The band's frontman explains the concepts behind the dystopian-themed show ahead of their big two nights at The O2
Tonight (November 1), is the beginning of a homecoming celebration for Bastille – the first of two nights at London’s The O2.
As on their second album ‘Wild World’ and all the activity around it, from pop-up shops to chatbots, music videos and everything in between, the show they’ve created draws on themes of politics, humanity and trying to stay positive when faced with an increasingly dark world.
“We want this show to be entertaining and a bit unsettling at the same time,” says frontman Dan Smith on the phone from Cardiff, hours before the band unveil their grand production to their Welsh fans. “We never thought we’d get to play a venue like The O2 and we feel so lucky that we get to play it twice so we wanted to do something cool and exciting and unique. We’re never going to do this show again and who knows if we’ll get to make another album and who knows, if we do, what the whole world and aesthetic will be around it.” It’s basically a once-in-a-lifetime experience, then, and it sounds – and looks – like could dramatically raise the bar for big gigs in the future.
There’s a politician-like authority figure hosting the entire night
Dan Smith: “We put a lot of thought and work into the tour and wanted to do something a bit different. We’ve brought all of the ideas that we explore across the album in line with the extra layer of WWCOMMS (‘Wild World Communications’) stuff that we’ve been using across everything from social media to music videos to add an extra layer to the world that is the album. We’ve made a show that, from the moment you walk into the room till the moment you leave, is hosted by the politician/newsreader from our ‘Fake It’ video. He’s like a spokesman for WWCOMMS, we see him on and off the air, and he introduces the support bands and us. We just wanted to do something different and unsettling, but obviously we also want it to be a fun experience.
“[The politician]’s there, introducing the support bands, introducing us. It’s sort of establishing the world of WWCOMMS. There’s a narrative arc very, very loosely through our set that sets up WWCOMMS as this omnipresent, sinister corporation, and then looks for the humanity within it. I’ve been wondering what our fans would make of it, because it’s different to just us playing a normal show. Ultimately it’s a gig and it’s us playing our tunes, but we’ve always been keen to put emphasis on visuals and ideas rather than focusing on the four of us as people, and this is a really nice opportunity to do that. There’s one song that shows the story behind our album cover, which I think for me is my favourite point of the set.
“We just wanted to make it feel like a complete show and make you feel slightly uncomfortable. It’s meant to be entertaining and amusing at the same time. It’s a bit like with our pop-ups where it was about trying to do something that defied expectations and was interesting and slightly challenging and making you think about things. It kind of comes to a head in the set where I’m in sync with the politician in our ‘Fake It’ video who delivers the song I’m singing as if he’s doing a press conference, complete with David Cameron-esque hand gestures and Trump-like flailing. It’s our way of nodding towards the omnipresent media and the mad, post-truth world of politics that we all live in at the moment. But at the same time we don’t want to ram it down people’s throat constantly, we just want it to look striking and, a bit like the songs on our album, to provoke rather than hammer anything home or impose an agenda.”
It’s not like anything you’ve seen before
“When we came up with the idea of this show, I asked around and did some research on whether this kind of thing had been done before, in terms of walking in and having this character on screen who’s there the whole time. I don’t know if it has. [The show is] obviously a bit of a commentary on certain things, but the main thing is that we just want to be gesturing towards certain ideas and letting people bring their own interpretations. With the ‘Fake It’ video, with the politician, I know what we think and I know what we feel – and again with a song like ‘The Currents’ – I only hope that people listening think along the same lines because if you’re really into people being divisive and negative and toxic then we definitely don’t agree with you.
