Film

Exclusive: The photography roots of Bonobo’s Kerala, from director Bison

All content © Bison, courtesy Ninja Tune

A new music video from Bonobo features a terrified Gemma Arterton stumbling around a London suburb as a sequence of supernatural visions appear before her. In an exclusive interview, BJP sat down with the director, Bison, to discuss a promo that utilises a variety of glitchy video loops to devastating effect.

Bison – aka Dave Bullivant – is a commercial video director based in Faversham, Kent. His new film, a promo for British trip hop producer, Bonobo, places its protagonist (Gemma Arterton) as the only witness to a series of increasingly alarming phenomena – from levitating rocks and chameleonic cars to vast, twisting buildings.

The video has provoked a huge online response – not just from the diehard fans of the LA-based turntablist, but from YouTube sleuths desperate to make meaning of a film that seems to throw up more surprises – or ‘easter eggs’ as Bison puts it – with every view.

Says Bison: “I had no idea it would go down this well, there have been some mad YouTube comment chats. There’s people who definitely think it’s about the Rapture, and a lot of people who think it’s a drug trip. [It’s provoked] all the stuff that I wanted, really – I kept it purposefully open.”

Jon Hopkins : Vessel (remixed by Four Tet) from Bison on Vimeo.

The narrative ticks of the editing are important. The glitching technique was first premiered by Bison in a promo for Four Tet’s remix of John Hopkins’ ‘Vessel’, back in 2010. The looping motif matches the mechanical EDM aesthetic of both tracks, but the new video’s decreased choreography results in a more unique, potentially more nauseating effect.

“[Initially] I struggled to come up with an idea that I liked,” explains Bison. “This was a technique that I’d been toying with previously, and I had a little look to see if it would fit in here [but] there needed to be this narrative element in it.”

The ‘Vessel’ promo was produced when Bison actually comprised another member – stills photographer Owen Silverwood. The pair went their separate ways two years ago, but Bullivant is keen to stress Silverwood’s role in honing the style.

“He and I worked on a number of different things. We’d always be throwing things back and forth, challenging each other with different post-production techniques.

“We were fascinated by the limitations that you have with moving image, and how you can play with things like time and colour. Generally I like the misappropriation of technology […] That’s the most exciting thing you can do – take something and use it for something that wasn’t quite what it was intended for.’

‘So things like this looping technique, they come about because that’s what the beat makes you feel, and then how can you mess about with it? How can you turn it into something new and exciting?’

A similar glitchy motif was employed on the director’s 2013 video for London Grammar’s ‘Wasting My Young Years’, which employed a ‘homemade’ camera rig consisting of 625 individual pinhole cameras, shooting simultaneously.

But the additional narrative element in the use of the editing glitch is critical to the increased emotional impact of ‘Kerala’. Early YouTubers were quick to notice that the loop stops when Arterton’s eyes are closed – as though the apparitions disappear if she cannot see them. Once again, the community appears to be onto something.

Says Bison: “This central character is in a constant state of panic, on the edge of sanity. She doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not. I had different theories when I was writing it […] The obvious one is that she’s losing her mind, and that has put her in a helpless position. So there’s a large amount of empathy going towards her, which is cool.

“Then it was possible that she was high, but that didn’t feel right to me at all because she does have an element of control – she’s not just lost it, she’s fighting on through and battling against it.

“Probably the most prevalent one in my head was that it was an alien invasion, and that’s the effect that they were having – this sort of time shift. They had this level of control over her, and it’s only when she closes her eyes that it stops.

“And then, as soon as she comes back into the world, this looping starts again. For me, it put her more in a position of power because she was the one fighting against it – she did have power, she knew that if she shut her eyes she could have an element of control. She was the only one conscious of it – but this was the thing that was sending her mad.

“But I like everyone else’s theories about it – I think they’re really interesting. I’ve been driven by curiosity instead of an end goal. I have my mini obsessions into a technology and that’s how I like to work [but] I think that a strong aesthetic voice is something born out of a large body of work. With Bonobo, there’s a lot of technical things going on within it, but it still has this warmth and this character.

“And that is – as a solo director – where I exist.”

For more of Bison’s work, see here. Bonobo’s new album ‘Migration’, released 13 January 2017 on Ninja Tune.

APRIL 2017 ISSUE:

Scratching the Surface: Daisuke Yokota and Thomas Mailaender take photography beyond the frame

It’s available to order online now.

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