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1975 Birthday Party

Matty Healy on how incel culture inspired The 1975’s latest video


TextAlex Peters

‘The Birthday Party’ sees the band transformed into avatars for a digital detox

The 1975’s Matty Healy is interested in the internet. His band’s previous album, 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, explored what it means for technology to now meditate all our relationships, asking the question of what would happen if we all put the phones down? “Everyone’s addicted,” Healy told Dazed in an interview for the album. “We all say, our relationship (with our phone) isn’t like that, everyone else is like that. ‘I’m on it because everyone else is on it’...It’s the rhetoric of a heroin addict when you try and take their heroin away from them. It’s exactly the same.”

Now the band have a new album, Notes On A Conditional Form coming out this April and these questions and themes are being taken further. In the new video for “The Birthday Party,” the addiction narrative comes to its natural next step – with a visit to a digital detox centre.

Teaming up with director Ben Ditto and digital artist Jon Emmony, “The Birthday Party” sees Healy, in digital avatar form, visit the Mindshower retreat where he encounters a variety of characters all taken from the deep recesses of internet meme culture. It’s a story of narcissism and isolation but also of optimism and allowing for the possibility of rehabilitation and human connection. To flesh out the world further, Ditto and Emmony created an accompanying wellness site where you can go and receive your very own AI-generated positive affirmations.

Here we speak to Healy about the video and find out more about his fascination with incel culture, the future of technology and why we should all be more like cats.

Ben Ditto (Dazed Beauty creative consultant) said that you and he share a mutual “fascination with the underbelly of internet culture.”

Matty Healy: That’s such a good way of putting it.

Why do you think that is?

Matty Healy: Coming from punk, I’m used to really – what would you call it – subversive ideas and art that I think pre the internet stayed quite self-contained. And now you’ll see memes that actually originate from really dark, deep places, the underbelly of the internet but are now fodder for the masses. I find that journey really interesting. 

In the video, you explore whether it’s possible to have meaningful connections within technology and within a digital space. Do you think there is a possibility for that?

Matty Healy: I do! The conversation is really interesting because I understand the arguments for and against but I think that anything that kind of like cultivates community has like a realism to it, do you know what I mean? 

People often talk about social media making people very isolated but it's also great for connectivity and it's interesting those two things can exist simultaneously within social media.

Matty Healy: True, I mean social media is that kind of a double-edged sword. It can truly, globally unify people but it is also tearing people apart. 

It’s like Jaron Lanier (computer philosopher) who has that idea that we need to be more like cats in regards to the internet. The way that cats have domesticated themselves, they have their own set of rules, we still don't really own cats they do their own thing. But they use the human world as they see fit and I think that we need to be a bit more like cats as opposed to dogs and that's the only idea that's in the video.

And you were 3D-scanned for the video?

Matty Healy: Yeah, it was the guys on Avatar that did it for us. They’ve done loads of stuff like that, but that's what I was buzzed about! It took us two or three full days to do all the motion capture. So I now have a digital version of myself which is great for any narcissist.

What was it like seeing a little miniature version of yourself?

Matty Healy: It's weird, it's a bit like hearing your spoken voice recorded for the first time, it's a bit odd.

Oh yeah, horrible.

Matty Healy: Horrible.

I thought it was interesting that the digital detox is outside in nature, but you are all 3D and it's a very digital environment.

Matty Healy: We just started thinking of, where would a meme go? What would be soothing for the digital? These are very broad because we have no idea. I like the idea of me kind of being at one with all of the other memes and us all being part of the same kind of coding because sometimes I don't feel like there's much difference especially for someone like me. I am a meme for a lot of my fans so there’s not much difference between me and like the stonks guy or like the clown frog. I really like all these exciting prospects like Lil Miquela but what I really like with this is that it’s so meta because we actually exist. I've always found these things really interesting, it's just good we've been able to do it in a video as opposed to just in the music.

Why is incel culture something you find particularly interesting?

Matty Healy: I find it very fascinating in regards to how the internet has the ability to take these things from the deep deep recesses of subcultures and kind of have them be regurgitated in the mainstream culture so quickly. It's not an offensive video right? But the actual intent behind the creation of a lot of the memes in there is really insidious and you see them everywhere but a lot of them come from fucking 4chan, they’ll have started out on some incel’s profile picture. 

I think incel culture reveals a really interesting and scary perspective on men and how they deal with women. It's a really fascinating world and I'm just interested in how it materialises in pop culture.

"I'm always fascinated by the other, fascinated by worlds I’m not involved in."

The culture started so much online but now we’re really seeing it come out in the real world in quite a violent way.

Matty Healy: The buildings of a community (around fandom) I find really incredible but the thing is with that level of intense reality being brought together by the internet, that happens in like really insidious ways as well. So it's a very odd world and I'm always fascinated by the other, fascinated by worlds I’m not involved in. 

And it also came from out of a fascination of content and the amount that is out there and how we just believe we should be able to deal with this much content and stay normal and stay rational and stay peaceful and stay unified. I don't think that the world is necessarily a worse place than it used to be, but we have created this algorithm that keeps us constantly informed. Reality is chaos so if you create an algorithm that keeps you informed on as much of the chaos as possible from the second you get up to when you go to bed, I'm not surprised we're all really fucking anxious and terrified and think the world’s going to end.

Do you think that there will be a reaction to the online world and we will go back to a more natural way of living or do you think we’re just going to continue down the digital road?

Matty Healy: When I was making Brief Inquiry I was very interested in these exact questions. This album covers everything that I'm worried about but I was quite internet-y the last album. My mate Davis has a 16-year-old who a few years ago was a walking Snapchat filter and now has grown into this free-range kid who's not on social media and that’s really valued among her and her friends. It's really quite grown up and progressive when I think about what I was like at that age. I suppose also if you're a teenager your job is to be counter-cultural, there has to be some kind of cultural rebellion from young people because like that's like what they always do. 

If we don't die of a disease or don't burn up in a fire and that stops technology then technology is going to get exponentially better and better and better. Those are the only two options. So, if we don't die in a fire, I think we’re going to essentially create a digital world where you won't be able to tell the difference between reality and non-reality.  

I'm obsessed with VR, I find it incredibly exciting and inspiring and if you put a really good VR set on you can really fool yourself. When we can start integrating memory or nostalgia or real emotions – say if you can take like an 83-year-old guy back to Berlin on the particular day where he met his fucking wife and the weather is exactly the same, this is going to be a place where people are not going to want to leave. I genuinely do believe we will get to a place where we create this kind of visual utopia and that's where we will go after work. 

Towards the end of the video, there's this moment where your avatar kisses I guess a clone of yourself and that felt like quite an optimistic moment for me. Sort of like an acceptance of yourself, is that what you were doing with that?

Matty Healy: To be honest with you, through my conversations with Ben about that exact moment and what we think it is, I want to leave it open. It has an uplifting sense, it doesn't feel like it's just another gag about my narcissism which I like to put in as many videos as possible! There’s always this sense of 'me, me, me'. So there's a bit of that, there's always gonna be those sort of gags in there but it felt more about self-reflection and how that is the most important virtue when it comes to expressing yourself on the internet. 

It's nice to leave it open because it could go either way. It could be about the extreme narcissism of selfie culture or self-reflection.

Matty Healy: I suppose most content on the internet is totally up to you to decide what it is, but there are all of those ideas and it's resulted in what that scene is. It's interesting because actually what are we doing?

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