Friday, December 19, 2008
Going on differently: grime meets the YouTube refix
From the moment Dizzee and Wiley decided they were “artists” not MCs, grime has presented itself as a culture rather than a musical sound. Moving beyond the UK garage legacy of being just one-dimensional DJ-hosts in clubs, this shift suddenly enabled new directions of creative possibilities. One of those was, naturally, the visual angle.
For a while grime specialised in gritty realism. The grime DVD, be it Lord of the Mics or Conflict was, before the mixtape took over, one of the dominant mediums. A classic example of this is the fallout between Crazy Titch and Dizzee, from Conflict. As they spill out on the twilight of the Déjà Vu roof, the contrast between their respective fates couldn’t be larger: Dizzee began the new phase of his self-signed career with a number 1 single. Titch is inside for murder.
There’s no shortage of gritty grime footage on YouTube, moving from rave footage and roadside DVD slewage to increasingly professional music videos, like JME’s Serious Remix or Ruff Sqwad’s “RSMD”.
But as the audience of YouTube grew, so did it’s potential to become a front door for exciting new video talent, allowing grime to move away from these two styles into new avenues (check Newham Generals viral "Violence" video).
This post highlights two video directors not central to the core grime scene but taking it in an entirely different visual direction. Starting from a sampling and refix mindset and applying it to visuals, these videos combine manga and cartoons to provide both free promo for grime MCs and exciting new visual/audio contradictions to boot.
Plastician featuring Skepta- Intensive Snare
Directed by DR. SMOOV
The first interview is with DR. SMOOV, who by his own admission isn’t steeped in the grime scene, but was definitely the first visual artist I noticed working with grime in this style.
Blackdown: Can you tell me a bit about your work, how did you get into making videos? how long have you been doing it?
DR. SMOOV: I'm an artist, I reside in Los Angeles, CA, been working as a freelance Producer/Director/Editor for about 9 years in the industry. I have hundreds of videos on the internet, and have worked professionally for all the major American television networks at one time or another in the last decade. In the past couple years, my web series of GiJoe and Transformers cartoon mashups have been gaining significant popularity. DR. SMOOV has a long history. Between film school, producing cable access programs in NY in the 90's, and working professionally in LA, I've logged about 18 years total making videos- I started when I was 13 and have never stopped. (nor will I ever) It's just what I do.
B: Can you tell me about how the Plastician video came about?
DR. SMOOV: I was contacted by Plastician in early 2008 about the possibility of commissioning me to cut a video for a track off his upcoming "Beg to Differ" album. I had directed and edited professional music videos in the past, and Plastician expressed that he was particularly a fan of my mashup music videos using GiJoe cartoons. He wanted me to custom craft a video to his track using retro cartoon footage. He sent me a track called "Intensive Snare ft. Skepta." After hearing it for the first time, I knew I wanted to do it.
I had a lot of ideas right off the bat that I pitched him like using some of the black characters to represent Skepta and using some of the "computer tech" characters to represent Plastician. I wanted to incorporate cool action sequences, images of technology, and feature some of the badass characters like the ninjas: Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, and also tool on the lame characters like Lifeline. But more importantly, I wanted to create a video that would have that retro 80's cartoon feel and be relevant to the song regardless if the viewer was familiar with the original cartoon or not. I think he chose me because he was familiar with my style and knew that I could pull off a video that would deliver that and appeal to our fan-bases respectively.
B: Your video for intensive snare seemed to be almost visual sampling, how do you go about finding all the relevant clips?
DR. SMOOV: Because I'm familiar with much of the material, I usually have a ballpark of where to look for certain subject matters. But the process takes a long time. I scroll through hours upon hours of footage and make detailed logs. I am quite thorough. The video for "Intensive Snare" features footage from approx 30 different episodes of the 80's GiJoe cartoon by Sunbow. For this video, I wanted to use a lot of footage of computers, sound equipment, cars, satellites, and technology, so I would pull as many of those clips as I could find.
The next step was carefully placing them and manipulating them appropriately. Every image in my videos is placed where it is for a reason - everything you see is pre-meditated. In any given instance, I try to capture the essence of the lyric, or the feel of the hook, or in some cases provide a literal example of what's being said (which can sometimes be quite humorous like "Are you stupid in the face?" and a woman pulls her face off) And that's the point - each image is a commentary or makes a statement based on where it pops up in the video. So yes, it is like adding an extra level of visual samples on top of an already massively brilliant track.
B: How do you feel about remixing, appropriating and re-using copyright content in general?
DR. SMOOV: Being an artist first, the challenge of using "found footage" to create something new and interesting is the goal, and the results can be quite rewarding. You can take something that was already cool in the past and make it cool in a whole new way - sometimes better than it was before. (unfortunately the flip side of making it worse is far too common amongst certain artists these days.)
But using familiar material can be a way to connect with audiences on a common ground. I am continually amazed at the diverse cross-section of people throughout the world that connect with the GiJoe cartoon (or Action Force in the UK.) and are willing to give something new a shot if it has anything to do with it. But in general, I think "sampling" is an excellent vehicle for both presentation and re-introduction.
Anyone who's sampling from the "old" is usually doing it because they like something about the material. By freshly re-appropriating it you're sharing it with new audiences, vouching for it, and making it relevant again.
The footage from cartoons I tend to use is 25 years old already. For many, they are nostalgic images that rekindle the excitement they once had for it. For others, it's their first time seeing it. I think it exposes a lot of younger viewers to the material. I receive a lot of feedback from younger people that say they became interested in Transformers or GiJoe after seeing the footage in my videos - it peaked their interest enough for them to learn more about it. I personally became a fan of a lot of classic 70's funk/soul/jazz due to all the sampling I heard in early 90's hip-hop. Made me want to find out where all that great music came from. So I think that re-use and re-appropriation is a major way in which older franchises receive new exposure. It's essentially free advertising for them. The entities that are smart about it and can recognize that, seem to reap the benefit of longevity.
