Orbs of green, yellow, and red light up Hackney’s Studio 9294 as the music playing quietly over the PA stops and the lights go dark. A man in a t-shirt and dark jeans hops up next to a bed on a wooden plinth and starts talking at a mile a minute about his job (junior doctor), his drug-taking routine (excessive and a little terrifying), and hints at being somehow involved in someone’s death. He’s followed by an Irish woman whose intense love of cleaning leads to a monologue full of contrastingly filthy euphemisms, and another man whose speech is cushioned by sound effects of radio chatter and what sounds like the not-so-distant noise of battle.
- Read more: Bastille – ‘Doom Days’ album review
The crowd gathered in the room haven’t opted out of a sunny Friday night to watch people unload their issues in the dark, sweltering confines of this warehouse space. This is, in fact, a celebration. What’s unfolding before us is Still Avoiding Tomorrow, an immersive theatrical experience concocted for the launch of Bastille’s third album, ‘Doom Days’. Those traffic light-coloured orbs are the glow of the headphones worn by the audience, each hue linked to one of three channels and actors. Each of the characters has a different storyline, but they’re linked by the setting – a house party, just like the one that Bastille’s long-awaited new record is based at.
After each has introduced themselves, fans are given 10 seconds to choose who to follow by selecting the relevant channel on their headset. And then we’re off, diving into their worlds, constructed by playwright Charlotte Bogard Macleod. NME follows the doctor, played by the charismatic Taheen Modak, who leaps up on a sofa across the room from the bed. There, he enthusiastically launches into a rollercoaster tale about life in the hospital – made all the more dramatic by his substance consumption on the clock. As he extolls the beauty of bringing new life into the world, a friend next to him slumps further down into his seat, dabbing more drugs into his mouth before pulling his phone out of his pocket and beginning to scroll. The contrast between his boredom and his still-talking mate’s energy will be familiar to anyone who’s found themselves trapped in a conversation on a night out that stops you being able to fully escape your own world.
After a couple of scene changes, indicated by each actor shifting location around the room, the three stories intersect. Our doctor, wracked with the guilt of being too much of a ketted up mess to save a man’s life on a train, is stood on a balcony or ledge, about to jump off when the lover of all things clean (played by Rosemary Boyle) steps out, clutching a potted plant. The presence of someone else distracts him from what he was about to do, more concerned with saving her from the potential danger she’s in – even if she does bark at him for interrupting her when she’s licking her plant’s leaves. The traumatised military guy (Anders Hayward) joins them, pulling them both back from the brink just before tragedy strikes.
The whole thing is instantly captivating, the acting, writing, and punctuation of binaural sound effects combining to make you feel like you’re really at this house party at 4AM and fully invested in the lives playing out before you. It’s a unique, innovative way to launch an album, too – one that pulls out the themes of ‘Doom Days’, like the importance of human connection, and uses them to concoct new stories and twists.
Later, the house party narrative is continued as Bastille play their album in its entirety for the first time. As keyboardist Kyle Simmons, drummer Woody, guitarist Will Farquarson, and live member Charlie Barnes begin opener ‘Quarter Past Midnight’ from the stage at the front of the room, frontman Dan Smith is nowhere to be seen despite his seemingly disembodied voice soaring through the PA. Quickly, the crowd spins round to find him on a smaller stage at the back of the room, backing singers nestled on a sofa to which he’ll return at several points throughout the set, sometimes bouncing around triumphantly (‘Million Pieces’), others slumped next to the singers with his head in his hands (‘4AM’).
As the euphoric ‘Joy’ brings things to a close, that takeaway message from Still Avoiding Tomorrow makes its presence felt again. The backing singers join the band onstage, the crowd bellow along in unison, and balloons filled with lights fly across the room. It’s an uplifting ending to a play-through of an album that sometimes deals with some dark moments, filling the venue with the glow of real, tangible connection. As the immersive experience suggests, what’s better than that?