Electronic music and the problem of electricity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


For the past twenty years, South African popular music has been dominated by electronic genres such as house, kwaito, and hip-hop-especially among the Black population living in and around major urban centers. Based on fieldwork in the townships of Soweto, this chapter focuses on a fundamental condition of possibility for any kind of electronic music: electricity. Since 2008, South Africa has experienced massive problems with its electricity infrastructure. These problems resulted in widespread rolling blackouts between 2008 and 2009, and since 2014 the situation has worsened. The chapter asks what becomes of electronic music in a context where access to electricity is radically unreliable, if not completely absent. What do musicians do when the electricity supply stops? What kinds of affect become impossible, and what kinds of affect are generated? How do power outages impact a musician’s relationship to citizenship and to the state? The chapter traces the lines of connection between informal home studios and Eskom (South Africa’s state-owned electricity utility) as way of listening to and for infrastructure-developing a critique regarding the tropes of invisibility and breakdown in infrastructural research along the way. It further illuminates the ways that electronic musicians in South Africa are compelled to engage the very material basis of their activities. With this approach, the meaning of the term “electronic music” is revealed to be much more than a generic or stylistic description. In South Africa, electronic music refers first and foremost to its material constitution as electrical energy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAudible Infrastructures
Subtitle of host publicationMusic, Sound, Media
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780190932633
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


  • Citizenship
  • Electricity
  • Electronic music
  • Eskom
  • Kwaito
  • Load shedding
  • Neoliberalism
  • South Africa
  • Soweto
  • Transparency


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