Billy Idol’s ‘Cyberpunk’

The future has imploded into the present. With no nuclear war, the new battlefields are people’s minds and souls. Megacorporations are the new government. The computer generated info-domains are the new frontiers. Though there is better living through science and chemistry, we are all becoming cyborgs.

The computer is the new “cool tool,” and though we say “all information should be free,” it is not. Information is power and currency in the virtual world we inhabit, so mistrust authority.

Cyberpunks are the true rebels. Cyberculture is coming in under the radar of ordinary society. An unholy alliance of the tech world, and the world of organized dissent.

Welcome to the cybercorporation.

Cyberpunks.

1993. Bill Clinton is beginning his presidency. The World Trade Center suffers its first terrorist attack. David Koresh and his followers die in Waco, Texas during a raid by ATF agents. Saddam Hussein orders the assassination of George Herbert Walker Bush. Cruise missiles repeatedly hammer Baghdad during the Iraq disarmament crisis.

Intel ships the first Pentium chips. A bug in a posting program sends a single message to 200 Usenet groups simultaneously, and the term “spam” is coined. The ‘net is still in its infancy, existing primarily through the green and amber glows of text-based computer terminals, accessible only through arcane Unix commands typed into keyboards by a legion of geeks (before the term “geek” gained street cred). Usenet denizens dreading the rush of “newbies” each September as college campuses opened and allowed new students onto the ‘net suddenly face the “September that never ended” when AOL opens Usenet access to its subscribers.

And Billy Idol discovers the power of computers, harnessing the power of Macintosh-based small-studio recording to produce his “Cyberpunk” album.

Cyberpunk

I still really wanted the DIY [thing], and I wanted to start to command the recording process. I was tired of being someone who had to go through a producer and an engineer and their interpretations. I wanted to be right in the action. I just needed a little help to do it. […] With today’s computers you can really capture the personalities of the people playing the instruments, or playing the computers for that matter. […] Computers have become more human as they work with you. You hear a real band on CYBERPUNK. Through the computer, you’re listening to a live, little garage band flailing away. And it was done in my house. No money wasted at the big studios. DIY. Punk rock. Cyberpunk.

– Billy Idol, 1993 interview with Chaos Control Digizine

Titling the album Cyberpunk, of course, resulted in a little controversy — especially among those who considered themselved to be “cyberpunk” and saw Idol as trying to cash in on the new subculture that was gaining popularity.

In late 1993 Billy Idol released an album called “Cyberpunk”, which garnered some media attention; it seems to have been a commercial and critical flop. Billy made some token appearances on the net in alt.cyberpunk and on the WELL, but his public interest in the area seems to have waned. No matter how sincere his intentions might have been, scorn and charges of commercialization have been heaped upon him in this and other forums.

– from the alt.cyberpunk FAQ

Idol, true to form, didn’t seem to care much what people thought of his choice of title.

I have never given a fuck what people think of me. Isn’t that obvious? CYBERPUNK is my reality, my passion and my journey. And I’m sharing it with all my fans. Fuck anyone who doesn’t get it.

– Billy Idol, 1993 interview with Chaos Control Digizine

I’ve always been a big fan of this album. A blend of standard Billy Idol rock sensibilities and instrumentation with computerized sequencing, sampling, and rhythms, it ranges from more radio-friendly rock (“Shock to the System”) to dancefloor friendly tracks (“Mother Dawn”) to a great cover of Lou Reed’s “Heroin”, all interspersed with short sampled and processed interludes bridging the tracks together.

I picked up the album shortly after its release, and ended up getting ahold of a “Special Edition” release. This edition of the album came in a special cardboard Digipack-style case that included the usual booklet on the left, the CD on the right — and a 3.5″ floppy disc in the center.

The Cyberpunk floppy

On that floppy was a Macromedia Director presentation, complete with short loops from the songs on the album, garish flashing colors and typography that would put some of Wired’s early work to shame, lyrics for the tracks, and information from Billy Idol and others on the man, his music, the album, and the Cyberpunk culture. Idol’s bio and the album information were written by none other than Mark Frauenfelder, co-founder of bOING bOING — the print incarnation of which gets prominent mention in the “Brain Candy” section of the presentation.

bOING-bOING: A quarterly magazine of fringe culture, do-it-yourself technology, humor and high wierdness. It is a popular watering hole for “neophiles,” people obsessed with new and strange ideas. [11288 Ventura Blvd. #818, Studio City, CA 91604]

This floppy and the included presentation are ©1993 Chrysalis records. I couldn’t find a good contact for Chrysalis on a quick web search before creating this post, however, I will soon be spending more time attempting to get official permission to host this file. It is my sincere hope that the copyright holders will grant me permission to continue hosting this file indefinitely. In the meantime, I’m crossing my fingers…. As I still have the album and the floppy disk, I wanted to share this little treasure of pre-web technological wonderment with the world at large. According to the label on the floppy, you’ll need to be sure you meet the system requirements to run the presentation: a Macintosh with 12″ color monitor and 3MB of RAM, System 6.0.7 or later, and a high-density drive. Assuming you have all that (better check to be sure!), here’s a disk image of the floppy for you to enjoy (quick tip for Mac OS X users: I found I had to increase the memory allocation of the presentation to 2048k minimum, 4098k maximum, otherwise the Classic environment claimed that there was “not enough memory” to run it).

Update: Antonio Exposito was kind enough to let me know that the original disc image I had hosted here was corrupted. It’s been replaced with a new, freshly-created disc image from the floppy — hopefully this one will work a little better!

All you need to do now is follow the instructions given in the inner flap of the CD case:

Welcome to the cyber world!