Still from People music video

How The 1975’s new video calls for AR anarchy

The pop rockers invited fans to fuck around with facial AR technology for their new music video, People. Here the directors explain how it’s the first of its kind.

Few bands are cap­tur­ing the zeit­geist quite like The 1975. Over the years, the Man­ches­ter-formed out­fit have gained as many sniffy doubters as they have die-hard fans. They’ve spent ample time chip­ping away at people’s pre­con­cep­tions, and they’ve made major cul­tur­al impact in the process. 

Fol­low­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Gre­ta Thun­berg, The 1975 have released the punk sin­gle Peo­ple (the first taste of next year’s album Notes on a Con­di­tion­al Form). The track includes Mat­ty Healy’s typ­i­cal­ly dis­joint­ed lyri­cism about the cur­rent cul­tur­al malaise (Fuck it, I’m just gonna get girls, food, gear / I don’t like going out­side, so bring me every­thing here”).

The idea of being stuck in a fucked up nan­ny state formed a key part of the aes­thet­ic for the video, which was co-direct­ed by Mat­ty, War­ren Fu and Ben Dit­to. Work­ing with them [was] a total plea­sure,” Ben tells The Face. All of our con­ver­sa­tions were about the core of zeit­geist, con­tem­po­rary psy­che and the edges of utopi­an-slash-dystopi­an technology.”

Enter the point we’re at now, in which arti­fi­cial real­i­ty and gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance are close to cross­ing over in a creepy world of deep fakes. To chan­nel that per­va­sive sense of unease, Dit­to decid­ed to bring in Aaron Jablon­s­ki of the dig­i­tal art out­fit Exit Sim­u­la­tion to cre­ate fil­ters that repli­cat­ed holo­graph­ic face scan­ners. They flash across Healy’s own in the video. 

Thanks to Aaron, fans can repli­cate that look through Instagram’s Face Fil­ters option too. The beau­ty of a fil­ter is that it is instant­ly acces­si­ble, unlike VR, and has an imme­di­a­cy and eeri­ness that is spe­cif­ic to facial AR,” Ben says of Aaron’s work in the video. We are just scratch­ing the sur­face,” he fore­warns, and it’s been an hon­our to be part of the first major pop­u­lar cul­ture project to tie these tech­nolo­gies together.”

To find out how The 1975 boys became the cen­trifu­gal forces in the pop cul­ture-AR crossover, The Face posed some ques­tions to Aaron about how the project came togeth­er, and how anar­chy will devel­op in the age of dig­i­tal manipulation. 

Tell us about the first dis­cus­sion you had with Ben Dit­to about the Peo­ple video.

Ben told me about the video and its main con­cept, then asked me to devel­op sketch­es for fil­ters based on the ini­tial ideas, match­ing a weird, dystopi­an and uncan­ny aes­thet­ic. I loved the idea of devel­op­ing face fil­ters as an impor­tant ele­ment of a music video, then releas­ing these fil­ters for peo­ple to use them. We then devel­oped an addi­tion­al fil­ter that puts you direct­ly inside of the vir­tu­al world of the video sur­round­ed by its cube walls.

How did you decide on that aes­thet­ic for the Peo­ple video in par­tic­u­lar? What were your references? 

When I was approached by Ben, he already had a pret­ty clear vision and con­cept for the fil­ters. The key point is their dystopi­an vibe with ref­er­ences to sur­veil­lance and face track­ing tech­nolo­gies. These con­cepts are impor­tant to my work as well, so we took it from there. Then it was a back and forth between find­ing the right look, see­ing how it works on the test footage and adjust­ing the fil­ters accord­ing­ly. The fil­ters them­selves were applied in post-pro­duc­tion – the video was shot with­out them!

How do you define what’s true in an age of dig­i­tal art and manip­u­la­tion? What does anar­chy look like?

Defin­ing what’s true will become increas­ing­ly more dif­fi­cult in an age of AI enabled pho­to and video manip­u­la­tion and speech syn­the­sis. We should be more cau­tious and crit­i­cal than ever towards con­tent post­ed online and edu­cate young peo­ple how to dis­cern real and fake con­tent. But all this will be increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult – basi­cal­ly we are fucked! Anar­chy in our age, in my opin­ion, is using this kind of tech­nol­o­gy to dis­turb and dis­rupt estab­lished pow­er struc­tures and organisations.

What does the future of AR look like to you?

In my opin­ion, AR will devel­op in a way that the bor­ders between the real and the vir­tu­al become increas­ing­ly unno­tice­able, to a point where there will be no dis­cernible tech­no­log­i­cal bar­ri­er when per­ceiv­ing vir­tu­al con­tent in our sur­round­ings. The medi­um of trans­mis­sion will become most­ly invis­i­ble. At some point in the future, we will prob­a­bly receive dig­i­tal infor­ma­tion direct­ly to our brains which would make it pos­si­ble to per­ceive AR any­where and any­time. That’s fas­ci­nat­ing and fright­en­ing to me at the same time.

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