love, social media and politics with dan bodan, DFA's blue eyed soul boy
Meet the poster boy for the global Soundcloud youth.
"Romeo is about dating apps, basically," Franco-Canadian artist Dan Bodan is amenably running through some of the inspiration for his latest album Soft, out now on DFA, on a phone from his base in Berlin. The narrative plays out through the breathy soul of Bodan's vocal as the looping delay effects of a resonating string sample echoes through a chlorinated pool of lonely ambience: "In the night, I touch the glass and it illuminates the cold / Here I am, beside your picture. Load it up". It's a familiar image for many a networked 'single-and-searching' smartphone user perhaps, but so sad and evocative that it presents an emotional challenge to the misguided notion that there's a distinction between us as humans, and the technology we use.
"I think that's the one thing that everyone is trying to grapple with right now", says Bodan about the high-definition hyper-reality of a world mediated by screens that many of the privileged world populate, "I'm not even doing the 'HD thing' as much as other artists are but it's like, it's finding the ghost in the shell. It's making sure it's the reality; it's not just the virtual reality".
I'm reminded of what is a Soft stand out, Catching Fire. Presumably, inspired by the second instalment of the Hunger Games film franchise, the track drifts over an ominous rumbling bass that mirrors the motif cloaking the Young Adult adaptation's own cinema soundtrack. It's a blockbuster success with a potent revolutionary subtext, where a socially stratified and economically unequal political system is buttressed by the propagandist power of popular culture. The poor are literally sacrificed in the name of entertainment and pitched against each other in a bid for survival, while one such competitor finds a tear in the technological fabric of oppression: "I live inside of you and I will break you down.""I think this is more just about observing patterns and systems with a really romantic eye for it," says Bodan about the influence of the cult speculative fiction of the likes of William Gibson and Neil Stephenson on the 'personal as political' themes of Soft and its representations of "computers with spirit". "When we made the decision to sort of make the album a little more 'soft', or a little more palatable, more direct, I knew that there was going to be that problem of getting lost in the initial listen", he adds about the dreamy, blue-eyed soul of a sound that conceals the socio-political concerns that are far from fantastical. "In fact, when we were first giving [the album] around, a lot of people were just completely passing on it because I think it was getting caught up in that 'white boy RnB' that's really popular now. Even though that isn't what it is, there's sort of a formal similarity to it".
Listen to the lyrics of Soft and you'll understand what Bodan is talking about, whether in the "post-social media paranoia" of the wistful Calypso rhythm of Anonymous ("blocked face and name, 'got an anonymous soul") or the misleadingly optimistic title of Good Time Summer ("well, the wheels run dry with the euro signs/ and market shares are in decline"). It's a record that identifies and exposes the invisible grids of oppression and control of online networks, via the same deceptively innocuous pastel-pinks and ornate borders of its manga art album cover by Julien Ceccaldi. "Everything's just a little bit off," Bodan says about what drew him to the visual artist's work via an early "cheap little website" in the first place. "Everything seems like something that you could get at Starbucks at the cashier but there's just the one little thing that keeps it current, and new, and relevant, and a little bit dirty as well".
Anyone familiar with Ceccaldi's work will probably also be familiar with the art associations he's embedded in. It's something that's been loosely labelled 'post-internet'; a vaguely defined interdisciplinary approach that takes networked connectivity as a given and considers the internet a medium. "It's not exactly that there is a 'scene' that I'm involved in and that it has a name, but it's a sort of a loose connection of artists internationally, or thinkers who are connected vaguely through things like Soundcloud, or Twitter, or whatever". It's a globalised community of artists that Bodan says grew up on the likes of Gibson and Stephenson's sci-fi speculations and interrogate online culture - and that's to say contemporary culture - accordingly.
"It's like this invisible thread that ties everyone's work together, in some spiritual way, that doesn't need a scene name attached to it or some hokey genre pseudonym," says Bodan about Soft collaborators like Physical Therapy, 18+, Jamie Whipple of M.E.S.H. and Dena Yago. They're artists and producers, all of whom contribute to Soft in varying degrees and generate the cohesive fabric of a collaboration that eschews individual authorship and confuses ideas of identity. "We all have these same points of reference and we all have a similar outlook on the future. That, I think, is the only thing that ties us together, but it does."
Text Steph Kretowicz
Photography Julia Burlingham