On 'Radiant Dawn,' Dan Boeckner, Sam Brown and Devojka embrace the Apocalypse
When I finally get Operators' Dan Boeckner on the line, he and his partner, Devojka, are stopped at a rest area in the shadow of majestic Mount Shasta in northern California. As we talk about the heavy concepts of Operators' recently released sophomore album, Radiant Dawn, the couple is swarmed by a colony of seagulls, despite being far from the Pacific Coast. It's a fitting sign for the end of times that Radiant Dawn predicts.
“It represents a cataclysmic event that is transformative,” Boeckner said of the album's titular prophecy. “It could be a nuclear explosion or the absolute collapse of the ecosystem due to climate change. For this project I was interested in the apocalypse, even a political apocalypse, and the ability for new systems and new ideas to grow out of that.”
As Operators, Boeckner, along with Devojka and Columbus drummer Sam Brown, has always dealt in darker hues. The band's debut, 2016's Blue Wave, was Boeckner's fantasy-fulfilling, dystopian post-punk record, blending the terrordome themes of “Blade Runner” and “Mad Max” with the electronic current that sparked New Order and Depeche Mode.
In creating a follow-up, Boeckner found inspiration (or better, desperation) in certain factors that have us hurtling towards our self-imposed demise. “We are all a compilation of our memories,” Boeckner sings on “Faithless,” a nod to philosopher Mark Fisher's “nostalgia loop” theory — a belief that our reality stopped in the '60s and the human race is now stuck in a cycle through the same cultural signposts. In the same vein, the lyrical peaks of “In Moderan” talk about a “future in reverse,” where the systems we can't control, like the internet and global warming, take over. While these ideas float inside a fiction of doomsday psychobabble, the warnings of societal decay jibe quite closely to reality.
Likewise, the sonic reach of Radiant Dawn had to reflect the man/machine flux in the narrative. Instilling a kind of oblique strategy, the trio holed up in their Montreal base and began jamming freeform until they arrived at what Boeckner called an “organic chaos.” Though much of that session only appears on the album as instrumental interludes, it was the impetus for Boeckner's creative awakening — a shift that “split his skull wide open.”
With Brown's rhythmic acuity providing a very real heartbeat to Operators' sound, there is a noticeable evolution on Radiant Dawn. Devojka's oft-steely synths are warmer, more exploratory, and the sparkling neon-pop of Boeckner's songwriting becomes more urgent, prophetic even. But among these soundtracks for the apocalypse, there is hope in the music, especially the title track, which celebrates a “golden age” that will occur after we finally break. Not all of Boeckner's outlook is consumed with nihilism.
“The way out is a new kind of socialism and a new kind of community organization that I think millennials and the generation under them are working really hard to figure out what it looks like. That's exciting to me,” Boeckner said. “Good art is always going to be political, and adjacent to the movement. At the risk of sounding like a hippie, there's something magical in 2019 that I can get on a stage and for 90 minutes have a free exchange of emotions and ideas with other people.”