cited the influence of writers such as Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Alvin Toffler, this pulsating track cautions against believing everything you’re told: “They say, ‘There is no hope’ / They say, ‘No UFOs’ / Why is no head held high? / Maybe you’ll see them fly”. Wise up and eyes up, people.

We Are Phuture
Trax, 1988

Having kick-started the acid house revolution with their seminal ‘Acid Tracks’ the previous year, the Chicago outfit that put the “Ph” in “Uture” kept the squelches wringing wet, the beats big and booming, and the vibe at fever pitch with the equally epic “We Are Phuture”. The lyrics mainly consist of the word “Phuture” repeated, but rocket ships and laser guns also get a look in.

Fingers Inc
Distant Planet
Jack Trax, 1988

We’re staying in Chicago for this next one, a typically silky and soulful house track from Larry Heard and his Fingers Inc buddies Robert Owens and Ron Wilson. ‘Distant Planet’, a place of peace, love and happiness in a far-off galaxy, was a highlight of ’Another Side’, the trio’s only album and the first full-length long-player by a house music artist.

Clock DVA
The Hacker
Wax Trax!, 1988

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

The final track on Clock DVA’s ‘Buried Dreams’ album, ‘The Hacker’ feels like a trip down a modem cable into the darkest recesses of your desktop PC. Replete with a conspiratorial vocal from Adi Newton decrying “mathematical terrorists”, it is violent, prescient, and a far cry from the depiction of cheeky teenage computer programmers in films like ‘Weird Science’.

Talking Heads
(Nothing But) Flowers
Warner Brothers, 1988

Wistful and nostalgic, with a jangly Johnny Marr guitar riff and African percussion, ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’ has Talking Heads imagining a world in which all of modern life has returned to nature. David Byrne considers the loss of fast-food joints and shopping malls, while also anticipating social media with dream-like lyrics about pretending to be a slogan-filled billboard.

Digital Underground
Packet Man
Tommy Boy, 1990

From DU’s ‘Sex Packets’ concept album, the world probably wasn’t ready for the ultra-funky hip hop group’s little packets of sex pills in 1990. “See the girl on the cover? / You black out and she becomes your lover,” claimed the Packet Man, aka rapper Shock G, who was selling “guy packets” and “orgy packets” too. The closest thing we had to virtual reality back then.

MC 900 Ft Jesus
UFOs Are Real
Nettwerk, 1990

It’s hard to discern exactly what this driving electro-distorto rap track is getting at. Mr Jesus himself, Dallas rhymer Mark Griffin, wasn’t giving much away. From his sample-heavy ‘Hell With The Lid Off’ debut album, if this is the soundtrack to an imminent invasion by alien life forms from other planets, then we’re in for a good time.

Massive Attack
Hymn Of The Big Wheel
Virgin, 1991

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

One of the defining voices of millennial futurism in electronic music, Massive Attack closed ‘Blue Lines’ with this soulful, dubby vision of a grinding, post-industrial world. True to form, the band offers a melancholy portrait of a fractured new world, only to disrupt the bleakness with soaring lyrics – performed by Horace Andy – that hint at unity and hope.

Brian Eno
Fractal Zoom
All Saints, 1992

Eno hasn’t written many tracks on the subject of the future, but he has given us plenty of forward-thinking music techniques and concepts over the years. ‘Fractal Zoom’, which opens his ‘Nerve Net’ album, is a good example. The reference to a fractal, a never-ending geometric pattern often associated with chaos theory, reflects the tirelessly propulsive feel of the track.

Sea Quake
Shockwave, 1992

With enough bleeps, squelches and punchy 808s to cause a tidal wave, it’s no wonder Drexciya called this one ‘Sea Quake’. The opening track of their first release, the ‘Deep Sea Dweller’ EP, the OG Detroit acid electro duo James Stinson and Gerald Donald were on a mission to craft new musical realms – and subaquatic ones, with their Afrofuturist water world influenced by the history and horror of the transatlantic slave trade.

