Work / Behind The Scenes

An interview with SBTRKT and the creator of his new video

For his new single New Dorp. New York featuring Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, SBTRKT released his first animated music video yesterday; a smoky, surreal trip to New York featuring one swaggering, mask-wearing dog. It’s a weird and unsettling trip as we follow this creature stalking through a city that may or may not be New York, and it marks an interesting new visual direction for the artist. We caught up with SBTRKT, director Fons Schiedon and his creative collaborator A Hidden Place.

All the SBTRKT videos so far have been live action, why the decision to produce an animated one for this song?

SBTRKT: Animation has always been a large inspiration for me in creating music – it’s the ability to see and envision being part of other worlds or parallel planets. I always think of music as building blocks of visual layers and animation is the best way to represent that.

AHP: We wanted to be able to visually represent the evolution of the SBTRKT sound on this album into a more hyper-real environment. The creature in a way represents this morph; it’s a personality which is in part the spirit animal of SBTRKT. We just want to always experiment and find other ways to represent musical ideas.

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SBTRKT: New Dorp. New York (still)

How did you decide who to work with on the animation? Did you have a clear idea of what it would be when the process began or were you looking for someone to provide a unique new interpretation of the music?

AHP: SBTRKT wanted something along the lines of King Kong in New York; the concept that the creature is this alien thing to a built, man-made environment. We had a pretty good idea of how the creature would behave. I had drawn the creature with SBTRKT’s input and brought that to Postpanic and Fons. They then took all the steps further by rebuilding it and rigging it up in a really complex way, bringing the creature to life with all the nuances it should have. We really liked Fons’ approach to narrative when we initially looked through his work. The oddness in his work was really fitting to the SBTRKT world. He doesn’t try to explain everything.

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SBTRKT: New Dorp. New York (still)

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SBTRKT: New Dorp. New York (still)

What’s the story of the film?

AHP: We didn’t want to make a video based upon the lyrics of the track – Aaron wanted it to be more that the animated piece was an extension to the track that also belonged to the rest of the album. We wanted it to feel pretty open and be a subjective story. It’s more like the song, which is a bit paranoid, plays the part of a memory which exists in a grander narrative.

FONS: Starting out as a somewhat marginal creature, not sure if he’s being hunted or the hunter, as the SBTRKT creature moves through the landscape he learns about his strength and position in relation to his world. This process is visualised by how his physical appearance changes, from small and jumpy to extremely large and dominant. In the end, there is no anxiety; he’s accepted his place. There is a deliberate ambiguity to the narrative, it’s more about capturing a day in the life of a wild animal in an imaginary place.

The music has a very special dark undertone and a sort of untouchable quality. It pushes on with force, but is also mysterious, illusive and playful. I wanted to reflect that in the visual direction, to capture these different aspects simultaneously: by being dark, moody and grainy, but also colourful and kind of synthetic. It’s unapologetic about being a digital representation.

Elements from the New York area and cultural lexicon are referenced, but appear quite isolated and reduced, as if observed by alien eyes. I felt it had to be something of a parallel world, familiar in many ways but also entirely its own place. The music brings up that type of imagery. And New York as a subject also needs that distance, for its over-familiarity and excessive appropriation in the visual culture.

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What’s the main challenge on a project like this?

AHP: All the details need to be thoroughly thought out before you get to the final stages where all the scenes are composited together after being built. There’s not much room for trial and error.

What’s the deal with the big silver hand at the end?

SBTRKT: It’s wrapped up in a number of things. My brother Daniel, who had cancer for the past five years, passed just a month before I started the album writing. It was undoubtedly a strange time to write music; much of that is reflected in the album itself through its musical language. It’s almost this question of whether there are other things out there – I’m really not a religious person but I found myself asking the same questions of what happens after life and whether there is a bigger picture. I’ve always been fascinated by space.

Around the time I was watching a number of 1970s animations and other cult films where there is a juxtaposition of an alien race controlling the humanoids on an Earth-like planet and felt this kind of represented the idea of a bigger alien lifeform was part of this parallel dimension. The creature is the remnants or what’s been left behind.

After we had created the album cover with the hand and creature we came across the artist Madelon Vriesendorp who produced some amazing imagery which placed New York and bodies in grand skewed landscapes. We decided to subtly reference the large female being as the representation of the hand.

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SBTRKT: New Dorp. New York (still)

Is this a new direction we should expect to see for the rest of the album’s singles?

SBTRKT: I don’t feel picking out one or two songs from my album will ever define what I’m about. I’d rather work out what creative ideas best suit the narrative of the album. It could be through an installation piece rather than another music video, or through an interactive site for a song.

My ambition is to create something greater within the means of the medium you work with. On the transition EP release earlier this year, we worked with PRTY on an interactive site, and A Hidden Place and I designed record sleeves which represented the transitional movement; examples of using different creative techniques to portray the same message but in the best way for each medium.

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