Category Archives: Ninja Tunes

Resfest, Watershed, Bristol 25-29 October

Jarvis Cocker was wrong. The future was never meant to feel like 20,000 people standing in a field. The future of festivals is Resfest. The way the event is rendered, implements giant screens which teleport you from front to back stage, into multi-layered fragmented other dimensions of collapsed time; interior and exterior perspective, personal and collective experiences; portholes to alternate realities. Or movie shorts and music videos. This is the 21st century, even non -VIPs can have flush toilets and plush floors at Resfest. 

Resfest’s ‘shorts’ programmes serve the same purpose as when you circulate around an old fashioned festival in the daytime. You may be blown away by one performance, but very swiftly you move onto the next. No matter how high-quality the fodder is, after a while you begin to suffer from over exposure. The Resfest difference is that your legs don’t ache but your corneas get frazzled! Festival apathy kicks in, you’ve seen so much that your perspective is skewed and no matter how good what you’re watching is, you’re waiting for it to finish. Or you find yourself going “I don’t care whether Gnarls Barkley is playing 200 metres away. I’m enjoying this beer.” 

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Nevertheless there is a buffet of talent. Firstly in the shorts ‘field’ is last year’s stunning ‘Rabbit’ by Run Wrake, a moving collage of children’s naming books given a sinister twist. Stop frame animation is used to stunning effect in ‘I Am (Not) Vangough’ Shot within a film festival park the effect is of the real world flying by, whilst held animated cue cards illustrate a voice over of director David Russo pitching to a funding panel. Stop frame sinks to a childish but satirical level as ‘Food Fight’ by Stefan Nadelman, tells the history of war from World War II onwards with animated food; a more traditional but sharply edited piece is ‘A Perfect Red Snapper Dish’ which tells us the story of a Japanese chef obsessed with creating the perfect dish.  

In the music video ‘field’ there are no bones about the video being the star, except in Gnarls Barkley’s case. ‘Smiley Faces’ tells the history of modern music and how Dangermouse and Ceelo were there at every turn according to Dean Stockwell and Dennis Hopper. Stars are completely absent throughout DJ Uppercut’s ‘What You Standing For’ a continually repainted graffiti piece which constantly morphs and gets rewritten. Adam Freeland is typically absent in ‘Hello I Love You’ with a kitsch Kubrick robot trying to fit in with the perfect nuclear family. Strange white-jump-suited dancers occupy fellow Brightonian, Jamie Lidell’s track for a lo-fi mirror / editing trick in ‘New Me.’ Meanwhile inexplicably Vitalic’s ‘Birds’ features slo-motion dogs shaking themselves dry in the sunshine.   

Rock acts have more ego and charisma, their appearance in this field under the banner ‘videos that rock’ is still characteristically downplayed. Hot Chip’s ‘Over And Over’ video has the band trying to cope whilst some digital compositing and some people dressed in green run about. Even the Beck exclusive for ‘Cell Phone’s Dead’ is on an even par with Michel Gondry’s trademark dream action. Beck spars or gets replaced by an animated robot who in one-turn clicks into the background and furniture in a single-take hotel room.  

Resfest is actually ten years old this year and to celebrate there is what I’ll call the retro field. Here I see such trailblazing shorts, as the first use of Bob Sabiston’s Rotascope technology featuring Ryan – a 13 year old autistic boy who makes a similar cameo in Linklater’s Waking Life. Un-boundless comic doodles are taken to surreal limits in ‘Tongues And Taxis’. Sometimes the simple ideas are the best, five years before mock-documentary’s become mainstream Jon Bon Jovi’s Pool Cleaner, is a simple to-camera interview with one lucky over enthusiastic blue collar. Over on the music stage we have a replay of Hexstatic’s mould breaking Timber. 90’s key design agency Tomato make Underworld look excessively orally fixated in Moaner, where as Alex Gopher graphically replaces objects with words in the text stuffed, The Child. 

As with a normal festival you have to make a special effort to see the headline acts in the evening. Without having to jettison the day-bag or suffer the indignity of paying £7.50 for a greasy polystyrene dished equivalent of a pot noodle (with more cabbage), each evening we wander back down to the Watershed, dressed only in one layer of clothes.  