“This is the first time we’ve really properly worked on putting together a live show with production like this that’s totally interwoven with the set. We’ve been changing the set every night and we’ve got a lot of swap-ins and swap-outs. There so many tunes that we can’t play that we really want to. We found a way to make it all very interwoven and adaptable at the same time. We wanted to show everything in the best and biggest light in the venue. We’ve also got two strings players and two brass players so it’s an exciting, big show. We just got back from an American tour where we went back to the small, sweaty venues where we played the first time we went, so this UK tour now is the opposite end of the spectrum entirely. I love playing small venues and I hope we always get to do both. I’m definitely much more comfortable in smaller places. But then, actually, doing this tour with all the visuals that we’ve created for it, it’s a different way to enjoy it. We’re down the stage playing our songs and then there’s all this different stuff gong on around us. I think people so far have been quite impressed and we’ve managed to get across that this is not your average Bastille gig by any stretch of the imagination.”
It’s all inspired by 1984 and dystopian movies
“A lot of the aesthetic is from 1984 and dystopian films like Brazil and Blade Runner, that all-seeing CCTV, paranoid vibe. At the same time, there’s a very cinematic feel to the whole production, and in a way we have three massive cinema screens hanging above us, as a nod to our love of film and the way that we draw from film. When we starting this album campaign and were making the video for ‘Good Grief’ I don’t think I ever imagined we’d be doing a tour like this, so it’s all kind of adaptable. We’ll see where our next music video takes us – that might take us into a whole different direction. That’s what’s really fun about it having the creative around the album that we write as it goes along.”
The show allows the band to have their say in a subtle way
“We’re just idiots in a band and I would never want to use our space between songs to say anything other than thanks to everyone who’s there. But we are touring this new album, and we wanted it to very much feel like an album of now, of 2016, and a human response to that. The whole WWCOMMS things is a nice vehicle to be able to nod towards the slightly bizarre and confusing times that we live in and both because of everything that’s happening and the big divisive voices that are out there, but also in the way that we hear stuff and receive stuff.
In America at the moment there is such a right and left wing media and that, I guess, is everywhere as well. We take for granted that the news that we read is the truth and we live in this blurred time now where opinion and truth are so intermingled. So I guess it’s a nod towards that really, by using the aesthetic of rolling news throughout the set, but also having fun with it and poking fun at it. We’ve been chatting with the bands we’re lucky enough to have playing with us on this tour, and checking ‘are you cool with this ridiculous, slightly over the top newscaster/politician figure introducing you?’ Everyone’s been very much on board which is cool.”
The sculptures of two seated figures are a symbol of friendship
“The [sculptures] are still here and they are flying high. They’re higher than they’ve ever been. They’ve been across the Atlantic a few times and all around Europe. They’ve sat on a few festival stages with us and on a bunch of US TV shows. I think with this album those two guys together really capture the idea of friendship in the context of all the crazy shit going on in the world and around you – which is embodied by the WWCOMMS stuff.”
It’s been hard to cut down the setlist
“The gigs themselves have been wicked. It’s been awesome to play new tracks and it’s quite tricky now to try and carve a setlist out of our two albums and mixtapes. Choosing what to cut out and put in has been really tricky. We put a lot of work into the visuals and shot a lot of new video for the tour. I hope people enjoy it. The reaction to the first few shows has been great. We wanted to do something that was eye-catching and provocative and impressive, but at the same time we wanted the tour to be affordable for anyone who wants to come along, cos that’s really, really important to us across everything we do. I think it’s really important to think of your fans whenever it comes to the money side of things. We always try and make our tickets and merch as cheap as possible. I think, in that respect, we’ve tried to exceed people’s expectations of what they’re walking into and might see on this tour.
“We rehearsed it top to bottom and it’s just about figuring out what goes. If it was up to us, we’d play a two-hour set and get everything in, but if anything we’ve been cutting it down. The first gig was nearly two hours long, but I’m not sure if would want a two-hour Bastille show. So far, it’s been a process of cutting it down, but I think after our first show at The O2 we’re going to start rotating the songs. There’s a song on the long version of the album called ‘The Anchor’, ‘Way Beyond’, ‘Oil On Water’ that we’d love to play, ‘Campus’ as well. So we’ll be playing some of those.”