Fontaines D.C's 'Televised Mind' being selected as our song of the year has been seen as a controversial choice to some. Here's why it wins that accolade.
I still remember the excitement like it was yesterday. It was July 12th 2019, I'd departed the 12.40 train into Glasgow Central Station and raced through Glasgow city centre towards Glasgow Green like there was no tomorrow. The reason for this gallop through Glasgow was a simple one, I simply had to make it in time for Fontaines D.C's early set on the Kings Tuts stage at TRNSMT Festival!
Opening bands at Scottish outdoor festivals very rarely get a big crowd, but this was an exception. As I arrived with seconds to spare (and the girlfriend kindly agreeing to get the first pints in) I positioned myself right in the centre to get the best view possible (my moshpit days are behind me, I'm afraid). In front of me were a sea of shirtless Glasweigan lads and scantily dressed girls, with a sea of Irish tricolours and pyrotechnics ready to be lit. 2019's hottest indie band were about to perform and you could just feel the buzz about the place.
Before long, the Dublin post-punk band swaggered on to a heroes welcome and quickly launched into 'Hurricane Laugher' from critically acclaimed debut Dogrel. As the wall of noise hit the crowd, the place went berserk. The bodies at the front moved about as one, the 30-degree heat had clearly not put anyone off joining the sweat-filled moshpit. And it was a sight to behold, rock 'n' roll wasn't dead just yet.
The band were adoring the adulation, Grian later swigging a bottle of Buckfast tonic wine (in case you aren't aware, it's the most Glasgweigan thing about) and declaring the crowd the "best in the world".
Forty minutes later, as the band left the stage following a raucous performance of 'Boys in the Better Land', I just knew my love affair with the band had gone up several notches.
It might be the dearth of gigs this year, or maybe that 2020 was the first in seven years that I hadn't attended a summer festival (thanks a lot, coronavirus...), but I've been getting more and more nostalgic for that performance of late.
Less than a year after that festival show - and just over a year since their debut - Fontaines D.C. dopped their second album, A Hero's Death. It's an album I instantly described in July as the "best indie album of 2020" (and still stand by!). However, there was one song that instantly grabbed my attention.
For that, we have to go back to a month before the album release date, to one sunny June evening (you'll have noticed that's two references to sun in Scotland so far, I'll need to stop showing off...). A video for a new track by Fontaines D.C. entitled 'Televised Mind' had appeared on my YouTube home screen. "Ohhh what's this?" I asked and eagerly clicked play. For the following four minutes, I sat there enthralled. The gritty stories about Dublin had been replaced instead by one of the eeriest tracks I'd heard in a long, long time.
In the music video itself, frontman Grian Chatten paced around like the possessed the ghost of Ian Curtis imitating Liam Gallagher, the same awkward coolness he'd displayed at TRNSMT only a year earlier. He starts off with a repeated chant of "it's a televised mind", an ominous guitar riff providing support. I immediately felt on edge, yet absolutely captivated at the goings-on.
It was dark and mysterious, a sound and vibe taking precedence over storytelling. How could a song with relatively simple lyrics and a repetitive droning sound have such an effect? It was really hard to put my finger on it. I just couldn't get enough. REPEAT.
The song was hypnotizing and from that day forth, it's one I've had on constantly (ask my poor neighbours...). No surprises that it was my most listened to song on Spotify this year!
It was also the echo chamber subject matter that drew me to it. Grian Chatten explained the meaning in a press release.
This song is about the echo chamber, and how personality gets stripped away by surrounding approval. People’s opinions get reinforced by constant agreement, and we’re robbed of our ability to feel wrong. We’re never really given the education of our own fallibility. People feign these great beliefs in order to appear trendy, as opposed to independently arriving at their own thoughts. We were listening to a lot of the Prodigy and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, specifically their song “Open Heart Surgery.” I was interested in extrapolating those types of chord progressions and capturing this droning, hypnotic feel. That last line repeated over and over [“What ya call it”] is a buffer expression that people used here in Dublin. It’s sort of like “umm” or “well...”—it’s what people say when they’re distracted.
Since releasing my best 25 tracks of 2020, I've had a few people comment that they just couldn't see the appeal of the track at all (and a few who did, thankfully). And that's fine. It made me realise that the bigger Fontaines D.C. get, the more they're going to be considered a marmite band.
If you get it, you get it. If you don't, this is one of the most depressing, dreary bands around! Though people have been saying that about Radiohead for years (just saying...). The song just does something to me I can't explain. It just has to be turned up LOUD as soon as the opening bassline kicks in.
And that's why it's my favourite song of 2020. I yearn for the day, I can race through the city again to see them perform it live, which, fingers crossed, will be next year!