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Last year Resfest broke from the director worship path and began to focus on musicians who had made a contribution to developing the ‘music video’ via Beck. Radiohead have visually developed along the same lines, even sharing similar directors. Both Michel Gondry (with the trademark fantasy/nightmare Knives Out) and Shynola (with the beautifully epic Pyramid Song and chaotic interspersed Blipverts), put in appearances here. We are also blessed with Jonathan Glazer’s presence, adding drama with slo-mo surreality on Street Spirit and the Duel-head-nodding Karma Police. In many ways these two videos launched Glazer’s career. Other unseen treats come from Chel White’s politically-loaded rendition of Thom Yorke’s politically-loaded Harrowdown Hill and the Monkey Hub website’s version of Creep.   

‘Rock The Bells’ revolves around Californian promoter Chang Weissberg and his company of impassioned blaggards and layabouts, Guerilla Union. By the seat of their collective baggy pants they manage to pull off the unbelievable: getting all 10 members of Wu Tang Clan to perform on the same stage, well almost. The Gimme Shelter style post gig analysis at the beginning of the film lends a feeling of impending doom to the movie so from the start it look like it’s going to collide with chaos. The event’s justification as ‘the hip hop Woodstock’ seems to be mostly due to the fact that the event is massively oversold and crowds keep arriving and the support act’s technical hitches are highlighted. Particularly painfully funny is Sage Francis who dispenses broccoli to the crowd and begins to “dis” just about everyone. Luckily as the day progresses various other members of J5, Dilated People and various solo appearances of  Wu begin to sharpen things up. With a camera tracked on every member of the stage crew and um, ‘crew’ crew, the film succeeds in reflecting multiple angles and much of the delight comes in the juxtaposition of the potential crowd riot, calm backstage chillout, a disintegrating running order and the impending arrival of ODB. He’s nipped to LA to ‘meet family members’ which translates to collecting his own ‘rock’(the bells).  

By contrast loudQUIETloud suppresses its emotions to the point of paralysis. Ever since Charles Thompson aka Frank Black dispersed the Pixies via fax at the height of their success in 1992, the group have been in freefall. Joey Santiago is carving out a career as a session musician and soundtracker, Kim Deal is having varying degrees of success with The Breeders but having trouble dealing (haho!) with addiction, Charles is releasing Nashville records and David Lovering has become a magician. Due to demand and the prospect of making a quick buck, they decide to go back on the road. The live show is where the real magic happens and perfect impassioned renditions of the back catalogue go down a storm with the obsessive and sometimes terrifying fans. On the tour bus(es), though things are very much kept separate with Kim and her twin sister (and co-Breeder) Kelly sharing a separate wagon, Joey is locked into his own soundtrack project and Charles is being typically Black Francis. Events are further compacted when David’s Dad dies mid-tour which puts him on a new spiral of tranquiliser dependency. It seems that now the band has grown apart  – only their onstage chemistry remains strong and by the end, a real reformation is still sketchy but at least it has caused some wounds to at least scab up.  

Saturday night belongs to Coldcut with a sneak preview of footage from the forthcoming Sound Mirrors DVD. The single tracks are assumed to have been pre-viewed but a broad selection is on offer here. From animated invasion with Aid Dealer (Ocean Monsters) to the melancholic mini movie Mr Nichols. Afterwards there is a Q&A with Ninja Tunes Vez about the scale and micro-budgets involved in the project.  

Sunday, the final day, is akin to spending the day in the green ‘field’. We become aware with a series of politically motivated shorts in the style of the Qaatsi series. Then even check out a full length film, Black Gold about the un-fair coffee trade. The film indicates that the situation is more difficult to solve than just ensuring the right logo is on your label. Through the eyes of a co-operative trader we see how logistically the western world always gets the best deal whilst villagers in Ethiopia are on the edge of starvation.

As a sudden assortment of shockwave bed-heads begin to collect in the bar we sidestep having to attend the Vice magazine movie. It would ruin my hippy head to suddenly have to mix with a load of tosspots from Shoreditch. Cross Central this ain’t. 

Resfest is on at the NFT in
London from today until Sunday visit
www.bfi.org,uk  


I feel so Hexstatic (March 04)

As I explain in the intro we were really big fans of Hexstatic.

To represent or ‘blowback’ this feeling of prostration, this is one of the first articles I wrote where I admitted my ill prepared short comings. It’s also a time when I let the artists speak freely (whereas in the past I was used to wrapping up my articles in explanatory dialogue)as it portrayed more of their working relationship and banter.  

I Feel So Hexstatic!

