“WWe can’t see it, “says a character from The Matrix Resurrections,” but we’re all trapped inside these weird, repeating loops. Little surprise, techno producer Marcel Dettmann was commissioned to write the music for this latest film in the franchise. It’s a natural fit. Its director, Lana Wachowski, goes clubbing at Berghain, the Berlin techno club where Dettmann resides and where, cut off from everyday life, people live surreal and liberating experiences. Techno continues to inspire the aesthetic of the franchise.
When the techno club first appeared in Detroit in the 1980s, African-American producers reimagined the deindustrialized city as a site of futuristic fantasies. Cybotron Techno City’s dystopian 1984 track was inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the Tokyo of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Technopolis track. âI extrapolated the need to interface the spirituality of human beings into the cybernetic matrix,â said Rik Davis of Cybotron (using the word âmatrixâ before the film’s existence), âbetween the brain, the soul and mechanisms of cyberspace “.
that’s to say that The Matrix character names (Neo, Trinity, Morpheus) all sound like techno producer nicknames (Function, DVS1, Cadency). Likewise, the fashion in the film is reminiscent of the stereotype of Berlin techno clubwear. âWhen they come into The Matrix, they create their character, that’s how they see themselves,â Matrix costume designer Kym Barrett said of the characters, with their PVC coats, chunky boots and their micro sunglasses (by Richard Walker).
Techno artist Jeff Mills talks the same way about shedding his human form through music. âI’m becoming the third person,â he told The Wire, comparing his productions to robotic probes of alien territory. Along with Mike Banks, Mills was co-founder of the Detroit Underground Resistance (UR) techno collective. UR sought to harness the power of techno anonymity to deprogram people of what they called the ‘dominant mental beam’: the false reality by which, through the media, we are conditioned to accept a false impression of who we are. âEverything you see may not be real,â sang UR on their 1998 album Interstellar Fugitives. “Maybe it is a mirage.”
The Matrix also rests on such a distinction between the apparent world and the real world. Co-creator Lilly Wachowski recently revealed that in the original script Switch was meant to be a trans character who in the Matrix was female and in the real world a male. Many trans and gay people experience this truth in underground party scenes, where the techno club is a safe environment to explore who they really are.
The most striking sequence of Matrix Reloaded takes place in an underground rave in Sion. In a cavernous space lit by open flames, hundreds of sweaty bodies dance to a techno song (Fluke’s Zion) mimed by drummers. The fashion is in soft toned tunics with bald heads, beaded cuffs and swinging dreadlocks. This scene evokes the exhilarating feeling of freedom one gets on a night out at an underground club, when the everyday world fades away. It shows the Matrix’s kinship with the bizarre techno marriage of the futuristic and the old.
Why techno? At its best, this is synthetic electronic music without any familiar characteristics – no melody, no harmony, no song structure – relayed in dark, streaky spaces. This means that it can give a momentary release of history and identity, including race, gender, and sexual constructs. In Berlin, through clubs like Berghain and promoters like Gegen, techno is empowering allies with queer countercultural movements. âLeave your digital surveillance device at home (or in the locker room),â said the blurb of a recent Gegen party. âDestroy your image of yourself. “
Simulacra and Simulation by French theorist Jean Baudrillard was one of three books the Wachowskis asked Keanu Reeves to read before filming The Matrix. “There is no longer any fiction,” he quipped. “[Science] fiction will no longer be a mirror turned towards the future, but a desperate re-hallucination of the past. From this perspective, films such as The Matrix Resurrections are futile attempts to rehash basic traditional myths for our rapidly dissolving world.
But I think it’s too pessimistic. The term Gilles Deleuze uses for certain post-realistic cinemas is “storytelling”. Pyrotechnic blockbusters notwithstanding, The Matrix is ââa cinematic storytelling, harnessing our deep and hard-to-shake sense of the unreality of modern life and inventing new identities. Our post-industrial environment – work, cities, social networks, interiors, race, gender – can look like a collective dream that we aspire to be shocked about. For many, techno clubs have this power. “A world without rules or controls, without borders or borders”, in the words of Neo. âA world where anything is possible. “
It reminds me of my friend’s first night at Berghain, the underground power station turned techno club. At the first floor bar, a woman asked him if he wanted psilocybin mushrooms; he nodded and she said to follow her. As they walked along the strobe-lit dance floor, surrounded by dancing leather-clad bodies, he noticed the tattoo on his back shoulder: a white rabbit. Life imitating art – it was exactly like the scene in The Matrix precipitating Thomas Anderson’s transformation into Neo and his entry into a weirder new reality.