Ben Ditto examines "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 music video

Cults, memes and incel culture informed The 1975's music video for their song The Birthday Party, which sees band members transformed into digital avatars.

Directed by Ben Ditto in collaboration with digital artist Jon Emmony, the music video plays with the effects of social media and how it impacts relationships and mental health.

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 The Birthday Party music video

A year in the making, the video imagines the future of wellness in an age dominated by technology and the internet.

"Will we harness technology to become more holistically well, or will it destroy us?" asked Ditto

"I think that there's no answer to that stuff," he told Dezeen.

"Technology is creating more isolation, but it's creating more connections at the same time, both with ourselves and with other people, and that's kind of what the film is really about."

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 The Birthday Party music video

To express this, Ditto wanted to dig up the "underbelly" of the internet – what he calls online forums such as the image-based bulletin board site 4chan, and online community Reddit.

"I found that stuff fascinating since the web started," he said. "And memes are essentially the tip of the iceberg."

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 The Birthday Party music video

Ditto and Emmony worked with Mimic Productions to recreate The 1975 lead singer Matt Healy and his band members as digital avatars, using motion capture and 3D-scanning technology.

The band's avatars embark on a digital detox at the fictional Mindshower retreat. Set in a fantastical rural landscape, the digital detox involves psychedelic visuals of frogs and cats doing yoga and sitting on oversized mushrooms.

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 The Birthday Party music video

These various characters come from memes – viral images that proliferate in internet cultures.

Familiar faces include Pepe the Frog (an anthropomorphic cartoon frog with human legs), Trollface (a crudely drawn man with a mischievous smile) and the haunting character from the Momo Challenge hoax.

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 The Birthday Party music video

According to Ditto, the initial idea was to create the 2020 equivalent of The Beatles' iconic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover from 1967.

The famous album art sees the four Beatles surrounded by an array of famous faces, from Fred Astaire and Bob Dylan to Marilyn Monroe and Karl Marx.

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 The Birthday Party music video

"The Beatles cover embodied weirdness from the time," Ditto told Dezeen.

"Initially we were going to use a green screen and augmented reality to place celebrity figures into the video in a similar way, but then Matty [Healy] and I got talking and realised that if somebody was going to redo that kind of thing now, it would be more about internet culture."

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 music video

The music video was launched alongside a temporary website for the Mindshower retreat, which saw Ditto and Emmony build an AI script that will generate a different positive affirmation quote each time a visitor clicked on the link.

"I think [the internet] is a very powerful communication tool, because it shows that people all around the world think the same, and there's humour that resonates on a level that we weren't really aware of 20 or 30 years ago," said Ditto.

"It's brought us closer together, but also created these really bizarre divisions," he continued.

"Things like 4chan epitomise this paradox of having a common language that transcends borders and genders, but also makes it very easy for people to be unbelievably racist and misanthropic – that was the real interest."

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 The Birthday Party music video

This includes concepts like incel culture – a term for the "involuntary celibate" men struggling to find a romantic or sexual partner. In the music video this is illustrated with the inclusion of the Goth Girlfriend meme.

In the video, The 1975's Healy hammers posters looking for a "goth girlfriend" onto trees, and spends the rest of the video searching for her.

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 music video

However incel culture has a dark undercurrent and has led to real-world violence such as the Isla Vista murders in 2014, when a man shot and killed seven people near a college campus in California before killing himself.

"The joke was that these loser guys all wanted goth girlfriends with big breasts," explained Ditto. "But an incel is not a real thing – they're just young men who haven't really grown up yet, it's all a bit of an illusion."

"You think that the whole film is quite nihilistic, but it's not because, at the end, something beautiful happens – this guy finds the girl."

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 The Birthday Party music video

The film is made up of intentional contradictions and ironies. The digital retreat itself, for instance, is composed entirely from technology, but allows no technology like phones or devices inside it.

There is a character made of gold who, instead of swiping on his phone screen in the way one would when using dating app Tinder, is instinctively swiping his hand.

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 music video

Ditto extended this paradoxical nature to the costumes too. The band members are dressed in white loose-fitting garments similar to the clothes that visitors to a spa would be given.

However they also have a sinister reference – designed to look like the uniforms worn by members of the Japanese cult group Aum Shinrikyo, which was responsible for the Tokyo Subway Sarin attack in 1995.

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 music video

"The whole film is paradoxical, and I think everything about the way that we use technology now is paradoxical," said Ditto.

"People – especially young people – have a romanticised view that, in the past, everybody was sitting around reading books and being intimate with each other, and it's bullshit."

"Mostly people were very bored, drinking in parks, taking drugs, fighting, playing football," he continued.

"Boredom doesn't exist anymore – it's not a thing. If you're 15 years old now, you cannot comprehend a time when you could be in a situation where there is literally nothing to do."

Ben Ditto unearths the "underbelly" of the internet for The 1975 music video

According to Ditto, this specifically speaks to The 1975's audience, whose fans are mostly millennial as or Gen Z.

The Birthday Party was the fourth single release from The 1975's latest album, Notes On A Conditional Form, coming out in April this year, which explores much of the same themes on technology and internet culture.

Ditto previously worked with the band to create a video for the same album's lead single, People, which used "utopian and dystopian" technologies to comment on current issues regarding privacy, technology and the environment.