‘The Shock of the Future’ Mixes a Groovy Serenade to the Women Pioneers of Electronic Music

Sceptical from the opening sequence of a sleeping woman, Ana (Alma Jodorowsky), declare a generic cassette pop-song as “shit”, before putting on her own synthesised morning workout music. Framed amongst orange hues and gigantic electronic machines, Ana assumes the position of an aeroplane pilot, making music that sounds like its from “the future”.

Following Ana through her day of writers block, obsessions, collaborations, and disappointments, Marc Collins’ directorial debut The Shock of the Future is full of energy: small but excellently formed. As each new gadget, record, and character is introduced, the momentum of something is enough to propel the slight plot, letting us listen to each beat and break. Her frustration at a commercial project lends to her exploring a newly gifted beat-box, finding a joyful collaboration, and eventually throwing a party. Not a lot happens, but in the best way possible.

A general consensus of electronic music in popular culture, either links it to American EDM (please, no), or the British acid house raves of the 80’s and 90’s. Notably white and male. The Shock of the Future is a long awaited counter-narrative. The Shock of the Future plays massive homage to the women who pioneered, and were then written out of electronic music. The fictional Ana is an amalgamation of female creators, allowing an access point that isn’t just a talking heads documentary. Though its fixed location severs it from a larger historical web and context of women summoning the sounds of the future. There’s a lost chance to tie into what was happening in the late-70s setting, the only sense of decade came from the outfits, decor, and its on-the-nose rants and references.

Sparing mockumentary style looks to the camera, Ana often looks worryingly uncomfortable as the men she’s often alone with in her apartment edge closer. A worried pang shot through me every time she was in that room alone with her handsy manager, I didn’t notice until my breath of relief matched Ana’s, only released once they left. There is no explicit sexual assault in The Shock of the Future, however the lusty looks from the men loom over Ana, and their looks of disdain are apparent to us. Maybe it’s a lazy device, but it was unwelcome and incredibly persistent.

The real shame, however, is that this is also echoed in the camera work; as a vintage Hollywood backlight of Ana walking made me roll my eyes. Even in the opening sequence, the camera is quick to adjust Ana’s pants to centre screen. We all love watching hot people in the movies, however it undermines the feminist marketing and point in the film, that the double edged sword of misogyny means that good looks often relegate talented female musicians to “pretty little women”, who they assume to be singers. 

Frustratingly, the first half of the feature treats Ana as a flat supermodel, smoking cigarettes, looking beautiful and frustrated, confined to the tiny box apartment we learn an elder, and more accomplished male composer has lent to her. The Shock of The Future is insufferably cool, but undeniably cool nonetheless. Indulging in the dull realism and ritualistic methods of making music, most of our time is spent drifting from machine to machine in Ana’s apartment.

In a chance meeting with a singer, Clara (Clara Luciani), she is unsure if their shared seedy manager wants them for their “voice or their ass”. British producer and DJ L U C Y even wears a mask when she performs to put the focus onto the music, rather than herself. The Shock of the Future doesn’t quite manage to get under the skin of its protagonist or its issues, and whilst is a lovely slice of life; there is so much more to be reclaimed and explored.

Shock of the Future is a tiny set piece that feels like you’re getting to lift off the lid and peer into the creative process, however, Ana sadly remains a bit flat — maybe I didn’t pick up the nuance — but for a character who spoke so much of ‘vibrations’ and ‘intuition’, the visuals and sound design of the film didn’t quite grasp that. More observational than embodied. Jodorowsky’s performance is totally natural, and her frustration is so perfectly familiar. It felt similarly reductive to the films Victoria and Beast; both with fascinating female protagonists who we were just offered at face value.

When Ana finally gets to work, it’s electrifying (actually please pardon the pun), and I happily bobbed along in the cinema. The massive analogue machines take up much of the screen, and its a pleasure to sit with the process and really listen to the sounds. I still know nothing about how any of it works, and that’s sort of the magic of it.

My own interests in Techno and justice lead me to learning about Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, two middle aged British ladies who pioneered electronic music (as far as I am concerned). Derbyshire played an essential role in early BBC sound — ‘radiophonic’ — workshops and was omitted from the credits of much of the music she created. This work was no less than the Dr Who soundtrack, the melody that excited wonder and fear in equal measures for so many generations. Women’s contribution to the arts really needs to be added to the archive and canon of many genres and forms, whilst still taking note of the previous omission.

Rarely does electronic get the same cinematic love letters that so many other genres have, and it’s so enjoyable for The Shock of The Future to serenade us with its groovy tunes. Without separating the craft and work (get it?), from the beauty of the sounds, Ana is an amalgamation of all the women who pioneered “disco without musicians” and proves that it takes more than any dickhead with a MacBook to make a hit. 

 

by Reba Martin

Reba Martin is from Bristol. She’s been obsessed with the Simpsons since before she could walk, and watches it religiously to this day. Her hobbies include planning to go to the cinema, and going to the cinema. A few favourite films are Eraserhead, Ghost World, and Clerks. You look at her movie diary here and she tweets @discorebekah

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