Lower Dens Writes Cyborg Music for Techno Fear: Interview With Jana Hunter
Electronic rock has never felt so much like cyborg rock as on Lower Dens’ new record, Nootropics. It’s an aesthetic as much as a concept, a delicate and subtle mingling of synthesized or processed or programmed sounds with a rock scheme nodding heavily to krautrock, the original cyborg rock music. And, like Michael Rother’s “Fuerland,” the result is a strange, seductive dream, delivering more and more on every listen. Nootropics also happens to be about our post-human future, where humans live within the terror of a perpetual identity crisis: “open fire or evolve, mutate” goes “Nova Anthem”. I recently talked to Jana Hunter, front-human of Lower Dens, about the growing fear of a future that’s already crept up on us.
Can you talking about “brains without names”? I think as a lyric that’s about the most reduced snapshot of the ideas behind Nootropics.
It started as something as a lyrical placeholder. I knew I wanted the song [“Brains”] to be about anxiety over technology, like the very modern kind of anxiety over artificial intelligence. I’d be listening to some NPR stories and reading elsewhere about Cleverbot and other AIs that were starting to defeat the Turing test, or approaching that line.
To me, it’s kind of a goofy lyric and it was much more goofy when it was the only lyric in the song. It is the simplest reduction of that idea, that around the corner there are entities that are nameless and unknown and that’s what makes them terrifying. They’re not us; they’re something else. Maybe something better and more capable than us, and maybe less human. Obviously less human, not having the characteristics we associate with humanity. Just more unknown. Those uncertaintities are what are frightening about them. I did know that I wanted to start with that idea, but the lyrics needed to go a bit farther than that kind of silly catchphrase.
How different do you think these new beings will actually be?
I think that that very much remains to be seen. I think that human beings have a tendency to create things to suit their environment as much as possible. I imagine that if we maintain control of artificial intelligence, it will be as much in our likeness as possible.
There’s some talk about escape and sort of re-primitivization in the record’s lyrics. There’s a lot of dread of what’s coming. Is this how you feel?
It wasn’t so much my dread as an observation of dread in others. I tend to be more on the enthusiast side of technology. I hate that my phone and my computer sometimes seem to control my life, seem to have more of a leash on me than I do on them. But I believe in my ability to find ways to manage that. I think humans are generally capable of finding ways to incorporate new technologies into our lives that are only beneficial. Obviously, a lot of people don’t feel that way and that is kind of what I am more fascinated by – that tension, a kind of very primal tension between the fear of the unknown and the future.
It’s ultimately about not wanting to let go of animal nature. Wanting to strike a balance between that and endless possibilities.