CREATING IMAGES FOR TODAY’S DIGITAL CONSUMPTION
Thursday 2nd June 4:08PM
At four pm, AT FOUR PM, a shitty hour in which this city programmes events trying to mirror its inhuman north-European counterparts, took place a roundtable/debate I managed to sneak in. Thanks Gracias <3, many thanks, to the girl at the door of CCCB, who intuitively calculated the size of the audience in no more than twelve kitty cats, four pals and three memes or indie attempts.
Within the frame of the PrimaveraPro activities, asphyxiated between networking, sponsors, start-ups and independent labels, the real professionals of the 21st century couldn’t miss the date: I’m talking about the audiovisual precariat. There, sat around a coffee table and surrounded by an awful atrezzo that seemed taken from 2005, more exactly from any FLYMUSIC programme, were the creators of successful Internet contents with dubious retribution and non-existent budgets. The spinners of viral marketing, the funambulists of amateur aesthetics, those lovers of the absurd, i.e. of bleeding to death in the shape of ideas presented as images, be it for sheer pleasure or necessity.
Gemma Briones (director of Las Bistecs), Javi Alvarez (La Follable), Dinger King + Willy Watermelon (directors of the KFN videos) and Kokos Ackee (video director for PXXR GVNG, Swet Flow, Tomasa del Real or Somadamantina) seemed to conform what Primavera Sound described on their web site as such:
“Through apps, online editing software, remixes or the appropriation of the net’s language, there’s a series of young music video creators not asking for permission to carry out their own creations… whom in this session will talk about this medium of expression which takes advantage of the technological possibilities at the hands of anyone”
Out of that interesting young group, when it comes to being YOUNG, only Kokos fitted the description. During the talk, both Gemma and Javi made clear that the possibilities or the equipment to create lo-fi aesthetics had nothing to do with the term low cost, and, obviously, many of the finishing touches of their works, like VHS-like noise, are not available to just anyone because it isn’t like applying an Instagram filter. Despite there existing a clear generational, topical and referential gap, everything went on with ironic familiarity, taking for granted the personal codes of each of them, which they certainly didn’t share. While Kokos has recorded more than fifty music videos in the last year with Ackee Studio, on the run and under digital hyper-production dynamics, Gemma’s work showed an amazing attention to each single detail. Or, for example, the works of Javier, Dinger King and Willy responded to a certain fetishism of pop culture that is impossible to find in PXXR GVNG music videos.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that our generation, Kokos’, mine and many other youngsters’, has no fathers to kill. We’ll have to be happy with co-existing with creators who think themselves eternally young and smile at the non-existent camaraderie. At the end of the debate, Joan proposed I interview Kokos to make justice to those topics that hadn’t been talked about in depth around that table. I opened a chat window, had a beer, we talked for several days and I’m quite sure that after this conversation our paths will cross again in the future in many different places.
HJ: Let’s go back to your beginnings… How do you leave a job to start producing videos full-time? How did you meet the guys and decided to start shooting them, from PXXR GVNG to the whole scene around them? Was it a digital to irl leap?
KA: Hi 🙂 Well, to me this started being a necessity more than anything else. I had already produced some videos and had worked as an editor for a producer that made all the Blanco y Negro Music videos. But there it was all PDFs and shitty stuff. Rather than being creative, I was more like a kind of robot.
Then, I met Steve and Fernando and I loved their music; it drove me mad! As soon as I heard it, I was, like, fucking hell! This is trap, but in Spanish. Nothing to do with what was known before in Spain. It was a love at first sight more to do with the musical side than the aesthetic one. So I contacted Fer via Twitter and proposed him to meet and he accepted. I told him I was making videos and also that I would like to record some stuff with them, that it would all be for free… I wanted to give voice to the voiceless, or, in this case, give videos to the videoless, or light to the lightless XD
This is the first video I ever made of Fer. He gave me absolute freedom to shoot. He said: “Man, I don’t care what you do; do whatever you want.” So you see… Being used to editing with PDFs, it was, like, heaven!
I think this is the second one I made:
HJ: This second video really made it on the net, I think it’s the first memory we all have in mind. Did you realise you could live off this, that you could be what today’s gonna jump on stage at Primavera Sound? Do you think you would work again under “professional” parameters, to put it somehow?
