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Electro Feminisms: I'm in Love with a Strict Machine

One of the most common recurring motifs of electronic music from its very beginnings is its association with futurism. This comes both in the form of the self-revolutionizing ethos of new sound production (make it new!) and in the form of invoking science fiction motifs like the robot. Of course, music being music and people being people, one of the most common things it seems anyone wants to do with a robot is have sex with it.

Goldfrapp's "Strict Machine" is a really interesting take on robot sex. The chorus "I'm in love with a strict machine" is a really evocative phrase, signaling both BDSM subbyness ("strict") and some form of mechanic sex. It's possible it's about a robot partner, but it's also distinctly possible that the song is about a vibrator ("I get high from a buzz"). Here the robot has two potential functions—for auto-eroticism, and for submission.

Margaret Berger is a Norwegian pop artist. "Robot Song" is one of the best songs from her Pretty Scary Silver Fairy. Interestingly, Berger doesn't gender the robot she describes, instead in the first verse framing the relationship as a form of closet—"they wouldn't understand/what this love's about." The chorus brings a vocoder into the backing vocals, where it's unclear if the line "you're the only one who makes me feel a thing" is from the robot's perspective or Margaret's. If it is Margaret, there's a sudden numbness to the song, a switch from external social pressures to the effect on the narrator. Robot sex is bringing her to life. The coda "another time, another world" holds out a certain kind of Utopian hope for something better.

Robyn has had a number of songs about robots. "Robot Boy" is from her 2005/2007 self-titled album. It's probably stretching it to say that "Robot Boy" is precisely about sex, it's more about consolation and preparing for the inevitable—"you've reached the end." A death, perhaps, but of what? Of a relationship? Male privilege? Humanity itself?

The robot is a really productive way for women to address sexuality without the constraints of hetero-gender roles, allowing them to explore different forms of sex without being tied into a real-world queer narrative (Alison Goldfrapp is now out as a lesbian, though wasn't when she wrote the piece). There's a crossover here I think with the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who imagine a kind of post-Oedipal flow of sexuality divorced from fixed configurations like gender and sexuality orientation. The machine becomes animated by a kind of inhuman drive that's beyond fixed idea of identity; it doesn't so much have sex, it is sex in a certain sense.

In my next post, I'll talk about what it means when a female artist imagines herself as the robot.

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Your Strict Machine?

If you listen carefully to Strict Machine, doesn't she sing "I'm in love with *your* strict machine”?