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'The Drop': The Post-apocalyptic EDM Fiction That Feels Just A Bit Too Real

12 November 2020 | 3:08 pm | Kris Swales

'The Drop' is the debut novel from former 'The Music' editor Kris Swales; a fiction release based on the EDM/MK-Ultra conspiracy theory and sees "Earth’s population confined indoors, virtual gigs and festivals the only form of entertainment, and a multinational company with control of supply lines, streaming and technology profiting from it all". While it might seem all very close to our current situation, the idea was originally published as a story here on 'The Music' back in 2013.

Since a mysterious weather event in 2025 engulfed the outside world in fire storms, veteran DJ Juanita has become the headline ‘Virtuoso’ for Love Buzz, a 24/7 virtual music festival beamed directly into survivors’ headsets. For Juanita, trapped inside her Sydney apartment and addled by isolation and addiction, the show must go on … and on and on.

Three years after The Storm sets in, the most powerful man in this new world, multimedia mogul Matthias “Tito” van Dijk, arrives in Sydney for Love Buzz 1000 with plans to overhaul the nonstop party that unites a broken planet. With Juanita’s teenage fan, aspiring Virtuoso Kai, and his twin, Toca, shadowing her every move, the world’s biggest star is drawn into a mysterious underground resistance movement: where drones hunt down dissidents, DJs become heroes, and Juanita learns that everything she believes is a lie.

In this chapter, 16-year-old twins Kai and Toca are on an underground train to Trancentral Sydney - the stadium formerly known as the Sydney Football Stadium - to see the holographic avatar of superstar 'virtuoso' Juanita perform for the first time. As her brother distracts himself inside his HeadBand, a piece of compulsory wearable tech, Toca discovers there is no respite from the sounds of Love Buzz, the 24/7 virtual EDM festival that unites the survivors of a world rocked by an ecological disaster.

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And there he goes again, my little brother, the pride of Doonside. Toca eyed Kai with bemusement as his fingers danced nimbly across his air piano, eyes glazed over, mouth contorted into a variety of shapes as his concentration deepened. Taking centre stage halfway between the gutter and the stars. Wasting his life away on something so frivolous when he could be like her – learning everything she could about COVID-23, putting every spare second she had into her quest to find a cure so she could be free of this HeadBand for good. Her brother’s only ambition was to entertain the world. Toca wanted to save it.

Inside her speaker cups, Cosmo’s set galloped past the halfway mark and set a collision course with its explosive conclusion. The video feed from Trancentral Valencia showed her Virtuoso heartthrob’s hologram, dancing like a giant marionette between two speaker arrays dangling from the stadium ceiling, conducting a capacity crowd. Billions more would be tuned in from the cities that still stood: some in person across the Trancentral stadium network, where Toca and Kai would soon join them; the rest from inside their HeadBands, at work or at home, or in the tunnel or rat run that linked the two.

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Some life this is, Toca thought. But better than the alternative.

She looked around the crowded carriage. Like Kai, every other passenger was lost in a little world of their HeadBand’s making. On the bench seat behind Kai, Toca

caught a man staring intently at her – mid-forties, perhaps, with an unusually tanned olive complexion for someone who hadn’t seen the sun in years, beneath what she assumed was a wig of thick black dreadlocks. But when she smiled at him, she drew a blank. He wasn’t staring at her at all; he was seeing something else, something she couldn’t see, a HeadBand viewfinder treat for his eyes only. To disguise her embarrassment, she self-consciously brushed at the heart-shaped fringe of her own, blonde wig – a tribute to some Japanese cult figure that her father considered the height of pop culture – which tickled her forehead where it met the viewfinder’s frame.

A banner ad for Love Buzz 1000 streaked across her field of vision. Cosmo’s set thundered on. Nine-hundred and ninety-nine consecutive days of this music, distorting its way out of her speaker cups, only stopping to catch its breath when she drifted off to sleep and her HeadBand powered down for the night. Though Toca loved Cosmo as a performer – not a patch on Kai’s blind devotion to Juanita, but she could admit to herself it was love all the same – there was nothing about his music to set him apart from Kayce-E’s hour of power out of Trancentral Chelsea before him, nor from Juanita and Rakh-E, Kam-E and Usura and Ralf-E and the rest of the 24/7 cycle of Virtuosos to come. Was another day of the same really something to celebrate, with so much about the world so very wrong? After all the hype from her schoolmates who’d already turned sixteen and raved about the Trancentral experience, Toca was excited to finally experience Love Buzz in person. But as much as the prospect of seeing Cosmo perform (if they made it in time) made her giddy, what she craved in this moment more than anything was some respite.

HeadBand, mute Love Buzz.