KA: The truth is I never thought I’d make a living producing videos. I come from the nightclub world; I used to make promo videos for clubs. I couldn’t tell the amount of aftermovies I’ve done. Sometimes I even did four per week! The rhythm was mad.
I think those aesthetics are very much reflected in my work, everything is done camera in hand and nothing is planned. I studied an audiovisual module and all the exercises we made were focused on fiction or TV, and I found them really dull. They always made us respect the axis; it was a sin to do things a different way… I think that’s why I like shooting with cuts, opacity games, and using slow cameras.
If our budget was larger and we could shoot big-shot style, something I like to do every now and then, I have some scripts with a semi-shooting plan (they’re really the ones I have to send to Vevo). But I’ve got to say that if I was to work always like that I don’t know whether I would be able to keep up with the schedule and the guidelines. Thank God I can make a living doing my thing!
HJ: Now you’re talking about the textual marks that are repeated in your videos. I don’t know whether you know the Hito Steyerl term ‘poor image.’ It describes you quite well. She talks about copies and image reproducibility: bad resolutions, glitches, remixed and chained images… Images that transform quality into accessibility, and exhibition value into cult value. They’re images with which we communicate or to which we are subjected, produced by virality. Images that are only used in the present, where quality is not the most important thing.
KA: I quite like that. In fact, it’s a bit like the philosophy we work with. We usually shoot in under two hours.
The process is more or less the following. They call me: “Teteee, do we make a video? And I say: Yess! Let’s do it!” We play the song on a mobile phone and start shooting. This means you have to be available at all times. Then I go home and put everything in a folder. With all I have I need to have enough to make a video, no less!
There’s no time to put it to rest: what these kids are singing happened today and it needs to be reflected as such. In a month, who knows? The opposite might happen, so it needs to be out now. I have videos made with three takes that have been shot in twenty minutes and edited in an hour, tops. But to me they’re OK. Besides, I love mistakes, glitches, poor images… XD.
Look, this is my favourite video: we uploaded it on the same night that La disco resplandece appeared on Vevo and it was shot intentionally, like, “we have to do this today”, with the exhaustion and excitement of the moment. In the same way we shot it, I edited it in one go when I got home.
As for what’s repeated on my videos, I don’t do this intentionally. I’m becoming more and more surprised by the amount of people that know a lot about video and come to me to tell me I have my own style. At the Primavera debate, for instance, I felt really at ease talking to the people there, although I didn’t realise this until I got home… It might be true I’ve done something real after all! XD
HJ: Yes, I saw you were OK up there, although I was quite surprised. To me it was as though they were speaking Chinese, I don’t get the point of shooting La Veneno. And all that attachment many of them directors have towards archives, and analogical stuff, to old films, old cameras… I don’t know. I wouldn’t use a 16mm in a million years and all I watch is in streaming.
KA: I know, I’m the same, zero attachment to archives and analogical devices. I consume everything online and in fact I like using the computer less and less: I prefer doing everything on an iPhone via apps. I like having all the raw material, but only that. Although I review works and stuff, especially when I release something I like: I watch it a thousand times and then after some time there are some of my pieces I re-play again.
HJ: By force you must have noticed some change or evolution in your shooting. Do you think it has improved? What gear do you use?
KA: Yes, it has changed, but it doesn’t mean it always goes in crescendo. Sometimes I’m not proud at all of what I shoot. Sometimes I don’t even sign it. It has a lot to do with working rhythms and how I’m feeling emotionally, with stress, and all that. It’s what happens when personal and professional lives go hand in hand. I do everything myself, I have no partner and the means are scarce.
Well, there was a time, actually, when I had a super camera, a Sony NEX-FS700: it had a tripod and led panels, stabiliser, lenses… Stuff like that. I was really happy; but having good gear doesn’t imply less effort when it comes to editing or recording live. Now I have a Canon EOS 60D with a dead pixel line, and a Tamron 17-50 that is blocked so you need to force the lens by hand, it doesn’t turn:_____ hahaha.
