0171 makes futuristic pop music about intimacy and the internet
The duo yearn for a real connection in their song and video “SMTHN RL”.
Photography Daniel Alexander Harris
How does technology change the way we feel about each other? How often do we lie beside our partners in bed, both looking at screens? Have people always done things like that, or has our focus truly drifted?
Joe Bedell-Brill and Georgie Hoare have been asking themselves these questions a lot since forming 0171 two years ago. The duo (named after the now-defunct telephone code for Hackney), met after both had spent time making music and been introduced by a mutual friend. “I went round to do some vocals on a song and ever since then we’ve made music together almost every single day,” Georgie says via Skype from their studio.
While their creative chemistry was immediate, they didn’t start sharing their music with the world until nearly two years later. But when they finally dropped their debut song “1000 Words” in February, it immediately struck a chord with listeners around the world. The song opens with Joe delivering a stream-of-conscious message in a mesmerizing monotone over a spare piano melody and snappy electronic beats: “I’m sorry I didn’t reply, I was doing things. I didn’t think to reply. I’m sorry. It was nice. I was laying on grass.” It slowly builds to incorporate Georgie’s voice; her soulfulness playing off Joe’s robotic autotune.
Tense and beautiful, “1000 Words” perfectly captures the push and pull of a relationship that’s struggling under the weight of constant contact. Though it doesn’t literally consist of a thousand words (there are 472), the song is painfully relatable for anyone trying to maintain close relationships in our hyper-connected world.
0171 continue to explore that theme on their new song “SMTHN RL,” which premieres today on i-D and tells of yearning for authentic connection in an increasingly detached, digital world. It starts with Georgie softly singing about savoring every thought and image of someone, but soon the beat and the tension swells, and her whisper of “I just wanna feel something real” becomes an impassioned cry.
The song’s searching feeling is made literal in the video, created by Jake Alden Falconer, who has developed visuals with the band since its inception. It takes viewers to many of the most amazing places on Earth in four minutes via glitchy Google street views. But as we explore the canals of Venice, pace around the Taj Mahal and scale Mont Blanc, these monumental sights start to feel banal. We never pause to take everything in. This is the frenzied pace of modern life.
The band harbors a deep interest in nostalgia and trying to understand how intimacy and the internet intertwine. “We’re always talking about technology, but we’re also talking about the emotional effects of it,” says Georgie. Nostalgia for a simpler time is nothing new, of course. “From the beginning of time, old people have been looking back at their childhoods and feeling nostalgic,” says Joe.
There’s been a wave of nostalgia in pop music (including Charli XCX and Troye Sivan’s “1999” and Bruno Mars and Cardi B’s “Finesse”) that the band says swelled up after they dove into the topic two years ago. “When we first started trying to find our sound and the things we wanted to talk about, we were like, ‘No one writes about this sort of stuff, but it’s so important to our generation!’” says Joe. “Since then we’ve seen this explosion of artists who all really care about it and feel that they need to be talking about it. There’s something quite nice about it – that artists all over the world of our sort of age are recognizing that this has been the biggest change in how we live and feel.”
But while plenty of artists are being nostalgic, few are deeply analyzing their nostalgia like 0171. (The 1975 and their recent album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, is perhaps one exception, as it examines the effects of technology on the modern world.) “We’ve had a long time to think about it,” Georgie laughs. “We’ve been very intensely involved in thinking about who we are and what we want to say.”
“SMTHN RL” reflects on the desire for intimacy and how online communication can make you feel closer to someone than you actually are. But it also speaks to technology’s increasing hold over our lives in general. Ironically, the band discovered firsthand how the act of writing songs about technology could be hindered by technology itself.
Joe says he went for one month using his phone only when he had to, and abstained from absent-minded browsing, and found his life changed drastically. “I genuinely noticed straight away that I was having more thoughts. Even with music – I was having ideas for songs. I was like, ‘oh my god, I just had an idea for a song literally because I didn’t have my phone.’” He admits he’s slipped back into his old habits since then, but Georgie says they have a no-phone rule in the studio that helps both of them stay present and productive. “It’s quite scary sometimes,” she admits. “If you think about all the things you could have come up with in that time, it’s immense.”
With the bad comes the good, though, as 0171 started getting an influx of fan messages after releasing just one song. “We are completely insignificant in the world, yet we already have people messaging us on Instagram going like, ‘I’m obsessed with you guys,’” says Joe. “In the past you couldn’t get that until you started going on tour.”
0171 is yet to play any shows, but they’re in the process of rehearsing for their live debut as they prepare to release their debut EP before the summer. They’re working with Jake to create visuals for their performances, to ensure they provide a fully realized live experience that holds our attention.
This article originally appeared on i-D US.