Leonard Cohen
The Future
Columbia, 1992

For the weathered Canadian troubadour, the road ahead was anything but bright. Lyrics such as “The blizzard of the world / Has crossed the threshold” and “You feel the devil’s riding crop” don’t bode well. Singing in his trademark drawl and framed by jaunty organ and guitar, Cohen is suddenly consumed by lust as he croons about wanting “crack and anal sex” – a novel way of dealing with the coming apocalypse.

The Future Sound Of London
Virgin, 1994

After 1992’s rave debut ‘Accelerator’, Brian Dougans and Garry Cobain came down a gear or two with the ambient psychedelics of ‘Lifeforms’, an album that dabbles in cybernetics and AI. On both the title track and the 40-minute EP derived from it, FSOL’s immersive sounds are heavily influenced by kosmische, the music verdant, textural and unearthly, like being blissfully suspended in zero gravity with not a care in the world.

A Guy Called Gerald
Voodoo Rage
Juice Box, 1995

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

From ‘Voodoo Ray’ to ‘Voodoo Rage’, Gerald gives his classic acid house track a radical overhaul for ‘Black Secret Technology’, his highly praised drum ‘n’ bass album. The record explores our susceptibility to subliminal messaging via TV and radio, with ‘Voodoo Rage’ warped and hobbled by repeated bursts of effects and interference.

LTJ Bukem
Looking Good, 1995

If there’s one track that made 90s clubbers fall in love with drum ’n’ bass, it was probably ‘Horizons’, and Bukem’s jazzy, rhythmic take on the genre is as transcendent now as it was back then. Vocal samples spilling lines such as “Each new hour holds new chances / For new beginnings” only add to its vista-expanding charms.

Disco 2000
Island, 1995

Jarvis and the gang hit the dancefloor with a divine homage to a year that, even in 1995, seemed impossibly futuristic. “Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown?” he muses, turning real-life adolescent longing into a singalong disco chorus with effortless aplomb. As he later revealed, “The only bit that isn’t true is the woodchip wallpaper”.

DJ Spooky
The Terran Invasion Of Alpha Centauri Year 2794
Asphodel, 1996

Now that’s a far-sighted title. Add in the fact that this intensely otherworldly illbient cut from Spooky’s ‘Songs Of A Dead Dreamer’ album is built from samples of Erik Satie (‘Gymnopédie No 1’) and Barry White (‘I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby’) and the result is pretty special. It’s going to sound as fresh in 771 years time as it did back in 1996.

String Theory
Incoming!, 1996

The various early versions of string theory had been unified into a single hypothesis just months before Andrew Lagowski included this majestic ambient beauty of a track on ‘The Geometry Of The Night’, his second SETI album. Lagowski’s music has always been heavily influenced by science – the name SETI comes from the real-life international body, Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

One Little Indian, 1997

From Björk’s ‘Homogenic’ album, ‘Jóga’ is dedicated to the Icelandic superstar’s best friend. But alongside the baroque string arrangements and volcanic proto-dubstep beats, the lyrics are a lament for a world locked in a downward spiral of cataclysmic environmental breakdown. The occasional ambiguity – “State of emergency / Is where I want to be” – is both peculiar and curious.

Duran Duran
Electric Barbarella
EMI, 1997

Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Warren Cuccurullo extol the virtues of sex with robots on this stylish electro ditty. Featuring a killer bridge and some surprisingly droll lyrics from Le Bon – “Emotionless and cold as ice / All of the things I like” – the track is also said to have been the first ever single available for digital download and purchase.

Speedy J
As The Bubble Expands
NovaMute, 1997

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Bubble universes? Spacetime foam? Oh yes. For now, though, let’s focus on the fact that the last track of ‘Public Energy No 1’, the third studio set from Dutch techno maverick Speedy J, begins with a single bell and grinds to a halt in a maelstrom of percussion. The history of everything, from start to finish, in five minutes flat. Well, nine minutes if you include the insect noises that creep in once the percussion has collapsed in on itself.

