Chris Korda / Future Shock!
by John-Paul Pryor
The new york-born electronic artist and technologist Chris Korda is something of an LGBTQ legend, and firebrand. It’s fair to say that the pioneer of trans rights, polymeter software, and founder of the controversial Church of Euthanasia (whose members must to take vow never to procreate), has blazed a pretty unique trail since the release of her tongue-in-cheek debut electro-club-banger and call for ethical suicide “Save The Planet, Kill Yourself” way back in 1993. I could now regale you with her early history as a self-styled agitprop activist throughout that decade, employing shock tactics and sloganeering to wake up straight-edged political convention enthusiasts to the dangers of climate change and an exponentially exploding population, but frankly, I’m not going to, because the past, however ‘colourful’, is not really the subject of this interview.
This interview is considerably more focused on the future, or rather, the lack of it—a future that the Berlin-based Korda seems utterly convinced the human species have fucked-up-beyond-all-recognition and will not be likely to play any major role in. Weirdly, Korda almost seems to have time-travelled to the present with this message from the period of her last release in the music sphere back in 2003, having had a 15-plus-year hiatus from the electronic music scene to resurface with the six-track call-to-penance Apologize to The Future—a tripped- out, sugar-sweet, robotically-voiced affair that basically excoriates the listener for their part in the hopelessly screwed present day, while providing a soma-like meditative wash of sound, recorded in the aforementioned polymeter—which basically means there are a number of time signatures running consecutively that kind of orbit each other and occasionally conjunct, like little sonic planets, or at least that’s how I understand it works. Unsurprisingly, the sound is utterly unique, much like its creator. Here, the once perhaps-all-too-punk activist explains why she has ditched the dark humour and sloganeering of her early career in favour of earnest sci-fi lullabies from the survivors of the near future... you know, those lucky souls inhabiting that period just before the lights go out on humanity, forever.
What is the genesis of Apologize to The Future?
The essence of the album is a simple thought experiment: how will later generations regard us? The answer to that question, broadly speaking, is that they will regard us with bitter scepticism, at best. The album is a strange sugar pill—on the surface, it sort of vaguely sounds like electro hip-hop, or categorizable as music that most people could accept, but underneath the surface of it, there’s a very strong etymology, and it’s quite upsetting to listen to, I should think. In the near future, there will be a transition period, where there will still be humanity, but there won’t be much left of civilization, and that’s what the album is about. It’s about a period, which is, by the way, almost upon us now—the only question is how much worse we want to make it, and whether we are going to continue to accelerate into the catastrophe. There’s nothing in our history compared to this moment. Not even the collapse of the Roman Empire, which was small, compared to the complex and extremely fragile global civilization we have now. We’ve got a very long way to fall, and I think that that’s the message of the album. We actually have societal failure already. The fact that our society is now in danger of failing on the larger economic and political level is only a symptom of something that’s been going on much longer, which is that our society, or civilization, has been failing individuals on a personal level for as long as I’ve been alive.
In what sense do you mean it has been failing individuals?
Well, like you, I was lucky and won what I call the sperm and egg lottery—I’m one of those thankful to society for all the gifts it showered on me. Lots of people have never seen those benefits of the first world, and it’s really hard to know what we can even say to them—sorry might be a good start. In general, poverty doesn’t help people. When people are struggling to stay alive, then they’re not going to fulfil their human potential. There are conditions that are necessary to achieve full potential, and included in those conditions are not merely biological things like making sure people have got enough vitamins and protein, but a long list of other things that are social and mental and intellectual. It’s no surprise that children who grow up illiterate, desperately poor, and environmentally ravaged are damaged mentally for the rest of their lives. We’re having this conversation right now inside the consumer gratification zone, about what it would mean to be more courageous and responsible, but meanwhile, the consequences of our lack of courage are all too real for the people outside of that zone. It’s sobering, but we all have to remember that according to the 2018 numbers, half of the world’s population is living on $5 and 50 cents a day, or less, and, of course, a solid third are some- where below $2 a day. I’m pretty sure that whatever is being said on Twitter really doesn’t interest or affect their lives.
Do you worry that the message of Apologize To The Future might be a little too dark for some people to stomach?
