On July 19, actor Rutger Hauer passed away at the age of 75. There were plenty of highlights in his career, but there’s one role that continues to resonate: His portrayal of Roy Batty, the alpha-leader of the replicants in director Ridley Scott’s uber-futurist dystopic masterpiece Blade Runner.
When the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? arrived in 1982, it was both gloriously futuristic and patently disturbing. Over the past decades, it’s become a touchstone in the cultures of assorted music genres. In keeping with the technological fear and hyper-modern mise en scenes inherent in the film, most of the high-tech genres of industrial rock and other forms of electronica have embraced the movie as a fount of creative enrichment. Here are a few nods (willfully obscure and two major hits) to one of the greatest sci-fi films in history.
Industrial rock, cyberpunk, vaporwave, synthcore, pick your vernacular: There’s not one of these electronic-nuanced genres that hasn’t lifted anything (intentionally, other) sonically, visually or intellectually from Blade Runner. If these genres had colors, most of them would be cathode-ray blue and chrome.
Wait: Chrome isn’t a color. It’s a reflective surface. Which makes sense, because the panoramas that director Scott and his team created embraced points high (advanced technologies, digital everything) and low (ecological ruin, urban decay, murderous artificial intelligence and its attendant nihilism) of what the world could turn into, complete with commercials seeking potential employees to work on the new off-world colonies being created in light of mankind ruining every damn thing on Earth.
1. Replicants – Replicants
In the movie, replicants are man-made artificial intelligence vessels that look and act like replicas of human beings. The exacting technology makes it increasingly difficult to spot a biological human for one created with sperm and eggs. In 1995, this band of former/current members of Tool, Failure and Guns N’ Roses released a one-off recording of cover versions (get it?) of songs by David Bowie, John Lennon, Neil Young, T. Rex, the Cars and many others.
2. 3OH!3 – “Robot”
This 2011 track from the Colorado electro-crunk contingent regrets meaningless sex. Specifically with a certain kind of girl whose lights may be on, but nobody is home. They even shout-out the movie by way of how scary their pick-up is. “Yeah, she’s an android/Got it on a Polaroid/White lights in her eyes, got me all paranoid/Straight outta the movie with some Blade Runner shit/Tongue to the battery speaking 8-bit.” We’re thinking it’s a reference to Pris, the “pleasure model” replicant (played by Daryl Hannah) that gives agent Rick Deckard’s clock a murderously good cleaning.
3. Gary Numan – Outland
The synth-rock icon was using synthesizers to buttress his minimal punk stylings several years before Blade Runner entered theaters. His 1991 release references many sci-fi movies in addition to Blade Runner at the time while pursuing the British singer’s love for the synth-driven funk started by Prince and his acclaimed proteges Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
4. Arctic Monkeys – “Star Treatment”
The best sci-fi soul jazz track this century has to offer, “Star Treatment” is pretty representative of the astral plane Arctic Monkeys were creating on their Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino LP. Here, frontman Alex Turner croons come-ons like the creepy uncle who wants to date all of your girlfriends’ moms. The verse that clinches the deal: “Don’t you know an apparition is a cheap date?/What exactly is it you’ve been drinking these days?/Jukebox in the corner, “Long Hot Summer”/They’ve got a film up on the wall and it’s dark enough to dance/What do you mean you’ve never seen Blade Runner?”
5. Pop Will Eat Itself – “Wake Up, Time To Die”
Stick the quote into Google. The search checks all kinds of metal from Guns N‘ Roses to Disturbed to Therapy? But electronic rave-punks Pop Will Eat Itself were the first to make that line iconic. The line is spoken by Leon (played by Brion James), a replicant who’s a millisecond away from killing agent Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) before he’s rescued by a kick-ass replicant named…Rachael.
6. She Wants Revenge – “Rachael”
The L.A. post-punk duo crafted this 2007 paean to the titular Rachael, an executive of the Tyrell Corporation who’s introduced as the biological daughter of Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the founder of the laboratories responsible for bringing replicants to life. The song poetically addresses the implanted memories she has from Tyrell’s late niece. But in the film, Rachael (played by Sean Young) is beginning to realize her genesis.
7. Revolting Cocks – “Attack Ships On Fire”
The legendary “industrial-rock fuck project” (as once described by its chairman, Ministry CEO Al Jourgensen) began as a way for the participants to learn how to use studio gear, including the v. expensive Fairlight CMI sampling unit Jourgensen conned Warner Records into buying him. Found on their first album, Big Sexy Land, you couldn’t walk into a club without hearing the bassline to “Attack Ships On Fire” punching you in the chest. The reference is from Roy Batty’s speech about his artificial memories. (“I’ve seen attack ships on fire…off the coast of Orion…”)
8. The Tyrrel Corporation – “Going Home”
The British duo of keyboardists/synth ops Joe Watson and Tony Barry came to prominence in the early ’90s with two records of pop and downtempo tracks that would never fit within the vistas shown in the film. The duo changed the spelling of their name to avoid potential copyright infringement claims.
9. Janelle Monáe – “Dirty Computer” “emotion picture”
Futurist funk, biomechanical R&B, the soul in the machine: Janelle Monáe has imbued her work with a great sense of humanity covered in high-tech everything. She has readily acknowledged the influence of Blade Runner on her fashion sense. In the original film, Rick Deckard’s commanding chief Harry Bryant (played by M. Emmet Walsh) refers to the rogue replicants back on Earth using the slur “skin jobs.” On 2018’s Dirty Computer and its attendant longform “emotion picture,” she uses the metaphors of androids and replicants as analogues for “the other” to open a dialogue about racism.
10. White Zombie – “More Human Than Human”
We know you know this one. The title of White Zombie’s 1995 signature track is one of the most well-known collisions of heavy metal and machinery. Rob Zombie was certainly a fan of the movie: The song takes its name (and vibe) from the film’s antagonists, the Tyrell Corporation, whose motto, “more human than human,” summarizes the biogenetic company’s role in creating replicants from synthetic wildlife to highly self-actualized rogue killers.