Published Mar 20, 2018Montreal couple Marie Davidson and Pierre Guerineau of Essaie Pas (which translates to "don't try," the words on Charles Bukowski's gravestone) have been pumping out synth-heavy EBM at a steady rate for the past six years. They're artsy, and we love them for it. For their latest record they have essentially doubled down on that artiness by basing it on a Philip K. Dick novel called A Scanner Darkly. The album is titled New Path — which readers will recognize as the name of the shadowy drug rehabilitation centre from the book — and we're happy to report that it's as paranoid and tense as any Dick purist could hope for.
Seeing as A Scanner Darkly was published in 1977, you might wonder why it's being revisited now. The fact is that Dick was eons ahead of his time, and the themes he explored are becoming more and more relevant each day. "We found that its subject matter really touched us," Guerineau tells Exclaim! "Addiction, loss, surveillance, paranoia, what is reality? Is it an illusion? Those themes were already weird in the '70s when he wrote it, but today we're talking about them all the time."
Despite being an album based on a book, New Path is also a personal record too. "Complet Brouillé," for example, attempts to capture Davidson's own experiences, while also relating to the character of Donna. "We went to a party late one night after a gig, and I have to admit, at that point I had taken some drugs," Davidson says. "I felt a dissociative influx. My perceptions were sharp and blurred at the same time. The music was blending with the sound of conversations, and the feel of my body was blending with the feel of other people's bodies. It didn't last that long, maybe a minute, but it was a very interesting minute. I thought everything was morphing into everyone, and the music was morphing into all the background sounds. So I thought that we should do a track like that, where it plays on perceptions."
"So, you don't know if the sound is actually the music, or the people talking, or the car passing by on the street," Guerineau adds. "You're not sure exactly what is coming from where."
"Exactly," Davidson continues. "And the vocals are inspired by a chapter in the book, which is Donna's perception on life: why she deals drugs and why she uses drugs. So, the first concept for the song is the party I mentioned, but then we shifted into something else in order to relate it more to the book."
When many people think of Dick's novel or Richard Linklater's interpolated rotoscope adaptation of A Scanner Darkly, they normally call to mind the chronic drug use that the characters battle with on a daily basis. Another core concept, however, is mass surveillance, and considering our increasing dependence on the internet, it's an issue that's far more pressing now than when the book was written. "It's almost like this is reality now; the world is online," says Davidson. "I find that super scary, but at the same time you have to embrace your era. I don't want to shut myself off from technology, but I really try to take a step back every time I can."
"It's really hard to measure or even predict where this is all going to go," says Guerineau. "We can only try to be vigilant. Some people think they can share whatever they want, and they have nothing to hide, but who knows? That discussion you had ten years ago where you were talking about drugs or something against the government, in some ways, is part of a detailed account of your personality, and it's kind of there forever. So, saying you have nothing to hide is almost like saying you don't care about freedom of speech, because you have nothing to say. Maybe there are a lot people who do have something to say.
"I think it's quite fascinating as a cultural phenomenon," Guerineau continues. "In the '60s and '70s, we were afraid of Big Brother, listening to our conversations on the phone, and now we buy personalized systems from Google or Amazon, big corporations, that listen to what we say 24/7. It's pretty wild."
This might sound overly paranoid to some, but it's a subject that inevitably breeds distrust, and frankly, it's in keeping with the very core of A Scanner Darkly. Everything about New Path, from the anxious techno to the mind-bending lyrics and even the drone footage video for "Futur Parlé," is exceptionally paranoid, just like the book. Dick would be proud.
New Path is out now on DFA Records.