Big Data brings Internet paranoia to the pop charts

big-data

Image Credit: Rodney Ray for Tinsel Tokyo

“It’s totally creepy,” Big Data mastermind Alan Wilkis says, “the idea of being able to stalk people on Facebook and Twitter and whatever, and kind of learn more about strangers than you should be able to know and how easy that is. You can wind up on a total stranger’s page and then you’re looking at photos of their wedding and their children and stuff, and it’s like, I shouldn’t be allowed to see this.”

Wilkis’ discomfort over the erosion of privacy that social platforms like Facebook have engendered (and which Facebook and the NSA, among many others, have exploited for their own purposes) is one of the biggest influences on the music he makes. In fact, he ranks it above any strictly musical inspiration. He calls Big Data’s aesthetic approach “techy and paranoid,” and one of the first of his efforts to attract serious attention was an interactive music video that builds, in real time, a 3-D virtual sculpture out of photos and text scraped from your Facebook account. Seeing it create itself out of bits of your personal life, it’s not hard to share some of Wilkis’s unease.

The song that scored the piece is called “Dangerous,” and it’s recently become an unlikely hit, briefly topping Billboard‘s Alternative Songs chart and coming in at a respectable No. 12 on their most recent Hot Rock Songs. It’s an oddball song, combining the disco bounce that Daft Punk have helped reintroduce into the pop conversation with the harsh distorted sounds of posthardcore bands like Shellac, but the vocals by Joywave front man Daniel Armbruster give it potent pop appeal.

Before Big Data started taking off, Wilkis says, “I had a full-time job doing music licensing stuff, and I did a lot of work with advertising music. I learned a lot about how advertising works.” That experience led directly to “Dangerous”‘s proper, non-interactive video. “At first I had this idea to do a music video as a running sneaker commercial where over the course of the video it becomes clear that this running sneaker makes you do something horribly evil, but it’s still a commercial and it’s still trying to sell this product. And then I met these two directors called Ghost + Cow and I told them about this vague idea I had and then the three of us, over the course of about two months, kind of fleshed it out into an actual story.”

The gory video, which features some of the goriest depictions of massive head trauma since Scanners, has helped to drive the song’s viral online popularity, which is starting to pick up some momentum in the offline world as well. Wilkis may deeply paranoid in some respects, but he’s un-self-consciously enthusiastic about his sudden success. “I honestly don’t believe it,” he says. “I worked my ass off, but [music] wasn’t my source of income. It’s what I dumped all the rest of my income into.”

“We’re going to play a festival with Weezer in a couple of weeks,” he continues. “And I’m like, how are we playing with f–king Weezer? Seriously, how is this my life right now?”


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