Before joining some old friends for a great adventure at EDC Las Vegas 2013, they asked me to profile Jila Alaghamandan, Insomniac’s Entertainment Director, who is the other half of Bunny Eachon, the rave outfit’s Creative Director. Together, working with CEO Pasquale Rotella and others, they mastermind the stages, characters and narratives that drive the company’s year-round festivals. I first called and talked to Jila before EDC LV, then followed up with her after I took in the art and performances she directed. I also shadowed her at her studio as she pulled together elements for Escape from Wonderland 2013 and EDC 2014.
It was a fun story to write and Jila was a rich subject full of insights and uncommon facets. Seeing the Night Owl Experience in 2013 also gave me a full context by which to understand the effort and ambition behind her work. Most interesting to me was learning that she wasn’t a raver or even a fan of electronic dance music. That fascinated me. What I found was a truly complex person who came to Insomniac from a different angle, yet in search of the same things:
“You’re the next guy I was going to come looking for,” the lady in black says. “Where are your articulated fingers, mister?”
That’s the tough exterior of Jila Alaghamandan talking, Insomniac’s innovative Entertainment Director. She’s at the eye of the storm for all of Insomniac’s live productions. Right now, she’s busy corralling the fabrication of rabbit gas masks and mechanical Grim Reaper hands.
We’ve walked from her Downtown Los Angeles studio to an adjacent warehouse. Splashed across its outer wall is a giant mural of an elephant headdress, fairies and a red monkey. The clatter and clink of casters and concrete conveyors mix with the overcast sky. Entering a ragged room filled with model airplanes and helicopters, buzz saws and a Metallica insignia, we find David the metalworker ready to show off his claws.
“Talk to me,” she says.
“I’m going to go ahead with this plan,” he answers, gesturing to a metal frame contraption three times the size of his own arm, cords attached at a tapered end to a bendable wrist and digits with PVC pipe fingers. “I’m going to rivet velcro on here so you just go strap, strap. I’m going to trim this so you have thumb control. I have nine more to go.”
In 2013, I worked freelance on Insomniac’s annual EDC Las Vegas magazine. It was an opportunity to see the production of the show up close, with behind the scenes and backstage access. I joined Rob Simas and Rich Thomas, old friends from past publication adventures, as they dived in as the directors of Insomniac’s new content operation; I wrote for Rob at Magnetic Magazine and for Rich years earlier at Lotus Magazine. We hooked up with another friend, Simon Rust Lamb, COO of Insomniac, and another old partner in crime at Lotus Magazine. Simon and I also went as far back as the early years of Moontribe. He showed us around the command center the night before the festival kicked off. It was like being at ground zero for a NASA shuttle launch as Insomniac prepared for its biggest production yet, the media focus on their underdog success glaring bright.
One of the main stories I was assigned was Ground Control, the volunteer group that worked around the clock at EDC to keep attendees or “headliners” safe and out of trouble. Unlike Coachella or many other festivals, EDC is a nocturnal affair, going all night long for three days. The production firepower is overwhelming, a multi-sensory playground for the millennial generation. It reminded me just a little of the USO scene from Apocalypse Now, but not ot in a bad way. Having worked as a digital news jockey at Yahoo! News the previous half-decade, I was eager to “report from the field” in my native scene, embedded with a Ground Control crew that Saturday.
Weeks after EDC LV 2013, I interviewed Sara Napolitano, one of the volunteers we shadowed that night. I also attended a training course and a retrospective brainstorm at the Insomniac offices later that summer. The way I approached the final feature was to harken back to the days of glam rock and heavy metal, when a similar psychedelic art-energy was punching through to the mainstream with big stadium pyrotechnics. While the words “ground control” were an easy connection, I also felt David Bowie’s classic lyrics for “Space Oddity” were a good fit for the longing and optimism I found mirroring the zeitgeist while on the move:
THIS IS MAJOR TOM TO GROUND CONTROL,
I’M STEPPING THROUGH THE DOOR
AND I’M FLOATING
IN A MOST PECULIAR WAY
AND THE STARS LOOK VERY DIFFERENT TODAY
-DAVID BOWIE, “SPACE ODDITY”
We’re roaming tomorrow’s frontier with Ground Control, Insomniac’s everyday saints. Obscured by clouds, a full moon floats overhead. Lasers flash to Milky Way beats. Over 100,000 breaths take in a dream world pulsing with life. Fireworks rend the air. Smiles are everywhere.
As we follow our guides Sara Napolitano and Nima Sabaghzadeh, we wade into darkness. We’re checking for lonely hearts and pangs of anxiety. We open up port-a-potties to make sure no one has passed out unseen. We ask Headliners sitting at the edges of the dancefloor if they have injuries or enough water. If we see commotion, we watch to make sure a lovers’ quarrel stays civil. We’re checking for anyone getting lost in the cracks…
Artwork by Aastha Gaur. Concept by Aastha Gaur and Thomas Kelley.
“Time to move on. Times have changed…No more lies. No deceit. People dying in the street, as our leaders pull in contributions. I’m tired and I’m sick. I’ve got these words on my lips. I bid you welcome to the revolution.” –Lyrics from the Hardkiss Brothers’ “Revolution”
There’s a speaker on fire, its wires and sound waves still burning high into the sky. More than 20 years have passed since it sparked the first Hardkiss party in San Francisco, riffing off a chain reaction that’s still going today. It pulsed with a brave mixture of spiritual thirst and sun-kissed optimism. And it smoked with an electricity supplied by two turntables packed in the trunk of a car that crossed the country West in 1991, spinning on the inspiration of American legends like Derrick May, Frankie Bones and Josh Wink. Down to one speaker that night, it was enough to start a revolution.
The Hardkiss Brothers’ “year one,” with its history of blazing sound systems and manifest destiny is celebrated with heart and wisdom on their new album, 1991. It’s a throwback to that heady time as well as a timely loop into the future. It takes glitch and house music and fires them up from within, glowing with a sunny psychedelia that is pure California. In some ways, the Hardkiss Brothers are the Beach Boys of the rave generation, a warm wave to Disclosure’s cool stare, surfing in a parallel universe to the aquatic electro of “Retroactive Futuristic Psychedelic Funk Bump” and the tidal grime sublime of “Cameras Are Watching.” All the while, their comeback heads for the global horizon, tipping its hat to the synth techno of Germany’s Booka Shade on “It’s Right” or the sweeping romanticism of Bedrock on “Flowers Blooming (Glow of Love).” But don’t ask Hardkiss to get too specific about their EDM who’s who list. Then as now, they follow their own compass.
“As much as things change, everything stays the same,” says Gavin Hardkiss. “I don’t listen to a lot of ‘EDM’ except when I’m out DJing. I don’t know all the characters involved. But of what I do hear, I think there’s a sound that’s limited and I think we can offer something. I think we have a texture and emotion that no one is really doing.”
From the Loss of Scott to the Beginning Within
The story of Hardkiss is a story of risks. It’s a story of three brothers bonded by music if not by blood, each pushing the other to great heights. The long friendship of Gavin Bieber, Rob Cameron and Scott Friedel runs deep in the DNA of America’s rave scene. Known internationally as the Hardkiss Brothers — hailed for their humanist DJ sets and seminal Delusions of Grandeur compilation from 1995 — they’ve influenced everyone from the Chemical Brothers to Goldie to Sasha. Last year, on March 25, 2013, that impact was felt painfully when Scott died unexpectedly of a cerebral aneurysm. The news shocked the veteran dance community, eliciting tributes across the globe.
It was Scott who pushed Gavin and Robbie in 1991 to go for it and start making music with the do-it-yourself technology of the day, using samplers and drum machines to stitch together their unique sound. “He was reading NME and Melody Maker heavily when he was in England for his year abroad,” says Robbie. “He basically studied how these early techno records were made that we were into. I remember him so excited, ‘No, I’ve read about this. I’ve figured it out. I know how we can do this. There’s no reason we can’t do this. We just need to get into a studio.’”
Their plan was simple: throw some parties to make a couple bucks to buy studio time at first and then gear and then press up records. So the three went into a studio with Scott’s knowledge and a handful of samples. It was nothing fancy. The engineer’s studio was in his dad’s basement. But there began the first original Hardkiss production: San Francisco, the Magick Sounds of the Underground.
“We just said, ‘Let’s start with this sample,’” says Robbie, highlighting the simple miracle of their first foray into production as well as the crude romance of the Hardkiss genesis. “‘OK, yeah, like a drum, like a hard drum, can you make it sound like this?’ That’s all it was. ‘We can do it.’ Put the parts together.”
