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03 Apr 2019

Collectively Creative: They May Be a Little Bit Devo, and a Little Bit Gorillaz—but Superorganism, Playing at Coachella, Is Completely Unique

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Superorganism. Superorganism.

Superorganism may very well be the most interesting band you’ll see at Coachella.

Superorganism is actually more an art collective than a band, made up of eight members from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. The group’s closest comp may be Gorillaz … but even that’s not quite right.

Figure out Superorganism for yourself on Saturday, April 13 and 20.

Superorganism’s videos seem like pop-culture propaganda—spoofing modern society. During a recent phone interview from London, Harry (real name: Christopher Young) explained his view on their music videos.

“I think it’s always propaganda to a degree,” Young said. “It’s certainly not a conscious thing on our part, but I think the ego that drives you to write songs and (makes you) feel like you have something meaningful to say to the world is inherently propaganda. We don’t set out to do that, but I think you can pick up quite a few things that run through our record. I like to think that we leave it open to people to interpret what they want out of those songs. We definitely try to have consistency and cohesiveness in what we present to people.

“In terms of mainstream pop music, it depends on whether you feel the Beatles saying, ‘All you need is love,’ is propaganda, or if ‘fuck the police’ is propaganda. But if you have a strong message that you want to convey, you are going to be propagandists in your results, whatever your intentions may be.”

The video for “The Prawn Song” (embedded below) references various recent memes … including, ugh, Tide Pods.

“I think it stems from the influence of Devo and these ideas reflecting society through absurdity more than making a heavy-handed comment on society. Our comments are still somewhat serious,” Young said. “I always think of ‘Prawn Song’ in particular: The message of the song once you unpack it is serious about how humans are entrapped in the environment of our world and various flaws we have. I think a sense of humor is integral in our presentation. Even in the art and pop world, I really struggle with things that take themselves serious without any irony or any capacity to appreciate absurdity. The Tide Pods are a big part of that. What a weird meme to have taken off, and it plays into that Devo theme perfectly.”

Seven of Superorganism’s eight members live together in a house in London. I asked if that ever becomes too much.

“There comes a point where you’ve just come off tour, and you’ve been on a bus together, and you come back into this house that’s full of the same people you were just on a bus with—and you can get a little bit of cabin fever,” Young said. “But all of us have our various ways on how to deal with that, like going off to hang out in a different city for a while to get a bit of a peace of mind, or going for walks around the local area and clearing your head. I try to hang out with my mates who are totally into video games and don’t know a lot about music when I’m back in London, because it’s nice to be in this refreshing zone. That’s the nature of being an artist: It’s a lifestyle first and a job second. We all have our ways of trying to clear our heads.”

In a band with eight people, how do you resolve conflicts in the creative process?

“I wouldn’t say ‘conflicts.’ That’s too strong of a term,” Young said. “Our guiding ethos is really helpful in how we construct things, because it negates conflict before it’s begun. Our guiding ethos is you should invest your ego in the outcome; don’t invest your ego in the process. … That means a good idea will flow, and a bad idea will sink. We don’t get too uptight or upset over our ideas not making the cut. We don’t tend to have culture-specific disagreements for music, but if I have an idea for a guitar part in a track, and Soul (Earl Ho) presents a better one, I guess you could call that a conflict. I’m always going to go with what the best idea is instead of making sure my part is heard.”

Nearly everything that Superorganism does is made in-house—even the production of their videos and their live shows.

“I think that it’s a combination that we set this project up as an art collective,” Young said. “On one hand, we can do everything in-house. Robert Strange (Blair Everson) does all of our visuals; he makes the videos and the visuals for the live shows. He’s downstairs in the bedroom below mine right now working on stuff. We can assemble all of this stuff at home with minimal support. Most artists have an idea for what their visuals should look like and how to put it together, but they need to hire a videographer who can do that, and if it’s someone who has a lot of experience, that’s where it’s going to cost you. … We try to keep that stuff at home and do it for the absolute minimum. That’s where our record label, Domino Records, comes in. Things happened so quick for us in the beginning. They were really confident about coming in and giving us more support from the start. Before we even played a show is when we signed our record deal. It meant that Domino was happy to make the advances and cover the setup (things) we couldn’t do, like hire a projectionist and understanding the lighting rig.”

Coachella comes in the midst of Superorganism’s tour of the U.S., and Young said he’s excited to go into states like Georgia and Colorado, rather than just the usual cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

“I think it’s a weird time for music,” he said. … “One thing that I’ve noticed that happens quite a bit in America, probably because we’re on an indie label, is we tend to get kind of grouped together with what I would describe as ‘indie-rock acts.’ Personally, I feel deprived by that. We’ve worked hard to create something very modern and electronic, and we’re not really rock. Because people really like to categorize things, a lot of the artists we’re categorized with tend to be throwback ’90s alt-rock things. Our stuff has electronic beats and a little bit of a guitar, but it’s all pretty synth-heavy.” 

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