Coldcut & Hexstatic
Ninja Tune, 1998

This breakbeat classic sees Coldcut and Hexstatic teaming up to sample a Greenpeace film about illegal logging, subsequently transforming it into an audiovisual dance menagerie complete with the sound of axes, chainsaws, falling trees and more. It’s a rare breed, a protest song without lyrics, that lets context and suggestion do the talking.

LaFace, 1998

A gem from their ‘Aquemini’ album, Atlanta rappers Andre 3000 and Big Boi deliver an ominous prophecy about romance in the digital age. Over the smuttiest southern beat and backing vocals from George Clinton, the pair throw dice over the prospect of silicone-adorned humans (check), “Cybersexy Wendy web-walking in the nude” (check and check) and salty partners producing clones of their exes (coming soon).

Add N To (X)
Metal Fingers In My Body
Mute, 1999

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

With an armoury of defunct vintage gear at their disposal, Add N To (X) were electronic collagists of the highest order. Here, inspired by an illustration from a 1960s French adult magazine, they explore the racy world of human/robot sex via a fuzzy, vocoded synth-rock groove and a saucy animated video. It’s firmly tongue-in-cheek, naturally, but google at your peril.

Mute, 2000

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Goldfrapp’s second single, ‘Utopia’, is outwardly an ethereal and dreamy electro-symphonic track filled with strings, languid Moog solos and vocalist Alison at her most haunting. Dig a little deeper and its beatific textures are wrapped around lyrics likening the new millennium’s obsession with genetic engineering to fascism. Which, of course, isn’t remotely utopian.

Deltron 3030
75 Ark, 2000

The crown jewel of ‘3030’, a rap opera concept album by the hip hop supergroup fronted by Del The Funky Homosapien and featuring turntablist Kid Koala and producer Dan The Automator. Sampling classical composer William Sheller, the track outlines the record’s storyline, set 1,000 years ahead, and introduces us to Del’s protagonist, an ex-mech soldier turned righteous mercenary fighting intergalactic corporations.

Parlophone, 2000

‘Idioteque’, Radiohead’s acclaimed chaotic masterpiece, is the glue that holds ‘Kid A’ together and marks a pivotal moment in the band’s trajectory. Thom Yorke’s sardonic and febrile lyrics reverberate through the glitchy haze of synths and samples, alluding to a desolate, post-disaster wasteland. A desperate grasping at the persistence of life through ecological and social collapse.

Todd Rundgren
Sanctuary, 2004

“I’m supposed to drive a flying car / I’m supposed to have a house on Mars,” grumbles Rundgren on this standout track from his ‘Liars’ album. But while he was nostalgic for the idealistic optimism of his 1960s youth, his music was decidedly forward-thinking. He remains the only veteran songsmith to have warbled wistfully about the 1964 World’s Fair, accompanied by drum ’n’ bass beats.

Oppenheimer Analysis
Oppenheimer Analysis, 2005

Written in the early 1980s, but not released until 2005, this synthwave classic by Cold War obsessives Andy Oppenheimer and Martin Lloyd sets out the numerous ethical dilemmas surrounding the West’s thirst for relentless technological advancement. “What shall I make you / A baby or a bomb?” sings Oppenheimer, who nowadays happens to be an expert in counterterrorism and the mitigation of weapons of mass destruction.

Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head
EMI, 2005

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

The Happy Folk live at the foot of a volcanic mountain called Monkey, appeasing it with rare jewels. The corporate bastards that are The Strange Folk come along to mine the jewels, causing Monkey to erupt and destroy the whole bloody lot of them. World-weary vocals from Damon Albarn, plus a mystical narration from Dennis Hopper, conjure a supremely inventive ecological warning.