Scott Hardkiss, who sometimes recorded under the name God Within, effectively put their music on the map with his first single, 1993’s “Raincry,” a moody breakbeat ride into sky-worshipping euphoria, lifting hearts from LA desert raves to clubs in London and Ibiza. His “Psychic Masturbation” remix of Andrew Weatherall’s One Dove “White Love” remains a defining moment, a cross-Atlantic embrace between California and England, sparkling curtains of rain giving way to a rainbow paradise, rivaling even Future Sound of London’s “Papua New Guinea.” John Digweed, a fan of what he once called the “West Coast vibe,” used to finish his DJ sets with it. Scott’s remix of Gavin’s own “3 Nudes” track into “3 Nudes (Having Sax On Acid)” still reigns as one of the smoothest slides into the deep. More recently, Scott continued to burnish his vision on 2009’s eclectic Technicolor Dreamer album along with a beautiful remix of The Veda Rays‘ “All Your Pretty Fates.”
“He’s very present in our music and our lives,” says Gavin. “He’s such a huge influence and friend and compatriot, and partner, who brought us to this point in so many different inspiring ways. We couldn’t help but change the way we listened to the music after he passed and as much as I tried to figure out how to get that album to sound like it was about us, it invariably becomes about Scott. I think we recognized this and Robbie went deep into making a song about Scott and Romanthony. It’s like a dirge, a funeral song, it’s so intense. It’s such a range of loss and recovery.”
“The title would make a lot of people think that we wanted to do an album that sounded like 1991,” says Robbie. “That we want to go back and play the ‘90s acid house. But really it’s more sentimental. It’s more about the feelings and emotions we were having at the time and the experiences….We’d been apart for like a decade. So that put 1991 in the room right when we got back together. Starting to get reconnected to Scott with the music takes it to another level. And then losing Scott just takes it to an ‘Oh my god!’ level of paying homage to that time, what a special time.”
Picking themselves back up and in partnership with Scott’s widow, Stephanie Diaz-Matos, Gavin and Robbie relaunched the Hardkiss Music label this past March: 1991 represents a new beginning with remix singles and more albums to come. “Fourteen or fifteen months ago in January, we started floating ten new tracks to different people to get feedback,” says Gavin. “Scott was living in Brooklyn. We fed it to him and he got excited about what we’d started on and he started remixing some of the material. I feel we were at the point of reeling him in and then he passed away. It came as such a shock to us.”
The one remix Scott completed before his death was for the album’s lead song, “Revolution.” It sums up the Hardkiss sound perfectly, stirring the soul with a righteous mix of urban disco, future funk and acid breakbeat. Like the ‘90s daytime parties in Golden Gate Park that Gavin and Robbie remember so fondly, “Revolution” could be a soundtrack to raving in the sun. But its message extends beyond the dance floor.
“It just seems like individually we’re all going through our personal revolution, trying to transcend our current situation,” says Gavin. “But there are very real political revolutions going on and they’re being set off every few months in different cities. There could be one right around the corner. It’s just this time we live in. It’s so combustible and we’re not standing up for shit anymore. We’re all aware what’s going on. It’s not going on behind closed doors like it would have 20 or 30 years ago. It’s in your face.”
The song’s lyrics were written over ten years ago by friend and rapper Scavone. Its urgent “time to move on” and “people dying in the street” is a challenge to the rave generation to get back on its feet. But Robbie also hears Scott’s last haunting musical touches in its words. It’s a finality that triggers mixed emotions.
“I listen to that or I play it at a club even and the ‘time to move on,’ once we lost Scott, I find it disturbing,” he says. “I’m like ‘No, no, no, I don’t want to move on.’ So I keep hearing that. That’s like a ghost in that song that actually pains me….Since he’s been gone I’m with him so much more now than I have been since we lived in the same city. This project: the connections that we share with people that we’re reconnecting with, the photos that we put on the cover, the songs — I’m spending way more time with him now in a long time, which is sweet and heartbreaking.”
A Tree of Hearts for Robbie’s Loop De Loop
In the ‘90s, Robbie became a focal point for Hardkiss, his ready humor and party-stoking DJ sets making him a mainstay at many West Coast raves. His Hardkiss solo project Little Wings was a mixture of Jimi Hendrix psychedelia and funky echo techno, his “Mercy, Mercy” a gentle strumming wonder. In 1996, Robbie, Gavin and Scott each recorded distinctive DJ mixes for Los Angeles’ Moonshine Records, spreading their eclectic vibes far and wide. Signed to Sony-Columbia to pen an original album, the Hardkiss Brothers were a hot commodity. But after suffocating under major label demands, they parted, setting Robbie on the longest loop of the trio.
“It was the confluence of a few things, where we were in our lives, hooking up with our wives, marriages, divorces, kids, all coinciding,” explains Robbie. “When we did sign the Columbia deal, that took a while to work our way out of. We pretty much broke apart at that time. It wasn’t all, ‘We’re breaking up.’ It was more like ‘I need to move here with my wife.’ That sent Scott to New York. I got married and moved to Austin and Gavin was left in California.”
One thing Hardkiss fans will be surprised to hear on 1991 is its prevalence of singing, most of it by Robbie. This is one of the more magical outcomes of the group’s splintered evolution. It turns out Robbie has a soulful singing voice reminiscent of Prince, including his cadence and love of gasping cries. “It’s funny because it’s clear that he’s in me,” he says. “Prince is actually the way Scott, Gavin and I all met. In high school Scott was rocking ‘1999’ coming to soccer practice. I heard that music coming out of his car and struck a conversation with him based on that. ‘You’re into Prince!? Oh I love Prince!’” Lyrically, Robbie also achieves a succinct poetic balance between his words and the groove, making his voice the missing link in the Hardkiss sound.
When Robbie left San Francisco and moved to Texas in 2001 with his wife Kelly, he set up his music studio and found himself suddenly alone. “I didn’t know anyone at all in Austin, which was pretty lovely for me at the time because I was pretty burned out,” he says. “But then I’m working on a groove and I need a vocal. I had a microphone and I knew where the vocal should go, so I just did it. The first one I did sounded good. ‘Whoa, I can do that, that’s funny.’ I was the only one there so I just sung more and more and realized how much fun it was.”
In those in-between years, Robbie and his family ended up in Philadelphia for a tough run. He and Kelly bought a home and tried to plant roots. But her new job quickly soured and the strain of raising two young kids while rebuilding a hundred-year-old house wore on them. So when Kelly got a new job offer back in the Bay Area, just 15 miles from where Gavin lived, they headed back West.
The lyrics of 1991’s “Don’t Worry” carries the weight of this time, making it a genuine pep talk full of inventive musical tricks. “You don’t know how to do it right now,” sings Robbie with slick timing. “Don’t worry you can figure it out. Just take a deep breath, now reset, clear your head and think about it. That’s not you with your head in your hands in the dark on the kitchen floor…Lonely heart, you’re falling apart, you’ve got to get yourself together. When you figure that out and you go out, I bet you find something better.” The song bumps with an infectious positivity, Robbie’s call-and-response of “ooh-ooh-ooh” floating over a yo-yo-ing synth, his voice bouncing and reflecting in mirror shards. Coming on like a permanent wave, its snarling bass line washes away spilt milk. “I had it, I lost it,” complains a higher pitched voice. “But you’ll get it again,” answers a lower inner mantra. “Don’t worry. Don’t worry.”
“I was hurting when I got back out to California,” says Robbie of his odyssey back home. “When I got here, the sun was in my face. I remember going to Safeway and seeing the California hills behind the supermarket and just seeing the sky and being able to walk to the beach. It was amazing. That was instant positivity, instant California, just getting out of the cold dark experience I was having in Philly. In 1991 we had all come from the East Coast. Scott and Gavin came later than I did but when you go to California, it’s kind of a dream. I had never been to California…I just drove across the country to San Francisco. It’s a place for dreamers I guess, to go fly the freak flag and live however you want and do whatever you want.”
Back again by the Pacific, Gavin and Robbie immediately got to jamming as if no time had passed between, decades of trust and memories buoying their reunion. “I met Robbie when I was 19 or 20 and I was at college with Scott,” says Gavin. “Robbie would come visit because he was at college at NYU. He’d come down to Philly to party with us…. Before we even made a note of music, Robbie was like, ‘You remember when we were in college and we used to just listen to De La Soul, Three Feet High and Rising? That album, man, come on! Let’s make something like that.’”
