You could make a fair case for Bastille being the most exciting new artist in Britain right now. Do they have secrecy? No. Have they invented some new genre of music, or are they part of a new ‘scene’? No. Have they adopted some enourmously complicated concept? No. Are their songs exciting, powerful, well-produced, catchy and varied in style to the extent that they still have their own identity, despite utilising other sounds? Jackpot.
In mid-2011, Bastille released a double a-side single named Flaws (with Icarus on the b-side) on a small independent record label. It demonstrated Bastille’s almost unique talent at using electronic production to produce organic, emotional pop, and was – simply put – a modern anthem, written about being “perplexed by, and probably a bit jealous of, some people who seem so completely confident and comfortable in their own skin,” something that pretty much anyone can relate with. Despite having hardly had a press release of any description it has almost reached 300 thousand views on youtube. Then came the Laura Palmer ep, on which the band slowly expanded their horizens over the course of 4 perfectly formed alternative pop songs. The question is, how have Bastille perfected their knack for making invogorating popular music for the 21st century? The only other band I can think of that have achieved anything like it – something less formulaic then the Killers but less complex then Arcade Fire – are Biffy Clyro, and it took them 4 albums to get there!
I talked to Dan Smith, Bastille’s singer who writes and co-produces all of Bastille’s output. He told me of his songs “I’ve written them and worked them up to a certain level at home and then taken them to my friend who’s a producer, Mark Crew. He has a tiny studio in Battersea where we recorded all the tracks so far, and where we’re making the album right now. We’ve co-produced all of the Bastille songs; he’s massively talented and the reason why the tracks sound as polished they do.” He explained that since being signed to Virgin records (home to Gorillaz, Massive Attack and Daft Punk) they have been allowed to continue producing their music without any external input.
Is this surprising? Having listened to Bastille’s last release, the free Other People’s Heartache mixtape (http://www.otherpeoplesheartache.com/); not at all. Dan’s description would point towards a casual diy project: “Basically it felt like it had been quite a while since we had released anything, and Mark and I came up with the idea of doing a mixtape that, like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean’s albums, would be free and really easy to get hold of. I got Glandular Fever at the beginning of February, but when I was better we decided to take a two week break from the album to put this Mixtape together.” What makes Bastille so exciting is that with this little effort, they put together a small pop-art masterpiece; simultaneously covering classic film scores and conteporary pop (“I’m obsessed with films, and had the idea of using the music from Requiem For a Dream as the backing track for Lana Del Rey’s Blue Jeans”) and even dipping it’s toes into hiphop, with a cover of “Love don’t Live Here Anymore” featuring a verse from F.Stokes, an American rapper that Dan has been producing for recently. Overall the mixtape manages to achieve a cinematic feel, sounding like a mashup of Hurts’ best singles and Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ album, produced by Brian Eno and mastered by Calvin Harris.
Interestingly, at the other end of Bastille’s musical spectrum comes a set of acoustic sessions with the fantastic London band To Kill A King, with whom Bastille are good friends. When I asked Dan wether he feels more comfortable making music that is acoustic or heavily produced, he answered; “I sometimes get worried about producing songs too heavily, but I think it’s where I’m most comfortable. I don’t see Bastille as an acoustic thing really, but at the same time it’s nice to have the freedom to do whatever. I guess the album that I’m making will fall on the more produced side of things though. There might be electronic production in some of the tracks, but I hope we don’t fall into an electronic genre because I really wouldn’t want to.”
Alongside their pop sensibilites, Bastille’s music is constantly coupled with Dan Smith’s beautifully emotive voice and beguiling lyrics; always seeming simplistic at first, but revealing shades of meaning with repeated listens. For example, the emotional intensity in the singing on ‘Icarus’ makes it difficult to believe the band are exclusively singing about a Greek Myth: “Icarus comes from things I feel about myself and other people that I know, I generally try not to write songs that seem too personal and sometimes use characters or stories to try and move the focus away from myself and from more obvious topics.” When I asked about Flaws and Laura Palmer’s supposed references to love however, he shunned the topic; “I definitely make a concerted effort not to write about love. So I see those references to the heart in Laura Palmer as more physical and visceral, or about the effects that matters of the heart have on how people perceive you…. but I probably don’t make that very clear in the song itself; I don’t see Flaws as a relationship song at all, but pretty much everyone who has spoken to me about it has heard it that way”
So now that Bastille have released the most exciting single, ep and mixtape combination in British music, where do they go now? They’re set to release Overjoyed (a standout track from the Laura Palmer ep, see below) as their first major label single, but what of the album? “I kind of want every song to sound a bit different to the last, and want to reflect all the different kinds of music that I like. Potentially the album might sound a bit mental, but if it does I’ll be happy.” I think it’s fair to say that once the Bastille album is released, Dan Smith won’t be alone in that feeling.