NASA, short for "North America South America," is a music collaboration project assembled by Squeak E. Clean (aka Sam Spiegel, brother of film director Spike Jonze) and DJ Zegon (Ze Gonzales, professional skateboarder).
Logan, the folks who directed the video for this track, create TV commercials and music videos, content for video games, and experiment with animation and visual effects. We caught up with Alexei Tylevich of Logan for a conversation about how this unusual music video -- kinda like GTA: Juarez -- came together with the Date Farmers.
[Q] XENI JARDIN / BOING BOING VIDEO: When I was struggling to explain your "A Volta" video to others, I found myself referring to it as an "8-bit narco nightmare." What's the story we're seeing here?
[A] ALEXEI TYLEVICH / LOGAN: I hope that the "narrative" is not taken too seriously. It wasn't meant to be a great "story" but just another structural device to keep the viewer occupied. It's a music track with a "plot" thinly stretched over it. I thought it might be clever to turn this video into a mini-film with a semblance of a plot. A plot that has the same level of strategically naive incompetence and misdirected energy that is implied in the work of Date Farmers.
At first there was no plot, just a setting: an isometric metropolis inhabited by deranged inhabitants, full of senseless violence and anarchy. Then it sort of evolved into a semblance of a story. We started imagining what these characters could do and the plot sort of developed on its own, little by little.
[Q] Can you walk us through the creative process behind this video? A collaboration between Logan and the Date Farmers, but -- how did these characters morph into digital form, what came first, the music or the story or the look and feel... how did it all unfold, who did what?
[A] It began with looking at the Date Farmers' work, and trying to figure out a way to bring it to life that would not fight against their aesthetic. It's always hard to adopt an accomplished visual style from a static medium without compromising it.
Their world is devoid of perspective, decidedly two-dimensional. Their visual vocabulary is a mix of pop culture references and cholo folklore, a violent combination of corporate iconography, found objects and jail tattoos. The smelly back alley of our collective subconscious soaked in pop culture detritus. It's pretty disturbing, but somehow endearing at the same time. They don't seem to be taking themselves too seriously.
Besides paintings and collages, they make these robots out of scrap materials. There's a whole series of them. The lineup in its entirety is like a medieval bestiary.
Video #3, above (Download MP4 / Watch on YouTube): A soft-rock introduction to the Coachella Valley, CA-based art duo of Carlos Ramirez and Armando Lerma, better known as The Date Farmers.
(Interview continues after the jump...)
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[LOGAN] ...I actually preferred NOT knowing the full intent or story behind each character before making up scenarios in which these robots could exist and interact.
What is the cinematic equivalent of the Date Farmers' pictorial universe? A blunt storyline, trite genre referencing and Scarface quotations. Compulsive borrowing and regurgitation of pre-existing elements. Lack of any sort of narrative syntax and the overall "flatness". "Poor acting" on the part of the characters that have no range and no faces. Canned robotic voice-over. A patchwork of elements and layers that make up a saturated cacophonous experience of visuals, music, plot, voiceover and subtitles...
And so on and so forth. What would normally be considered negative connotations could actually be used to attempt a different approach. It was really liberating.
[Q] How did you come to collaborate with the Date Famers?
[A] The idea of our collaboration with the Date Farmers I believe came from Syd Garon and Sam Spiegel, who chose the pairings of artists and directors for each of the tracks on the NASA album.
I am not quite sure what criteria was used to make the pairings. Maybe they thought we had some similarity in our work, or maybe it was just the opposite. Or maybe it was a random juxtaposition. We didn't get to pick the music track from the album either. I guess the whole thing was conceptualized as a bit of an exquisite corpse. In any case, I am quite pleased with the way it all worked out.
I recently saw the Date Farmers work at a group show and it really stood out. It has freshness and immediacy that makes it instantly recognizable as theirs, despite the fact that a lot of it is based on found or appropriated imagery. They seem to have found a magic formula.
[Q] Did you all work in the same space at any time, or was the collaboration virtual?
[A] We were free to choose and remix anything from their body of work. The Date Farmers weren't really involved in the making of the actual video. We borrowed the robots, photographed them and recreated them in CG. A lot of their paintings and textures were used in the model of the city. They saw the video for the first time at the FebruaryFlux screening at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, after it was finished.
Photo (courtesy Flux): Left, Alexei Tylevich of Logan; Right, Carlos Ramirez and Armando Lerma, aka The Date Farmers.
[Q] The theme at hand -- extreme narcoviolence -- is, sadly, very timely. This piece is fictional / fantasy, but did real-world news stories influence this piece?
[A] Maybe on a subconscious level but not intentionally. In retrospect it seems like an obvious parallel but it wasn't originally meant as any kind of commentary on current events. I guess everything is ultimately interconnected. I wouldn't want this video to be viewed in that context because the real events that are taking place are not that funny.
[Q] Part of what I love most about the video are the messed-up isometric perspectives, the loopy, angular, dizzy POV shifts. As if you're navigating this world from the perspective of one of these 8-bit narco characters -- after a few snorts or puffs of something stimulant and hallucinogenic. Was part of the aesthetic intent here to simulate that kind of charged, psychically-altered state?
[A] The look was really important to me. I immediately thought of the isometric approach simply because the Date Farmers' work has no perspective -- it's really flat. Even the dimensional figurines are "flat". Their faces are crude and not articulated. Their behavior is not motivated by any sort of emotional response, it's just pathological.
The camera movements had to be repetitive and mechanical to illicit the sense of anxiety and paranoia. I wanted it to have a Q*bert feel with a bit of "Street of Crocodiles" mixed in, a video game with a stop-motion feel which seemed right for the track. The subtitles where designed to be part of the stimulation overload... like watching Santo movies on VHS late at night.
Announced today: So It Is, a new album of Cuban-inspired jazz from the monumentally amazing Preservation Hall Jazz Band (previously), due out on April 21. Available today: Santiago, an instrumental track from the album that will MAKE YOU DANCE.
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