“When I moved back to California, I was bumping around with that in the car,” says Robbie of the feel-good hip hop classic from 1989. “I pulled out the old CD. I took it to Gavin’s studio too. We weren’t like, ‘Let’s do it like this.’ We were feeling it.”
Another influence that rekindled the spirit of 1991 was Change’s 1980 disco funk hit “Glow of Love,” featuring the vocals of soul singer Luther Vandross, a childhood friend and neighbor of the late DJ Frankie Knuckles, the “Godfather of House Music.” Listening to the song on his move back West, Robbie was amped to cover it. The Hardkiss version refracts the original through a wild psychedelic storm, hitting Detroit along the way, and catching rays walking onto the beach. “Smilin’ faces, goin’ places, it’s a wonder, it’s so clear,”sings Robbie. “By a fountain, climb a mountain, as we hold each other near…Walking in the glow of love. We’re walking! We’re wa-wa-walk-iiiii-nnnnnng!” Trippy guitar licks on the downstroke keep the groove strutting while Robbie’s voice bursts with the joy of spring’s return. “I can feel the flowers blooming. Can you feel it in the air? Can you feel it all around you? It’s a wonder.”
Gavin’s Roots and the Magnetic Pull Out West
As De La Soul raps on Three Feet High and Rising, “three is the magic number,” and in those years leading up to 1991, the friends bonded over a mutual love for music, from Prince to Primal Scream. But Gavin’s story is perhaps the most intriguing of the three because he took perhaps the biggest risk of all, planting the seeds for Hardkiss when he moved from his home of South Africa to America. “It’s not a music expression,” he says. “It’s just a way of being. I’m African. It’s hard to explain. It’s something different. I always think south of the Equator is more chilled out.”
When Gavin met Scott at the University of Pennsylvania, he borrowed Scott’s music collection and realized they had the exact same taste. The two instantly bonded and set out on many musical adventures. “We’d go to Tower Records in Philadelphia on South Street and King Britt was the buyer there, but it was kind of a limited vinyl section,” says Gavin. “Then we found a DJ magazine with an ad in the back for a Brooklyn record store called Groove Records. So we’d drive up there and that’s how we got to meet Frankie Bonesand his whole crew, just going up there to buy new records and then they invited us to go to their parties.”
“Frankie was lit from DJing in the UK and knew that the scene’s arrival in the US was imminent. The first Groove party we went to was on some abandoned train tracks in Brooklyn. Someone had a couple of speakers and turntables. It was just young kids making weird electronic music: Lenny D, Adam X, Jimmy Crash and Joey Beltram. All those guys were there and we were meeting them for the first time not knowing who they were. This was within just a few months of Joey Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash.’”
“And then we went out to one of the first Storm Raves. I have an idea of what Storm Rave became, but this was someone’s townhouse in Shelter Island, you know what I mean? It was in the garage in the back room, like 25 of us. That was fantastic driving through Long Island to Shelter Island all the way from Philadelphia to go party for the whole night with Frankie and his crew.”
Inspired to start their own scene, Scott and Gavin hatched a plan to join Robbie in San Francisco to make music. They packed up Scott’s turntables and their records in the trunk of Scott’s car and drove across the country. Along the way they made a call to Prince’s Paisley Park studio in Minneapolis and set up an appointment by role-playing big time producers who wanted to tour the legendary facility. But they were too much in a hurry to meet their destiny in California to make the stop. One night they tried camping, but after only a few hours they got right back on the road, again feeling the magnetic pull West growing stronger by the mile. They took a quick helicopter ride in Bryce Canyon, taking in the great expanses of the old frontier. Gavin touchingly memorialized this wide-eyed trip across America on an “In My Boom” radio show a couple weeks after Scott passed.
“What we were trying to bring was us,” says Gavin about their Hardkiss dreams. “That’s all we had. How hyped and excited we were. Just high on life. We thought we could do it. You know, I wanted to be Richard Branson. Scott probably wanted to be Mick Jagger. I don’t know. We came out to San Francisco and told Robbie, let’s do this together.”
“We were really optimistic and full of life and love at that time so that’s what we wanted to share,” says Robbie. “But it wasn’t like we had calculated or that we were trying to make a certain sound. We wanted people to feel it, the emotion, that was one thing. We never broke it down and discussed it. We shared music incessantly, all the music we listened to and then you just start making it. You know when you like it.”
Of the three, Gavin has been the most prolific. He has produced four solo albums as Hawke, from the Afro-Latin electronica of Namaquadisco to the neon future pop of +++. His recent Knight of the Hawke E.P. breathes with stabbing electric funk on world-class tracks “Fields of No Name” and “Can I Borrow Your Cane.” On 1991, you can sense his love of musical journeys on the rubbery “It’s Right (Hawke Mix)” and the epic “Feeling Scott Through Romanthony.” His melodic sixth sense is perfectly tuned to the rave heyday of early ‘90s California: “Forever Forever” rises into the sky with shattering horns, a wasp of a synth twisting overhead, stretching like taffy while a gentle burst of notes echoes into the canyons of your mind. He also recently self-published his own novel about a DJ’s surreal adventure called Cubic Lust.
“I roll with the seasons a bit,” he says. “January comes around and I get an inkling to do something and I just do it. ‘I’m going to have an art show.’ ‘I’m going to write a book.’ A couple years ago, I started reading some journals that I had written in the ‘90s.’ I just started writing and staying up late and waking up early and I started living the character.”
It’s this magpie life that has made Gavin one of the most fascinating characters in the American underground. He still keeps in touch with fellow trailblazers like Tranquility Bass’ Mike Kandel, who started LA’s first acid house label with Tom Chasteen in 1991, Exist Dance. You can hear it in classic Hawke tracks like “Vivos En La Muerte,” a kind of Hardkiss battle cry in Spanish. With Robbie and Scott, he also played a key hand in the operation of Hardkiss offshoot label, Sunburn Records, which output much of their post-Columbia work, championing gutsy statements like Lorien Ferris’ gorgeous “Arboreal Sunrise” as Universal Machine.
“It’s not easy to be positive and not be cheesy in a jaded world,” he says. “Everyone’s had their fair share of knock downs and problems. We all want to be picked up. But to do that sonically is quite a challenge. It’s a Hardkiss quality. It’s our sound. There’s a kind of melancholic truth that’s uplifting.”
Renegade Generation, Welcome to the Eternal Sunshine
That sound was born on the dance floors of San Francisco, from cramped basements to beach raves to boat parties to the famous 1015 Folsom. In the early ‘90s, ravers were flooding San Francisco from around the world, some of them refugees from the UK’s jaded scene. The likes of house maestro Charles Webster and ambient jazz man Jonah Sharp, were among the Bay’s British transplants. The legendary Wicked DJ crew were also in search of a new frontier. More native talents bloomed with Dubtribe and Young American Primitive. Before Electric Daisy Carnival or Tomorrowland, there were mega raves on the West Coast like “Toontown,” “Circa” and “Pau Pau Ranch.”
Wicked’s “Full Moon” parties and The Gatherings are particular standouts for Gavin and Robbie. The sunrise at parties both outdoors and indoors was a special ritual — being awake when the earth makes its rhythmic turn from night to day. “Whether it was Boogie Buffet or Carefree Dancing, we enjoyed it most when the sun was rising,” Gavin says. “Sometimes I wouldn’t go out until 4 a.m. — sleep and get up and go out before the sun came up.”
It’s this ability to see the world anew and seize the day that drives Hardkiss forward. That’s why 1991 is so important as a year and as a musical reset, because it’s where their journey began and where it continues. They’re not going backward but revolving around the sun, a year since they lost Scott, carrying him and the rest of us with them.
“You talk about the sound and culture of that early ‘90s period,” Gavin says. “There was gangster hip hop going off, and grunge and Eddie Vedder yelling in your ear. And man, we were living in the sunshine. We weren’t paying any attention to all the depressing shit people were listening to. We were living in the sun and enjoying those vibes. Any way we can pass that on, it’s a good sonic expression. I love it.”
It’s the rhythm of the sun that still binds all three brothers. “Even that song ‘Broken Hearts’ was written well before Scott passed,” says Robbie. “It was written with him in mind. Gavin had beautiful melodies in that song at an early stage and when I heard those melodies, that’s how ‘1991’ started popping up. ‘This sounds like ‘1979’ from Smashing Pumpkins a little bit.’ Something about the melody. Gavin started calling it ‘1991’ just as a file name. I started writing lyrics that were about Scott, Gavin and me. That song was done and in the books and we sent it to Scott along with others to pick what he wanted to remix and that was one he was really excited about. And then he dies. That song means so much more now. You have the feelings and sentiments before something like that happens and then it’s just like ‘Whoa.’”
