Oliver Payne & Nick Relph * Mixtape (2002) 28-04-09 Ubu
We went to Kingston University because we thought of it as a place without a reputation--something interesting to fuck with. We thought that at least there'd be some cool kids there who'd been rejected from Central St. Martin's, but in fact it was a deeply conservative institution, suburban in the worst sense of the word.
Oliver Payne (b. 1977) & Nick Relph (b. 1979)
Nevertheless, it was something to react against, and although we hated art school, we'd thoroughly recommend it. We started working together soon after we arrived. Our first show was of every Polaroid we'd ever taken, about 1,700 in all. That consolidated our shared outlooks and beliefs. Then Oliver had an idea for a film (Driftwood), so we teamed up to work on that. We come from the same area, listen to the same music, so we don't need to spend much time explaining things to each other.
In Mixtape we wanted to exhaust people--hurt their eyes and make them feel a little sick--but make the experience enjoyable. We used certain images from earlier works, like the line dancers from House & Garage, to have fun with our aesthetic. Mixtape is a celebration of young people, but it also touches on the idea of what one critic called "youth under siege by youth culture." So Starbucks is "cool" because they'll employ you even if you have piercings, but they'll make you wear ludicrous hygienic blue bandages over them. Scooters are "cool" because they're aimed at "youngcles," twenty-somethings stuck in adolescence, but if you stick two kids on a scooter on a treadmill, they still ain't going nowhere. Our images are a "fuck you" to corporate intervention in youth culture, whether it's hardcore, punk rock, skateboarding, graffiti, whatever. We wanted to celebrate the other to that: the pure, raw cane sugar.
After listening a lot to the Terry Riley song, we constructed a series of images and sequences that connected with these ideas and had a place within the music. Absurd or funny, poignant or romantic, we wrote them all down and assembled the best of them around the track. It's about fifty-fifty sound and vision. We tried to be aware of the music while we were editing. The strobe lights and the hunting scenes, for instance, begin just as the track goes mental. It would have been a drag to edit everything right on the beat. It's like a Krautrock record, a Neu! or Can track, in which a single phrase is repeated until it begins to generate new rhythms. The economy of the cuts in Mixtape is critical. The editing is crass at points, but we were mindful of a disjunction between sound and vision as well as a connection. Mixtape was shot on film, so it looks different from our previous work. We wanted it to look like a cross between an insurance ad and Schindler's List: heavy and ugly and stupid. But at times it also h as a brash, colorful Carry On appearance to it. We didn't want to make another shaky handheld film. The more we see films shot through plastic bags, the more we want to make refined, "straight" classics.
There's a lot of dancing in Mixtape, for the simple reason that we love to see dancing on film. Dance is a primal celebration of life. In House & Garage we made the point that two kids playing bedroom DJs--what's called having a little rinse-out--are participating in the same tradition as a suburban divorcee going line dancing. Watching a good skateboarding video is like watching ballet--we're interested in that kind of grace in movement and in different uses of space, whether it's dancing with a partner at a community center or making backside boardslides on a park bench.
There's an explicit reference See explicit link. to Huysmans's Against Nature in Mixtape that surprisingly few people picked up on: a young flaneur looking amazing outside a chip shop with his jewel-encrusted tortoise on a leash. Most of the other images are less academic. The old guy with the hammer is an homage to reggae legend Lee Perry, who crawled across Kingston, Jamaica, on his hands and knees trying to chase Satan from the earth by banging the ground with a hammer. We just transported his character to Chiswick. As for the kids riding scooters on a rolling treadmill, there's a shop in London called Lillywhites that had an offer: If you bought a treadmill, they'd throw in a free scooter. They had it displayed in the window, a treadmill with a scooter sitting on top of it. It looked so amazingly stupid--we sat outside the shop just crying with laughter.
Even if you hate it, you have to admit that Mixtape is full to the fucking brim.
Short-listed for this year's Beck's Futures award, British filmmaking duo Oliver Payne and Nick Relph put their prize money straight to work. The result is Mixtape, 2002, twenty minutes of "wild, trance-inducing loops" designed to infect viewers with humor and headaches alike. Structured around Terry Riley's mesmerizing Motown cutup "You're No Good," the film weaves a set of tangentially related vignettes into footage of a teenage hardcore band's spasmodic writhing. As the title suggests, it is an idiosyncratic compilation of perfect moments or, as Relph offers with a chuckle, "a really good party film."
Payne and Relph made their US debut last year at Gavin Brown's enterprise, screening their three major works to date: Driftwood, 1999, House & Garage, 2000, and Jungle, 2001. The first is a portrait of London as a chaos of cultural contradictions, a series of ongoing battles between skateboarders and architects, Stop the City demonstrators and Mayfair suits, ghosts of the old Soho and parasites of the new. Jungle shifts the focus to the Great British countryside, pulling apart its anachronistic ideals. House & Garage is a gentler affair, a hodgepodge of found footage and suburban tall tales that is at once wistfully melancholic and in rapturous love with life.
Payne failed his undergraduate program in Intermedia ("a bullshit word") at Kingston University in 2000; Relph was booted out the same year. Launched onto the London circuit with a helping hand from curator Matthew Higgs, who showcased their work in "Protest & Survive" at Whitechapel Gallery (2000), fig-1's "50 Projects in 50 Weeks" series (2000), and "Sound and Vision" at the Institute of Contemporary Art (2001), as well as in these pages (First Take, January 2001), they have tended to polarize the critics, receiving a flurry of damning reviews from a cynical British press. Acutely aware of the upstart myth that surrounds them, the pair is keen to transcend preconceptions about their attitude and intent. "I think it's a shame when we are portrayed as simply 'bad boys,'" shrugs Payne. "How very boring. We make films with heart."