We’re longtime admirers of the psychedelic magic produced by the trilogy of creative wizardry that is Jack Featherstone, Hans Lo and Simian Mobile Disco. Jack and Hans art directed the electronic music duo’s album Whorl, a masterpiece that fused digital and analogue technologies to form mesmerising visuals and an aesthetic that felt at once retro-tinged and wholly new. You can see how excited we got about the video for one of the album’s singles, Tangents, here.
Now, the trio are meeting once more; with Jack and Hans creating live visuals for SMD’s AV performance at as part of earsthetic festival at Brighton Dome this month. We had a chat with Jack and Hans about how they work together, what makes a great music video, and the importance of a good smoke machine.
How did you start working together?
Hans: We started working together last year on Simian Mobile Disco’s (SMD) Tong Zi Dan video. Jack and I normally work separately in our own practices as a designer and a film maker. When SMD approached us with art-directing Whorl, we felt it was the right moment to bring our ideas and skills together.
Tell us about your working process as collaborators
Hans: For Whorl, we brought our own skills to the table and fed off each other intuitively. Jack would take the helm with the designing of the artwork and packaging. Then I would focus more on the video side of things. However since we’ve been friends for six years and worked side-by-side the majority of that time, we were very aware of each other’s strengths/weaknesses and approach to all the elements within this project. So in the end, we instinctively worked as one unit.
What tools and technologies have emerged recently that you’re really into?
Hans and Jack: VDMX – The scope of this vj-ing software is limitless. It worked and adapted perfectly to our needs for this project.
What analogue techniques do you enjoy using?
Hans and Jack: For Whorl, we really got fascinated by oil projections. The process was immediate, physical and unpredictable. So the results we had after every session were entirely different and just simply mesmerising!
Tell us about what you’re going to be doing at Brighton Dome’s earsthetic festival?
Hans and Jack: We are going bring our imaging system and keeping the stage setup simple. Always letting the projection behind Simian Mobile Disco speak for itself. There is a two storey high screen waiting for us…
What are the considerations in creating a piece for an event like that?
Hans and Jack: The space and house lighting of the venue are always factors to consider. We tend to go with minimal highlights on James and Jas (SMD) so the projection or screen does not get washed out. The ultimate aim is to immerse the audience with what we’ve created…oh and lots of smoke on stage.
What do you think makes a great music video?
Hans and Jack: My only criteria is to not patronise the viewer, and leave them to make up their own connections and conclusions of what’s on screen. It doesn’t matter how narratively and technically simple or complex the video is. A great example is the video for Scott Walker’s Epizootics!
What do you think worked so well on the SMD videos?
Hans and Jack: Not sure how to answer this one as we are the creators as it’s hard to look at them objectively. I guess we are obsessed with dissecting and syncing the audio to the visual so maybe that is why it’s satisfying watching our SMD videos.
How do you approach creating videos for SMD? What are the things you know will work for them?
Hans and Jack: There are always animating techniques or narrative themes we’ve been longing to explore and SMD are give us complete freedom to investigate them. The track comes in and we start breaking down the track in detail – each audio elements, sections of peaks/troughs – noting down the time codes and plotting all our notes on to a rough timeline. It is a process of organised chaos, setting boundaries so we can play our ideas within them. On the cutting room floor and animating bench, we love to let things roll so the video can evolve organically rather than overcrowding every frame. For SMD, they are all about the process of making rather than the results and we feel it’s this approach which allows them to trust us over the years in generating video content for them.
You used digital imagery fed through an oscilloscope for Tangents – was that something you’d done before? what inspired you to use it for that?
Hans and Jack: That was completely alien to us before this project. In the beginning we were researching into Rutt/Etra-like effect and trying to figure out means to replicate it in a digital realm. Working closely with the guys at Artist & Engineers, a bespoke imaging system was developed and built to generate all artwork and live show content. So it just made complete sense to carry it through to Tangents and the full length album visualiser.
What techniques are you hoping to explore in future?
Methods of projections will be next on our list – how to create an even bigger and immersive show for SMD next year. Time will tell what we will come across.
Jack – how does your creative approach differ when working on videos to record sleeves?
Jack: Well my approach to both changes all the time depending on many factors. But in general the music videos that I make require me to dive a lot deeper both creatively and technically than a record sleeve. They are often about dreaming up a certain environment or language and exploring it within the length of the track. A record sleeve can be similar in a way, but has to be a lot more immediate, so more emphasis has to be put on how the image actually looks. I’ve been lucky enough to art direct full campaigns for artists such as SMD and James Holden, which is great because it means the sleeves, videos and visuals can all tie into and feed off each other.
Simian Mobile Disco’s AV show with Hans and Jack’s visuals takes place as part of earsthetic at Brighton Dome on Friday 12 December. For more information click here
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