The video opens with an intriguing situation – three men in hi-viz vests are sprinting up a stairwell, while a wet Gramsci is found slumped against a wall. What led to this? Oh, the video will reveal all!
In flashback, we find Gramsci holding a small glowing pebble, strangely reminiscent of the pebbles in the 1981 sci-fi kidault adaption of Under the Mountain. Maybe Gramsci is like a grown-up Theo, come to get revenge on the evil Wilberforces.
He puts the pebble in a giant water tank he just happens to have installed in his apartment. He watches the glowing dot move around in the water, and then it mysteriously transforms into a woman in an evening gown.
Gramsci just sits and watches her for a while, unconcerned that there is a lady in his giant fish tank. They both hold their hands up against the glass, which causes it to shatter. His apartment floods and he’s left holding her in his arms.
And this is why the hi-viz team comes in. Is she a mermaid? Are they some sort of rapid response fishlady trauma team? And – most importantly – are the people in the apartment below wondering why all that water is dripping from the ceiling?
Best bit: the return of an old friend from the ’90s – the mermaid’s gown is made from silver fabric.
A common theme is emerging with Gramsci’s videos: he doesn’t like to be seen. With the exception of his first video, “Complicated”, all subsequent videos have shown Paul McLaney but kept him obscured with shadowy lighting and/or computer graphics effects. “Code” follows this aesthetic, with McLaney and band placed in a murky back and white world of boulders and skeletal trees.
The song has a really epic chorus, which would suggest a perfect opportunity for the band to rock out. Instead when the chorus hits, the ground beneath them collapses and they fall down a rocky shaft. It’s only when the calmer verses return that they’re allowed to return to solid ground.
And this solid ground leads various band members to a strange forest, a fancy train tunnel, a really long bridge and, eventually, an iceberg. The graphics remind me of something from a basic video game. But if it was a video game, it would be totally rubbish because nothing much happens.
When there’s a kick-arse rock chorus, I want see something more thrilling than a guy running along a footbridge for a minute.
Best bit: the shoe-grabbing tree roots, like arboreal chewing gum.
Gramsci is always serious and his videos are always serious. “Fall to Earth” continues with the seriousness, but this time ramping up the rock vibe.
The Gramsci band play in a dark space, silhouetted against a colour-changing wall of LED panels. Sometimes it seems like the colours directly relate to the mood of the song, other times it just seems like a random rotation of colours. But when the song explodes into a rockstravaganza, it’s all red.
Because the band are shot in silhouette, we don’t really get a good look at them. They are mystery men, playing in the shadows. This leads to a certain disconnection between the band and the song. In a way, it could be anyone playing it.
It is a really strong song and maybe it does work having the band acting as humans props in service of the song. Though given its strength, I would rather see the energy primarily come from the band than the lighting and editing.
Best bit: the flash of red and green stripes, Christmas cheer amongst the monochrome.
“What You Owe” was the third single by Rockquest winners The Have. The group were one of five New Zealand acts to perform at South by Southwest in 2004, with “What You Owe” being included in a best of SXSW CD included with UK music industry publication Music Week.
Director: Adam Jones
Falter “Fear Of Heights”
Christchurch punk-pop band Falter, the 2003 Rockquest winners, have their second single “Fear of Heights”. The single was recorded at York Street Studios as part of their Rockquest prize package.
The saga of the missing video for Crumb’s song “Got It All” has the best story. Basically, the band had agreed to work with a director who was planning an ambitious semi-animated video. It involved something like the lead singer performing at a gig, seeing a mysterious girl who zaps him and he’s sucked into a cartoon world. The production was all going well until the band saw the finished product. It was terrible. No one was happy. The label refused to pay and the video never saw the light of day. No known copy of it exists, just some raw footage and a few stills. One can only hope that some day “Got It All” will surface in all its glory.
“Case” is the final video from Dimmer’s second album “You’ve Got to Hear the Music”. It’s one of those great Dimmer tracks that sounds like the soundtrack to the best/worst weekend. The video used to be hosted at Amplifier and a lone screenshot is all that remains.
The Heavy Jones Trio song “Free” was their second funded video and the first single off their debut album. Director Ivan Slavov vaguely but intriguingly noted that the band “gave us freedom of expression which lets us do our job.”
“Homeland” was the follow-up single from No Artificial Flavours, but also their final NZ On Air funded video – though I’m not actually sure if a video was made. There was talk of an album, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. But I found a 2009 profile of frontman Taaz where there’s mention of new music.
Salisha Taylor “I Saw An Angel”
Young singer Salisha Taylor had her debut single “I Saw An Angel”. There’s little trace of her online, but I found a post on the soc.culture.new-zealand newsgroup where an enthusiastic member of her team described her as “a real diva but she still replies to all her fan mail.” This prompted someone to cruelly reply: “It’s good to see New Zealand music in the international spotlight. It’s a shame its shit New Zealand music.”
48May had funding for their song “Spinning Around”. There’s no sign of the video, but instead here’s “Into the Sun”. It seems to have been made around the same time and includes outtakes from “Home By 2”, as well as ever reliable live footage.
Red Drum “Resurrect Jim”
Red Drum was a rock band fronted by Garageland frontman Jeremy Eade and “Resurrect Jim” was their funded song. A 2003 blog from Arch Hill Recordings mentions the production of a Red Drum song called “No Cross in the Crossroads”, but there’s no sign of that either.
