Even Guy Debord Needed Spectacles

Berlin, 10 May.

It is both easy and difficult to label The 1975. Easy, in that they are a pop band; hard because of the hyphenates that attach themselves to the band’s sound (alternative-pop, indie, post-punk-pop).

The 1975’s sound is very reminiscent of the 1980s, at times feeling like a lost Prince album, simultaneously New Wavy and funky. What doesn’t come across is anything overtly political, or even radical in their pop inclinations.

As singer/songwriter Matt Healy says in the live version of “Loving Someone” that appears on DH00278 (the title an apparent catalog number from the Dirty Hit label … like Factory Records, The 1975 are Manchester-based), “I’m not here to talk about politics, we’re not here to think about politics. We’re here for a release, we’re here for some music, a release from all the bullshit.”

Still, as Healy sings in that same “Loving Someone”, “Even Guy Debord needed spectacles.”

The 1975 has released a series of posters, all semi-mysterious, in anticipation of their upcoming new album, Music for Cars. The 1975 are known for unique buildups to record releases. These posters look as if someone took over a simple ad with street agitprop graffiti, a political look, in a Situationist kind of way (they do seem to artfully place their work atop existing advertising posters). Meanwhile, their website features a clock counting down the time until June 1 (the assumed release date for the album).

What does it mean when an ad campaign hints at radical politics the music is unlikely to reflect. And what does it mean when Paris 1968 is used to help sell an indie-pop band? (Some fans have noted that May 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Paris May ‘68.) Perhaps this is just business as usual in 2018.

Sitting atop the posters is the phrase, “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.” Fans of the band, intrigued by the mystery (which could be the entire point), have suggested various theories. Shahlin Graves in Coup De Main has said it straight out: “The 1975 Are Using Détournement to Hijack Billboard Ads.” Slogans such as “MODERNITY HAS FAILED US” and “ISAIAH 6:9-10” (“Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.”) adorn the posters slathered in public places.

Neukölln, 9 May.

It’s all intriguing, and certainly a masterpiece of promotion. It “gets people talking”, and maybe it doesn’t matter what they are talking about. Even the quotations scattered about hint at meaning without necessarily saying anything meaningful:

If I don’t get to see the beauty of the end of culture

Then at least I’ve seen the culture at the end of beauty

First, disobey: then look at your phones

As the magazine Dork said about The 1975 and the ads, “The band are still up to stuff.”

But is it enough to be “up to stuff”? Pop contains multitudes, but it also contains the possibility of collapse under all of the contextual “stuff” artists are “up to”. There is nothing wrong with using intrigue to create an eager atmosphere for a new album, especially in these times when the availability of so much music makes it hard for something new to be noticed. And it may be that The 1975 really is rooting this campaign in Guy Debord, or that any practice of détournement in its essence creates contested public space.

I’m not completely convinced. I think The 1975 knows how to get its fans to anticipate new product, and are willing to turn détournement on itself, if necessary. Does it ultimately matter if it’s all just a promo campaign?

Karl-Marx-Straße, 14 May.

Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit. Published under a Creative Commons license.