 

Too much can be a bad thing

 

The prospect of Hexstatic playing Zoetrope, underneath Blowback towers, has got me a little over hexcited. I turn up at the sound (and vision) check to meet the boys, only to find that I can’t take them upstairs as I’ve left my swipe card in the office. No-one can let me in as, everyone else is at home getting ready to come out later. We shuffle into The Kitchen, (the venue not, actually a kitchen.) with me rooting through my bag only to realise I’ve left my Dictaphone…and the questions upstairs too. Things are not working out.

 

More kerfuffling ensues as we’re told that the bottle of wine Stuart’s been carrying round, can’t be drunk here. The waitress eventually sees the look of dire need in my eyes and relents. I take a glass.

 

I break the ice by telling Robin and Stuart about when we started the Blowback – all those months ago – we had a wish list of people we wanted to interview. Hexstatic was on it. Their heavy mash up mixture of breaks, beats, Cliff Richard and whatever generally got a party going, expertly combined with a visual eye fest that has reduced MTV flickers to tears of joy; was one of Blowback’s earliest baptism moments. They are, in short, directly responsible for influencing the gorgeous beast. I’m met with awkward flattered silence. Okay, it wasn’t really a question, as such, what does it feel like to be heroes?

 

R: Oh I don’t know, we play the 333 quite a lot and people tend to lump us in with them. But we take it quite modestly I suppose.

 

S: It’s funny because we were always doing our own thing. And now it really does seem like the future. We’ve never really been over involved with Avit’s site or huge technical improvements or anything. We’re always pushing it though. I mean I’ve got a new Mac and y’know it’s a brand new laptop and I already feel like I might be stretching it.

 

R: Now it’s something to be a VJ though. There’s been a real development in software and equipment.  V-Jammin’ and better programmes for editing and looping.

 

S: I’ve got this DVD mixer, which is amazing! We’ve got the new Ninja DVD on it so we’re going to mess with that. But we are throwing things in all the time – the set is evolving as we play.

 

R: We like, build off the set, we’re throwing out the things that don’t work and he’ll either bring something new to it, or I will. It does get difficult, you get into set routines after about 30 or 40 shows. But tonight, well we haven’t played for a while so we’re just going to mess with it.

 

R: We don’t really have rehearsals. I didn’t like the idea from the start.

 

Tomorrow Hexstatic play the Lille Capital Of Culture festivities. Over on the continent they look at visuals in a different way, more prestige is given to the visual artiste.

 

R: Well we’ve played The Guggenheim Musuem (laughs) that was surreal.

 

S: We don’t do this for chin strokers

 

There has been a slightly more, goatee growing political angle to some of Hexstatic’s work. Back in ‘98 working with Coldcut as Hex, they did a Greenpeace record called Timber, which featured sampled up rainforest carnage. Recently pictures of George Bush and chimps have appeared in the live show.

 

S: [Conceding] Well it’s kind of there. The Timber track was more for Coldcut really, but mostly we’re in it for the laugh.

 

R: We’ve kind of found that a lot of people who do visuals are quite political. Y’know The Light Surgeons etc…

 

S: Infact when we were over in Chicago, some people from the audience actually thanked us because we weren’t political. It was like ‘Thank God there’s only so much 9/11 stuff we can take.’

 

R: We enjoy it. We’re about having fun. If we weren’t having fun we wouldn’t do it.

 

I launch into a rubbish speech about how you can’t produce art if you’re unhappy. Complete balls. Robin bails me out by saying,

 

R: We want people to have a good time.

 

S: I’ve never done a gig sober I don’t think… Well the name Hexstatic is a homage to that life style I suppose.

 

R: Yeah I did a bootleg with Flawless and Eminem’s Purple Pills, that was supposed to be the ultimate pilled up anthem.

 

S: I’ve never thought what it would be like to experience it sober.

 

Funnily enough neither have I! Stuart takes another glass of wine, Robin unfortunately, has to drive tonight. The pizzas arrive and we’re told we most certainly cannot eat that in The Kitchen. Others Blowbackers arrive and say equally as dumb things to the boys as the night properly begins. We get smashed.

 

I remember Bush’s leering face, Nancy Sinatra doing Drum n Bass, Julie Andrews doing something unmentionable and Cliff being totally wired. I remember laughing my arse off, dancing and everyone looking, talking bollocks to a French guy… fragments to piece together in the morning.