Thought For The Day
Thought For The Day
9 From The 90s

Momus selects the most important records of the 90s.

1. Nerderama: Clevermind

The 90s began with the eyes of the world focused on Seattle, where a new breed of tidy, highly motivated music sequencers began to emerge from the headquarters of Microsoft.

Sequencers were nothing new, of course -- the sneery British had pioneered them ten years before with groups like Yazoo, Eurythmics and Visage. But 1992 became 'the year sequencing broke America'. For a while, there was no escaping the highly ordered stutter and stammer of such software stars as Microsoft Cakewalk Pro and Microsoft Triumph Audio. Their tidy bleeps topped with electronic-sounding vocal harmonies were the ultimate statement of sarcastic alienation by a generation Douglas Coupland dubbed Microsurfs.

A star had to emerge from the Seattle sequencer scene, and it turned out to be Microsoft's Nerderama. The album Clevermind hit America like a fatal processor error in 1992, its lead single, Looks Like A Teen Programming Bug, becoming the anthem for a generation raised on Space Invaders and spreadsheets.

The Christlike figure of Nerderama singer Nerd McBrain, a nihilist who hacked into other people's music styles to point out security breaches, came to dominate not just Seattle but the world. With his ironic polo shirt and goofy glasses, Nerd McBrain was the ultimate Seattle Microsurf punk. A generation had his face on their screensavers and desktop patterns.

Nerderama's Unbugged concert is repeated on Microsoft MTV to this day, an incredible feat of programming in which Nerderama performed their whole set under the Mac OS instead of their beloved Windows. Nerd dedicated his heavily-sequenced cover of David Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold The World' to Bill Gates, his uncle.

A Victim Of Success

But, like messianic rock hero Ziggy Stardust, Nerd McBrain 'took it all too far' and just got too darn big. It was announced that 97% of all sequencers being used in the world now carried the Microsoft logo. We'll never know whether Nerd had visions of a future in which a software bug would wipe out the whole music industry, or whether the hacker in him just hated fame. What's certain is that he withdrew more and more into his drug of choice, coding, much troubled by the internal contradictions that were tearing Microsoft's sequencing division apart.

Even if Nerd didn't predict the Millenium Bug, he certainly knew that Microsoft worked best when it was the underdog, stealing and repackaging the smartest ideas coming out of more innovative companies. As soon as it took over the mainstream and forced smaller companies out of business, the game was up.

Nerd McBrain deliberately wrote a fatal line of code into his software in early 1993, riddled with guilt at Microsoft's monopoly and all too aware of his own role in the tragedy. His widow, Lady Macbeth, continued to sequence after his death, making several albums of uncompromising MIDI synthpop before abandoning music altogether to become what she had always wanted to be: a celebrity hit woman in Haiti.

The cultural moment passed. The government intervened to smash up the monopoly, splitting rock music into 39 smaller divisions. A few critics still regret the death of the mainstream, but most agree that today's confusing diversity is a lot healthier for music.

Next: Bjerk's classic debut A Fucking Big Badger

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