Bastille: Why the band are making music for ‘dystopian’ days – BBC

Bastille's Dan Smith PA Media

While providing singalong hits like Pompeii and Happier at Reading and Leeds Festivals last month, indie-pop band Bastille also gave the digital natives within the young crowd some tech-focused newer material to stream directly into their souls.

Almost half their live set, including Shut off the Lights and Future Holds, was extracted from their chart-topping recent album Give Me The near future, which discusses mankind’s relationship with modern tools and the possibilities, both good and bad, of connecting online.

Frontman Dan Smith describes it as “a slightly weird, futuristic science-fiction, pop album”.

“We started it prior to the pandemic but made it with the lockdowns and strange times, ” he tells the BBC backstage at Leeds. “It was amazing to have this catharsis of writing tunes regarding the bizarreness from the times that individuals live in and how it often seems like a weird dystopian science-fiction anyway.

“But it’s also an album about escapism: escaping into the past, the future, fiction, fantasy and technology, and how amazing that can be… but also obviously there are complications and darknesses to all of those things. ”

At 36, Smith can remember a moment before the internet, but some of Bastille’s fans probably won’t. Though it hasn’t stopped them from singing along with his band’s mid-set medley of 90s dance covers.

Ahead of their Reading performance of Plug In, another from their latest LP, a video at the big screens invited festival-goers to enter their own “innerverse”; before Smith wondered aloud, melodically through a vocoder microphone, whether he/we would be alright in a world of artificial intelligence, deep fakes and fake news, as well as driverless cars along with a billionaire space race.

“So much today, from the tech we value to how we communicate to each other, [to the] fact that many people change what they look like so much online that when it comes to actually meeting plan someone, they are scared to do this because their picture is really wildly totally different from how they try real life… ” he ponders.

“It’s changed everything, the way we meet people, how we communicate, how we work. ”

Back to the future

In early 2021, Bastille released a documentary entitled Re-Orchestrated, reflecting on their past 10 years together, in which their singer-songwriter spoke openly about his anxieties and body dysmorphia.

Per year on, Smith and co switched their focus towards the future. Their synth and string-layered album, set throughout one night, is littered with references to imagined worlds, from Blade Runner to George Orwell’s 1984 (plus a spoken-word interlude narrated by Oscar-winner Riz Ahmed), and was broadly well received with the critics.

“Smith’s singing is filled with pliant emotion, and yes it all adds up to a pop album so addictive that it feels as if it had been intravenously injected into my system, ” opined The Telegraph’s Neil McCormick .

“The record itself functions like an escape pod, ” the Independent’s Annabel Nugent added . “When confined within Bastille’s catchy hooks and imaginative, era-spanning production, what lies ahead suddenly isn’t so terrible. ”

With ideas overflowing in his seemingly hyperactive brain, Smith returned to the concept in August, releasing a fresh batch of additional songs – like Revolution, and Come across Trouble featuring Brazilian producer Alok – for an expanded version from the album.

Smith says he and his bandmates are preoccupied with their reliance on modern technology, and are somewhat conflicted.

He created most of their 2013 breakthrough debut album in his room on his laptop. And these days, he records song ideas into his smart phone and keeps in touch with people using messaging apps and social media while on tour.

However, the musician admits he does use his phone a potentially “unhealthy amount” and finds he needs taking out of “spiralling thoughts” about where we are heading. Other stars such as Selena Gomez and Tom Holland have previously pointed out the perils of too much time spent on social media.

The evolving LP, Smith says, is the sound of him looking to “navigate digital spaces” while making really a conscious effort “to be more present”.

“It’s about trying to hold a mirror up to how bizarre things are and how complicated or confusing it really is for everyone, ” he explains.

“Particularly Future Holds, the last song over the [original] album was basically me, targeted at myself, ” he stresses. “I thought it would be type of funny and ironic to have an entire album that speculates and worries about what the long run might seem like and then finish it having a song being like, ‘yeah that’s fine, but stop worrying about it for a minute and just love this particular situation for the second since you could be dead tomorrow! ‘”

Another new song, Wish for the Future , was specially commissioned to help soundtrack the climate change documentary, From Devil’s Breath, produced by their old Saturday Night Live buddy Leonard DiCaprio. Smith describes the film as being both “beautiful and incredibly sad”.

Kyle Simmons, Chris Wood, Dan Smith and Will Farquarson of Bastille backstage at Reading Festival last month

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Bastille have always seemed to be a forward-thinking bunch. You may recall them streaming a performance at Birmingham New Street railway station via 5G and captured in augmented reality, for a TV phone advert in 2019.

And while those at their surprise Glastonbury set and The Hundred cricket final this summer all have got to see the band play before their very own eyes, others recently joined them for an one-off gig within the metaverse.

In June, as part of the concept for your album, Bastille’s Give Me The long run experience used the latest (but still rarest) technology to allow fans around the world to don their headsets and become a virtual audience of stylised avatars.

Smith, whose band are currently touring South America (and then Europe) in the flesh, describes the experiment being a “really interesting” one, which he’s “open-minded” yet equally “cynical” about.

“A lots of the digital shows that have existed live or the VR [virtual reality] shows have been something which you watch that’s been pre-made and you basically go and you’re inside watching it as a thing that exists [like Abba Voyage ], and we wanted to try to test out how can you allow it to be live and interactive, ” he says.

“Obviously, it’s never going to be anything just like a gig in real life, that is a different experience altogether, but wouldn’t it be interesting for people who are watching live to become able to interact in some way? ”

“Some of that stuff is actually exciting, ” he beams. “And some of it is terrifying… ”

As our conversation comes to an end, Smith bids us a warm festival farewell, before quickly appearing audibly aghast at a breaking news alert which has been waiting for him in his pocket all along.

Bastille’s expanded fourth album, Give Me the Future + Dreams of earlier times, is out now.

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