Reinventing The Music Video, One Street Corner At A Time

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The sun has just set over a busy, dimly lit street in Paris when musicians suddenly start spilling out of a corner bar, tuning their instruments. Colin Solal Cardo follows close behind, holding a video camera.

“We were inside the bar,” Solal Cardo says, “and we got kicked out. So now we’re in front of the bar in the streets, and we’re going to perform right in the streets. The night is falling in Paris, and cars everywhere, and it’s total chaos, but I think it’s going to be great.” He addresses the gathered musicians: “Okay, guys, let’s be sure we have no one in the frame that is not a band member. Thank you.”

The group is with a French website often credited with helping to reinvent the music video with what it calls “Take Away Shows.” They’re original, informal videos of musicians from across the U.S. and Europe, playing live in unlikely places.

The band in this Take Away Show is the American group San Fermin, currently on tour with its debut album. Solal Cardo says this is a typical Blogothéque shoot: filmed in one take, with no overall plan, no lighting crew or fancy set-ups. The philosophy of the website is to put bands in unusual environments — often without their usual instruments — and see what happens. For example, San Fermin’s frontman, Ellis Ludwig-Leone, has been handed a small toy piano in lieu of his full-size keyboard.

“I mean, what’s exciting about it is, like, you write these songs, you practice as a band, then you just do the same thing over and over and over again,” Ludwig-Leone says. “And then for something like this, you’re actually going to be called on as a musician to make adjustments in time. It’s refreshing in a way. I haven’t had to think this actively and creatively about our live set-up since we started touring.”

Christophe Abric, a one-time music journalist who started La Blogothéque a decade ago, began filming bands in 2006.

“The purpose is to get them out their comfort zone,” Abric says, “to tell them, ‘Okay, you’ve done a record. You’ve got a way of playing your music live. But why don’t we try to find a way to be the most sincere we can be?'”

All of the videos are archived online; the catalog includes big-name groups such as R.E.M. and Wilco, Abric says one enduring draw of the Take Away Shows is not just watching musicians play live, but watching them play live in Paris.

“There is something amazing in the strength of Paris,” Abric says. “We want the city to be there in the sound. If you have kids shouting, if you have birds all around, it’s part of the whole environment, and you have to have that.”

At the San Fermin shoot, someone passing by starts to sing and a car horn blares. A question arises: How do you actually record music in the middle of all this noise?

To capture every note and voice, La Blogothéque’s sound engineer, Francois Clos, fits small, wireless mics onto every band member — each recorded on a separate track and mixed afterwards. Clos says that, even though video is a visual medium, sound quality is the most important element here.

“The challenge is always to know how many mics you need, where you put the mic to preserve a sound — which sound quite real but which is post-produced and not real at all, you know. But outside, anything can happen,” Clos says. “So you shouldn’t record musicians if you don’t think about how to record them. They’re here to show that they can play music.”

Indeed, each musician in the finished San Fermin video can be heard loud and clear — even as singer Rae Cassidy walks through traffic and the camera twists and turns around the band.

Today, there are scores of websites offering impromptu performance videos (including NPR Music’s own and series). And that, Abric says, has created a problem: Musicians now show up knowing exactly what to expect.

“The landscape totally, completely changed since we began the Take Away Shows,” Abric says. “When we started, everything we were doing was experimental and new, and now we’re in a completely different world where anybody can do a beautiful video. Suddenly, when we’re filming a band, we’re the sixth person of the day filming that band. And so you’re like, ‘Oh my god. We’re not something new.’

“With Blogothéque now,” he adds, “we’re one of the requirements in a promo tour of a band. That’s not what we wanted to be. We made the Take Away Shows to break the routine, and one day we became the routine.”

The challenge now, Abric says, is to best themselves at their own game. Earlier this year, his team made a video of the French rock band Phoenix outside the Palace of Versailles — filmed with a flying drone. And La Blogothéque is venturing outside Paris, filming performers everywhere from the North African desert to the muddy waters of the Ohio river . Look around and you just might see a band walking down your street, with a camera crew following close behind.

Take Away Show #41 — THE ARCADE FIRE

Members of Arcade Fire at the 2011 Grammy Awards.

The creation of Take Away Shows is linked to Arcade Fire. Before the cancellation of their European Tour, Arcade Fire played two amazing video sessions in Paris: one in a lift, and, after, into the crowd.

