HUMANITIES: 5 Things That Inspired ‘Drone War Data Nil’


The Human Sun split with fellow Toronto band Low Sun is out now via Art of the Uncarved Block.

Pummeling its way through gargantuan riffs, throat ripping vocals, and enough melody to keep the whole thing from descending into cacophonous chaos, the latest track from Toronto post hardcore noiseniks HUMANITIES is a bit of a banger. Calling to mind the angular energy of the 90’s, it is a reminder than rock music is perhaps best when it is angry and focused.

We had a sit down with Scott Birdwise (guitar & vocals) recently who told us what inspired the ferocious track.

1. Modern warfare

With “drone war” in the title, the song announces its main source of inspiration and imagery pretty clearly. In the song’s lyrics, images of do-it-yourself science and technology, in the form of Popular Mechanics magazine, intermingle with angels and the sensors of the UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle), “exotic” locales (sites of drone strikes) and landfills (the ultimate resting places of our “smart” technology). The song explores the disastrous reality of exporting and enforcing “democracy” through war and the indifferent technocratic gaze of a machine. Democracy, death, obsolescence.

2. Big data

Amounting to…what?: The second half of the song’s title, “data nil,” speaks to the unease I feel about modern, securitized society — the experience of social media, niche marketing, algorithmic logic, and metadata storage and surveillance. What does it all amount to? Constantly updating and checking my “feed,” how complicit am I in my own subjection? And who — what army of technicians, bureaucrats and NSA office workers — has the time to go through it all? Where will all this “information” go, ten, twenty, thirty or more years from now? As the clouds and server farms expand, are we in danger of losing other senses of space and experience?

3. Love songs

I’ve always found it difficult to write “intimate” lyrics, at least those dealing with love and longing; it’s always been more natural for me to write about the darker, more violent aspects of life. “Drone War Data Nil” is an attempt at a kind of love letter — in this case, to an imaginary drone operator, perhaps some twentysomething kid in a trailer in the Nevada desert. With a strong dose of irony, the song combines this address to that anonymous object of desire with my more habitual inclination toward destructive imagery.

4. 90s hardcore

Getting older (approaching 40!), I realize that so much of my musical formation, my identity, is wedded to my early experiences with ‘90s punk and hardcore, bands like Fugazi and Quicksand. “Drone War Data Nil” wears its musical influences on its sleeve… shamelessly. The ‘90s might (should?) be remembered as the perhaps the last gasp of legitimate guitar-based “rock” music (although, as I read somewhere recently, maybe it already really ended in the early ‘70s, and everything that followed is but a shadow, a simulacrum…). Reflecting on this, I think “Drone War…” is part of my coming to terms with mortality — the life and death of cultural forms and my own impending demise. Does heavy, angular rock — punk, hardcore, whatever — have a meaningful life now, in our brave new world of sampling and mash-ups?

We’ll keep asking this question.

5. Collaboration

This song was written collectively. If memory serves, Humanities’ guitar player, Mariful Alam, brought the main riffs to the table for this one. From the (dancing) skeleton he provided, we worked out the structure and the melodic lines, and then developed linking parts and the like. The words came later, with the song title coming first to mind and the lyrics arriving after. Most of our songs come from collaboration — it can be a slow process, but the shared nature of collective writing unfolds potential ideas and sounds that might not otherwise be explored. It’s also fun and (mostly) democratic.

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