Image Credit: Sarah Louise Bennett
Say Bastille, and, almost instinctively, you think of Pompeii. The song defined many of our teenage years and seemed for a period to be the zeitgeist of pop music – and it is still, undeniably, a tune and a half.
With Bastille’s new album however, entitled Give Me The Future, we’re plunged (mainly) years forward, into a speculative-fiction-esque reality. This so-called escapism, though, is scarily familiar in terms of ideas of what the future means: as frontman Dan Smith voices in Plug In…, “we're living in a sci-fi fantasy”. But, as is often the case with Bastille, even the most intimidating, sometimes depressing, of topics sound fun and joyful.
Spanning a short but sweet 41 minutes, Give Me The Future is an escapade into and through time; though the main focus of the album is the future, songs such as Plug In… and Riz Ahmed’s spoken word Promises also ground us very much in the present. Ahmed’s statement “the world's burning, but f*ck it” shows the importance of other people in the present and the reassurances they bring, even as the world outside burns.
The album is also abundant with other influences and epochs too, with instrumental interludes, pop songs, 80s vibes, and, as is the norm with Bastille, references to films and literature. Smith’s passion for film is evident in the naming of songs Thelma + Louise and Back to the Future, as is his degree in English Language and Literature, in references to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s 1984 on the new album, and countless other influences throughout their previous three.
There are also traces of the band’s roots in their new songs, with a tone reminiscent of the eponymous Doom Days in Plug In…, my personal favourite song from Give Me The Future. Both songs plead for and emphasise the power of a feeling of personal connection, amidst a layered crescendo of listed lyrics.
Smith’s unique voice is obscured partially by an 80s-sounding robotic voice filter on some songs, but concurrently amplified by the beautiful synth and string compositions. Interestingly, the idea for Give Me The Future was conceived before lockdown, but the pandemic has supplied an eerie foresight to the album, which seems almost to predict the inordinate screen time most of us have become accustomed to over the last few years.
On this note, the irony of my first gig in over two years being one which celebrated an album speaking almost exclusively of a (familiar) dystopia didn’t go unnoticed. A crowded venue with hundreds of strangers seemed so far outside the realm of possibility for so long: the clash of this “new normal” with Bastille’s intimations and questions of the future was an interesting contrast.
I expected the Indie Record Store Tour to mainly showcase new songs from Give Me The Future, but from the beginning, Smith repeated that this would be a “weird” gig. We were treated to an intimate, stripped-back set of some of Bastille’s new songs, as well as some of their older classics, such as Pompeii and Quarter Past Midnight.
Despite amassing 19 million monthly listeners on Spotify, this gig felt as though it could be taking place in a much smaller, more obscure venue than Leeds’s 'The Wardrobe'. The vibes of the show wouldn’t even be out of place in a living room; it felt very much like good friends having a great time, making music, enhanced by the minor technical hitches taking place – “imagine this is all really slick, it’s all going well”, Smith joked. It was a joy to watch.
Bastille opened with Future Holds, the final track from Give Me The Future, which concludes the album with a reminder that, “who knows what the future holds? Don’t matter if I got you”, before playing their previous hit Quarter Past Midnight, and a Power and Shame mash-up of sorts, which was dedicated to the (lucky!) member of the audience whose birthday it was. Their slowed down, stripped-back extended version of Power was incredible, perfectly highlighting the range of Smith’s voice and casting the room into a sci-fi ethereality. Luckily, I had my phone ready to film and I have since watched that video back about 25 times, and forced most people I know to watch and appreciate it with me.
Smith prefaced the gig with a warning that he was recovering from illness – though he assured us, “it’s not Covid!” – and so his vocals weren’t as strong as he’d like them. Though this wasn’t noticeable in the slightest, combining recovery with the ambitious songs performed on the night is testament to Bastille’s skill. Moreover, for the Indie Record Store Tour, the band was performing a different setlist in each venue, adding a whole other layer of challenges to get to grips with, and further showing their talent.
The “weird” part of the gig came later. Smith told the audience the gig would be interactive, and sure enough, the audience participated in a unique, psychological experience. Whilst queueing for The Wardrobe, fans had been asked to record their strangest dream, and then live on stage, Bastille used the descriptions of these dreams to improvise songs, creating a soundscape of thoughts. Additionally, the audience helped to record the chorus of Shut Off The Lights, which was then featured in their concluding song of the gig.
Give Me The Future is everything a Bastille fan can expect: clever and powerful lyrics, catchy sounds, personal experiences, and a strong conclusion, which is that we may as well try to be positive – because there’s not much else to do. The gig, being intimate and interactive, was fun and memorable, made more so by Bastille’s obvious excitement to be touring again. Though they emphasise the scariness of the present, with fake news, deep fakes, climate change, billionaires, and AI, the dancey beats and lyrics give the album a more optimistic tone, suggesting that we might as well do our best to enjoy the weirdness that is modern life.
I repeat: “the world's burning, but f*ck it”.