Dub Asylum “What the Funk”

2003-dub-asylum-what-the-funkMuch of the “What the Funk” video was filmed at the Aotearoa Hip Hop Summit. This was an annual event that took place in the late ’90s and early ’00s, a festival/symposium/general fun time that brought together New Zealand’s hip hop community.

An feature of the event was the graffiti jam, where top graffiti artists from New Zealand and internationally did their best to walls of plywood. And that’s what director (and the man behind Dub Asylum) Peter McLennan has captured on Super 8.

It’s shot in an urgent style, with the camera rushing around the area, capturing the artists at work, adding final touches with cans or even brushes. It captures New Zealand’s graffiti art scene from the early ’90s, back when it was slowly becoming more mainstream.

The crowds are there too, busily checking out the works in progress. But the best spotting in the crowd is bFM’s ‘b’ mascot, who has been thoroughly tagged.

The song’s singer, Sandy Mill, is shown at a different location – performing in front of the old garage doors around the back of St Kevin’s Arcade. The building is covered with plenty of graffiti, so it fits right in with the rest of the video, though it’s less slick than the stuff on display down the hill at the summit.

Sandy is sometimes joined by a girl (her daughter, I assume) and the who have a happy hug-dance. And in a way that’s more compelling than all the top graffiti artists.

Best bit: the little kid who runs around a tarpaulin laid on on the ground, just because.

Director: Peter McLennan

Next… a harbour cruise.

D2S “All Day”

2003-d2s-all-dayWith D2S’s previous video “Ride With Me”, my complaint was that they came across as too ordinary to be pop stars. Well, “All Day” takes care of that, with the Ivan Slavov-directed video fully embracing the bling culture of the 2000s.

The video opens with one of the crew getting tattooed while chilling in a lush penthouse apartment. He gets a phone call on, er, an ’80s brick-style mobile phone covered with gold smiley-face Duraseal. Yeah, bling!

The group show up on lowrider bicycles and go for a green-screen ride around Auckland, ending up in front of a mural depicting an 1950s American diner. Then they go to a place where a group of young women who aren’t wearing any bras under their tops are washing some lowrider cars. If it were me – if I were going to wash a lot of cars – I would want to wear a good sports bra.

They learned how to bling out their phone from a Good Morning craft segment
They learned how to bling out their phone from a Good Morning craft segment
On the YouTube comments, director Ivan Slavov reckons this was New Zealand’s first lowrider video. And there was a bit of trouble on the day of the video shoot: “There was only a handful of Low Riders in New Zealand, on the way to the shoot the COPS pulled them over and only two cars managed to get away and make it to the shoot! ( one I had to pay a TOW truck to bring”.

The song is pretty average, like an attempt to capture some of the magic of Ja Rule and the Murder Inc Records sound. But then it throws up mundane raps lyrics like, “Wait a minute cos I gots to know your name / Since you walked into my life things have never been the same”. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the rhyming dictionary.

One of the cars in the video has the licence plate PIMPIN. Of course it does. But just when the video is at the point of turning into self-parody, something delightfully weird happens. In a long-shot of the band, suddenly there’s a CGI bike breakdancing on the ground in front of them. No one in the video reacts to it. It’s just there.

But that’s not the weirdest thing. The video ends with a parody of the iconic moon silhouette shot from ET. Only instead of tandoming with an alien, the four D2S guys each have a lady-shaped passenger on their handlebars.

Best bit: the one car-washer who is boldly wearing rollerblades.

Director: Ivan Slavov

Next… fun at the summit.

Crumb “Pick up the Pieces”

2003-crumb-pick-up-the-piecesModel railways are cool. The “Pick up the Pieces” video takes inspiration from a lyric mentioning a train and sets the whole video within a model railway.

Through clever use of green screen, we see the band playing in the middle of a model railway, while the object of the song’s affections boards a train that goes hooning around the track.

The video gets a bit too literal with the song title, showing the band performing while shards of glass raining down on them. But maybe it’s actually someone sprinkling glitter on the model railway.

Meanwhile in the train carriage, a sleazy guy tries to make a move on the girl, but she gives him shade and he quickly racks off. Looking down on the model railways is a humble train nerd, who seems to disapprove of the tiny sleazy guy in his model train.

The girl on the train is crying. Perhaps she’s sad by the break-up. Or perhaps she’s realised that the train track is on a loop, meaning she’s travelling in circles around her ex and his band and will never reach her destination. Ooh, metaphor.

The video ends ambiguously. The sun comes up, the camera zooms out and we see the model landscape sitting on a table in a room. The band are still playing on their hilltop stage, tiny figures bobbing in the background. The train nerd switches off the train and finally the train comes to a stop. What fate awaits its passengers?

Best bit: little figure waiting patiently at a train station.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… car wash!

Ben Novak “Turn Your Car Around”

2003-ben-novak-turn-your-car-aroundThis is a good, weird music video, but it’s not the most interesting thing about the curious history of “Turn Your Car Around”.

