In 2015, the year that finally proved Back to the Future to be an inaccurate forecast, it can be hard to shed your disappointment about the present. Gravity-defying skateboards are still a distant dream, but, as Los Angeles indietronica duo YACHT puts it in their “tracklisticle” on BuzzFeed, the future does offer “the ascendance of content over art, pleasure as a teleological end in itself [and] vaporized stimulants,” among other things.
Like most of us, YACHT thought the future would be cooler. That is, after all, the title of the progressive electro-pop duo’s sixth album — a damning, dance-y critique of the vague emptiness and despair of the modern world. YACHT, which stands for Young Americans Challenging High Technology, are multi-instrumentalist Jona Bechtolt and vocalist Claire L. Evans. The acronym refers to an actual education program Bechtolt attended in Portland, Oregon that closed mysteriously in the late ‘90s.
But now more than ever, these two young Americans are challenging high technology — and also low technology and every technology in-between.
For example, to highlight practically obsolete forms of communication, YACHT helped build a single-use app that sent users faxes to the nearest FedEx Office store, revealing the surreal, Man Ray-style cover of I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler. In contrast, they tied the release of their IRL-lyric video for “L.A. Plays Itself” to Uber surges, those times when “traffic sucks, and paying extra to sit in it is even worse.” They also hosted an installation at Getty Museum, screenplay readings of an unmade film, and threw in some drone footage of a billboard, near which they handed pedestrians risographed flyers of the album manifesto.
They explain that these projects are more than just marketing gimmicks, but “because of the record being what it’s about, we imagine we have an opportunity to make commentary on the album being physically in the world,” Evans explains. “There are all these sorts of pieces now expected of bands. We wanted to play with that and expose that by taking it to the extreme. … You can do all kinds of big, big projects and people will continuously ask you to do more because the content machine is always hungry.”
All these stunts point back to YACHT’s philosophy as a musical entity, which they emphasize as the three B’s: they are a band, business and belief system. In fact, they even wrote a sort of Bible, back when they described themselves as more interested in “spirituality and underground religious culture.”
“[We’re] just saying and printing things out loud that a lot of people think about,” Bechtolt explains. “A lot of people inherently have a belief system that they adhere to, whether it’s underground culture or organized religion.” This time, the religion YACHT is responding to is the Church of Latter-Day Smartphones.
ITTFWBC is far from the first time the band has commented on the current digital climate. A mere two months after Edward Snowden's infamous leak, YACHT released “Party at the NSA” (not to be confused with this parody of the Miley Cyrus song “Party in the U.S.A.”), along with a tailor-made font that is supposedly unreadable by optical character recognition software. Marc Maron contributed a guitar solo, and download proceeds from the single raised money for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to the tune of about $8,000.
“I can’t remember the exact number,” Bechtolt says, “but it turns out people don’t like paying money for songs no matter where the money goes.”
Two years later, little has changed in the practice of mass surveillance, as the just-passed USA Freedom Act, which extends certain provisions of the USA Patriot Act, demonstrates. But YACHT are hardly surprised that the general public doesn’t give a shit about being tracked.
“Of course people don’t care," says Evans. "We live in a economic system where we regularly trade privacy for convenience in every aspect of our lives, in every app that we download. 'I guess they’ll track me forever, but at least I’ll know what the hot restaurants are.' As long as we get to use the platforms, we don’t really care who tracks us or who’s following us or who’s watching us. So yeah, it doesn’t really surprise us, frankly, but it’s the world we live in.”
Still, when it comes to the future, or present, YACHT are ultimately optimists. Coming from a DIY punk background, they would rather fix things than complain.
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“All that we can do is make work that we like and move forward, which is I guess fundamentally optimistic, otherwise we’d give up entirely,” Evans says. “We’re not apocalyptic. I think the future is kind of mundane and shitty. There’s no big fiery, satisfying dystopia, you know? It’s a bit more boring than science fiction would have us believe.”
YACHT headline the Teragram Ballroom on Thursday, Oct. 22. More info.