Posts Tagged ‘youtube’

Videotales – Are Pop Videos Still Relevant?

June 4, 2013

(NB – news article about The Art Of Pop Video, an exhibition at Liverpool’s FACT, which closed on 26/05/2013)

From Dylan waving placards along with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ to Chris Cunningham’s nightmarish animations for Aphex Twin, pop history is full of iconic, innovative videos. And yet, difficult though it may be to comprehend in the age of YouTube, the record industry hasn’t always valued them so highly.

Initially the pop promo was seen by old-skool rockists as commercial fluff, an advert that diverted attention from the more important matter of the music itself. MTV changed all that, as the artistic ambitions that fuelled 1980s chart pop provided a platform for directors to challenge their own colourful imaginations.

A major new exhibition at FACT – Liverpool’s acclaimed media arts centre – investigates the history of the medium, featuring over a hundred video clips ranging from Fred Astaire’s iconic ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ choreography to Spike Jonze’s stylised work for the likes of Björk and Fatboy Slim. According to curator Michael P Aust, the pop video’s “synaesthesia of music and moving pictures” is unique.

“No other art form has this: the moment when we’re moved by a song, but unable to distinguish whether this comes from what we’ve seen, or what we’ve heard,” he says. The Art Of Pop Video exhibition provides a rare chance to properly study this powerful combination. “There are no pop video museums,” says Aust. “Unlike in cinema, no canonized selection of important works has been established yet.”

It’s an apt time to look at this subject, as we may actually be in something of a golden era. Always a way for breaking filmmakers to boost their credentials, videos are currently attracting Hollywood big-hitters. JJ Abrams is directing Empire Of The Sun’s new ones, David Fincher did Justin Timberlake’s comeback vid, while the likes of Tilda Swinton and Shia LeBouef have taken high-profile starring roles recently. Videos are a rare chance to do an arty short film that people will actually see.

Newer acts are fully exploring the medium’s potential. North London troubadour Tom Hickox is the son of a classical composer, Richard Hickox, but takes his visuals as seriously as his songs. He collaborates with a new company called De La Muerte Films, and feels that music videos are more important now than ever.

“People are as likely to hear music on YouTube as anywhere else, so the visual half of that medium needs to be addressed,” he says. “Film is such a potent force, so it needs to be handled with care, but when the marriage of film and music works it elevates the song into a different realm.”

For FACT, the exhibition represents an opportunity to explore pop video in a grander context, posing questions about “what legitimises an art form,” explains programme producer Ana Botella, “and what defines our times – past the age of television into the age of accessible digital tools, the Internet and social networks.”

The technology has certainly improved over the years, but has the overall quality? “There are a hell of a lot of stylish, expensive videos out there which lack any soul or impact,” says Debbie Scanlon of De La Muerte, who’ve also made films for Dog Is Dead and Kyla la Grange. “We have the potential to be more creative now with new tools, but it’s important we still use our brains.”

So is there scope to take more creative risks, in the post-TV age? “It tends to be down to the artist and their team. We probably won’t be allowed to make that big budget elephant sex video we had in mind for One Direction,” she laughs. “But at the same time, if they decide they want to change their image…”

(Originally published by Clash Music, 24/04/2013)

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Mix Tapes 1: “i dubbed the tunes in perfect form”

July 19, 2010

One of the most exciting things about music is sharing it. Whether you’re a casual fan with open ears or an obsessive who just loves to give the gift of perfect sound, it’s a great feeling to know you’ve turned someone on to something new that you can both love. It’s easy to do that in the wake of the digital revolution – mp3s, Spotify playlists or even quick links to Youtube/Myspace have ensured that no-one need wonder what a band sounds like for too long. But in the not-too-distant past, we used mix tapes.

Far more eloquent articles have been written about mix tapes than these humble pages are likely to host, and in any case WHTB was part of the last generation to maintain any interest in the cassette format. I’m certainly writing more in the manner of a grumpy old coot than I have any right to at the age of 28, no matter how deftly I dust off my newly-acquired rose-tinted spectacles. It therefore seems daft, dear reader, to bore you at length with theory. But here’s a few words you may have heard used to describe magnetic tape: outdated, clunky and bereft of many of the conveniences of newer technology. Strange, then, that a new wave of hipsters have apparently deemed it a valid format in this day and age. Surely it should have died out by now?

And yet there is something magical about cassettes – or more specifically, the art of the mix tape. A properly constructed compilation demands time, effort, draftsmanship and a real mastery of the pause button. Whilst mix CDs are not without their charm, there’s something infinitely less romantic about a selection of songs ripped from a computer hard drive and burned to disc in mere minutes. Mix tapes are made with love – which is why they make such ideal presents for a friend or lover. As a teenager, WHTB learned at least as much about certain friends from this simple craft as he ever did from the hours blissfully wasted in their company.

That’s why I’ve decided to put together this occasional series – I’ll be going through my mix tapes and analysing them. Perhaps not in too great detail – just enough to trigger some memories and wallow in simple nostalgia. I’m a sentimental fool these days.

Please feel free to share any memories of your favourite mix tapes below.

Just William / Muses + Shakers – Crushed By Eyeliner

The first tape I’m going to look at was a present in 1999… it was given to me at an open day at Liverpool University, by a friend that i regretfully don’t see too often these days. In any case, it’s a prized item in the mix tape library.

Side A (Just William) is pretty eclectic – I’ve not received many tapes with an opener as surprising, fun or indicative of the compiler as Science Fiction from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Then it’s straight into a track by late-90s Liverpool punks Dog Flambé (who featured a young Doc Horror of Zombina & The Skeletones fame), which is as good a reminder as I’m ever likely to get of the time. There are tracks from forgotten 90s nearly-weres like Octopus, Black Box Recorder and Drugstore. There’s a track by unlamented never-weres Spy ’51 (who i liked at the time, perhaps because of the band’s association with Fierce Panda Records). Most significantly, there are tracks by bands whose names I can’t hear without at least thinking in passing of the maker of the tape: Veruca Salt and The Dandy Warhols. Even looking at the tracklist eleven years on, I’m immediately transported back to a summer holiday that I spent listening to this tape over and over again. Ah, trusty walkman, you were good to this one.

Then there’s the second side, Muses + Shakers. Again, this consists entirely of acts who are inextricably linked to the guy who put them together onto 45 minutes of tape: Kristin Hersh, Throwing Muses and Belly. This run of 14 songs was a perfect introduction to three great acts – they’re all wonderful.

I’m still very, very grateful for this tape. It’s superb. It’s a reminder of a great summer, and also of an afternoon spent in the company of old friends who have all moved away or drifted into different social groups. Which happens to us all, of course, but sometimes it’s just nice to have little reminders like this – a soundtrack to the narratives we create around our lives, to ensure certain scenes will always have their songs.

Just in case I didn’t say it at the time, thank you.