There’s a company called Platinum Blue Music Intelligence that has software that analyses songs to determine what makes a hit song a hit. Ben Novak heard about it and submitted his song “Turn Your Car Around”. It came back with a high score (and rightly so – it is a really good song), the company put him in contact with some music industry people and the song ended up being covered by Lee Ryan (of boyband Blue), where it charted at #12 in the UK (and #2 in Austria and Italy). But, as the Guardian notes, with Sony BMG behind the song, it’s impossible to know whether it did well because it was inherently “hardwired to be a hit”, or because the record company put a lot of promo behind it.

The Sunday programme did a profile on Ben Novak and “Turn Your Car Around” (part one, part two). He comes across as a quiet, geeky guy who is obsessed with music. There’s a great moment where he has a somewhat awkward phone conversation with pop doofus Lee Ryan. It shows the difference between this subdued New Zealand songwriter and the gobby British popstar and partly explains why the song was a hit for Lee Ryan in the UK but didn’t chart for Ben Novak in New Zealand.

But anyway. Let’s go back to Ben Novak’s original video for “Turn Your Car Around”, produced a year before Lee Ryan was hooning around with horses.

The video takes a different type of inspiration from the lyrics – it follows a day in the life of a crash-test dummy. It wakes up and gets ready for its day at work, which doesn’t consist of much, considering it has no need for food, clothes or toothbrushing, then heads off to work.

He works at a desk in an ordinary open-plan office, but soon heads off to the lab where he is joined by a lady dummy and a baby dummy. They get into the car, which then proceeds to crash into a sharp corner shape. We see it from four glorious angles, all smashed glass, warped metal and inflated airbags.

The male and female dummies emerge from the munted car a bit wobbly on their feed, before going their separate ways. The dummy returns home, and we leave him sitting along on the edge of his bed.

And it’s that same position that Ben Novak has been making his brief appearances in the video. Five brief shots of only a few seconds each. Maybe he’s just really shy.

The YouTube uploader describes the video as “weird and wonderful” and I think that’s it in a nutshell. It doesn’t have the epic landscape or wild stallion of Lee Ryan’s video. Instead it’s a subdued, unusual video with a car crash. And I hope that’s not a metaphor for Ben Novak’s music career.

Best bit: the crash-test dummy walks to work.

Director: Ben Fisher
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… model behaviour.

Amber Claire “Love Remains”

2003-amber-claire-love-remainsAmber Claire is now known for being one-third of the Mermaids party group. But for a while in the mid-’00s she took a break from the “Loveshack” and “Groove is in the Heart” covers and had a go at a pop career.

“Love Remains” combines Amber Claire’s husky vocals with a driving electronic beat and sweet lyrics. The video also goes in this direction, with a sepia-tone Amber Claire singing with the happiest face I think I’ve seen in a music video.

She’s surrounded by romantic symbols – a carousel horse, a moon, a rocket, a butterfly – while the song lyrics spiral around, along with larger words like “DREAM” and “LOVE”. It’s like the Facebook page of that divorced lady you used to work with.

There’s also a young couple who run around in a park together, in love. It also looks like something you’d see on Facebook, the remnants of a happy wedding.

The video feels like an attempt at making a really romantic music video, but in doing so it’s using modern visual cliches of romance. I think the video would genuinely appeal to the Facebook ladies and people like YouTube commenter tonym650 who admires Amber Claire’s “soothing voice”.

Best bit: Amber sits in a rowboat called “Amber”.

Next… old, new, borrowed, Blue.

48 May “Fight Back”

2003-48-may-fight-backI had a look at 48 May Street on Google Street View, the Hamilton student flat where the band formed in 2002. There’s a bunch of old furniture dumped on the front lawn and a ute parked on the berm. Bloody students.

A NZ Musician magazine profile notes the support the band had from NZ On Air, with bass player Shannon saying “We’d still be at the fish and chip shop playing Street Fighter 1 if it wasn’t for NZ On Air.” That’s probably more to do with the two $50,000 recoupable album grants the band had, but their seven music video grants are just as important.

“Fight Back” was a bright, shiny debut single, with production by Welsh producer Greg Haver via the Resonate music conference. But the video isn’t quite as slick as the song.

48 May Street in happier times
48 May Street in happier times
The band are playing in what looks like a school gymnasium, sometimes wearing bits of American football protective gear. It turns out they need the protection because each band member beats himself up. It’s like a freakish neurological condition – the man who gave himself the bash. They’re joined by cheerleaders (to jump around in support) and medics (to look on in bewilderment).

The video concept doesn’t quite work. Why are the band beating themselves up? What have they done wrong? Unless you’re a 48 May hater, what pleasure is there to see the lead singer of a band with a (fake) injured face? And by the time the drummer repeatedly slams his head against the drumkit, it’s all just getting weird.

Best bit: bass player Shannon’s bondage trousers.

Note: the video was on YouTube, but it’s since been taken down and there’s no alternative.

Next… row row row your boat.