These days, music videos have become an artform in their own right, with many of the big-name sludge-fests pushing their mind-numbing dirges with full-on mini-feature films commanding budgets bigger than most Third-World economies. However, an effective band video doesn’t actually need a cast of a thousand elephants nor even, as Zappa might put it, “a cheesy atom-bomb explosion all the big groups use“.
As No-Thrills as It Gets
Rather, if done correctly, there’s nothing wrong with a simple band-playing-in-front-of-the-camera (BPIFOTC) clip. And in its most stripped-down form, probably the best example of this to my mind is the video for Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Filmed by the band themselves in a bare rehearsal room, this video is pretty much as no-thrills as it gets, being devoid of any set dressings or special effects except for a few splashes of brown when someone in the editing suite gets all jiggly with the colour controls.
Instead of choreographed soft porn stars or rappers flashing bits of bling they’re probably paid to wear, we see the band dressed in their everyday clothes, knocking out this 1980 post-punk classic with all the emotion of an android on lithium. While there are plenty of close-ups of the individual band members and their instruments (including shots of Ian Curtis’s well tasty Eko Ghost VI by which I learnt the chord of D as a kid), there’s nothing in the way of even addressing the camera, let alone pouting, twerking or dry-humping the Marshall stack. Yep, this low-budget video is as starkly austere as befits a song about the lead singer’s failing marriage.
A Nice Little Nod to Lip-Synching
Not that a good vid needs to be grim, mind. Somewhat more consciously directed and indeed colourful is the 1989 video for Here Comes Your Man by Pixies. While this video utilises a fully-dressed set strewn with flowers, the camera again never strays from the band, who throughout play their instruments as though performing live. On that note, though, there is one noticeable touch that truly sets this video apart: its subversive nod to lip-synching.
Rather than even attempting to mime the words, singers Black Francis and Kim Deal merely keep their mouths wide open for the duration of their respective vocal parts. Maybe I should get out more, but this deft bit of deconstruction still tickles me today. As well as stating that this is most definitely a taped performance and the band and viewer both know it, it also adds a slightly surreal feel that sits perfectly with all the enlarged-forehead shots borne of some rather simplistic yet highly effective visual distortion.
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, It’s Maps
Now, at this point, I’d like to cite another good example of the BPIFOTC genre: Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Made in 2003 before they sold out and started sucking corporate cock like a lustful limpet, this is not only one of the greatest cartographically-themed love songs ever, but its accompanying video also takes the deconstruction of Here Comes Your Man a step further.
While the band are supposedly auditioning for some high-school prom or some such nonsense, the effect is to show them apparently playing in front of the video’s film crew who are themselves largely taking a break from filming the video. Or at least that’s how it seems to me. Either way, it’s a pretty simple yet effective video and a darn good tune to boot.
Notes and Credits
Picture credit: A video screen grab of Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (source).