A loneliness epidemic is sweeping the UK and much of the world. We’ve never been more connected, but despite friends, family, and colleagues being so close – a click, a text, or a video call away – we’re living in an era of loneliness. In the last 50 years, rates of loneliness have doubled in the United States alone.
Communication is easier and quicker – connection is not.
Returning on the apt A Strangely Isolated Place, 36, aka Dennis Huddleston, looks into a future which is already unravelling before our eyes. Huddleston seeks it out with his ongoing exploration of cyberpunk, but instead of concentrating on its technological temples, vapid television channels, and flavourless corporations, 36 delves into isolation, loneliness, and the abuse and misuse of technology as a means of escapism. Seeing as we’re now in 2019, this isn’t a far-off, hypothetical place.
Oculus Rift plugs people into a virtual world while providing an exit from the real world.
Some people live alone, through choice or circumstance, with only digital relationships for comfort.
Apartments are lit up by the ultra-bright-but-artificial glow of a screen at 1 a.m.
Facebook status updates mask cries for help, and an attention-seeking post seeks some level of validation while looking to boost a sense of self-worth…
Fade To Grey is an indictment on society. It’s a lonesome soul, living in a society that values union and relationship over singledom. In some critical way, a part of the pale piano is absent even while its general sound is present and accounted for. Similarly, someone can go to a party and still feel alone. The piano’s whole is lacking. Like fast food, it never truly satiates, and the hunger soon returns.
It’s no surprise to learn that social media use can be linked to feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. When users post their perfect life (a complete fabrication, as no such thing exists) for everyone to see on social media, people inadvertently reveal the side they don’t want you to see: through smiling photos and exclamations of joy, the posts instead frequently aim for a gathering of ‘likes’ and a bucketful of envy to make up for something deeper, some essential nurturing. They conceal feelings of self-doubt, fears of rejection, and desires for acceptance. But deeper down, something is hiding. It’s in the auditions for a reality TV show or a talent contest, which is the equivalent of feeding people to the lions, and it’s in the need to feel loved, even when that relationship is abusive and toxic.
Sometimes social media can feel more like a competition and less like a social hangout. Social media becomes the opposite of itself, making people less social when it comes to face-to-face conversation. 36’s music is sensitive to these feelings of isolation even through digital connection.
Ambient goes against the tide in an on-demand culture. It needs patience in order to develop, and that sits uneasily among the falling attention spans and channel-surfing minds. Technology, rather than making life easier and connecting people, has made life, in many cases, poorer, vapid. On some questionable dating sites and apps, users swipe past others based only on appearances – a quick swish of the finger and they’re instantly forgotten – throwing away the person based on transient looks. Society is ill, and 36 is aware of its cancerous underbelly. The seemingly innocuous smartphone becomes a gateway to addiction and RSI, turning people into zombies who check their phones while crossing the road or even sitting opposite each other on a date, tagging and updating instead of spending quality time with someone, while the unnatural positioning of the fingers over long periods of time can lead to arthritis in later life. It’s life, but saturated in grey.
Propaganda rules, and the internet has become a digital battleground, trying to claim ownership over minds and souls through targeted ads, telling people what to buy and who to vote for – what to believe, essentially – and changing values until they suit the needs of their own: that of financial gain.
The sole piano has fallen into loneliness, not out of its own fault, per se, but out of an inability or unwillingness to grasp what society has deemed important (which is usually the antithesis of what is important). A handful of companies control everything we consume; television is just a presentation of views, and the news is slanted towards certain biases with an hourly scheduling of selective, negative headlines and an emphasis on single incidents rather than positive stories within nations and communities. Privacy isn’t valued as much as it once was. Personal choice is influenced and manipulated; whenever we search for something, another item magically appears. ‘You may be interested in these…’, the screen states. Are we really accountable for our choices, and for our thoughts? Are they the thoughts and actions of an individual?
As the rain falls, a dazzling synth echoes into the street, passing over drenched gutters, weakly illuminating puddles. Although beautiful, there’s a lingering sadness here, like an avatar that’s never able to reach out and physically touch someone else. The raindrop-melody of ‘Esper’ and the radiating ‘D.R.E.A.M Link’ are wonderful highlights, awe-inspiring in their beauty, and although lonely, they’re proud to be doing their own thing, being individuals in a world obsessed with conformity and uniformity.
Instead of radiating a neon bright enough to require sunglasses at night, the lonesome music resembles something faded and shrunken. Within Fade To Grey’s lonely and vacant sphere, the future isn’t a bright light. Instead of indulging in a life fulfilled, it sinks into a pale, insignificant replacement, searching for someone who in another lifetime would otherwise have been a Queen. It looks out of its window, its cool arpeggios on the verge of empty lifelessness, lacking something valuable.
‘Night Rain’ permeates the atmosphere, but the album’s lagging melancholia drifts in from the world and its angled, questionable values. The stench of its stale fast food and its promises of instant gratification infiltrate the air. Retail therapy feels good at the time, but a burger tastes good, too, and it doesn’t fill the hole; one can spend, spend, spend, but nothing will plug the gap. The music is tired, doubting itself, trying to stay independent despite being surrounded by shrieking police sirens, a blare of spoken garbage, and obese posters. It shields itself from the artificial, even as it walks through its streets.
Fade To Grey is aware of a deeper need, a deeper yearning, a deeper wish. The late night vibe continues throughout: there’s screen-time and instant messaging with an avatar and a cup of hot chocolate, never physically meeting the other but existing online in a Ready Player One virtual environment, typing responses at a screen and receiving them thousands of miles away instead of gazing directly into the eyes. Likewise, 36’s music is both connected and disconnected, part of a digital oasis and pressured by the cage of conformity. Perhaps concentrating more on introverted piano notes and bleeding synth, 36 looks inward. It isn’t just a pretty face. There’s infinite depth to those eyes, but only a few will look into them; they remain hidden behind an icon, and behind the prison of a screen.