“I hope that your broken heart can mend,” Robbie sings with unfailing love as Gavin’s mournful melody zigzags the clouds. In answer, we hear Scott’s words from that first leap of faith: “That we can make music. And we can make music.” It’s a moving goodbye, a sunset that bends to sunrise. I couldn’t bring myself to ask Robbie and Gavin what they played at Scott’s memorial in San Francisco, but I can imagine “Broken Hearts” would make angels weep. Aching in its beauty, it will bring tears to anyone who knows the Hardkiss story or the long road “EDM” took from its native land to Europe and back again, an improbable migration West to what Scott once described to URB magazine as “where all the seekers end up…literally the end of the country.”
Which brings us back to those burning speakers on 6th between Mission and Market in San Francisco, 1991. It’s an image that every raver should know because it speaks to the power of perseverance. As we lose some of the original authors of the underground, from Romanthony to Scott Hardkiss to Frankie Knuckles, 1991 reminds us that today is tomorrow’s yesterday. It transports us to a time when the sun was burning from within and rising high, making this Hardkiss album one of the most important EDM records of the last ten years.
“Some dude on the dance floor told me the speaker was on fire,” remembers Robbie of that fateful night. “I was like, ‘Yeah! Hot, right?’ thinking he was speaking metaphorically. But I looked, and sure enough, flames inside the speaker. The door man unplugged it, picked it up, took it out the back door, threw it into the alley and hit it with the fire extinguisher. For awhile, we kept going with one speaker. Then that one caught on fire too. No speakers, no sound, so party over.”
As people were leaving, the Hardkiss Brothers handed out a number to call for the location of an outdoor make-up party, which ended up being a late-night renegade by Candlestick Park. Sometime in the middle, automatic sprinklers started spraying the speakers and turntables. Robbie remembers standing on a sprinkler, getting soaked, trying to keep it from getting the gear wet. But what he sees most clearly now is a moment that perfectly captures an intimate grandeur. It’s an image that welcomes the revolution and mends the heart.
“Scott played Frankie Knuckles’ ‘The Whistle Song’ after the sun came up,” says Robbie. “While it was playing, seagulls came and flew around the dance area, then left when that song was over. I know that sounds completely made up or hallucinated, but it actually happened. You can ask any of the ten to fifteen people who were still there dancing. Such a sweet memory.”
1991 was a big year for electronic dance music and the planet. Here’s a list of ten things that echo today in no particular order:
1. Hardkiss Music is born in San Francisco
2. Joey Beltram’s “Energy Flash,” released end of 1990, rules raves in 1991
3. Future Sound of London releases ambient breakbeat classic “Papua New Guinea”
4. Exist Dance label is born in Los Angeles: Tranquility Bass births trip hop classic “They Came In Peace”
5. Frankie Knuckles releases classic house composition “The Whistle Song”
6. Alexander Shulgin publishes PIKHAL: A Chemical Love Story
7. Queen singer Freddy Mercury dies, raising profile of AIDS epidemic
8. Rodney King is beaten in Los Angeles by CHP officers
9. Apartheid comes to an end in South Africa
10. The Internet is born
Los Angeles is a city in search of a heart. Its pulse is secret and diffuse. It sprawls, a city growing sideways. And yet, in our dreams, on our movie screens, in the ministrations of the club occult and the dance moves of laser-guided melodies, the City of Angels stands tall. Like the invisible cities that live in our microchips, spewing bytes and beats across the internet of things, it’s a ghost city shining in our imaginations. You can feel the magnetic pull of downtown, still half zombie land, half hipster refuge. The ocean laps at the feet of the fortunate. The desert awaits the foolish. And the mountains watch over the fates of 18 million strong.
The music video for Bavaria’s “Everywhere” was a meditation on the elusive spirit of this great yet mocked metropolis. It’s loved and hated by all. Why? For director Mark Dadlani, who grew up here in the foothills of Angeles Crest Forest, it’s the ruins that keep him happy. In between the ethereal piano keys and booming bass of “Everywhere,” he discovered a hidden space. “The sounds of it can be so reductively primitive, of men just beating on drums,” he says. “But it can also be so complicated and futuristic that it only could have been made in our time. That’s why I’m so drawn to it. It has that ability to be both. That’s kind of what the MV ended up being about too.”
Inspired by the Buddhist folk tales of the Makaliphon tree in Thailand, he envisioned a man alienated from himself, leaving a burned house in the wilderness and walking into a foggy valley to track a coyote. These slight lupine animals lack the respect that wolves and other predators command in other lands. Like possums and raccoons, they’re seen as a nuisance by city slickers and suburban homesteads. Yet in “Everywhere,” Dadlani saw beauty in the coyote. “A lot of people can be in the middle of LA and never know,” Dadlani says. “Thirty minutes away are some of the most magical waterfall groves you’ll ever hang out in. That’s LA to me.”
His she-wolf represents the mystery of nature itself, the tangles of human fate in the never-ending bounce of life and death. Mist was the muse for “Everywhere,” a seeping presence, her spell of enchantment. It clouds our vision and obscures light. “The mist is sort of an allusion to the witching hour, the bridge to the spirit world in early American Colonial and Protestant beliefs, as well as in Viking culture, the fog is an omen or foretelling of danger.”
Dadlani knew he wanted his hero to die falling from a cliff. But how to capture it? That’s where the fate of the shoot stepped in. He got his man reaching for his lady. And then, the lighting of a lantern. It was almost an afterthought that instead became the afterlife. “That’s why I had him sitting in the burnt out house by a chimney at the beginning,” Dadlani says. “That’s why I had him smoking the pipe because I was thinking about things like the Oracle of Delphi.”
The she-wolf of Rome was in the back of his mind too. According to legend, she suckled the twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, who according to myth would found the great city, after finding them abandoned by the River Tiber. The name “Los Angeles” comes from a Spanish phrase translated to “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Porciúncula River.” The Franciscan friar Junípero Serra directed the building of the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in 1771, followed by mixed race settlers who founded a pueblo ten years later that would grow into Los Angeles. The City of Angels is around 250 years old, filled with botox and Teslas, and yet its name is holy and eternal. “It’s mythic in people’s minds,” Dadlani says.
Are angels watching over this strange town? Is there a Queen of Angels we can believe in? “Everywhere” is just a music video, but in its own small way it tries to ask that question with poetic imagery. A lost man goes West to find himself and dies alone. Yet he’s not alone. In death is a new beginning. A new flame is kindled. A full moon hovers over the cold fog. He goes to sleep to dream within a dream. We see his dead body by a stream, blood flowing like the mist into the water. Then we see him wake, opening his eyes as if he were in a deep sleep. He’s in another world, awake to another day, where the natural and the supernatural finally meet.
Dadlani and I discussed this transition in great detail with our editor Seth Levine. We all felt this was a tricky but in the end necessary confusion. Is he dead? Does he know he’s dead? Does the coyote have blood on her mouth? Are they in love? Are we seeing the future or the past? To us, it didn’t matter if these questions were answered. We embraced the ambiguity and decided to emphasize that something spiritual happened up on that hill. The kaleidoscope of images, from mist over the crags to clicking fades as our hero leans back, signals that we’re in an altered state. Whether it’s a dream or the afterlife is by preference. In fact, that it could be both or one or the other only accentuates the short bridge between the two.
But the lantern does tell us he is somewhere we can recognize, a place called darkness. And in this place, is fire, brighting our eyes like a supernova. The lantern is also indicative of the old world, echoing the mythic Charon leading the dead across the rivers Styx and Acheron. Holding the lantern, the coyote is the sentinel at the door, not unlike that iconic image of the The Hermit on the Led Zeppelin IV album sleeve. It’s as if our hero was ferried to the land of the dead by Charon himself, who escorts every dead soul to an eternal resting place in Hades.
And that moon, we show it just for a brief moment. Like the lantern lighting after the climb up the hill, it helps collapse time. We go from a bright sun on the mount to night. John Tejada’s music helps tell the story. We peak just before with a clash of delicious acid squiggles followed by reverberant keys. We reach and then we fall into an abyss. We see blood on rocks. We see our hero encircled by hills. The drums kick back in as our animal spirit, played by Bavaria vocalist and co-writer Kimi Recor, looks up at us from below, the synth waves rushing in. “Eternal, nightingale,” she sings, as our full moon breaks through the clouds.
