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Friday Mixtape: travel back to the heady days of 2008 with director Jack Whiteley

This week’s Friday Mixtape is by director Jack Whiteley. Raised in Shropshire, a graduate of Manchester Art School and London-based, over the past few years Jack has developed into one of the go-to directors for a brilliant music video.

Jack’s films are frequently colourful and often comedic, from his first for Liverpool-based trio Stealing Sheep and has since worked with Elton John, The Staves, Spring King and more recently Mercury Prize winners, Young Fathers.

As a director, Jack has to listen to the same song again and again to sprout inspiration and so we were intrigued to hear which songs have stuck with him. Below, he shares a mix bound to make you smile with nostalgia for a time not that long ago, but one filled with summery heady days.

Why have you picked these songs?

It’s the soundtrack to a film about the life of a tree frog called Dr. Treehorn, who lived fast and died young, between the years of 2008 and 2012.

Apart from Belle & Sebastian, all these songs were released during this era. Each track has a different relevance and memory attached to it: Stereo Love was the soundtrack to a road trip me and 30 mates took around southern Europe in the summer of 2010 (trust me, Euro trance makes so much more sense in hot and sunny Europa!), Walk in the Park reminds me of endless, idle summer days, Electronic Renaissance of a psychedelic early morning car journey across southern Spain, Get Free of raucous house parties at a house I lived in called the Garlic Mansion (normally dropped at 4 or 5 in the morning) and Love Don’t Dance Here Anymore was usually the last song played at Liverpool’s legendary Kazimier club at the end of one of their infamous club nights.

Collectively, these songs remind me of a more naive and optimistic time when I was but a starry-eyed little tree frog from the Shire, short on money but long on time. They were truly the halcyon days.

When or where should this mixtape be listened to?

It’s to be listened to whenever you feel the pull of Eurotopia, the land of milk and honey, ideally between the years 2008 and 2012.

What’s your approach to directing a music video? Is there a certain process you initiate when you first hear the song?

It all starts with the song, listening to it on repeat over and over again, waiting for it to speak to you and spark your imagination. Sometimes it might come from a lyric, like the chorus refrain or a certain word or phrase, other times it comes from the texture, tone and emotion of the song. I think the emotion is ultimately the most important, how does the song make you feel – uplifted, energised, saddened, conflicted – and then try and channel that into a visual motif. It can be a slow, somewhat painful experience but when inspiration finally strikes it’s a great feeling.

What have been some of your favourite music videos to work on?

Getting the chance to make the first official music video for Elton John’s 1973 classic Bennie and the Jets was pretty wild. The whole experience was quite surreal but very exciting and gratifying to be a part of. It was my first time directing a dance choreography video, something I’d always wanted to do and hope to do more of in the future.

Mikhael Paskalev’s Jive Babe, was one of my early videos from 2012, will always hold a special place in my heart. It was a real DIY effort and was essentially just myself, Mikhael and our actress Ellie. We shot it in Bulgaria over the summer with the local gypsy community and in a lot of ways, it was the video that launched my career.

My video for The Staves’ Black & White, a 1980s-set Australian newsroom drama, is another favourite. It was my first time working with an ensemble cast and the first time I’d really done comedy. I was quite nervous about both but it turned out great in the end.

And finally, lest we forget, my latest for Young Fathers’ new single In My View. This has been a slight change of direction for me stylistically, much darker in tone and more intellectual in weight. I hope to do more videos like this this year.

If you could direct a music video for any song ever, which song would it be?

Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ – one of MJ’s classic singles, released in 1983 from his Thriller album – never had an official music video. It would be quite the undertaking directing a video for one of the greatest music video stars of all time. It would have to feature him, obviously, so we’d need a time machine to take us back to ’83, naturally. And there’d be dancing, lots of dancing.

I think I’d reference the lyric “you’re a vegetable, they eat off of you” and have MJ dressed as a giant vegetable that goes around town picking fights with giant meat products – hamburgers, steaks, sausages – only the twist is that each of the giant meat products would be versions of MJ’s real-life stalker Billie Jean (who’s referenced in the song). Things start to get messy when Billie Jean tries to emotionally blackmail him but, ultimately, they settle their differences in the only way they knew how to in the eighties, by having a mass synchronised dance-off. So yeah, essentially, I’d make a vegetarianism propaganda video with dancing, lots of dancing! (NB: MJ was a vegetarian.)