The Flaming Lips
Time Travel?? Yes!!
Warner Brothers, 2006

From The Flaming Lips’ ‘It Overtakes Me’ EP, ‘Time Travel?? Yes!!’ was a collaboration with American actor Steve Burns. Over a bed of psychedelic, loopy synths, Burns delivers a lysergic exposition on time travel that’s a mere “turn on, tune in, drop out” short of a Timothy Leary speech. The punchline? Time travel is already possible (transcendentally), man.

The Mighty Boosh
Future Sailors
BBC, 2007

The greatest song about the future ever also just happens to be the greatest song about sailors ever. As Howard Moon and Vince Noir put it: “Future sailors / We’re future sailors / Electronic castaways / Digital stowaways / Cyborg seadog / Tell me what you dream of / Future sailors / Oh yeah / Robot starfish / Nylon admiral…”

Planet Health
Kanine, 2008

Caroline Polachek appears to resurrect Nico’s ghost on this track from Chairlift’s euphorically titled ‘Does You Inspire You?’ album, her dreamy vocals painting a picture of a 70s-style synthpop paradise tinged with melancholia. The unsettling lyrics, derived from public health messages fed to schoolkids, shimmer hazily across languid guitar grooves. We’re all feeling great on Planet Health… until we’re not.

Future Reflections
Columbia, 2008

These psych-pop heavyweights round off their debut album with a track for a post-apocalyptic beach holiday. More understated than the other tracks on ‘Oracular Spectacular’, ‘Future Reflections’ nevertheless captures the youthful energy for which MGMT are known and evokes the feeling of running joyfully into a warm sea, albeit at the end of the world.

The Girl And The Robot
Astralwerks, 2009

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Röyksopp weave a phantasmagorical tale of a lonely girl in love with a robot on this whacking great slice of pulsing electropop. Swedish powerhouse Robyn drives the track, her suitably anguished vocals giving credence to the idea of a time when humans and robots live in more than just harmony. Rather you than us, Robyn.

The Limousines
Very Busy People
Universal Republic, 2009

“We’ll stay up late making mix tapes / Photoshopping pictures of ourselves / While we masturbate to these pixelated videos / Of strangers fucking themselves.” Well, we all need a hobby. Californian duo Eric Victorino and Giovanni Giusti bemoan the addictive, time-sapping ubiquity of “the bloody internet” on this millennial synthpop anthem, earning bonus points for mentioning both ‘Donnie Darko’ and, erm, wank socks.

DJ Shadow
Scale It Back
Island, 2011

Shadow was residing in Silicon Valley when he penned ‘Scale It Back’, a track pondering how technology is turning us into zombies. “I swear I solved your life,” sings guest vocalist Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon. It’s made all the more interesting by the enduring shadow (ahem) of his 1996 album, ‘Endtroducing…..’, where the potent use of sampling warped the traditional notions of music production.

Daft Punk
The Game Of Love
Columbia, 2013

‘The Game Of Love’ appears on ‘Random Access Memories’, Daft Punk’s final studio album, the title of which suggests equivalences between a computer and the human mind. It’s a downtempo and soulful love song, the vocoder vocals conveying what Thomas Bangalter described to the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur as “an emotion of something that is not human but tries to be”.

Jeff Mills
An Alternative To Earth
Axis, 2014

Detroit techno pioneer Jeff Mills has crafted countless future-themed records over the years. The hypnotic ’An Alternative To Earth’, a key element of his ‘Chronicles Of Possible Worlds’ project, begins with Mills talking about the search for a new planet for mankind to migrate to. Something like Kepler-452b, for instance, also known as Earth 2.0, which was discovered by NASA the year after this track came out.

Steve Aoki
Ultra, 2014

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

The super-shiny ‘Transcendence’ opens the first of Aoki’s four ’Neon Future’ albums and features renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil explaining his wonderfully optimistic vision of what lies ahead of us. “We’re going to transcend and overcome the limitations that have plagued us for thousands of years,” he declares. “We’re going to have radical life expansion, not just radical life extension”. We can all dig that, right?