The moon has always been that ghostly light, that silver dimension that gifts a luminous joy or fear. If there is no civilization, if there is no firelight, then the moon is our guide at night. It punctuates the circadian rhythms and gives both the tides and fertility its beat. In “Everywhere,” it contrasts with our lantern. It’s the persistent memory of humanity’s beginnings. The scenes that follow are low lit as if they could be in moonlight. Our goddess comes to him as three and collapses into one. She puts her hand tenderly to his face. He’s finally found a companion, the one thing that people desire above all else. She’s his moon.
She grabs his hand, leading him to a lookout on the other side of the valley and on the other side of death. ”When the two characters…stand and look out onto civilization, it’s a dual knife of death and rebirth,” Dadlani says. “The city to me has a lot of different ideas, that’s why I wanted them to look out onto it, them shining a light for people to see nature. She’s shining a light to call and to show. Show what it’s done, show what it looks like, to show how it has affected what you just saw.”
As the music comes to its climactic end — fire, the first act of civilization, shines out to the future and America’s Manifest Destiny. “She’s everywhere,” she sings from the cliff, standing at the doorstep between nature and modernity. We see a landscape of light — countless little fires in bulbs of glass humming over the haze. The golden glow from the City of Angels gives us hope. And for a moment, we believe they are not dead. For the ghost city is more powerful as an idea. We don’t need it to be real. The dream will carry us.
Ghost Deep film director Mark Dadlani has been shooting TV, music videos, movies and commercials for several years. A graduate of UCLA’s art program, he lived in Bangkok, Thailand, for the last decade, where he worked with major brands and actors. Returning to Los Angeles in 2013, he was waiting for the perfect project to relaunch his career in his hometown. John Tejada and Kimi Recor’s “Everywhere,” as the electronic pop group Bavaria, was that shot.
Working within a razor thin budget, Dadlani chose to bring the little known wilds of Angeles Crest Forest to the fore, using the rhythms and beauty of nature to chart the heartbeat of modern civilization. As a photographer long obsessed with ruins and abandoned buildings, he sought to frame the “Everywhere” music video in a future-primitive context. Inspired by Thai folk tales and the viewpoint of the “Native,” and using the powerful undertow of Bavaria’s music, he tells a story of mythic proportions instead of shooting a by-the-numbers music video. Working with Mark on his passion project was a great learning experience and I am proud to welcome him to the Ghost Deep family. The following Q&A is our look back on the winding journey of “Everywhere” (watch the video in full screen on Vimeo and YouTube).
When you first listened to “Everywhere,” what were the images that came to you. How did the story come about?
I was actually working on a script about a Thai thing called the Makaliphon a while ago and it was still in the back of my mind. I was thinking about nature and man together. When I heard “Everywhere,” I thought the music and the lyrical dialogue was a perfect synergy to create a story of man in nature and the modern world intermixing. A Makaliphon is actually a flower in the Buddhist forest. Hermits are friends of the Makaliphon or have “wives” as Makaliphon, which are women born of a flower that comes from a tree. So there’s this tree that fruits women. So this idea of nature as a woman and this man being lost going into nature resonated for me with the song.
In terms of shooting for electronic music, how is it different and what about it attracts you visually?
Electronic music is always a great basis for collaboration for filmmakers and visual artists. A lot of times when I shoot performance artists, like vocalists or rock bands, they want to be seen. It becomes more shooting them acting like they’re giving a live performance. There isn’t any filmic collaboration. It’s more shooting a performance with things going on around it. With electronic music, what attracts me is that most of the time electronic artists are more interested in creating a story to go along with their music.
Do you feel that the music itself, the electronic sounds in particular, spur creativity?
I feel a real personal connection to electronic music. I’m very attached to it because to me it is humanistic and futuristic at the same time. That sounds very bougie but that’s what it is at its best. The sounds of it can be so reductively primitive, of men just beating on drums, but it can also be so complicated and futuristic that it only could have been made in our time. That’s why I’m so drawn to it. It has that ability to be both. That’s kind of what the MV ended up being about too.
So as a filmmaker, electronic music speaks to you then in terms of the collapse of time?
As a filmmaker, without music, it’s just a bunch of moving pictures. It’s radio without dialogue. I put on my Bose headphones when I first listened to “Everywhere” and I immediately heard that deep “bawooow!” The deep bass drops of it were very specifically spaced out. John is very smart and does very intricate compositions when he wants, and the deep deep bass drop gave me the feeling of setting the story where you could do all these ethereal complicated sounds and then the big drop of music brought you back into reality. It’s what I liked about it.
When you say the drops would bring you back into reality, is that the nature piece of the music, the landscape?
Yes, there are three characters: the nature, the physical, and then there’s the spiritual, which is the coyote that is both nature and humanity. She’s both the natural world and the spiritual world. She’s the hybrid. That’s what those drops were influencing and some of the piano keys. When we were cutting it, the ethereal piano came in over these sweeping rays, and then drop into the male tracker for reality, then flashes into the spiritual world, which is a shot of Kimi as the coyote.
The lyrics were also helpful. I felt some of the visual references of being “everywhere,” she’s speaking to someone, drawing them in, “come alone,” she whispers. I used that as part of it. In the video we cut to a lyric to intermix the visual and auditory content.
How did it evolve as you had these impressions as you were shooting it? How did the themes start to come together, like the evolution from your Thai influences to the Native American flourishes?
Originally it was more about being a native of any landscape. I myself am a native to LA, born and raised. I’m not a transplant. A lot of my close friends are actual Native Americans. I’ve had a lot of experience in mixed cultural and multicultural situations and being the “other” in Asia and not being the predominant white male American. I’ve always been fascinated by that. When I referenced the “native,” I wasn’t trying to reference the Native American culture. I was more trying to reference a “native” person, period, as in someone who lives from the land. And part of being Southern Californian and living in a desert landscape, Native Americans have a very specific way of doing and looking at things.
I didn’t want it to be cliched too. Every Native American I know doesn’t wear a feather or traditionalism. But my best friend, Stephen Puella, who is Native American and who plays the tracker in the video, there is an understanding of nature and modernization that is very typical to their culture, that no matter how modern they become, they also understand what it is to not lose the land inside them. To not completely forget about nature. You find that a lot around the world with indigenous people. I experienced that in Thailand, especially in the north where my wife has some roots, many of the people have that modernity but understanding and respect for the power of nature at the same time.
I know one of things you wanted to explore visually was the landscape. You grew up right in or below Angeles Crest, and the developed areas around it, some of it swallowed back up by the land, modern ruins in the landscape. What was that about?
I shoot photographs and that is a big part of my longstanding photography work. I’m unhealthily obsessed with the way humanity creates structures and then leaves them. It’s this idea of the “aesthetic of the ruin,” what things look like when nature reclaims something made by humans for humans. That is predominant around the world and is one of the reasons I was in Southeast Asia for so long and is one of the things I love about living here in California. We build stuff and we just leave it. Money runs out on development and hotels and things are just left there. Nature takes it back. If it’s around long enough, then it’s like a historical monument like Angkor Wat. But really what it is, is just neglect.
I’ve also been interested in the philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s idea of a thousand plateaus and rhizome culture. It’s very heady French stuff but nonetheless ties into my visual style. But it’s also why I love Angeles Crest Forest. I grew up around there. It is the one place in which you can stand on the footsteps of nature and peer out onto the modern world. It’s always been like that for me. I’ve always loved it that way. It is the doorstep between nature and modernization. I think very few filmmakers in California use it like that.
Speaking of that, personally, one of the things I really loved when I read the treatment were some of these elements. I liked the simplicity and poetic nature of it. The end really spoke to me in terms of its romanticism, looking out from nature out onto the city. When I was reading it, there was something very expansive about that concept, exploring Los Angeles, “What is it?” It is one of these cities where nature is mixed all through it and yet the city has sprawled all over nature. The desert is right there and then the ocean. LA is a very unique city in that way. More so than a place like San Francisco, where when you go, it has been built in a more traditional orderly vertical fashion. LA has more edge to it and holes, more lost souls.
A lot people can be in the middle of LA and never know. Even as a kid I knew a lot of kids that had no idea that 30 minutes away are some of the most magical waterfall groves you’ll ever hang out in. That’s LA to me. It’s this massive urban city that is well known that has massive amounts of nature around it and most people don’t know that. They see it in the distance, “Oh you mean the mountains over there.” More people go to the sea because they think California, they think beach. Angeles Crest is redwoods too. We walked right past them on the shoot. We’d walk right past a few hundred years old redwood tree, just chilling and doing its thing.