From Vincent Moon / Petites Planètes
Paris, L’Olympia, March 2007

Take Away Show #41 _ THE ARCADE FIRE

Text by Chryde
Images & edit by vincent moon
Sounds by adrien cordier & chryde
Mix by francois clos
Produced by chryde for la blogotheque

blogotheque.net/Arcade-Fire,2868

Win Butler had to slouch a little to fit into the freight elevator. He went directly to the back, leaned against the iron door, turned around, looked at the cramped space, and asked us, “Think we can all go back now?” Then he smiled a smile that a kid would give, pure and honest, like he had just found his hiding place. Win Butler smiled, and five weeks of work seemed to crumble before us.

During those weeks, I had been in continual contact with Vincent Morisset, who runs the Neon Bible site. Win and Régine had been responsible for coordinating our Take Away Show. We had discussed dates and places, imagining the Madeleine at night, the knoll at the Île de la Cité, an old café, a roundabout behind the Olympia…We checked the weather every day and despaired about the cold front that was passing through Paris. We had surveyed the entire inhumane neighborhood from top to bottom, trying to anticipate the crowd, the willpower of the group, the cold, and the fatigue. Then, suddenly, we had a plan. Win asked if there was a freight elevator. We found it, Win smiled, and the Take Away Show was no longer in our hands.

We knew that the Take Away Show with Arcade Fire wouldn’t be like the others. The project was made for them because they’re of a different kind, a different essence. We had spent the afternoon with them when suddenly we realized, in a flash: “yes, this group is different.”

We had been playing the role of “outsider” the entire day, like a foreign body that latches onto the daily grind of these magnificent musicians. We had to adapt, through astonishment and wonder, as the band took up their instruments and started to play. But Arcade Fire didn’t take us as outsiders. It all seemed to unfold naturally: we entered into their logic as they awaited us and eventually swallowed us up. It was now Win Butler’s Take Away Show, and we followed.

It was too cold to play outside after the show, so we initially thought about playing in the entrance hall during Electrelane’s performance, but the Olympia didn’t allow it. All we had left was the freight elevator, and we had to do a little convincing to make it happen. On the other side of the elevator, there was a door that would lead us into the concert hall. They could go back to the pit in the Olympia by exiting through there, and then re-exit through the door near the stage. Win wasn’t so hot on the plan…the venue was a little too big and the whole thing sounded complicated. It took us about 20 minutes to convince him, not knowing at all what was waiting for us at the other end of this crazy idea. Win went back to tell Richard and Will to follow him to the elevator, with everyone asking when to play, or whether this was going to happen before or after the show. It was going to be before. Régine was the only one who thought differently, and there were a few seconds of furious looks, which immediately mellowed and eased into resolution. The big guy won, and everyone went back to reconfigure the set-list.

Arcade Fire is a unique group. Everyone’s split up during the day, managing and wandering through his/her own affairs in the dressing rooms and corridors. No one seems to move about as much as Win, who manages everything, knows everything, watches everything, and hears everything. Afterwards, as show time approaches, everyone slowly comes together again, each still folded into him/herself. A couple of notes sound from a bugle, Régina taps on a box, Jérémy amuses himself with a drum, and Tim does a little Monty Python dance. A mobile cacophony, a music that takes form, several people coming together, and some random and various snippets of songs to come. Everyone is concentrating alone, but at the same time following a trace towards the group’s uncanny unity. As the orchestra tuned and grew powerfully aligned, we started towards the elevator.

The rest waits on film. We all bunched into the elevator, and I took my position at Richard’s feet. They started off with an enchanting version of “Neon Bible” and the door opened, allowing us to approach and penetrate the massive torrent of fans. I didn’t think about anything more. I was taken by the fervor, watching Vincent Moon with his camera, screaming in silence, and thinking over and over again: “We did it. Shit, we really did it!”

Bear in Heaven: ‘I Love You, it’s Cool’ Review

Bear in Heaven band

The Brooklyn band’s third album grabs the listener from its first play.

If you’ve got a spare four months you might like to listen to the stream of I Love You, It’s Cool which Brooklyn’s Bear in Heaven have slowed down by 400,000%. The as-good-as interminable 2,700 hours of pure drone is a neat skit, and it allows reviewers to make the know-it-all point that, actually, you need to give this band time. Aren’t we writers just so perceptive?

Time isn’t necessarily what you need to give this album at all, though. The Reflection of You is an immediate winner that grabs you by the lapels and pulls you right in close. It’s a synth-driven pure pop gem that requires next to no time to take hold.

