He Thought Of Cars

J. G. BallardNo other writer has had as much influence on pop music as J. G. Ballard who died yesterday after a three-year struggle with prostate cancer. Best known for novels including Crash (in which characters become aroused by car crashes) and The Drowned World, as well as for his wartime memoir Empire Of The Sun, Ballard wrote about dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes, and the psychological effects of technological, social, or environmental developments.

Ballard’s visionary imagination grew in the realms of dreamlike, subjective science fiction and gradually came to embrace an aseptic hyperrealism. His precise, disenchanted intuitions of a future life governed by the concepts of anti-utopia and disaster inspired numerous artists. Examples include albums such as Metamatic by John Foxx, various songs by Joy Division (most famously Atrocity Exhibition from Closer), the songs Down In The Park and Cars by Gary Numan, and Warm Leatherette by The Normal. Even The Comsat Angels, one of the most underrated bands of the post-punk era, were named after a Ballard short story.

This influence goes beyond the British post-punk groups, though. The 2007 album by the British “new rave” act Klaxons takes its name from Ballard’s collection of short stories Myths of the Near Future, while an earlier recording of him speaking in an interview is sampled in the Manic Street Preachers‘ song Mausoleum from the 1994 album The Holy Bible. In the said sample Ballard, probably referring to his novel Crash, states: “I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit, I wanted to force it to look in the mirror….”

Still not convinced? Suede‘s sound might have been a retro-leaning David Bowie / The Smiths homage, but their lyrics depicting high rises, asphalt underpasses, and dysfunctional lovers adrift in the city are unashamedly Ballardian, as is the cover image of their 1997 B-sides compilation, Sci-Fi Lullabies; Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke posted extracts from Ballard’s anti-consumerist novel Kingdom Come on the band’s blog, in the months leading up to the release of their 2007 album, In Rainbows; Andrew Eldritch, frontman of The Sisters of Mercy has posted his favourite works of Ballard on his site; dubstep artists Burial and Kode9 also found inspiration in Ballard’s dystopian fiction, while the much hyped Empire Of The Sun took their name from Ballard’s novel; Nine Inch Nails‘ concept album Year Zero describes a world where the governments put sedatives in the water to keep the masses blinkered, dirty bombs go off in Los Angeles, climate change wreaks havoc, and war is a constant reality. Sounds familiar? Even the opening song title of Madonna‘s Ray of Light album, Drowned World / Substitute for Love (and the Drowned World tour title) is said to be inspired by the apocalyptic 1962 novel The Drowned World.

He Thought Of Cars, a compilation featuring 30 tracks by bands such as Blur, Ladytron, New Order, and Sonic Youth, is Indie Disco’s tribute to this great visionary. So, put something to drink, turn down the lights, and immerse yourself in the world of a Ballardian artist, while reading The Atrocity Exhibition. R.I.P. J.G. Ballard. You will be missed.

Track listing

  1. Black Box Recorder – The English Motorway System
  2. Blur – He Thought Of Cars
  3. Burial – Archangel
  4. Cabaret Voltaire – Automotivation
  5. Clock DVA – Pool Of Shades
  6. David Bowie – Always Crashing In The Same Car
  7. Eat Lights Become Lights – Test Drive
  8. Empire Of The Sun – Walking On A Dream
  9. Hawkwind – High Rise
  10. In Trance 95 – The Lesser Water Snake
  11. John Foxx – Underpass
  12. Joy Division – Atrocity Exhibition
  13. Klaxons – Golden Skans
  14. Kode9 & The Spaceape – Sine
  15. Ladytron – High Rise
  16. Manic Street Preachers – Mausoleum
  17. New Order – The Him
  18. Nine Inch Nails – The Beginning Of The End
  19. Radiohead – Airbag
  20. Sonic Youth – In The Kingdom #19
  21. Suede – The Asphalt World
  22. The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star
  23. The Comsat Angels – I Come From The Sun
  24. The Creatures – Miss The Girl
  25. The Human League – Overkill Disaster Crash (v.1)
  26. The Normal – Warm Leatherette
  27. The Sisters Of Mercy – Body Electric
  28. The Units – High Pressure Days
  29. Thom Yorke – Analyse
  30. Tubeway Army – Down In The Park

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