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Artists Influenced by Dystopic Novelist J. G. Ballard

Locrian

Locrian by Jimmy Hubbard.

Once in a while, an author infiltrates popular culture to the extent that they’re recognized by their last name alone. In the case of J. G. Ballard, his writing remains unchallenged in the depth and deviance of its imagination. Since the English novelist passed away in 2009 after a battle with prostate cancer, we now live in a Ballardian world, surrounded by profoundly disquieting and eerily prescient themes he once warned us about—audacious visions of urban decay, exotic technologies, sexual pathology, and environmental collapse.

It is hard to equate the person of Ballard—the widowed father who raised three children in the quiet London suburb of Shepperton, and touched nothing stronger than malt whisky—with the often depraved content of his novels. For his part, Ballard denied his work was driven by doom or negativity; they were, as he put it, “extreme metaphors,” a warning of what might lie just around the next bend.

Ballard hit on a rich seam of inspiration in the mid-to-late ‘70s, turning out novels like Crash, Concrete Island, and High-Rise which would exert a powerful influence on the emerging language of punk, post-punk, and new wave. Groups like The Human League, The Comsat Angels, and Ultravox were all Ballard disciples, and many quoted him explicitly. Joy Division cribbed the song title “Atrocity Exhibition” from Ballard’s 1970 experimental fiction collection, while Daniel Miller, CEO of Mute Records, began his music career as The Normal with a song, “Warm Leatherette,” based on Ballard’s 1973 novel Crash, a self-described “psychopathic hymn” to the erotic potential of the car crash.

Ballard’s influence endured beyond punk. Luke Steele’s psychedelic pop group Empire Of The Sun took their name from Ballard’s most famous book, a demi-autobiographical novel that used his childhood in wartime Shanghai, while Klaxons’ Myths Of The Near Future took their album title from a Ballard short story collection. Meanwhile, the Ballardian influence also leaked into dance music, too—particularly into early dubstep, which took the skippy rhythms of U.K. garage and smothered them in urban dread.

Why have Ballard’s visions proved so enduring? Elizabeth Bernholz, aka Brighton electronica artist Gazelle Twin, believes the author had something to tell us about the world to come. “Ballard predicted the threat and consequences of ultra-conservatism within a fully capitalized society,” she says. “His commentary on English class tribalism, in particular, has felt relevant for at least 40 years. These are the survival handbooks of the near-future.”

Here are some of the best J. G. Ballard-influenced artists on Bandcamp.

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