Glass meets the creative sparks helping to lead the music video's tactile revolution
Beaty Heart's mouth-watering video for Slush Puppy peers into churning oceans of cherry and blue-raspberry. Dave Konopka of math-rock outfit Battles creates glistening ice cream sundaes for EP artwork from – I'll stick my neck out – acrylic paint and insulation spray-foam. Synth-pop trio Phèdre host a Bacchanalian orgy for their track In Decay, where models mouth lyrics, drowning in overripe fruit and something like honey.
Over the past two years, the music video has undergone a kind of tactile revolution. Blowing $6m on a mini-movie (Madonna, Die Another Day) has been replaced with covering your mates in gloop and getting ultra creative in post-production.
For Los Angered, the latest single from London four-piece Trailer Trash Tracys, co-directors Penny Mills and Milo Mckeand took inspiration from the foamy wonderment of home-made chemistry experiments. “It was inspired by reminiscing over clips from kids’ science shows on YouTube,” says Mckeand, “seeing those huge reactions from using such simple household products”.
To begin with they chose ten experiments, not all of which made it into the video. “We used a heat gun to melt crayons, poured loads of paint over things, and made smoke bubbles – which were my favourite,” explains Mills. “The swirls were made by putting different coloured inks in milk; by adding Fairy Liquid you’re breaking the surface tension, which then pulls the inks across the milk.”
Psychedelic liquids dance across the screen, superimposed onto Warholian footage of singer Suzanna Aztoria. Lined up like the nozzles of dancing fountains, synchronised crayons un-melt themselves one by one. Watching the video even helps clarify artistic processes – I had a sudden flash of Ian Davenport in his studio, making his drip paintings.
A favourite for the final cut was a multi-coloured growing foam, known in the trade as “elephant toothpaste”. It's an exothermic experiment where yeast is added to a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, dye, and washing-up detergent. “The best thing about those old shows,” says Mckeand, “was how they made chemistry fun, and how accessible it was for kids to create their own awesome reactions with simple things at home.”
In post-production, they played around with speed, reversing the shots. What’s interesting is that they take a natural, unpredictable process and in editing, make it controllable. “In our pitch we actually used the line ‘to capture the chaotic nature of science’,” says Mckeand. “We were adamant that we performed all the experiments ourselves.”
Synching the action with the music was always their intention, they just had to shoot as much footage as possible to ensure a good fit. One of their editors William Michael is a musician, so it was especially important to him that all of the shots were in time. “It got a bit obsessive,” Mills admits, “we’d stay up ‘til 3am perfecting it. But I love the way the melting crayons stand tall to the beat of the drum, and how the bubbles bounce with the movement of the music.”
There’s clearly a real joy in making best use of what's available. “We love special effects pre-dating CGI,” says Mckeand. “Old horror and gore, as well as the big budget animatronics that John Carpenter and Ridley Scott used in films like The Thing and Alien. It’s also great looking at old film makers like Karel Zeman and Ray Harryhausen – it’s inspiring to see the scenes they managed to create with comparatively little technology.”
The pair met at university, where Mills studied costume, and Mckeand technical effects. I ask if their passion for gloop reaches back to childhood. “I had a few chemistry sets, along with crystal gardens and Play-Doh,” recalls Mills. “I loved making potions using absolutely anything I could find in the house. I remember putting something in the microwave once – the whole thing exploded with colourful splatter!” For Mckeand it was the classic cornstarch and water, the kind that could be simultaneously liquid and solid, with which she covered her mother’s kitchen.
Los Angered is actually Mills' second brush with DIY science. Her promo for all-girl noise punk trio Zoëtrøpe was inspired by the film One Million Years BC, in which reptiles roam miniature sets to create the illusion of giant prehistoric animals. “I made the volcanoes in my kitchen out of cardboard, papier-mâché, modroc, clay, plastic bottles, loo rolls and powder paint,” explains Mills. When it came to filming, she used vinegar and baking soda to perform the old volcano-erupting trick you learn in school. A gecko (named Ringle) is the unwitting star of the show, his snapping jaw synced to shouts on the track's vocal.
Amid plans to open a comic book and coffee shop (Eggs Milk Butter), Mills and Mckeand will soon be moving into a new workshop in Dalston, East London. They're also looking into making a video for one of Mckeand's favourite bands Eagulls, and Mills is busy with a short sci-fi animation.
Thanks to the magic of editing, by the end of Los Angered things have returned to their unexploded states and cleaned up. Let's hope the mums appreciate the belated gesture.