We’ve just last week got back from a fun-fuelled month of touring the UK with some brilliant bands, To Kill A King and Gaz Coombes. You can now enjoy some of our tourist snaps. Re-live a month in the life of Spring Offensive in just a few minutes!
Birmingham, day one at the Institute and round the corner from here
Sound It Out records in Stockton-on-Tees, closed on a Sunday night, naturally.
Detour through Yorkshire
Street art outside York Minster
For the last few dates, we did invaded Gaz’s stage for the final number with a multi-drummer percussion odyssey, which was crazy amounts of fun
Liverpool outside the Kazimier - inside our collective brain, all squiggles and seagulls.
And we’re back in Liverpool later this week for the Sound City! Very excited about this one. We’re playing on Thursday, at 10:15pm at the Epstein Theatre, just before the wonderful Stealing Sheep. If you’re at the festival, come join us. It’ll be a total blast.
Check out the line-up by the way. Wow
See you there then.
Oh, also, we’ve got some news about a new track coming your way very soon. Stay tuned
Speaking of handsome men, that Matt Stokoe out of our video is currently stealing hearts all over the country in the BBC’s show The Village. He’s going to tour with us in his very own travelling Not Drowning but Waving bathtub.
By now you might have already watched out video for No Assets. It’s been online for a few weeks now. You might have enjoyed it. You might have found it confusing, especially if you didn’t know what the concept behind it was. You might, of course, not have seen it yet. If so, you might want to read this first…
Matt and I wanted to make something that was part installation, part music video. We wanted to experiment, and do something that was challenging, both to pull off and to watch, but which didn’t require expensive hires, gear or cameras.
A few ideas were mooted and scrapped, until we eventually came across one that stuck. Why not film 12 things at once, all from a different point of view, and play them back simultaneously? The logic seemed flawless. And the best thing about it; it hadn’t been done before.
What, then, to film? A bunch of people making a nuisance of themselves in the centre of London? Too messy. The systematic destruction of the interior of a house? Too complicated. A dance? Now you’re getting somewhere. Building on the core concept of a dancing couple, we spent a week dreaming up loads of ideas that would work or look interesting in this format. The theory was all good. Now onto the practicalities.
One of the first problems we encountered was how to film. We approached a major extreme-sports camera manufacturer, but they couldn’t have been less interested in the project. We needed to be resourceful. We needed something that almost everybody has. Smartphones. After that, it was a simple matter of attaching the phone to the performer’s body. Except it wasn’t quite so simple.
The North End Road in West London, which runs between Hammersmith and Fulham Broadway, is a spectacular emporium of junk and bric-a-brac. Pound shops compete for the best bargains, cobblers and mobile phone specialists share shop space, and market traders compete with high street brands for the attention of the casual shopper. It is, in effect, the perfect place to shop on a budget. We spent full days chasing deals on the street’s main activity hub, as everyone was keen to secure our services for a bizarrely bulk order of predominantly unwanted goods.
After observing the professional methods for creating chest mounts, and investigating a few tutorials hidden deep and unwatched somewhere in YouTube, Matt developed an ingenious method for building the harnesses DIY. Among the frankly ridiculous shopping lists that this video compelled us to write, were the 36 luggage straps, and around 12 leather iPhone holsters with belt straps. It took days to track down holsters that worked as the holster sizes were some way short of being uniform, and we needed them to fit every IPhone model, and had to cut a hole into them to line up with each phone’s camera. The luggage straps only came in a lurid and deeply unattractive rainbow design that had apparently rendered the plain black version obsolete.
Eventually, we managed to track down all the ingredients.
As we spent full days trawling discount stores, the worst thing about the project, the thing that really kept us up at night, was that we knew all along that we weren’t going to get to see if the idea worked until it was all done, that is, until it was too late. We almost didn’t want to tell anybody we were making a video, just in case it was a total disaster. The closest we came was during the only rehearsal we had, two weeks before the shoot with a group of very talented friends, all of who are hugely adept at devising and performance. We would go through a sequence, sync up our phones, lay them down in a grid and watch them all back at once. They were almost always out of sync, often wrongly aligned and invariably demonstrating gaping holes in the project. Hardly optimum viewing conditions. Realising that we were probably in too deep, we carried on.
One thing the rehearsal process and the feedback from participants did demonstrate was that we needed to keep it simple. The more complicated the routine, the harder it was to watch, let alone execute. We knew we wanted dancing, so we decided to keep that element as the main feature. We trusted our dancers to devise and choreograph their own sections, and concerned ourselves with how to make the rest of it work. The hands were an idea that came very easily. It was a simple way of getting the lyrical content across and experimenting with the form of having 12 different performances all filming at once.
The really fun bit was the section in the dark. It took us a long time to work out what we wanted, but eventually, Matt created a sequence which made absolute perfect sense. I think what I love about it is the fact that it takes the rules of the video, which have been established over the previous few minutes, and it flips them, so that the grid becomes a vehicle for the visuals to use, rather than a way of displaying them. The form no longer experiments with perspective. It’s a really exciting moment. We talk a lot about videos needing to deliver, to have that moment when the fireworks go off. This is that moment, and it was the last thing we came up with.
Finding a venue for a shoot on a budget was always going to be a big challenge. In theory, London is full to bursting with warehouses and white-box installation spaces. In practice, these are all managed by film location companies, who are catering for the very top of the budget range. We wanted venues in London, that were visually empty so as not to distract from the already challenging to watch video, and didn’t cost the earth. After days of searching, we found three. After we went around them, it was clear to us that only one of them was appropriate.