People make a lot of movies and videos about LA. But not a lot of people make videos about LA and its specific kind of nature. This whole nature-city thing, is one of the things when I talked to John Tejada when he was wrapping his head around the story, I explained it was about the “threshold” to the city. In the video, what is in front of us is the city, which represents the future. Electronic music speaks to you in that way too. We’ve talked about these different things that make up Los Angeles but what is it about that last shot where they are looking out on Los Angeles, which could be many cityscapes — but what does the “city” represent to you in this video, the idea of civilization?
You explore this journey with the coyote spirit, and then the hero is dead. The last thing he looks at is the city, which to me also represented on some level the afterlife. Because I was working on this history of the LA rave scene, I was really thinking a lot about the name “Los Angeles” and the “City of Angels.” So what I liked about the end of the video, maybe not everybody is going to get it, but Los Angeles was originally named after the “Queen of Angels” and this idea of an undead city. It’s very mythic. It’s a pretty powerful name, a spiritual one. It’s not like “St. Francis” or even “New York.” It is the city of angels.
There’s two “city of angels.” There’s here and Bangkok, which actually translates to the “city of angels” as well. I’ve lived in both cities. The only two cities I know that are called the “city of angels” are Los Angeles and Bangkok. Bangkok’s original name was “Krung Thep Maha Nakhon,” which translates to “city of angels.” Part of that is why I had them look out onto the city and become a mythical place, because this is Los Angeles, it’s mythic in people’s minds. It’s also not visually mythical either. It’s flat. There’s no massive architectural elements that define Los Angeles to me. We have a few things in downtown and a few things here and there, but we have nothing like when you fly over Manhattan, you know it’s New York. You see a bunch of crazy lights and a honeycomb of tall buildings. Or Tokyo. Here, you fly over, flat, you’re like, “So that’s LA?” People have a mythical big thing with LA because people always try to come to LA. People get lost and people succeed. It’s very awkwardly and appropriately named, to be honest.
When the two characters in “Everywhere” stand and look out onto civilization, it’s a dual knife of death and rebirth. The city to me has a lot of different ideas, that’s why I wanted them to look out onto it, them shining a light for people to see nature. She’s shining a light to call and to show. Show what it’s done, show what it looks like, to show how it has affected what you just saw. Before, you see beautiful nature, and the last thing you see is the city. You see what the city has done to nature. But the lantern also shines a path to the city at the same time.
For me, she’s also framing humankind, framing us in our modern form, what we’ve become. It again gets back to the collapse of time, the contemporary. Much of the video feels like nature in the past. But going back to how you were talking about Stephen, Native Americans live and are more aware of that continuum. It’s not so much a continuum, but it’s reality right now. These things are existing together, negatives and positives, past and future.
It’s not so much Native American, but more about being native, because native peoples see that. Because I’m a native to Los Angeles, I see it. So I see this. To me this is my home. I grew up here. So this is evident to me. I sees how it sprawls into my neighborhood. I see what it does. That’s why I used the idea of the “Native.” When you look at the music video, it is very ethereal. I try to make stuff that is very dense, but try to make it so you come away with your own thing. A lot of people who have responded to it say it is very beautiful and ethereal. And there’s not a solid plot to it. That’s sort of cool. With music videos, I don’t feel like it is necessary to hammer a point. But it’s there, if you want to watch it a couple times, rather than a one time viewing of someone singing a song in front of you.
One thing I wanted to talk about more is the mythic connections. I felt you were using mythic visual language to tell this story so some of these associations make sense, planned or not. The first thing I remember talking with you about, was the night stuff, was to use a lantern and think about Charon and the River Styx, the afterlife and she escorting him to the underworld and civilization. Another thing I was thinking about recently was the idea of the coyote spirit, and seeing an interesting parallel between her and the she-wolf of Rome, the founding of Rome.
Romulus and Remus. I didn’t think anyone would connect themes like that, but honestly I think about a lot of this kind of stuff. I do. One of my favorite things is spiritual and long mythological ties, whether Makaliphon or Roman mythology. Used in an appropriate way, it is something that resonates throughout our society. We understand those stories. Obviously George Lucas used it a lot. A lot of people do, using mythological stories to tell modern stories. We understand it as a people. I used the idea of the she-wolf. Or when you suggested the lantern, I was like, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. That’s going to fit in perfectly with this.”
One more thing about the lantern, and that’s what I think is really cool about the video, is the more I watch it, the more I find new things. One of the things with the lantern is that fire represents the first act of human civilization — fire light and the control of fire. I think that’s another mythological symbol that works and why it works for me when you decided to edit to that shot after the hero reaches for his fate at the peak.
That’s why I had him sitting in the burnt out house by a chimney at the beginning. That’s why I had him smoking the pipe because I was thinking about things like the Oracle of Delphi and a lot of mind-altering rituals, of ingesting peyote, etc. The Oracle was supposed to be a direct line to the gods. That’s always been the idea behind the idea of ingesting mind-altering substances, especially psychedelic ones. But I didn’t want to tie drugs and electronic music too closely together. I don’t think that’s a good connection or automatically accurate. I wanted just a little touch, to help motivate the character. It is very vague visually in many places so I had to do some stereotypical things to drive the video.
Again, I think there’s all these cool layers. I had forgotten about the chimney and burnt out house. At the beginning he’s smoking the pipe, by the chimney, he’s inhaling fire. Later on, the lantern is lit and then you see the city as a landscape of light. Even the bookend, she’s staring into the lantern. She’s looking into the power of creation and destruction, and at the end she is using it to guide our fallen hero to a landscape of fire and light. It becomes more expansive from there. You also played with day and night and mist. What were you going for with the fog and mist?
The mist is sort of an allusion to the witching hour, the bridge to the spirt world in early American Colonial and Protestant beliefs, as well as in Viking culture, the fog is an omen or foretelling of danger. Or the cold breath of the dragon. It starts off sunny and then gets darker, and then as he climbs it gets brighter and brighter, and just as he gets to the top, the flare hits it — Icarus — and then it’s black again and he falls.
He falls and he’s dead. But then he gets the woman. We’ve talked about big environmental themes. But the video is also about a man and a woman. It’s a little bit of a love story. What were your thoughts on that?
It goes back to my idea of the Makaliphon too, which was the idea of hermits who can’t socialize, the idea of men who can’t make it in society, but who want to, so they go out to find it any way they can. So part of this was this man who is lost or who is wanting to connect with the opposite sex. I think that failed men are always intriguing to me, because we are all failed men in some respects. I think that’s true so I play with it as much as I can. I also wanted to make it romantic and to express a longing for something beautiful. He desires this she-wolf or she-coyote, but it’s also a woman too, so he longs for her.
And, he dies reaching for her.
The main idea is that he is searching or longing for a connection with nature and a woman. And he’s just unable to find it in this realm.
The beginning of civilization is procreation, and man and woman coming together to populate the species. In a way, he can’t find love in this life, but in the afterlife he can. In some ways that’s the eternal dream, right?
One of the things we tried to do was to play with the multiples of her, the clones that become one. The Makaliphon fruit grow in multiples from a tree. It evolved in that I was not able to accomplish the multiple composites to the degree I wanted to, because of a lack of time on the shoot.
Speaking of the actual technical part of the music video, was there a certain style or look you were playing with, in terms of the lenses you used and the camera?
I didn’t reference another filmmaker because this was a style I’ve tried to develop over time. What I’ve tried to develop are big wide nature shots and very tight humanistic shots. I tried to keep all the effects as in-camera as possible, lighting, flares and tilt-shoots to separate the boundaries between the natural and spiritual worlds. I shot everything very diffused to get it all dreamy and desaturated.
I shot everything off speed because I felt it needed that. Meaning I shot it at higher frame rates than it plays back at so everything is in slow motion, however slight. I also respond to location first in everything I do. Even when I was DP’ing for other projects, the location dictates the shots, the angles. I did a lot of location scouting first for this music video. I shot it all handheld too. I also made sure it was 2-to-1 aspect ratio. I really wanted it to be cinematic, so I shot it anamorphic. I think of it as “anthropomorphic,” that visual human scope. I used Super Speeds lenses so I could have shallow depth of focus and tilt-shift lenses, Lensbabies, for flares and blurs. I shot the video all natural light, so we had to read where the light was and the Super Speeds were very handy in that regard. I had to make sure the light was behind me most of the time to light the subjects. There was not a single shot without natural light except with the lantern.
What was it like working with John Tejada and doing a video for him?