I just worry about it being authentic and genuine. In my previous work, I had to tackle many of the same problems, but there was a lot of black humor, and that feeling of putting people on a bit. I felt that I wanted to dispense with all of that in a very direct way with this album. I just don’t feel that there is time for sarcasm. I feel that humanity is stuck in denial and we need to get past that because we’ve got a long way to go, to get to where we need to be—as long as we remain interested in narcissism and self- ishness, then we can’t really prioritize the future meaningfully. We need to have a lot more empathy for our offspring, because, essentially, what’s happening is that we have run up a huge bill in a restaurant and now we’re going to abscond without paying it. We’re going to be smugly dead, while our offspring—not mine, because I don’t have any—but many people’s offspring will be really struggling, and more or less picking through the rubble. We need to begin to feel ugliness of what we have done, and most people are not ready for that. This album is a tentative step in that direction.
I expected you to be more of a nihilist but you seem to have a really urgent love for humanity...
I’m actually a fan of civilization for all of its faults. I actually agree with what Winston Churchill said about democracy. I’m probably paraphrasing, but he said something like democracy is a terrible form of government; it’s just better than all the other ones. It’s similar to civilization, which could be said to be directly responsible for the crisis we find ourselves in. But think of what the alternative to civilization would look like? I can’t tell you how terrible the arguments I have had with my primitivism friends about that have been. I’m a technologist. I’m not willing to return to that point of cowering in caves from what humanity has done. I don’t have answers, either, other than this simple one that I proposed for these last 40 years—asking people politely to not procreate, which, as we all know, hasn’t been much of a success. I’m not proposing anything other than that. I mean, you can re- cycle bottles to make you feel better, but I wouldn’t count on that preventing the climate catastrophe.
Without wishing to seem trite, surely if no one procreates there will be no one to actually apologize to in the future?
How about we cross that bridge when we get anywhere near it. We’re so far from it that it’s just totally irrelevant—population is still going up year-on-year. The fact is that we can’t have another billion and a half people on the planet and also expect to lift the entire world’s population to up to a First World standard of living. It’s just not going to work that way, so we have to reduce the population a lot, or people have to make do with less. And they’re both very difficult to achieve because we need people now, not their children, to give up their hard won gains and standard of living.
I read it was the death of your mother that gave you a sense of urgency in making this record. Is that correct?
Sure. It’s definitely a factor. I mean, there’s just nothing like the cold water splashing on your face forever of a very close family member dying. But I think that was just the trigger. It had been building for a long time. I definitely kind of went off the road in terms of being in the public eye with electronic music, or whatever. After Man of The Future, people did not hear much from me in that world for more than a decade, but during that time, I wasn’t idle. I was very busy. I did lots of things during that time—just for starters, I helped develop the world’s first colour 3-D printer and I developed my own DJ software. But while that was occurring, I was also researching and developing a deeper understanding of climate change and species extinction. I mean, I was talking about that stuff in the 90s—mass extinctions and the sea level rising, and so forth—and it was considered far-fetched, but today all that stuff is front-page news. Those predictions proved to be quite reliably valid. I take no pride in that. It’s not something that I wanted. I would have preferred to be proven wrong.
Why do you think people are more concerned about climate catastrophe than the possibility of nuclear catastrophe, which seems to me to be a more real possibility than it was in the 90s?
That’s complicated. It’s hard to say. I would guess that it’s now just one of several threats—environmental threats are just as serious, and we’re less able to control them. In theory, nuclear war is controllable, people could put a stop to it, and it kind of felt like we were putting a stop to it until the crazy Republicans decided to start tearing up treaties. But climate chaos is in a different category. It’s like ordering a package on Amazon, right? You know, there’s a point in which you can’t really take it back. That’s the category that we’re in now; we’re in the stage where we actually can’t prevent it. I think people underestimate the seriousness of the situation—that, in fact, it is possible for human civilization to end. We have this idea that somehow we’re invulnerable and that we’re beyond the kind of limits of biology, but nothing could be further from the truth. We’re not going anywhere, there’s nowhere to escape to, and no one is coming to rescue us. We are actually alone on earth facing a fundamentally hostile universe that’s completely indifferent to our faith. If we don’t start to value the future, then the future simply doesn’t include us.