Sinful Nature is another effort that’s deliciously hooky from the first taste, and while Bear in Heaven’s card might’ve been marked as psychedelic prior to this third LP’s release, there are no outré elements purely for the sake of it, and nothing is ever overblown.

Almost everything is tight and controlled, returning time and again to the simple power of a pop song. Frontman Jon Philpot seems in thrall to John Travolta on The Reflection of You when he winks, “If you come dance with me / I think you will like my moves.” Elsewhere, with his big mouth and strut strapped on, he very nearly channels Ian Brown on the stomping Space Remains.

But if there’s a criticism to direct this trio’s way, it’s that they perhaps could get lost in the moment a bit more, as when they do it’s glorious. Three-minutes-fifty into World of Freakout and then again during Sinful Nature they stretch the song at hand further than it should go, upping the ante, volume and intensity into elongated crescendos that Hot Chip would be proud of. And maintaining these directions even longer wouldn’t have seemed self-indulgent – they could swell to mountainous proportions and please any listener.

The qualities that may have led to comment that this album needs time to sink in are found during slower, moodier moments: lugubrious grooves like Warm Water and Noon Moon, each a thoughtful slice of modern electronica. Longevity might ultimately be an issue, but if we’re living in the moment – as the superb title of this record seems to suggest we do – then who cares? Just dance.

Bear in Heaven – “Reflection of You” (Official Video by John Lee of PFFR)

Tracks

1 Idle Heart
2 The Reflection of You
3 Noon Moon
4 Sinful Nature
5 Cool Light
6 Kiss Me Crazy
7 World of Freakout
8 Warm Water
9 Space Remains
10 Sweetness & Sickness

About the band:

Bear in Heaven is a Brooklyn-based rock band formed by Jon Philpot. The sound of the band incorporates influences from psychedelic music, electronic music, and krautrock.

Jon Philpot has previously released music as part of the duo Presocratics, in collaboration with guitarist and composer Need Thomas Windham. Presocratics released two albums on the record label Table of the Elements in 2001; both were produced by Philpot.

The first Bear in Heaven release (Tunes Nextdoor to Songs, Eastern Developments 2003) was an EP of solo recordings by Philpot, with guest musicians performing on various instruments. Shortly after the release of Tunes Nextdoor to Songs, Philpot joined with guitarist Adam Wills, keyboardist/guitarist Sadek Bazarra (a graphic designer with Brooklyn design collective GH avisualagency), guitarist David Daniell (of San Agustin), and bassist James Elliott (Ateleia, School of Seven Bells). Eventually drummer Joe Stickney (formerly of Perpetual Groove, drummer with Paul Duncan, Rhys Chatham’s Essentialist project, and current touring drummer with Panthers) was added to the lineup. Daniell left Bear in Heaven in 2005 to focus on his solo project.

In 2006 they did a Take-Away Show video session shot by Vincent Moon.

Red Bloom of the Boom, Bear in Heaven’s first full-length album with the full band, was released in 2007 by the Hometapes record label.

Elliott left the band after the completion of the recordings of Red Bloom of the Boom to focus on School of Seven Bells and his solo project, Ateleia. Bear in Heaven now performs as a four-piece with Philpot on vocals, guitar and keyboards; Wills on guitar and bass; Bazarra on bass and keyboards; and Stickney on drums.

Their 2010 album, Beast Rest Forth Mouth, received the “Best New Music” award from Pitchfork Media, with the reviewer stating: “Beast Rest Forth Mouth is as familiar-feeling as it is difficult to pinpoint. Mostly made up of textural, spacious three- to four-minute pop anthems with towering choruses, BRFM is a welcome reminder that an album doesn’t have to be bombastic to feel huge and important. Take out the earbuds and let it fill a space: This is music that’s bigger than your iPod—music you’ll want to feel all around you. Though not quite coming out of nowhere, BRFM seems like a surprise gift—a striking consolidation of the spiky psych-prog tendencies of their debut into a pop framework.”

Their most recent album I Love You, It’s Cool was previewed to fans on the band’s website in March 2012 – capturing the album and slowing it down to 2,700 hours of drone. It has so far received positive reviews and was previewed by the website NPR. The album was released on April 3rd.

Discography

Tunes Nextdoor to Songs – Eastern Developments CDEP, 2003
Red Bloom of the Boom – Hometapes CD, 2007
Beast Rest Forth Mouth – Hometapes CD, 2009
Beast Rest Forth Mouth UK release – Hometapes/Dreamboat Records CD, 2010[5]
I Love You, It’s Cool – Hometapes CD, 2012