Working with John was very easy. He’s very intelligent and a thoughtful human being and also a big cinema buff, which I found out later. I obviously knew who he was and it was an awesome thing to get to interpret his music. I actually met his amazing wife first, Lynn Tejada of Green Galactic, and she suggested we work together. She’s very pro helping artists meet artists and working together. Doing this video was sort of her idea. “You do your thing to our thing and we’ll see how it comes out together.”
What was it like working with Kimi and what do you think she brought to the video as one of the artists behind Bavaria and as the singer?
When I pitched it, I was thinking I would need to get a model or actress, but they suggested having Kimi in the music video. So we met and it was very cool meeting her. We agreed on the general vibe of collaborating and how to do things. She’s pretty but also has a very distinctive look, and I felt it helped the story. When I told her I was going to completely face paint and transform her to some degree, she was excited. There was nothing glamorous about it, and she was ok with that. Having the artist in the story is really cool too, but not in an obvious performer way. She sings her own line, so there’s a connection. Having her in it, bringing the song back into the piece, gives it a balance.
It was cold on the shoot. And John was there for it too.
There’s a behind the scenes photo of John and Kimi huddling in the fog. It was cold. She was a trooper. I had come back from Michigan, so I think I didn’t feel as cold. California can get cold. Snow was on the ground. The day of the shoot, we woke up to some weather, for sure.
And when it comes to Stephen, he’s not an actor by trade either but he did a good job. He was authentic in his own way. I do feel there was some chemistry between them. It’s actually convincing to me, when she puts her hand on him, I can actually see these two as girlfriend, boyfriend. They’re both tall.
Knowing Kimi was tall was great because I knew they would match perfectly. Stephen is not an actor. He’s a musician like Kimi. He’s not really a performer. But he fit the part perfectly. I tried not to have him act. I really tried to have him do things that were natural. I wanted more Stephen being Stephen, being in the outdoors, chilling, watching, relaxing. He’s a very quiet and reserved person.
My last question is about coming full circle. Now that you’ve done this video and you’re back in LA, having been out in Asia for seven years, working with Stephen, your wife Sabi working on the video too — what was it like coming back to your home and doing this native story?
It was my first thing back in LA, so there were a lot of challenges for me to overcome. Not knowing people, personnel, gear rentals, steeper prices. I had this mountain, I climbed it and I got to the top, so I’m happy how it turned out. The song, the lyrics and everything, I really couldn’t have asked for better. It segued perfectly into the kind of work I want to do, and hopefully leads to more things, and allows me to push myself artistically. It’s been great, working with you, having solid writing and producing, it’s great. I wouldn’t have made this had I not had the life experiences before. This culmination, I think it was a successful endeavor of my work up to this point.
I think it comes back to that final shot again with the silhouette of the mountains framing the city, like two hands holding civilization in a cup, like wings. It’s very angelic. In a way it is you looking out onto your future and LA, your home. It’s your journey.
I wake up every morning and I look up at the mountains. I drive down to the city and I go about my day. That’s how I see things. I stand there and I look out onto the city, and I think, “Hey, I’m back.” It feels good.
Musician and vocalist Kimi Recor, one half of Bavaria, plays the coyote animal spirit in the “Everywhere” music video in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. She climbs in a key scene to get a better look at the tracker, who has entered her misty domain. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
Wide shot of Recor climbing Bavaria summit in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Her lookout sets up her character as keeper of the forest and goddess of Nature. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
Director Mark Dadlani, holds camera, while working with First Assistant Director Tyler Tratton, on the Bavaria rocks sequences, in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
Sabrina Dadlani, production designer and costume artist, touches up Recor’s arm for a close up shot, in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Recor’s Coyote costume was handmade and her makeup was inspired by native designs from various indigenous cultures in Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia and America. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
The “Everywhere” crew work on fine-tuning the focus for a climbing shot with Recor, in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
A shot of redwoods and pines for “Everywhere” in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Luckily, fitting the desired atmosphere for the story, the weather was cold and foggy. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
Director and cinematographer Dadlani moves camera rig off his shoulders in between shots for “Everywhere,” in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
Stephen Puella, who plays the lost tracker in “Everywhere,” walks through the woods, in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
Director Dadlani scopes out a scene before a shot for “Everywhere” in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
Actor Puella climbs up the Bavaria summit to meet his fate, in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
The “Everywhere” crew set up one of several shots in a foggy valley, where Puella makes his way through winding trails, under dead trees, over streams and around natural pools. In this particular shot, the crew is filming a composite of the two characters, in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
Recor stands ready between shots, as she prepares to walk into Puella’s path and whisper into his ears. In the story, she is a supernatural presence and like a ghost, he cannot see her. This shot is the one time through the whole “Everywhere” music video where Recor as a music performer crosses into the story’s reality to connect the song with the visuals, in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA. Taken Nov. 16, 2013.
To get the right river shots he wanted, Dadlani had to get wet. Techno artist John Tejada, one half of Bavaria, and Stratton look on with anticipation. Dry ice was used to help accentuate the fog and mist. Shot in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA, on Nov. 16, 2013.
The “Everywhere” crew shoots one of the last scenes for the video, where Puella lies dead from his fall from the Bavaria summit, with Recor as the Coyote holding his hand. Shot in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA, on Nov. 16, 2013.
Between shots, Recor and Tejada talk while trying to keep warm. The majority of the video was shot in one day, in Angeles Crest Forest, Los Angeles, CA, on Nov. 16, 2013.
Ghost Deep’s first video project is for Bavaria‘s “Everywhere” song on the n5MD label. Directed by Mark Dadlani, the music video is an exploration of disorientation and longing set in the mountains of Los Angeles. Following a tracker who weaves into the mists and mysteries of the forest, we meet a spirit animal who guides him deeper into her domain. As he climbs to his fate, a collapse in time and images pushes us into a higher realm, where Dadlani captures a spiritual transformation, one that takes place on the bloody threshold of self-discovery at the doorstep of civilization.
As both an examination of nature and the city, Dadlani’s “Everywhere” video also charts the ancient rhythms of light and darkness, day and night, life and death. Working with LA musicians John Tejada and Kimi Recor was the perfect opportunity to visually illustrate these Human vs. Nature vs. City themes in the context of the “City of Angels.” Inspired by the myths of the she-wolf of Rome, the underworld ferryman Charon, and the spiritual roots of the “Los Angeles” name, the Ghost Deep team endeavored to memorialize the moody yet uplifting character of the musicians’ home. This experiment was doubly fascinating because it also echoed the nature tones of Tejada and Recor’s group name, Bavaria, which is in turn an homage to their family roots in Austria and Germany.
Taken from Bavaria’s debut album We’ll Take a Dive, the song “Everywhere” is an intricate interplay of Tejada’s renowned techno and Recor’s stormy vocals. Press materials for the album state: “the duo decided to exclude any extraneous instrumentation so that Tejada could focus solely on his modular synth programming while Recor took on the role to provide that all-too-vital human element by way of her silky vocal delivery. In theory, We’ll Take a Dive might sound like an exercise in minimalism, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The album highlights the duo’s deftness in getting maximum use from their instruments of choice while creating a superb offering with its own unique strain of tension and restraint.”
The challenge for Dadlani, was to find a visual language that expressed the synthesis of these archetypal dualities. Repeat viewings at full screen with quality sound (Tejada’s bass drops are essential to the song and video’s depth), are recommended. Proclaiming our commitment to both Los Angeles and electronic art, we are proud to share this video with the world.
It was a good year for quality electronic music:
1. Minilogue - Blomma
2. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
3. Jeff Mills – The Jungle Planet
4. Disclosure – Settle
5. Nu-Era – The Third Adam
6. Eddie C – Country City Country
7. Major Lazer – Free the Universe
8. Pig & Dan – Decade
9. Hot Natured - Different Side of the Sun
10. The Polish Ambassador – Ecozoic
Seba – Identity
Pretty Lights – A Color Map of the Sun
Grenier – Voids
Klute – Draft
D’Arcangelo – Audiovisual Designs
Black Dog – Tranklements
Karl Hyde – Edgeland
Charles Webster – Defected Presents House Masters
Autechre – Mixlr Radio Set
Autechre – Exai
Lawrence – Films & Windows
Washed Out – Paracosm
Claptone – No Eyes feat. Jaw (Art Department Remix)
Bob Moses – All I Want
Drexciya – Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller IV
John Digweed – Live In Argentina
There was a moment last night at the Exchange’s Halloween event courtesy of Insomniac, when pushing up to the front of the dancefloor, I became surrounded by all shapes, sizes and colors of today’s night breed. There was the gaggle of sharp dressed black girls. The slim blonde beast who danced up to one of them, his slick hair and mischievous smile working its charms. There was the under 5-foot-tall Lesbian with her tall girlfriend, pumping their arms to the techno sirens. When a crackle of electronic thunder broke overhead, waking everyone with excitement, a handsome Latino boy turned his head back to look on strangers in shared glee. There were teddy bear portly fellows and cheerleader flousies. Persian jetsetters. And Asian hipsters galore.