Toca felt her cochleae contract at the microsecond of silence, then scream again as the Halcyon History video feed took over her HeadBand viewfinder, pumping a different EDM track – ‘Big Groovy Xpandernova’ if she wasn’t mistaken – through her

speaker cups. The train carriage was gone and she was suddenly Outside, in the thick of the wind and the dust and the angry pyrocumulus clouds, like she had been the day the Storm struck, when the baby lava lightning had merely hinted at its building power. Here, inside the 360-degree video feed Toca was sucked into, was the Storm’s aftermath across the shattered cityscape of Canberra – Parliament House blown open, Lake Burley Griffin sucked dry, cars piled up where they’d crashed on that mad race for safety on 1-6-25, bodies dotting the wide streets and oversized roundabouts at regular intervals.

Tito’s voice spoke over the devastating scene, pushing the music deep into the background. It wasn’t quite the respite Toca was looking for – there was no full respite, as she’d learned on the other occasion she’d issued a mute command, only for the order to be overridden by Halcyon History in exactly the same way – but her tender ears were grateful all the same. ‘Tragically, for the billions of people trapped outside the big cities, our salvage effort came too late – our resources were so few, and Halcyon’s food-delivery services only extended only so far,’ Tito said, his voice betraying just the slightest hint of emotion about the partial elimination of mankind. Toca found something reassuring about the gentle lilt of his delivery and the unusual accent, sitting somewhere at the point where Dutch, English and Australian meet.

‘That’s how those of us who remained became known as Survivors, and honouring our fallen friends and family members’ memory – their sacrifice – became my life’s work.’

The scene switched to another city, this one not destroyed beyond all recognition. A handful of modest high-rises surrounded a tiny harbour, its northern and southern sides connected by a cable bridge with a bent pylon at one end. Toca recognised the city from History lessons at school: Rotterdam, Tito’s hometown, the birthplace of Halcyon Industries. The camera suddenly swept across the harbour to an enormous

football stadium, its roof covered with construction drones. Lava-lightning strikes thrust their way through the surrounding clouds like jagged, burning spears.

‘By necessity, we would have to make this new civilisation 100 per cent sustainable.’

The vision switched to time-lapse, showing the roof across De Kuip expand from covering just the terrace seating to the grandstands and playing surface in its entirety. Like flowers suddenly in bloom, an array of wind turbines sprung from the rooftop’s surface, their blades spinning in time with the quadruple-time build-up of ‘BGX’, its kick drums fluttering like Kentaro’s lips blowing raspberries.

‘We knew we had the food production essentials in place to sustain Survivors’ bodies, but that would not be enough – we would also have to sustain their minds.’

As if by magic, the camera passed through the roof and into the stadium – fully enclosed and empty.

‘And with no football, no television, nothing to watch on your widescreen TVs, we would have to come up with a new form of entertainment to bring us all together for society to thrive.’

The camera flew through the southern end of the stadium seating and arrived in a tiny apartment, sparsely furnished, Juanita standing tall and proud on her Silo performance platform at its centre.

‘The Love Buzz experience is about triggering a universal feeling of empathy for all – Peace, Love, Unity and Respect, as we said back in the day – and sharing that love with your fellow man,’ Tito continued, his voice rising to the occasion.

Beneath her HeadBand lens, Juanita’s eyes began to sparkle. Her long blue locks emitted a supernatural glow. On the black bodysuit that sculpted her body like a high-tech leotard, parallel lines running the length and breadth gushed with light, like she was living, breathing circuitry.

‘After years of seeing her headline One World, of seeing her blossom from the moment she debuted at the tender age of sixteen, we believed Juanita was the uniting force this new world needed,’ Tito continued, no longer a nurturing teacher but a preacher, sharing his religion with his followers.

The camera pulled back and Toca was again inside De Kuip, a digital readout across the top of the southern end displaying its new name: TRANCENTRAL ONE. Beneath the sign stood Juanita, towering above the stadium floor, each shake of her hips deploying rippling waves of stardust across the exultant crowd that filled every seat in the Premium grandstands, glitter bombs detonating above the reaching hands of the robot-masked Survivors dancing atop their Silos on the VIP Floor.

‘With all of our old choices taken away, we believed Juanita and her fellow Virtuosos could bring this broken world we share back together.’

The camera zoomed through Juanita’s sky-blue viewfinder and emerged in the Ultraworld – Tito’s virtual reality playground, a simulated universe filled not just with red but blue and yellow and green, the ultimate escape from reality for teachers and doctors, scientists and engineers, the key workers Halcyon had decreed as VIPs. Sceptical though she was about Love Buzz and its music, Toca felt herself submitting to its power as the trance-inducing synthesiser sounds of ‘BGX’ filled her heart with joy.

‘We don’t have fresh meat and we don’t have travel and we don’t have the smell of the beach or mountain air, but we’ve got music, all day and all night long.’

‘Big Groovy Xpandernova’ climaxed, synths and swooshes and machine-gun kick drums zooming up and up and up into a dissonant symphony, collapsing on top of itself.

‘We’ve got each other. Love will bring us back together.’

And then blackness, and silence. Toca’s cochleae contracted again. It was just her, in the Ultraworld, alone with a glowing ideogram of a heart.

‘And in the end,’ Tito declared, solemnly. ‘Love is all you need.’

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The Drop is out Friday 13 November. Head to Swales' website here for more info and to pick up a copy.