“Trans Futurity” and Popular Modernism in Experimental Electronic Music

Paper presented at Queer Representation: Pasts, Presents, Futures Conference

The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, 11-14 May 2021


If the beginning of the 2010s opened with Simon Reynolds’ dire reflections on the retro-obsessive nature of contemporary alternative music culture (Reynolds 2011), as the decade unfolded several artists active at the intersection of experimental and electronic music seemed at pains to reintroduce a “popular modernist” (Fisher 2014) element in both their musical practice and imagery. As I argued elsewhere, artists such as Lotic, AYA, Arca and Angel-Ho, just to name a few, often posited their queer identity as a site of exploration both musical and conceptual, rewriting notions of taste and belonging in the process (Zevolli 2020). In my paper, I will analyse the (self-)representation of electronic music producers and openly trans artists Arca and Sophie, arguing that the experimental electronic music field has experienced a “Trans tipping point” of its own: not only has the work of these artists given visibility to trans identities, but also strived to articulate a sense of “queer futurity” (Muñoz 2009), recentring the contribution of trans people to discussions of innovation in electronic music (Geffen 2020).

Geffen, S. 2020. ‘Synthesizing Sound and Self. The Vexed Legacy of Electronic Music Pioneer Wendy Carlos’. The Nation. 15 October. Available at: https://www.thenation.com/article/culture/wendy-carlos-biography-review/ (Accessed: 01 March 2021).

Fisher, M. 2014. Ghosts of My Life Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. London: ZeroBooks.

Muñoz, J. E. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York and London: New York UP.

Reynolds, S. 2011. Retromania. Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. London: Faber and Faber.

Zevolli, Giuseppe. 2020. «Arbiters of Taste: Poptimist Sampling in Experimental Club Music». In Sampling Politics Today, edited by Hannes Liechti, Thomas Burkhalter, and Philipp Rhensius (Norient Sound Series 1). Bern: Norient.

Image credit: still from SOPHIE’s video of It’s OK To Cry (2017).

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