Leading them in their hedonistic charge was Mr. Richie Hawtin himself, the “Richie Rich” Detroit techno legend, Berliner lord of the night, Canadian-come-English vagabond, new world traveller of Coachella and EDC conquests, Sven Vath DJ mate and the mastermind behind Plastikman. His shock of blond hair across shaved sides of his head, somehow off-putting in photos, was the perfect wing of edgy youth on an aging, chiseled countenance. It seemed such a radical break from his bald suited android look of the ’90s, that I once feared he was a little too taken with his Teutonic love affair. “Come back Richie! To your North American roots,” my wife and I once decried at the TV after watching a Slices documentary on his life, a somewhat slobbering profile of an artist who hacked a path into techno’s outlands.
The perennial outsider, it’s not surprising that he identified so strongly with the motor soul of Detroit’s black techno wizards, especially Jeff Mills and Derrick May. He was the strange English kid living across the river in Windsor, Canada, with a new wave synth obsession and a robotics geek dad. His L.S.D. experiments during his raving days gave birth to what journalist Philip Sherburne called Hawtin’s “quiksilver” alter ego, Plastikman. At the height of his powers, a one-man helicopter rumored in production so he could fly to his gigs, he and his brother got caught at the U.S. border en route to a New York party. Busted for fudging the truth during his interrogation, he was banished from the States for years.
This is when his music went from the wild acid storms of his album Musik to the experimental minimalism of Concept 1 and the dark lubba-dub-dub introspection of Consumed. He broke a bit in those years, and somewhere between the end of his first true romance and his relocation to New York City, he decided Germany was the place to be. He’s cut loose since then: crowd surfing with Vath, boozing at the decks, bidding adieu to vinyl. But the image of Hawtin as a bad boy DJ have, I believe, been greatly exaggerated. That’s not to say he’s no Bacchus. It’s simply that the nerdy mysticism at the core of his brand is still very much alive.
I had seen Hawtin before, but never in an intimate space like The Exchange. As trendy as it may want to be, it still felt like a dingy basement to me, which truth be told is where any decent DJ must sharpen his or her teeth. At EDC, his sets felt soporific next to the more flashy “big room” anthem jocks. There was that incident at Coachella this past year, when his hard drive failed. There is that unflattering video of him destroying his headphones and mixing by screen interface. A lot of haters out there knock him for seeing vinyl as passe. But ask anyone who has seen him in his element, and you hear nothing but worship of a kind. My buddy Rich Thomas captured his Plastikman show perfectly from Coachella 2010, writing: “A gear head nonpareil, Hawtin masterfully attenuated his frequencies to create a sound field so wide you could have sailed a luxury liner through it.”
His DJ sets of course are more surgical affairs, yet they have the same blood to the brain effect. While the DJ before him played with no headphones and worked the filters with so much pizzaz, dancing to his own set — certainly more than I did — it was all business when Hawtin showed up. Within minutes the dynamic of the room had reversed. His spastic drum rolls and crackling beats fractured in unpredictable angles, haunted bleeps and spooky atmospherics expanding everyone’s sense of space. What had felt like a muggy slog switched to a wide awake creep through the soul of a mile-high robot. Hawtin used his headphones, studying his EKGs and ingredients carefully, turning knobs just so, wiggling in a hot knife there, popping off a scatter of beats here, or letting in a howling melody everywhere.
Watching him closer, I felt a sudden protectiveness toward what he was doing. He was taking the job of DJing seriously and with humility. Ego was so subdued because it was secondary to the giving intent of his every eye movement, every breath, every choice, all suffused into the music instead of centered on him. He would smile at fans here and there, graciously signing a CD or book real quick, looking up and reading the crowd as he worked. But throughout his wily set, he was hyper focused on turning the music inside out to open minds in every direction. There are two types of DJs. Those who act like they’re having an orgasm on stage every other minute, the puffery of performance hocus-pocus. And those who fuck your brains out with the utmost quiet and concentration. The latter is too often overshadowed these days.
As Hawtin flicked his blade of hair from time to time, you were reminded that he wasn’t a man-machine, as uncanny as the gears turning in his mind felt in your eardrums. He was just another spirit: vulnerable, confident, competent and quirky. At one point, he wiped our minds clean with a glorious incantation using what sounded like the shouts and hollers of slave spirituals. There was a soulful sadness there, whip-cracked against our jaded skulls with heady eighth drum notes. It was as if he was crunching bones in his hands right before us, the dust falling into his digital cauldron, with bat wings and mandrake and 500-year-old blood stewing with so many bytes and beats. Witchery. Witchery. Witchery. In the best sense of the word.
It had been more than a decade since I heard Photek DJ. The last time was at Santa Monica’s Museum of Flying when he first relocated to Los Angeles from London, where he spun a solid house set, including tracks by the likes of Hatiras. It was a bit of a celebration, given that Photek had just released his second full album, the eclectic Solaris, which included deep house numbers ‘Mine to Give’ and ‘Can’t Come Down’ with the legendary Robert Owens on vocals, and the cinematic ambience of ‘Under the Palms.’ The shift miffed a lot of his core fans, who expected more of his precise drum ‘n’ bass. But his interests had always been broad, from his love of Baby Ford‘s 1988 techno classic ‘Fordtrax’ to his friendship with electron jazz proponent Kirk DeGiorgio.
But this time at LA’s long-running drum ‘n’ bass club Respect on October 10th, he was in 100% jungle mode, belting out a barrage of searing rhythms and hair-raising sonics. While the DJs before him brought tasteful and artful mixing to the table, Photek (real name Rupert Parkes) added an ear for the full spectrum of sound — the dynamism of clashing notes and articulate textures that only a producer of his talent could muster. Tracks like Phaze’s ‘Cosmos’ might feel predictable and overreaching in a lesser DJ’s hands, but its epic psychedelia fit right into Photek’s consistently magical set.
For a number of years Photek had gone “dark” as he dived into the production world of Hollywood, composing commercial, film, TV and video game scores, and working on Grammy Award-winning remixes for the likes of Daft Punk from Tron: Legacy or Nine Inch Nails. Yet in the last few years he’s been spinning out a number of compelling experiments and E.P.’s under his primary incarnation. In 2011, a burst of activity yielded the mid-tempo dubstep and dark house of The Aviator, Closer, 101 and Avalanche releases, all impeccably produced and bearing his uncompromising focus on hard but delicate patterns.
In 2012, he turned even more heads with his brilliant mix for Studio !K7′s DJ Kicks series (the album cover a moody portrait of Photek with a LA cityscape in the background). The mix featured beautiful breakbeat tracks like DJG’s ‘Here Come the Dark Lights,’ its tonal drum hits waking the spirit, and his stunning dubstep collaboration with Alex Metric on ‘The Art of Nothing Part 1′ as Parxe & Grincheux, a delirium of tribal choruses and flashes of melodic lightning. More brooding techno numbers like his TB-303 reverie ‘M25FM’ with Pinch, naturally intersecting the sci-fi breaks on his Kuru collaboration ‘Fountainhead,’ or abstract house from the likes of Daze Maxim and Baby Ford, all combined to make Photek’s DJ Kicks a manifesto of sorts, an album at the crossroads of EDM’s past, present and future. Once again, just as he did in the ’90s with his hi-tech drum ‘n’ bass, he was showing the way forward for bass culture.
Unfortunately, his 2013 album, the excellent Ku: Palm, which plumbed similar veins of intrigue and explored a fertile frontier of mixed tempos and beat patterns, failed to catch fire amid the current crop of poppy EDM wares and one-trick ponies. Always many steps ahead, Photek’s music is not obvious in its first market attractions. But give it a closer listen and it reveals new wonders upon every visit. Tracks like ‘Quadrant’ and ‘Oshun’ are perfect examples, at once dub-house smoldering in the gut before cracking open to a more progressive line of inquiry. Listening to him sweep away Respect like a loving typhoon, I couldn’t help dream that he’ll be given a bigger platform soon at one of America’s EDM festivals. Few will know what hit them.