This month’s consolation video is Steriogram’s lively “Walkie Talkie Man”, directed by the perpetually creative French director Michel Gondry, far removed from the world of NZOA. By the mid 2000s Monsieur Gondry was well established as one of the cool-dude video directors, so he was the go-to guy for Capitol Records when they needed an impressive music video to attempt to launch Steriogram in America. The stop-motion-animated woolly world was created by production designer Lauri Faggioni and her team of knitters. (This is also a good enough place to link to Gondry’s enigmatic video for “Sugar Water” by Cibo Matto, one of my favourite videos ever.) Seeing a big budget video like this makes all the New Zealand videos set on beaches seem like roughly made home movies (and in some cases that’s just what they were). Sometimes it’s just nice to revel in the world of the fancy international music video in all its glory. (Director: Michel Gondry; Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
Hey, this is the halfway point!
In almost three years, I’ve reviewed 777 videos, which is quite a lot, really. There are also 350 videos that aren’t currently available online (like the ones above), though there are definitely more videos available from the mid 2000s than there were from the early ’90s. And 57 previously awol videos have since turned up online, which is splendid. I just need to get around to catching up with those ones.
When I started 5000 Ways, I didn’t have a specific end date in mind, but I realised that I don’t want to do it forever (oh God). So I’ve decided that a good enough end goal is June 2011, the final funding round of $5000 grants before that was replaced with the current Making Tracks scheme. I’ve roughly calculated how long it’s going to take to complete it and I will reveal this: it’s going to take a bit longer than three years. It’s ok. It’s not like I have anything better to do.
The one thing this project has done is completely kill the joy of nostalgia for me. When I look at a video from the olden times, it’s like I’m seeing it how I saw it back then. And when I’m not watching old music videos, I only listen to contemporary music. Anything older than five years just makes me feel depressed. Yay.
Anyway. This is still loads of fun. Most videos are a pleasure to watch and there’s a lot of good stuff out there. The only ones I have trouble with are ones that are just really boring – because no one deliberately sets out to make a boring video. But at least now when I come across a difficult video, I can at least console myself that I’m over the hump.
Ok, on we go. Here’s a video right from the beginning, “The Beautiful Things” by the Front Lawn one of the first three to be funded.
Neither Paul McLaney (aka Gramsci) nor Anika Moa feature in this video. Instead it’s a partially animated adventure involve a woman walking on a tightrope, a man holding the rope tight, and a sweeping panorama.
According the profile at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, the “Don’t” video was filmed in an old church, using blue tarpaulins for a DIY chroma-key background (that didn’t even work properly), with the actress playing the showgirl doing all her tightrope walking on the floor.
The background is an animated fantasy version of Wellington, tall buildings, the wide harbour but also unfamiliar snow-capped peaks. As the camera swoops around the tightrope walker, the landscape changes. NZ On Screen also notes that the background was created from still images taken by director Ed Davis.
The background and highwire drama changes and intensifies with the song, an uneasy duet. The tightrope walker does flips and tricks which – even though it’s all fake – still create a splendid tension.
And with all that tension set up, it seems inevitable that the tightrope walker would fall. She does, whooshing through an ever-changing landscape, into the arms of the man who was holding her rope. Well, that’s a happy ending.
“Don’t” won best video at the 2003 New Zealand Music Video Awards.
Best bit: the artistic balancing, impressive even on the flat.
“This ain’t a love song,” snarls Paul from Gramsci, and indeed this ain’t a love song music video. It’s stark and monochromatic black figures on a white background, as the band play the song, slowed down to give it a dreamy feeling. Or as the description on MySpace helpfully explains, “drifty floaty black and white silhouettes overlaid intermingly splace”. Ok.
The video begins with a band member rolling a cigarette and lighting up, and we see him smoking it throughout. While cigarettes in music videos were a fairly common thing in the ’90s, by the 2000s it was less common, and the Smoke-free Environments Act amendment wasn’t far off, killing smoking at indoor music venues.
So it got me thinking. What if “This Ain’t a Love Song” is about giving up tobacco? What if it’s a bittersweet kiss-off to the difficult life of smoking. And it kind of fits, there with both the song and video casually passing as a typical relationship song.
The video finishes with the cigarette being stubbed out, and the guy who does it seems really relieved, like he’s stubbing out all the drama and emotion contained in the song. Well, that’s my theory. Because if it’s only a song and a video about a relationship, it’s kinda dull.
Best bit: the look of intense concentration when rolling the ciggie.
Note: This video was previously available on MySpace, but not anymore.
Here’s an impressive piece of videomanship. “Complicated” was nominated for Best Video at the 2002 New Zealand Music Awards and it’s still a remarkable work. A collaboration between the man behind Gramsci Paul McLaney and director Ed Davis, the video has a deceptively simple premise: Paul stands and walks as the camera rotates around him.
The trick is what’s happening in the background. It’s an ever-changing tour of New Zealand. One moment he’s in the middle of the Queen Street-Victoria Street intersection, the next he’s on a deserted beach. A steamy Rotorua thermal wonderland leads to a spacies parlour.
What’s most impressive is the editing. A decade after Michael Jackson amazed audiences with the fancy new morphing technique at the end of his “Black or White” video, it was something that could be accomplished in a much lower budget video for a New Zealand indie artist. While the transitions between locations aren’t seamless, there were still plenty of moments that left me trying to figure out how it was done.
The video acts as a more honest New Zealand travelogue than you’d normally get. By selecting locations that have music video appeal, as well as sweeping coastal and vistas we also see less picturesque spots like an electricity substation and an industrial yard. It would be far more interesting to go a “Complicated” location tour of New Zealand than anything inspired by “Lord of the Rings”. Hey, that’s an idea…
Unexpected side effect: after watching this video a few times, I now feel quite seasick.