St Vincent
Digital Witness
Loma Vista, 2014

“If I can’t show it / If you can’t see me / What’s the point of doing anything?” sings Anne Erin Clark, aka American art-pop innovator St Vincent. The shiny and synthetic textures of ‘Digital Witness’, from her eponymous fourth album, are like a mirror, and one that she holds up to the increasingly narcissistic side of internet culture.

Imogen Heap
Me The Machine
Megaphonic, 2014

As the first song to be produced with MiMU Gloves, the pioneering gestural musical instrument created and co-developed by Imogen Heap, the very existence of ‘Me The Machine’ is futuristic. Add in the fact that the song is about a machine who is desperate to become human and you’ve got yourself a slightly surreal, achingly beautiful future fest.

John Foxx
Beautiful Ghost
Metamatic, 2015

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

One of the most elegant and moving pieces on ‘London Overgrown’, an ambient project based around a very clear concept – as is obvious from the title and the image of St Paul’s Cathedral smothered in a blanket of green vegetation on the cover of the record. The idea of nature taking over abandoned cities is a theme that Foxx has returned to many times over the years.

I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler
Downtown, 2015

Talk about lowered expectations. While the teenage Todd Rundgren felt cheated out of a luxury home on Mars, Portland outfit YACHT merely sought salvation from “death by remote control and unrestricted sidearms”. “Got my broken heart / I got it sold right back to me / By an algorithmic social entity,” sighs frontwoman Claire L Evans. These days, even heartache comes packaged in promoted tweets.

Holly Herndon
4AD, 2015

A haunting, melodious sound collage from ‘Platform’, the second album by American composer Herndon and reportedly the first by anyone to include a track composed specifically to trigger ASMR. ‘Home’ blends samples with lilting choral vocals, the lyrics suggesting the paranoid loneliness of living under an oppressive regime, littered with broken computer screens and disquieting sentient technology.

Moor Mother
Chain Gang Quantum Blues
Don Giovanni, 2016

Juxtaposing a sample of a singing chain gang against howling electro fuzz, this standout track on Moor Mother’s ‘Fetish Bones’ LP distills an important tenet of Afrofuturism – that time moves cyclically, spiralling through the past, present and future all at once. The Philadelphian producer-poet’s activities in the years since include holding a residency at CERN in Switzerland.

The Radiophonic Workshop
Some Hope Of Land
Room 13, 2017

Britain’s official Sound Of The Future for 60 years and counting! Who had money on The Radiophonic Workshop re-assembling for a collection of ambient improvisations inspired by Francis Bacon’s unfinished 1626 novel ‘New Atlantis’? This 25-minute epic is the lynchpin of ‘Burials In Several Earths’ and a glimmering reflection of Bacon’s enlightened future idyll of “dignity and splendour, piety and public spirit”.

Hannah Peel
The Planet Of Passed Souls
My Own Pleasure, 2017

Peel’s album, ‘Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia’, combines elegiac synths with stirring brass arrangements to depict an octogenarian Barnsley stargazer’s trip to the outer reaches of the universe. Pitched halfway between Kubrick’s ‘2001’ and the abandoned pithead of Grimethorpe colliery, this supremely touching finale adds the angelic vocals of Peel’s own grandfather, captured as a choirboy in 1928.

We Appreciate Power
4AD, 2018

This techno-industrial foot-stomper is one of Grimes’ many forays into transhumanism and AI. It was reportedly conceived as a response to Roko’s Basilisk, a thought experiment which suggests an artificial superintelligence might turn malevolent towards anybody who doesn’t support its advancement. A tweet about Roko’s Basilisk is what first brought Grimes and Elon Musk together.

