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 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]( “Wikipedia: 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]( “Wikipedia: Spam: Etymology”)” 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]( “The Jargon File: 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]( “Amazon: Billy Idol: Cyberpunk”)” album.


> 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]( “Chaos Control Digizine: Billy Idol”)

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]( “alt.cyperpunk.faq: 8. Cyberpunk Music / Dress / Aftershave”)

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]( “Chaos Control Digizine: Billy Idol”)

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]( “Mark Frauenfelder”), co-founder of [bOING bOING]( “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]( “Mac OS disk image, 884Kb”) 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!

Author: djwudi

Enthusiastic ambivert. Geeky, liberal, friendly, curious, feminist ally; trying to be a good person. (he/him)

12 thoughts on “Billy Idol's 'Cyberpunk'”

  1. That’s pretty funny! Thanks for sending it to me. I actually designed the cover to the CD. Billy called me one day on the phone and said he liked bOING bOING (the print zine) and asked if I’d be interested in designing his CD cover. I said sure. He invited me over to his house. My wife Carla came with me. He lived a few miles away in a compound in the Holloywood Hills. There were four houses surrounding a park — all his. He was really friendly and smiled the whole time. Very animated and bouncing all over the place. Polite. He showed me his studio, which I noticed had a Mac.

    So later that day the art director from EMI called me and gave me the requirements. He wanted me to use Photoshop, which I never used before. He also wanted everything in Macintosh format, but I used DOS back then. So I lied and told him I knew Photoshop.

    That night I bought a book on Photoshop and read about it. I also bought a copy of photoshop and called Billy back and told him I thought it would be better to design the cover at his house so he could help. He liked that idea. I went over there the next day and I asked him if he had any images we could play around with. He said he had some screen grabs from a video he’d taken sitting in his hot tub. I loaded one up and started messing with filters and colors. After about five minutes he stood up and screamed. “STOP!!” I jumped, scared to death.

    “That’s BRILLIANT!” he shouted. That was it. It took me five minutes to do 90% of the cover. (And three weeks to do the other 10% of course.) I also designed the singles covers, the video cover, the print ads, and wrote all the copy for the ads and his bio. Sorry to say the CD was a flop and he hasn’t done another one since. It’s been like 10 years. I heard he might be doing another one.

  2. Tres cool but you should know that using OS X 10.3.1 with Safari 1.1.1 and just clicking on the link sends Safari straight into the netherworld. It’s a repeatable crash – using control-click to “download link” results in the .dmg file being downloaded correctly. You might want to correct your code or warn folks. Otherwise reading your blog is part of my daily fun. Hope the new job is okay, doesn’t seem to be very close to your alley, though. You should try and find a more creative way to may a living rather than spending your days as a print-shop zombie and your nights as a creative soul – though I guess anything pays the rent, eh?

  3. The download issue is simply coming across as text. That is what the server is telling the browser it is sending. Some browsers will ignore this. In Apache there is a file in /etc/httpd/ that handles mime types. I know where it is on OS X, but I am not sure about Linux. Anyway you should add lines for the disk images that would look like

    AddType application/octet-stream img
    AddType application/octet-stream dmg

    Having said that, it is still a bug in Safari as the worst case should be you get a screen full or garbage, not garbage and then a crash.

  4. ‘A bug in a posting program sends a single message to 200 Usenet groups simultaneously, and the term “spam” is coined.’

    That was no bug… the “Green Card Lawyers” intentionally posted to all those newsgroups individually — not by crossposting — because when you’ve seen one copy of a cross-posted article your (well behaved) newsreader will ignore all the other copies.

    I was active on usenet at the time and witnessed the uproar caused by the totally unapologetic (and paranoid) first spammers, Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel. They knew they were abusing the system and made more money teaching others their evil ways.

    The Spam That Started It All – Wired Apr. 13, 1999

    stephen – at – paulsens -dot- us

  5. I have always loved this album despite the poor reviews it received. I like Billy’s version of Heroin better than the original!

  6. I absolutely love the Cyberpunk album (all negativism towards this CD be damned), so this page was super-interesting for me to read, thanks a lot!!!

  7. I used to mountain bike 100 miles a day back when I was 14-15 years old in 1993-4…This and Use Your Illusion 2 was pretty much my playlist….This album is still my favorite of all time…..Probably the reason I’m a Heavy metal 1st/Techno;weird shit 2nd fan….Love the post of the Album Cover Dude….wayyy kill….there is many times my buddies and I have gotten WAY fucked up and I’ve made them listen to the ‘hypnotize’ song…IT REALLY WORKS!! Thanks to Billy, and all who helped…many good times to this album in my life….

  8. Billy Idol and everyone who contributed to “Cyberpunk” are visionaries and what they produced showed us the future as these things are happening now.

    These new copyright laws trying to be passed form the new megacorporations that enslave people and use information as currency. Information is supposed to be free, but it is not.

    Who are the cyberpunks? We are the cyberpunks! Why? Because he dissent from the copyright laws that censor and take away rights and freedoms and combine that with technology to protest and fight back.

    The problem is we got the best government money can buy, er ah, rent, with lobbyists giving the politicians money from megacorporations to pass these laws and even have paid for the supreme court justices as well. Our government has sold their souls to the megacorporations and it is high time we voted them out of office, all of them!

  9. It’s great to see I’m not the only one who loved the album Cyberpunk. In fact, it is my all time favourite album. So while it may not have been a commercial success (a huge injustice) I’m really glad Billy created it exactly how it is. Really hope to see him one day to get it signed by him.

  10. One of the first albums made “in-house” or “at-home” by a genius, artist and rebel, showing us all what is possible — what’s not to like?

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