Thank God I’m soon meeting up with people to do something big: a photography director, a 3D one… I’m really looking forward to that. Now I’m editing a Fer video shot in only one take, with lots of glitch.
HJ: About glitch, for instance, or vaporwave aesthetics, don’t you think there’s a sort of homogenisation around the trap genre that has contaminated design and advertisement? What inspires you and what other videos do you like? Low temperature, the street, the parties, codeine, all is a bit the same… Wow, I’m mad about this one, I think it’s very you XD; you could have shot it yourself!
KA: Daaaamn, this one you sent is awesome! It’s tough. I love Future’s videos, but I can’t tell you any music videos I have as examples. I don’t like movies or series too much. I have no audiovisual references or idols and I might have noticed that when I started; in professional chatter there’s always someone quoting someone else. Working with other people I felt stupid not having any references, but there’s a good side to it. In the first place, with the ones I have it’s clear that it works … I guess my “dumbness” gives me that freedom of creating without fear. I’m not afraid of what’s thought of being good or bad, aesthetically.
HJ: Do you know right after finishing a video that it is going to be good because of the material you have shot or it has more to do with the editing process?
KA: It depends on the video. Some of them I shoot with no predetermined idea of what will come out, or what I will edit. I usually like videos for what they represent, the feelings they transmit and the rhythm, not because they are technically good. Maybe because of the moment I have shot it, for what’s happened on that same afternoon, for what was behind the camera… For example, this one, which hasn’t been too successful, to me expresses a lot… Trapani is very pure, and the video captures it very well.
HJ: He’s very James Dean XD. Cinema verité.
KA: Dogma XD. Yes, I’m into realism, I like postproduction, but I don’t do a lot of it. It’s more a here and now. We shoot with what we have and, people don’t usually believe it: we use no atrezzo at all.
HJ: You’re always one step beyond, but soon after, the industry catches up with you. You live the never-ending tension between accepting the copy and creating something original. How do you see the audiovisual world in Spain?
KA: Well, I’ve got to say I’m not interested in big production companies such as ESCAC, Bande à Part, VICE, Noisey and the lot. They asked me to do some work for them, but I refused. For instance, Noisey generates good content, in Spain they still have to get up to scratch, but all the Jamaica dancehall videos and the Atlanta and Chicago trap ones are the business. This entails a lot of work and a huge team, and I value that, but in VICE they only care about clicks, likes and retweets.
Of course, it’s nothing personal or against the people working there; the poor souls have enough with giving their ideas for zero euros! But they represent a supposed aesthetic canon of what’s good and what’s not, and somehow all these companies think they decide what’s cool, when they really don’t have a clue.
And imagine: now all of a sudden it’s the neighbourhood kids who are cool, and a guy with black teeth is the new sex symbol. I love this!
HJ: Kids with black teeth have gone quite far in the history of music XD. It seems that they scan Tumblrs and copy all they can. I sometimes think we’ll never get rid of videos imitating Wes Anderson. But, changing the subject, what do you think about the emergence of more and more females in the Spanish scene, such as Blondie, Tania Chanel, Bad Gyal?
KA: It was about time! I hope there’ll be many more to come. I’m totally in favour. What I like the most is that at least with trap the media are giving women a lot of coverage. In other genres, for instance, I’ve not seen the media chasing she-rockers to give them coverage. That has to do with the scene, because even if they say that the lyrics are male chauvinistic, when it comes to producers and singers, we protect each other a lot. I don’t think women in pop or electronic music have managed to become part of their genre’s ecosystem as much as with trap.
HJ: And well, what are your plans, are you going to Sónar? The line-up is not that good, but it’s clearly more your thing than Primavera.
KA: Yessss, come on Thursday to check the gig of JOHN GRVY with LWLGHT. They just collaborated with us and it turned out great. Well, I guess you were already going. See you there!
HJ: Of course, I’m a fan! In the last track he’s taken an amazing quality leap.
A few hours later, around 11PM, the video that Kokos was editing is uploaded. This time with some more postproduction resources and the overframing that is becoming a trend on the net. He probably has two or three more in the oven today, and in their raw state they’re part of the history of a change in audiovisual and musical consumption. A history about how was trap born in Spain that will soon need to be told.