Big Data the band is 'complicated,' like online privacy: musician Alan Wilkis - Technical.ly Brooklyn

Big Data the band is ‘complicated,’ like online privacy: musician Alan Wilkis

Fresh off a chart-topping single, Technical.ly Brooklyn speaks to musician Alan Wilkis, whose electronic band, Big Data, both leverages, satirizes and laments an era of fading online privacy.

The band Big Data playing at Brooklyn Bowl.

(Photo courtesy of Jack Nessman)

You may have missed the electronic band Big Data this weekend at Brooklyn Bowl, but the National Security Agency was there.

A chirping computerized voice, identifying itself as “the NSA,” interrupted the band’s set over the sound system to encourage concertgoers to Snapchat, post and tweet their night into the cloud. “I am your friend,” the voice insisted.

Fresh off peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart for their hit “Dangerous,” Big Data, the band — which sometimes traces it’s roots to the internet and other times hails from Rochester, N.Y. — presented a highly relevant social critique of a contradictory digital zeitgeist: there is something creepy about having masses of personal information online, but we continue to post it anyway.

But to complete gimmick’s point, the cheeky voice from above didn’t appear to halt any social sharing. Concertgoers obliged their friend from the NSA, taking group photos against the hall’s exposed brick wall and sharing them widely. There’s nothing like an artfully lit photo in a Williamsburg club to burnish your personal brand.

“I’ll share a story I want you to know/it’s better than the real thing/I took my time in touching myself/To enhance my personality,” the band sang.

Big Data is the brainchild of music producer and composer Alan Wilkis, also known for his remixes and the collaborative project Prints. We sat down with him before the show to talk about the future of Big Data.

Alan Wilkis of Big Data

Alan Wilkis of Big Data. (Photo via Twitter)

(Edited for length and clarity.)

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Technical.ly Brooklyn: Do you think an expectation for privacy is dead or is there going to be push back?

Alan Wilkis: One of those things I found most interesting about all of this sort of subject matter is that it’s complicated. I think if my band was about “technology is bad and it’s all scary and dangerous and we have to be careful of all of it,” that would sort of be a little obvious [laughs] and it would be preachy.

I think precisely what is so interesting is that we need these things and they make their lives a lot better in so many different ways and we are safer and we are more connected and engaged because we have all sorts of new technology and tools at our disposal and these tools get better every day. I can’t live without my smartphone but I also sort of hate my smartphone and I hate that I’m transmitting all this data about myself constantly, but I would never get rid of it [laughs].

I think it’s that sort of irony, which is what I find so interesting about it and I think in a way everyone feels that way.

TB: The music video for your song “Dangerous” depicts a marketing team using big data to create a more effective advertising campaign. Where is your interest in that intersection?

I remember reading some research [about] companies [taking] the faces of the people in your social network, in your Facebook friend circle, and they can start to make a composite face of the types of people you interact with most commonly, so it will result in a fake person and that person will be in the advertisement. So it will be a composite of people you positively engage with.

There’s a lot of creepy stuff like that happening. So big data factors pretty heavily into advertising and marketing. I don’t think we came up with the video concept because of the big data connection. It was just related. But we also just thought it was something to satirize.

If you want to talk about the NSA and national security and that kind of data collection, it is all terrifying and we don’t know what our data is being used for, but if another terrorist attack is prevented or another 9/11 is prevented because they were able to intercept some kind of thing because of data collection, who would not want to prevent a terrorist attack? It’s not such a black and white picture, and that’s what is so interesting.

TB: How did your interactive music video “Facehawk” come about?

In February of this past year, I was in Denver and I met a gentleman named Rajeev Basu. We met. We went to a concert. I didn’t tell him about my band and he didn’t tell me about what he does. We were mostly seeing music together. I became friends with him on Facebook, and on his Facebook profile I see links to an interview he did with Vice and the Creators Project and Wired and Mashable and all the cool tech blogs and culture blogs about these weird art interactive internet projects he’s been doing.

As soon as I saw this stuff, I emailed him right away and said, “You make all this crazy stuff on the internet and my band is about the internet. We clearly have to collaborate.”

He was onboard and he came back two days later with a PDF several pages long with a fully fleshed-out concept and it was so in line with what the song is about. And we spent six or so months building it out.

TB: You’re making electronic music which…

Using technology to make music — yep same thing. I’m using technology to market my music. I use it to engage with fans through social media and all of that, I sort of jokingly say the band is from the internet ‘cause in some way we are and in some way people only know bands from the internet. Again, it’s complicated and interesting in the same way.

It also not conceptual for me — I just like it. I like electronic music. Guitar is my main instrument. I try to basically combine guitar with bass with the electronic thing and that’s the human element inside the technological element and that’s what I love. That’s how I love to make music.

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People: Alan Wilkis
Projects: Big Data
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