Thought I’d take a little break from the self-focused opines and blatherings to do something a little more fun. So on that note, I present my selections for the top ten sci-fi bands. Feel free to add your own or share your list!
10. Daft Punk – While their music isn’t all specifically sci-fi, their electronic sound certainly gets lumped into the ‘futuristic’ category. They’re well known for their high-tech visuals and costumes as well as for having interesting videos. They co-produced the animated film The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, and (building on their machines-to-men theme) released a film called Electroma, the story of two robots trying to discover their humanity.
9. Devo – While perhaps best known for their geometric hats, sci-fi imagery, and the song Whip It, they were quite successful in the alternative/underground scene in the 80s, and Jocko Homo, Freedom of Choice, Girl U Want, as well as their covers (Satisfaction, Working in the Coalmine), were the musical soundscape to many sci-fi movies and shows. Nowadays, their music appears in several TV commercials.
8. Orbital While their music has been used in several sci-fi movies (The Saint, Event Horizon, Hackers, Mortal Combat, Johnny Mnemonic), they had to make the list via their Doctor Who theme song. In a way, it’d be pretty easy to make the entire list electronica bands, so I limited how many would be in the top.
7. Voivod – while there could be a strictly metal version of this list, this is the band that takes the top of the metal category. They’re based on the concept of the Voivod, a futuristic warrior/overlord.
6. Styx – While heavily parodied, the theatrics of their Kilroy was Here concept album (which told the story of a future where rock & roll was outlawed), featuring Mr. Roboto, were considered a musical sci-fi staple at one point. I have a backup NAS unit called a Drobo, which I named ‘DroboArigato’ after the line in Mr. Roboto.
5. Queen – Queen’s main sci-fi musical work was the Flash Gordon soundtrack, and to a lesser extent the Highlander soundtrack (which is more fantasy). But the band themselves had a very sci-fi presence to them – theatrical, otherwordly, and somewhat dystopian. [Of course, who could omit the memorable scene in the horror/zombie/comedy movie Shaun of the Dead featuring Don't Stop Me Now, albeit a stretch to include zombies as sci-fi...] To this day I can’t hear the world ‘Flash’ without adding ‘aah-aah’ to it.
4. Pink Floyd – While it’s fair to consider Pink Floyd a psychedelic band, Dark Side of the Moon is also a great sci-fi musical journey, and The Wall could certainly be considered an excellent example of a dystopian future, with its exaggerated themes of fear, insecurity, and loss (and how we end up trying to hide and protect ourselves from our fears). Pink Floyd also transcended their musical expression to their visual presentations, and were well known for their elaborate stages and lighting. [When I saw them live, a giant object was emerging from the center of the stadium; a friend next to me leaned over and asked me what it was, like somehow I'd know. I sarcastically blurted out, 'a giant disco ball.' It was a giant disco ball.]
3. Tubeway Army/Gary Numan – I’m cheating a little to include Gary Numan in here, but Tubeway Army’s sci-fi elements would be mostly his brainchild. They made one of the best sci-fi songs ever (Down in the Park), as well as songs like Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, and their song Listen to the Sirens quoted from Philip K. Dick.
2. Muse – these days it seems you can’t have a sci-fi show without it featuring some sort of Muse song in the ads. Unfortunately, this also has put their music onto a certain popular teen vampire franchise as well. Their Black Holes and Revelations album covered the sci-fi gamut from NWO to alien invasions. And let’s face it, not that many people can get away with making Supermassive Black Holes sexy (the actual ones, not just something that could be used as a porn name).
1. ELO – It’s kind of easy to forget how huge ELO was at one point. Another theatrical/big production style band, ELO had a spacey sound and used UFO-looking space stations on their album covers. Their music was featured in the sci-fi (yeah, it counts) movie Xanadu, and did some sci-fi concept albums as well. Recently, their song Mr. Blue Sky was featured on an episode of Doctor Who.
Honorable mentions: Hawkwind, Front 242, Kraftwerk, TRex, New Order, Manufacture, NiN, Skinny Puppy, Orb, Nitzer Ebb, PWEI, Iron Maiden, Ultravox, UFO, Judas Priest, KLF, Psykosonik, Sepultura, King Crimson, Talking Heads, Radiohead, Duran Duran, Fear Factory, MC Frontalot, MBM, Shamen, Art of Noise, B-52s, Earth Wind & Fire, Big Country, KMFDM, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Clash, Sisters of Mercy, Underworld, FSOL, Flock of Seagulls, Shriekback, Utopia, Rush, Police, Savatage, Who, Moody Blues, SSS, Rammstein, and a whole bunch of others. I have a ton more written down from when I was making this, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and additions too.
Wait? No David Bowie? No Kate Bush? Thomas Dolby? Bjork? Since this was bands, individual artists weren’t included, nor individual songs (Mars Needs Women, Planet Rock, Spice, Intergalactic, We Are Made of Stars, Rocket Man, More Human Than Human, etc.) – a top list of these may be coming soon, though…