The Island
Ladytron Music, 2018

“We are sirens of the apocalypse,” claims Helen Marnie on this dark but uptempo single from Ladytron’s self-titled comeback album. “We are savages giving you poison lips.” Safe to say, her vision of the world to come isn’t altogether happy. “The Island” is a desolate reference to her homeland, an increasingly marginalised Scotland, adding a different spin to the lines “Seeking out our departure / Seeking out our heavenly future.”

Childish Gambino
Feels Like Summer
Wolf & Rothstein, 2018

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

No one injects chart hits with shrewd social commentary quite like Donald Glover. The gorgeous R&B swoon of ‘Feels Like Summer’ imitates just another sunshine ditty, yet Glover’s lyrics describe a world that’s getting too hot to live in, while our eyes stay glued to showbiz gossip. Will we still be talking about what Kanye said last night when our homes are under water?

Time Rider
Italians Do It Better, 2019

You don’t need a time machine to travel into the past and the future. You just need music. That’s the premise of ‘Time Rider’, conveyed by vocalist Ruth Radelet in a comfortably numb style over brittle synths and crisp beats. The result oscillates between hope, nostalgia, yesterday and tomorrow, all in the space of four pristine electropop minutes.

Transgressive, 2019

‘Exits’ imagines a planet of subterranean cities, where every move is scrutinised and all the routes to above ground are locked. It’s a bleak and oppressive prospect improbably expressed as a tight, defiant, stadium-friendly song – the converse of how something so grim and savage ought to sound and a reflection of the lyrics, which detail a world turned inside out.

Kelly Lee Owens
Smalltown Supersound, 2020

A techno banger on Owens’ otherwise dreamy ‘Inner Song’ album, ‘Melt!’ fuses heavy beats with samples of a thawing glacier and people skating on ice. It’s an interesting juxtaposition and one which manages to demonstrate the frenetic pace of environmental jeopardy, while also giving us the space for hedonistic release.

The Avalanches
Wherever You Go
Modular, 2020

The opening moments of ‘Wherever You Go’ borrow extensively from recorded messages on the two “Golden Records”, the Carl Sagan-curated discs that are currently deep in interstellar space on the Voyager 1 and 2 probes. Featuring Neneh Cherry and Jamie xx, this is a cheery greeting to the citizens of the universe wrapped up in a sampledelic and psychedelic sprawl.

XO Transmission #1
!K7, 2021

Tom Middleton uses the filmic soundscapes of his Global Communication work with Mark Pritchard as a launchpad for ‘E2-XO’, his GCOM album . Inspired by “humankind’s impact on the climate, conscious AI, and the search for habitable exoplanets”, it’s a starry-eyed ride save for the left-field turn of ‘XO Transmission #1’. The crunching metallic distortions sound like Aphex and Squarepusher engaged in sonic combat.

Infinite Window
Brainfeeder, 2022

AI art generated from track titles, directed by Mark Hall

Kuedo, aka Jamie Teasdale, puts his palette of opulent 808 states and Tangerine Dream-like hues to great use on the title track of his most recent album. Exploring the notion that the future is inextricably linked with the past, this harks back to Vangelis’ emotive, neo-noir ‘Blade Runner’ score, interspersed with skittering arpeggios that evoke the innate tension and drama of a sci-fi shoot-’em-up.

Future Conditional
Second Language, 2022

Cold, dry, dark, robotic, fascinating. “The kick is numb / The snare is dead,” intones vocalist Mücha. The title cut of Future Conditional’s ‘Isotech’ album is exactly as you might expect from a track that started out with FC’s Glen Johnson imagining a club where androids go to dance and humans are barred from entry. No trainers, of course.

Peter Gabriel
Real World, 2023

The Panopticom? An “infinitely expandable accessible data globe” intended to log climate catastrophes and human rights violations. Or, as Gabriel puts it, “the dark, the mal-intentioned and the dangerous”. He’s keen to put the plan into action, and this strident single is a blueprint. “We got witness on the ground / Takin’ in the evidence,” he sings, wagging a finger at the encroaching darkness of the 21st century.

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