Arcade Fire Mines the Depths of Your Suburban Childhood

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Was a childhood in the suburbs really this dramatic?

There is nothing more American than the suburbs. Following World War II, federal subsidies and the Interstate Highway System facilitated the development of single-family residences, made famous in places like Levittown on New York’s Long Island. As it became etched in the permanent culture of America, suburbia has over the years become a subject worth treating, whether it’s in the form of a Smithsonian exhibit called “America on the Move,” on television shows like The Wonder Years, to take just one example, or in movies such as American Beauty. And of course there’s the fiction of John Cheever and John Updike.

Enter Arcade Fire. The band that was invited to The White House to perform for Barack Obama’s young staffers has been pitch perfect for a thoroughly dramatic decade. With a roster the size of a baseball team, Arcade Fire has indeed gone after the heavy stuff of life, titling their 2005 album Funeral. With its members having reached the age of parenthood, the band is now taking on the suburbs, which is the name of their just-released album.

Picking up on the analysis of suburbia, The Wilderness Downtown, a cooperative of director Chris Milk and a gaggle of google technicians, has mixed a track from the album, “We Used to Wait,” with an interactive video supplement. Here’s how it works: you enter an address, and the remorseful but defiantly cathartic song is the accompaniment to a montage of images, courtesy of Google’s technology. And many are taking the opportunity to enter their childhood addresses to live out one more stroll down the old block.

Some have been calling the feature “the future of music videos.” Indeed, as the old guard of the music industry, from opera to actual production houses, finds its way in the digital world, The Wilderness Downtown may be as good an argument as any that the new performance space is the one on which you are reading this article. With the help of coding, producers can convert your private music world into an opera house of its own. In so doing, a “total art work” is created, visual imagery and all, not unlike the Gesamtkunstwerk style pioneered by the operas of Richard Wagner in his Bayreuth opera house in Germany. (Read more about The Wilderness Downtown on Techland.)