If quarantine's starting to get you down (again), The 1975 is here to help. This week, the band launched an online exhibition with Beth Ditto that features 15 artists responding to tracks from Notes on a Conditional Form with their own visuals. So far, Matty Healy and company have shared videos for "I Think There's Something You Should Know," "Yeah I Know," "Don't Worry," and "Shiny Collarbone," along with descriptions from the artists that created each work of art.
You can watch each video and read more about them below.
"I Think There's Something You Should Know"
“I wanted to play around with this idea of the secret, as referenced by the title, and the feeling of suspense that the track produces, scaling both up to a world-making capacity,” explains artist and writer Alice Bucknell. “Some of the album’s themes include technology, anxiety and ecological destruction, and I was thinking about these within the framework of an architectural utopia. The overarching idea, or set of ideas really, framing this project was an interest in technological utopias and the inevitable failure of these ambitions.” Her film flies us to a ringed planet on which she’s constructed 3D models of three sci-fi cities, one for each of the song’s different sections: the first is a postmodern seastead that brings to mind the Las Vegas Strip. The second, and most contemporary, is a high-tech wellness metropolis which mixes Tokyo signage, SoulCycle classes and tropical foliage; “Decked out in neon lights and synthetic palm trees,” says Bucknell, “it’s the unfortunate byproduct of some Instagram algorithm, like Blade Runner meets Miami Beach.” The third, in which ‘I Think There’s Something You Should Know’ reaches its euphoric climax, is a glowing pioneer town out in the desert. All are rendered in a neon club aesthetic that matches the track’s up-tempo house feel and crisp, spacious production. “What drew me to this track in particular,” says Bucknell, “is the loosening of what’s perceived as truth, or reality, through the forces of fantasy and desire. That’s what led me to thinking about this planet as a sort of glitch or technological error that ultimately deletes itself at the end of the video.” In the last few frames the planet glitches then disappears. It leaves us wondering: Were these cities just mirages? Are utopias even possible, in the real or virtual worlds, or will they always conceal a hidden darkness?
"Yeah I Know"
Ai-Da, the world’s first humanoid AI robot artist, is capable of drawing people from life using her robotic eyes and hands. For this piece however, she’s been set a more challenging task: to sketch out an impression of consciousness. Stood in her studio in Oxford in a painting smock, with ‘Yeah I Know’ playing on the stereo, she composes her abstract portrait in coloured paint pens. The result is a picture of knowing, of thinking, of having a mind, whether biological or artificial. Of consciousness itself. Using her AI language model, she’s also written a poem that responds to singer Matty Healy’s lyrics. When he sings a line, her response flashes up on the screen in bright turquoise. “Stop the tube/ Kick the head,” sings Matty. “JUST FELT THE WORLD GO BY,” replies Ai-Da. “Try your best,” “HOW MUCH CAN,” “Yeah I know,” “I FEEL IT ON MY FLESH,” she says. Do android poets dream of electric sheep? Ai-Da, who might have stepped right out from the pages of a Philip K. Dick novel, is a robot but writes that she dreams of feeling, of having flesh and blood. “Time feels like it’s changed/ I don’t feel the same,” sings an autotuned, robotic-sounding Matty in the chorus. “YOU KNOW WHAT TIME LOOKS LIKE TO YOU,” she responds. Over the second chorus she adds, “AND YOU KNOW WHAT TIME FEELS LIKE TO ME.” While the outro plays she mouths along, holding her palms up to the heavens. Ai-Da dreams of experiencing time for herself. Perhaps she dreams of dying also; of the mortality that makes you and I human. Perhaps she dreams of having a consciousness like ours, and the sorts of dreams that we have. Yeah I know, we know, but what does Ai-Da really know? How could an AI know what consciousness is or what it looks like? Human neuroscientists and philosophers haven’t yet figured any of that out; but then, we always look to artists to show us the unknown and difficult to imagine.
Like a couple other artists in this exhibition, Rindon Johnson was inspired by ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ to produce a vision of utopia. “In almost all my work,” he says, “I like to make sure that if I’m animating a different type of reality, it speaks to the possibility of a different state of being and relation. So I wanted to set this film in a permaculture city; one that lives harmoniously with the earth and encourages the slow stillness of being in direct dialogue with one’s natural surroundings.” In Johnson’s computer-generated city of tomorrow, the sidewalks are made of packed earth and orchards grow on the street providing healthy food for all. Clean energy come from wind turbines and solar panels on the roofs. It’s a greener, more socialist vision of urban society, but also a charming and sexy one. The film’s narrative came to Johnson organically upon hearing the song for the first time, he says: “I closed my eyes and sort of felt the movement of a really gentle dance and thought it might be a nice way to speak towards that sensation. To think about different forms of closeness. I also didn’t want to do anything too over the top because the song demands something quiet and straightforward; a kind of direct address to another person.” His character takes a walk through the neighbourhood one evening, listening to the uplifting piano ballad ‘Don’t Worry’, and looking up at a window, happens to catch somebody dancing on their own. The two strangers share a moment of intimacy together through the window. It’s a moment of empathy and perhaps erotic frisson; a socially distanced romance. During this time of crises, particularly in urban centres and in the United States, many of us have been thinking about how modern cities and societies can be improved; and Johnson has not only been dreaming of what these cities could look like, but also of the kinds of lives we might live within them.
Filmmaker and artist Frederick Paxton takes us on a journey into an unknown land. We begin on a mysterious train ride over a long bridge. A solitary figure in white falls through the darkness. At first it’s unclear where we are but as we move through the layers, through anonymous suburbs, it becomes apparent we’re in North Korea, at the Arirang Mass Games: a spectacular gymnastics and artistic festival held in Rungrado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang most years. Paxton is interested in finding moments and places that reveal our shared humanity, our hidden euphoria. This is what he hears in ‘Shiny Collarbone’, in the looping ragga vocal (“Mash up the place/ Free up the order”) and the climbing synth. “It has a strength to it, a weight to it, but there’s a euphoria hidden under that,” he says. “And that was also my takeaway from my brief experience in North Korea: you can subject humans to any sort of control and pain and suffering; but there’s always this human reality, a child being a child, or someone smiling, hidden underneath that.” North Korea’s Mass Games are a visual representation of the country’s ideal of the collective whole. However, after filming their choreographed performances on his slow-motion camera and watching the slowed-down footage, Paxton found that the individuals in the group were revealed, that their characters became more apparent as time was slowed down and his attention focused in on them. Now, set to the music of this club track, the children in their sequined costumes with their pompoms, the undulating dancers carrying the giant Earth through the stadium and the parading soldiers show us how the human spirit is always present; how technology can reveal it, and how there’s beauty everywhere.
Photo: Getty Images