B: Have you watched many other grime videos?
DR. SMOOV: In the grand scale of things, I have not seen that many. Working with Plastician on this video was my first exposure to the grime/dubstep scene overseas. I did some initial research on the web and watched a handful of videos on youtube trying to see what was already being done and familiarize myself with the style and some of the artists. The most informative video for me however, was a documentary on the London grime/dubstep scene which told about the evolution of the music style and the characteristics regarding unique tempo, the electro sound, and the innovative ways the synths are being used. Being a fan of both hip-hop and electronic music (I grew up listening to a lot of Kraftwerk as well as being a fan of great lyricists like KRS-1 and Big Daddy Kane) the sounds of grime were quite appealing to me right away. Not to mention the clever vocals and lyrical flow of the MC's - Skepta and JME stood out to me in that respect. When taking on the video for "Intensive Snare," I wanted to be just as intricate and meaningful with the visuals as the work that Skepta and Plastician had put into the lyrics and tracks.
B: I'm interested in the fact that visually your video doesn’t use the same old grime narratives, was that deliberate?
DR. SMOOV: I think Chris (Plastician) is responsible for some of that in terms of the vision he had for what this video could be - If he wanted to shoot a typical grime video, he could have hired me or anyone else to do that, but that's not what he wanted. He came to me because he was interested in letting me "do what I do" to his track - knowing that I would be able to find visuals that would compliment his music and put it together in a way that was unique. He's a true artist and innovator in that respect. He wasn't interested in trying to do what everybody else was doing in their videos, he wanted to take this video to another level entirely and I think we achieved that with this piece.
AMV-Wretch 32 Ft Ghetto - Ina Di Ghetto
Directed by Tenchuassassin
Blackdown: So, where are you from?
South east London, New Cross
B: Can you tell me a bit about your work, how did you get into making videos? How long have you been doing it?
Tenchuassassin: At first I just watched other peoples videos then I asked a friend how can I do that he told me window movie maker then I started making videos. Anyway I’ve being doing this for about 5 years on and off. I use to make hip hop & rock vids but then I said why does everyone make hip hop & rock vids so then I made my first grime vid skepta autopsy
B: your video for Wretch 32 seemed to be almost visual sampling, how do you go about finding and choosing all the relevant clips?
T: I just listen to the tune over & over then remember what anime I just watched and take the clip from there.
B: In practical terms if you hear a word like "stripe" or "flame," how do you and find a scene from another video to match it?
T: When I hear stripe I think of gun grave a gun anime & flame that will be naruto
B: How do you decide when to match the visuals to the words and when to deviate?
T: Well when it comes to matching words I have about 3 or 4 choices and I just pick the best one. The only time I deviate is when I can’t find what the person is saying
B: How do you decide how many different sources to sample from, in each video?
T: I don’t limit myself I just use as many clips as I have to.
B: How do you feel about remixing, appropriating and re-using copyright content in general?
T: It’s not like I’m selling them I just do this for fun
B: Have you watched many other grime videos? What do you think of them?
T: yeah I’ve seen some good ones by:
ELITE1010, Ozyboi and Coolkavi.
B: have you had any feedback from the artists you make videos for, like JME or Wretch 32? What do they think?
T: Yeah 3 artists have contacted me Nappa, MC Ribz and Faith SFX they were saying what I’m doing is sick and they will contact me to do future songs for them.
JME - Ju Ju Man
Directed by Tenchuassassin
From Dizzee’s “Street Fighter” beat to Wiley’s “Crash Bandicoot” riddim and Bashy’s recent Superhero’s video, you can see a proximity between grime and computer games, animation and CGI but it is perhaps is tied the strongest through its audience and their shared interests outside music.
What makes Tenchuassassin and DR. SMOOV’s videos so compelling is the contrast between when the visual and audio elements converge and diverge. What grime and manga have in common is that they are both youthful and violent mediums. In these videos, lip synching and clever choice of visual themes ties the soundtrack and the visual subject matter further together. Yet in the face of these similarities are the massive differences which make for such a striking contrast. Manga and GIJoe’s cartoon textures are a million miles from the gritty photorealism of “Lord of the Decks.” And while the directors have worked hard to find synergies, in essence the heritage of US cartoons or Far Eastern manga have little in common with UK street grime. Yet though the clever editing and direction we see here, they find shared space with the end result an opportunity to expand grime’s fan base beyond its heartland.
Looking at the stats, Tenchuassassin’s view seem to recieve up to 9,000, except for “JuJu,” thanks to the endorsement of JME, who’s inclusion on his main MySpace page has pushed the views up to 44,000. It'a a size of figure that competes favorably with a monthly magazine circulation.
This success owes so much to the rise of YouTube. Just as grime can be attributed in part to the ubiquity of cracked digital music production tools (Sony Playstation Music 2000, Fruity Loops…) and the democratizing effect the ability to share them had on young garage fans circa 2001, so is it also hard to imagine these videos being popularized without the massive YouTube audience.
It can surely only be of benefit to grime artists. Ever since the birth of MTV, labels decided to see videos as a marketing expense not a primary commodity to sell (like music), and as such they bore the brunt of these costs, costs that can prove debilitating to independent acts. With a Darwinian pool of talent competing to make videos for artists for free, the survival of the fittest in the YouTube elemental pond should only serve to naturally select the best new generation of video directors. If artists see common ground with hungry new directors, they both stand to gain.