The Doodle Bar in Battersea is set in a large industrial unit on the river, just neighbouring all of London’s major architectural firms. It is a few years old, and one of its major features is that most of the walls are blackboards, on which the patrons are encouraged to express themselves-hence the venue name. It’s an artsy space, and one that works as a natural home for creative projects like this. The Sunday of our shoot was the day after an art installation’s closing, and the artist had already allocated full week to disassemble his work which included the engine of an old Beetle. We called him up and asked how he felt about taking whole thing down in two hours.
First thing on a freezing Sunday morning, the band and artist Jabulani Maseko were hoisting something that weighed at least a ton and chucking it out onto a skip, clearing paper artworks and sweeping away shards of broken glass. A space that had been full when we arrived was, a couple of hours later exactly what we needed; a blank canvas. And then our team arrived.
We had this vague sense of unease. Had we gathered a group of people together for something that we genuinely didn’t know would work? Would we waste everyone’s time? It felt like we might. We also only had only around eight hours to teach the routine to everybody, drill it, and feel comfortable enough to film. Oh, and a single mistake on a single camera would render the entire take redundant. It was an afternoon of high stress. But we approached it methodically.
The day was essentially split in two. The first half would be learning, and the second half would be doing. We rattled through the routine at a frankly terrifying pace, pretty much without any breaks. With zero-margin for error in this ambitious schedule, it felt like walking on a tight-rope. For instance, on the opening shot, which we created by holding balloons up to our camera lens and then bursting them with safety pins on the first hit, we had to keep going back over and over again as people’s balloons burst unbidden (presumably due to the palpable tension in the air…)
Once that was out of the way, we had to stand in two lines, and film each other. This was tricky to work out, as height differences meant that there was no set distance that would function universally. Trial and agonizing error was the sole method at our disposal, and we did manage to find our distances and stick to them.
The idea was then to get the two dances filmed as interestingly as possible. The great thing about the first dance is that it works in several ways. We see something that is only visible to Josh (the first dancer), from his point of view top left. We then see the same dance from 11 other perspectives, meaning you can choose which angle you view it from.
Likewise with Sara and Tom’s contact dance. As this was almost the first idea we came up with, and that’s why their cameras are in the middle of the grid. They have to be the focal point. Watching the dance from one of their points of view is a dizzying experience. The dancers not only choreographed their whole sections themselves, they also put themselves through a physical battering every time we ran a take.
Whilst it would have been amazing to film the entire 12-camera video in one go, we ran out of time on the shoot day. So Matt and I crammed into our editor’s toilet to film the light sequences that finish the video in individual takes. A fitting end to a constantly adapting process.
Once we had the footage in hand, we realised that one challenge we hadn’t anticipated, amidst all the other elements, was just how time-consuming the edit would be. Running 12 HD videos simultaneously was asking far too much of our editor’s processor. Every time we tried to render the video and run an export, the whole project was blighted by green flashes. After two full days of putting it together, another 36-hour session was required to fix the problem in time for the deadline. When it was finished, late, late at night, our editor, the very talented and accommodating Jack Plummer, fell to his knees with relief.
All that was left was the crucial bit: how did it look. When we watched it back, the answer was mostly just inconclusive. We had no idea whether it was a total mess, or something that worked. We still don’t to be honest. Please watch it yourself and let us know what you think. It’s certainly not perfect and we can see a lot of flaws. But it’s never been done before, so hopefully it’s quite interesting. And maybe, just maybe, it’s turned out pretty well.
Our UK tour finished yesterday, prematurely, as it turned out. Our plans to drive from Oxford to Norwich for the final show of a week-long run around the UK were thwarted by the catastrophic failure of the driver’s windscreen wiper to remain attached to the vehicle.
Given that rain, snow and god knows what else were falling in great quantities from the sky, it seemed unwise to attempt to drive blind. Norwich at the Arts Centre would have been great, especially as it was being put on by our buddies Olympians. But it wouldn’t have been good enough to risk death. No offense, Norwich.
It was annoying, because up until that point the tour had been brilliant. We were treated brilliantly pretty much wherever we went. We’re hugely grateful to all the people who put us on and put us up. You make the wheels turn.
There were so many highlights, including two great acoustic hometown shows and a big sold out London gig at the Lexington. Liverpool was a massive party, Newcastle was a super-cool gallery gig, Cardiff was intimate and warming in the miserable weather, and Bristol was full of good people and a triumph despite some odd issues at the venue. It was a swell week.
We’re off to Basel, Switzerland on Wednesday, for a one-off show at Kaserne (tickets here), before a month of touring the UK in support of To Kill A King and Gaz Coombes. With To Kill A King we’re playing every show except London, and with Gaz we’re doing the first seven. We can’t wait to tour with these guys, gentlemen all.
There’s a lot more coming your way from us over the next few months. Don’t mind the weather. The year’s got off to a great start.
Last week we were in Switzerland by the way. Thank you so much to everyone who came to see us play in Bern, Aarau and Luzern. The Swiss are amazing, you made it an incredibly fun weekend for us, and the first cluster of shows for 2013 were a massive success.
Here are some snaps from our time out there.
This is a statue of a man in Bern, eating children. Which is undeniably unsettling. He is not representative of his town’s people. They are all lovely.
This is us in Aarau, where we played downstairs from the uniquely terrible “rapper” Asher Roth. You know, the guy who loves college. Like, really loves it. Because of all the women and the beer pong. Anyway, I’m getting off the point. We had a lovely time. As this pink photo shows.
And here we are in Luzern, for our final show of the bunch. This photo is taken by Sophie Ganzmann, and it’s pretty awesome. It’s a really wonderful venue, and we loved played there.
Enough already. Thanks for your time.
Oh, there’s new music and a video coming very very very soon. Keep watching.