“We’ve always been a band who want to do things differently,” says Bastille’s Dan Smith. For their second album ‘Wild World’, they used an A.I. chat bot to communicate with fans, while their ‘ReOrchestrated‘ project saw them collaborate with classical musicians to celebrate live music and the people who create it. Since then, the band has also released a string of ‘Other People’s Heartaches’ mixtapes featuring new tracks, remixes and covers throughout their 12-year career.
Today (June 6), they’ve announced a digital experience to sit alongside their brilliant fourth album ‘Give Me The Future’.
Using a custom world built with Unreal Engine, this digital experience will allow fans to explore the “surreal” land of ‘Give Me The Future’.
Released earlier this year, ‘Give Me The Future’ is a big, brash indie pop album that explores escapism through technology. “We now live in this bizarre reality where science fiction of the past has come true and tech is constantly changing and developing,” Smith tells NME, having just arrived in Washington D.C. for the next stop of a six-week headline tour.
“We’ve always been fascinated by that tension between the desire to escape your life and the reality of having to confront things. Escapism can be this amazing, transportive tool that allows you to get out of your own head and be someone else but ultimately, is it realistic enough? In the long term, is it healthy?”
“We wanted to approach the album and everything around it as people who exist in this world – curious and non-judgemental but also bemused and slightly confused by what it means and where it goes,” says Smith. “We know we don’t have any answers but it’s so interesting and exciting, we couldn’t ignore it.”
The digital experience, which is now live via the specially created Oculus app and includes elements of a virtual gig, lives outside of any existing metaverse making it as accessible and unrestricted as possible. “We’re always looking for ways to keep things interesting for fans,” says Smith. “Digital gigs have obviously been happening for a while now and we worked with (creative agency) WPP to see where they could go next and if they could be made more interactive. As with everything, we wanted to collaborate with people who do interesting things to try something new.”
The actual performance took place over two days last year, with select fans invited to the studio and others staying at home with motion capture equipment. For Bastille, they performed as normal – able to see the crowd in the room reacting in real time but also able to interact with these digital avatars thanks to a giant video screen. Everyone was aware of each other, making it a communal event on a global scale.
“It was an experiment,” explains Smith. “Digital shows aren’t going anywhere and we wanted to collaborate with people who are doing pioneering things, to try and move them into a place where they’re better and more inclusive. What we did is a more interactive, enriching experience where you’re less passive as a viewer. “
That gap between artist and audience is something Bastille have always tried to bridge. “I always felt super uncomfortable as someone that grew up not wanting to be in a band but as a massive music fan, with that barrier between artist and crowd. It always just felt weird to me, because I’ve always felt more at home in the crowd than onstage. In big and small ways, we’ve always tried to find ways to break that wall down and empower our fans, whether that’s at a gig or online.”
“You look at those live concerts in Fortnite or Roblox and most are pre-recorded. They feel more like a level of a video game rather than a live experience,” Smith continues. “The tech we used is still in its infancy but we wanted to see if we could up that interactivity at a time where we still don’t know what the future of touring looks like thanks to COVID.”
“It’s been fascinating and this VR experience takes everything we created on that day and turns it into something tangible that can live on,” he adds.
Smith has no idea if this hybrid digital, real-world style experience is the future. A team of talented people have been working on the project for months, so it’s still not an everyday thing that can be rolled out at a moment’s notice. But for Bastille, the only thing they had to do differently was perform for motion capture scanners and not to trip over anything important. “It wasn’t wildly different to any festival or TV performance we’ve had to do,” says Smith. As for the huge video screen – well, almost every arena show and festival main stage has one of those.
“There are endless possibilities for artists at the moment. It really is the wild west because with the digital space, you can do whatever the fuck you want.”
Bastille’s digital experience comes at a time where artists and fan bases are making curated online communities in the metaverse and on platforms like Discord, away from the virtually unmoderated free-for-all of places like Twitter or Facebook.
“It’s almost like a return to the old school fan club mentally. Obviously we’ve all plugged into those spaces because they’ve been so readily available but I think ultimately people just want to have an interesting experience that feels genuine. I don’t think it really matters where that happens,” says Smith. “These online spaces can be amazing but we’ve all seen that they can go the other way and that loads of people exist online that really enjoy fucking with other people. You can completely see why people would want their own safe space.”
Whatever form they take though, Smith agrees that interaction is key.
“You don’t put on a film because you want to interact with it, you put on a film because you want to sit back and enjoy it but there’s something about live music that demands an emotional response. I remember how weird it was doing Instagram lives at the very start of Lockdown. I knew people were watching, because I could see numbers fluctuating and comments coming in but I had no time to respond. It felt very lonely. That’s one extreme, and the other is playing an actual gig. Everything else is somewhere in the middle, and that’s what we’re exploring at the moment.”
“Ultimately, what people want is a live experience that’s as inclusive and as ableist as possible,” he continues. “If artists are creating that online, that’s really important but equally, live venues should be as inclusive and accessible as possible because everyone should be able to experience them. If people are being thoughtful about who can come to the show, whether that’s in the real world or online, that’s brilliant.“
However, Smith believes “there should be a reason for these things to exist. Whether that’s to make the experience better, more interesting, more nuanced or more fun, it should never feel like a tech thing has just been crowbarred in.”
For Smith, he approached it like a fan. “If an artist I loved released an amazing, digital, otherworldly VR experience, I would love to see that. But the second they tour near me, of course I’m going to go to that show as well. They’re two completely different things that shouldn’t be competing. There’s nothing like being in the same room with people, the music reverberating through your bones, but maybe there’s a way you can do both.”
So what’s the point of this experience? “I hope it’s interesting and feels new and different, is exciting, and allows you to listen to the album in a slightly different way,” says Smith.
“We’ve always written about things we find interesting or challenging but we’re also music fans. We know how important escapism is and how powerful it is to hear somebody articulating things in a way that really resonates with you.
“With Bastille, it’s always been about that tension between wanting to confront things and wanting to escape things. This project in particular was about presenting this weird, futuristic experience whilst also questioning it at the same time. Fundamentally though, I hope it serves as a nice, fun distraction for people because there’s a lot of fucking awful shit happening right now.”
If you own a VR headset, you can check out Bastille’s ‘Give Me The Future’ VR project here.