Video Drone

In music video land, the performance-based promo pretty much still reigns supreme. Admittedly, the acts like to garnish them a bit, so they'll be performing on a unique or bizarre (or just plain crap) set, or mixed in with other footage or whatever - however, the band playing their instruments remains the core message of these videos.

BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB's new version of 'Whatever Happened To My Rock'n'Roll' falls into this camp. Which is a pity, because the previous version of it, before they got big and started having adverts for their album played as part of a Woolworth's campaign (!), was more imaginative, composed as it was of still photographs. The newie is black and white and is a confusing mixture of references. A banner reads 'L.A.M.F' (very 80s LA poddle-rock) and the stage backdrops are coquettish Victorian ladies, firmly '76 CBGB's décor. Yet the rozzers that come to break up their gig are pure Jubilee England '77, i.e. the classic 'tithead' models. The video is trying to say "hey, we're BRMC and we're cool as fuck". It only just succeeds, but despite of, not because of, the confused visual posturing of the design.

The new vids from THE VON BONDIES and THE DATSUNS are pretty much the same video. In fact, they're pretty much the same band. Self-consciously retro bright-young-things with hair and clothes in that 'the-70's-doing-the-60's' style, the two bands are caught doin' what they obviously do best - rockin' out, all in between footage of them and their gurr-oovy friends hanging out, partying, and scenes from their locality. But importantly, they both have really really cool shots of their drummers, reminding us not only of the drummer's importance to the percussive sound of a group, but to their image (the hands raised, the sticks about to hit taut paper, the light gleaming off their cymbols...).

AM 60 are a quirky little trio. The video budget for 'Big As The Sky' can barely be in excess of a tenner, and that probably went toward the rent of the plain white backdrop before which the players sit or stand, strumming away a gentle acoustic-y tune. A pathetically small mirrorball is suspended, one feels out of cheap-but-cheesy self-deprecation. And yet the director is credited as....Alan Smithee! So somebody didn't like it. (disconcertingly, the drummer looks like Fruitbat from Carter USM, the singer is the spit of Karl Hyde, and I swear I saw the bassist being flung into the cells in a recent episode of The Bill.)

If Everett True's rock book 'Live Through This' was a three-minute pop video, it would probably be 'Shoot Shoot' by KAITO. This is 180 seconds of grainily-shot, red-filtered, small stage, girl/boy, noisy scratchy amateurish guitar-pop heaven. Lord knows what they're actually singing about but it makes me want to jump up and down and start my own band, which is the sign of all good pop. It makes me think about the nature of film itself - as opposed to video tape or digital. The way in which the crackly, light-sensitive, sprocket-ridden film jumps and pops adds a kind of instant romanticism to pretty much any subject, whereas clean-and-neat new recording techniques seem to wipe that out in the name of blinkered hyper-realism. Capturing bands like Kaito in tiny clubs is what Super-8 was invented for.

Still a minority in video land, the narrative video pops up much less than I'd prefer it to. You'd think budding directors would want to do narrative videos more, to showcase their skills, but clearly acts have a desire to project their live persona instead. A pity, because the telling of a story can end up increasing the emotional impact of a music track.

In the case of AMILLIONSONS' new promo (the name escapes me), the video should ideally be watched with the music turned off. 'Dance' music of the sort Bill Drummond recently described in the Guardian as coffee table dance music for thirtysomethings, the track is nebulous and tiresome. The vid is different. A man and a woman, outside and within a trainer shop respectively, spot a pair of 'classic' Adidas and are instantly transported back to their teenage years, where they nearly-but-didn't-quite snog at a suburban party. The tale is small, detailed and wonderfully yearnful. As a film it works. As a communiqué of the act's raison d'etre, all it does is fill me in on their age.

COSMOS decide to enter a narrative video in the esteemed 'cute-animals-in-space' sub genre with 'Take Me With You'. A variety of domestic pets fail to succeed in piloting space rockets, via stock footage which includes, somewhat tastelessly, film of the Challenger explosion. One plucky pup succeeds however, and, in full doggy-ish Gargarin costume, is sent across the galaxy to dodge meteors and asteroids, eventually reaching a moon. Enter the pun - 'The Beagle Has Landed'. Is it silly? Yes, very. It's also very funny and well-made. A couple of years ago a PRAM video did the rounds on alternative MTV shows, and you get the idea this is the sort of thing they'd have liked to make if they had the budget.

I also have to mention THE WHITE STRIPES new vid for 'Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground'. The technique recalls The Pet Shop Boys' use of layered projections. In their case, footage of various concerts were played over each other simultaneously, creating a weird, time tunnel Jarman-esque vortex. The Stripes have film of different events which takes place in the same location (the rooms of a house) - there is the 'now' image (Jack White strolling about the empty house, now decrepit) and the 'then' image, played as if projected onto the walls (Meg and Jack as a couple during 'happier' times). The story evokes the breaking up of a relationship, but the promo itself is a traditional narrative told in an artistically experimental way, and I hope the bug catches.

Last but not least, a category which perhaps can be described as Do Not Adjust Your Set. Not performance, not animation, not live footage, not pure graphics - instead, these videos mix various methods in jumble.

GOLD CHAINS and 'I Come From San Francisco' does this to convey sexiness and a kind-of Dazed And Confused (the magazine, not the film) hipness. Hence the rapper in the subway train, starting on the mic and soon getting the entire train to dance feverishly; the electrical shop advert-style flashes of music equipment; the breakdancers; the bare-chested, nerd-spectacled guy balancing glasses of beer on his decks. Very self-consciously 'cool', but again, it convinces because we are all succeptible to visuals. The pull us along even if the music ordinarily wouldn't.

By contrast, ENON couldn't be less 'cooler'. Coming across like a compilation of all those 80's MTV station-ident animations, the promo for their track 'Carbonation' is a ludicrous mess of gaudy neon, deliberately antiquated computer graphics and polkadot ties. "Less pop, more's killing us kids!" It is saved however by something which, God knows why, appeals to me greatly - that being the band supposedly playing the song on kiddie toy instruments. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing, I think mainly because I like the illusion that you really can get decent sounds out of a Timpani and a Speak'n'Spell.

And that's it for one lazy hour of 'research'. These days I get most of my new music awareness from MTV and MTV 2. And Kerrang! in my weaker moments. Am I a proud man? I'll get back to you on that one.

© Dee Dee MacGowan 2002