Why the band is creating music for “dystopian” times.

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By Creative Media News

While giving singalong songs such as Pompeii and Happier at Reading and Leeds Festivals last month, the indie-pop band Bastille also delivered the digital natives in the youthful crowd tech-focused newer music to broadcast directly into their souls.

Nearly half of their live set, including Shut off the Lights and Future Holds, was taken from their recent chart-topping album Give Me The Future, which examines mankind’s relationship with modern technology and the positive and negative potential of online connection.

Frontman Dan Smith described it as a “little strange, science-fiction pop album with a future, science-fiction twist.”

Why the band is creating music for "dystopian" times.
Why the band is creating music for "dystopian" times.

“We began it before the epidemic and managed to complete it despite the lockdowns and odd circumstances,” he tells. “It was incredible to have this catharsis of composing songs about the strangeness of the times in which we live and how it often feels like a strange dystopian science-fiction novel anyway.

“However, it is also an album about escapism: fleeing into the past, future, fiction, fantasy, and technology, and how fantastic it may be… but there are also complications and darknesses in all of those things.”

Smith, who is 36 years old, can just about recall a time before the internet, but the majority of Bastille’s fans likely won’t. Even so, they continue to sing along with his band’s mid-set dance cover medley from the 1990s.

Why the band is creating music for "dystopian" times.

Before their Reading performance of Plug-In, another track from their most recent album, a video on the big screens invited fans to enter their own “inner verse”; before Smith wondered out loud, using a vocoder microphone if he/we would be all right in a world of artificial intelligence, deep fakes and fake news, as well as driverless cars and a billion-dollar space race.

He ponders, “So much today, from the technology we use to how we communicate with one another, to the fact that some people alter their appearance online so drastically that when it comes to meeting someone in person, they are afraid to do so because their picture is so drastically different from how they look in real life.”

It has altered everything, including how we meet people, interact, and work.

A return to the future
Early in 2021, Bastille published a documentary titled Re-Orchestrated, which reflected on their 10 years as a band and in which their lead singer and lyricist spoke candidly about his worries and bodily dysmorphia.

A year later, Smith and company shifted their attention to the future. Their synth and string-layered record, set over the course of a single night, is replete with references to imagined worlds, from Blade Runner to George Orwell’s 1984 (with a spoken-word interlude narrated by Oscar-winner Riz Ahmed), and was warmly welcomed by critics.

Neil McCormick of The Telegraph observed, “Smith’s voice is packed with supple emotion, and it all adds up to a pop record so addictive that it feels as if it were poured intravenously into my system.”

Annabel Nugent of the Independent noted, “The album itself serves like an escape pod.” “When trapped within Bastille’s melodic songs and inventive, era-spanning production, the gloomy future seems suddenly less ominous.”

Smith returned to the concept in August, releasing a new set of additional songs for an expanded version of the album, including Revolution and Run Into Trouble starring Brazilian producer Alok.

Smith argues that he and his bandmates feel conflicted regarding their dependency on modern technologies.

The majority of their 2013 breakout debut album was composed on his laptop in his room. And nowadays, when on tour, he writes musical ideas on his smartphone and communicates with others via messaging applications and social media.

However, the artist acknowledges he uses his phone an “unhealthy” amount and needs to be pulled out of “spiraling ideas” about the future. Other celebrities, such as Selena Gomez and Tom Holland, have already warned of the dangers of excessive social media use.

According to Smith, the growing album is the sound of him attempting to “navigate digital environments” while making a concerted effort “to be more present.”

“It’s an attempt to reflect how strange things are and how complicated or perplexing life is for everyone,” he continues.

“Especially Future Holds, the closing track on the [original] album, was simply me singing to myself,” he emphasizes. “I thought it would be kind of amusing and ironic to have an entire album that speculates and frets about what the future may hold and then end it with a song that says, ‘yes, that’s good, but stop worrying about it for a second and enjoy this moment because you could be dead tomorrow!'”

Hope for the Future was commissioned specifically for the climate change documentary From Devil’s Breath, which was produced by their old Saturday Night Live pal Leonardo DiCaprio. Smith describes the film as “beautiful and heartbreakingly tragic.”

Bastille has always appeared to be an avant-garde group. You may recall that in 2019 they streamed performance at Birmingham New Street station using 5G and augmented reality for a TV phone advertisement.

And while those who attended their surprise Glastonbury performance and The Hundred cricket final this summer were able to watch the band perform in person, others recently joined them for a one-time performance in the metaverse.

As part of the album’s concept, Bastille’s Give Me The Future experience enabled fans around the world to don headsets and create a virtual audience of stylized avatars using the latest (but yet uncommon) technology.

Smith, whose band is presently touring South America (and eventually Europe) in person, characterizes the experiment as “very exciting” while remaining “cynical” about it.

“Many of the digital shows that have existed live or the VR [virtual reality] shows [such as Abba Voyage] have been pre-made, and you step inside it and see it as an existing object, so we wanted to experiment with how to make it live and interactive.”

It will never be the same as attending a concert in person, but wouldn’t it be interesting for those who are watching live to also be able to interact?

“Some of that is pretty exciting,” he says with a grin. And some of it is frightening…

The expanded fourth album by Bastille, Give Me the Future + Dreams of the Past, is now available.

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