To celebrate the launch of our new video site NMEvideo.com and our countdown of the 100 Greatest Music Videos, we interviewed Sasha Nixon – head of music videos and executive producer at Partizan. She’s overseen award-winning videos for Klaxons, LCD Soundsystem, The Horrors and Bjork. Amongst her roster are directors such as Michel Gondry and Saam Farahmand.
What makes a great music video?
As difficult to answer as ‘what makes a great song’ – it really depends on several factors. For me, it’s often a singular stylistic tone that transcends whatever is fashionable, and suggests a brand new aesthetic. Or it could be as simple as a superbly choreographed and edited performance – if the artist/band is mesmerising enough to hold that without the need for bells and whistle. Or just a brilliant, witty concept. And a good track certainly helps.
Why do so many film directors start in video?
There is the obvious link between young film students being of the age where they are really into bands and music so find inspiration and opportunities there, but also the fact that record companies actively want to hire students, or not-yet-established young directors to make their videos, because it’s alot cheaper.
Has the internet changed the way we consume music videos?
Yes definitely. We now have ‘on demand’ videos thanks to Youtube whereas before we had to wait for MTV to play the video we liked. There is an overwhelming wealth and breadth of videos to consume thanks to the internet, but whether that means we pay as much attention to music videos as we did back in the day, when you knew Madonna’s new video would be played at 8pm on Friday and everyone tuned in… I don’t know. It’s perhaps all more throwaway now, but that applies to alot of things we can consume online these days.
Is the change good or bad?
I suppose a bit of both. I miss the ‘event’ that a new video could be, but that’s also because releasing music has been democratised, so I’m generally overwhelmed by the amount of new artists there are to discover, let alone watching all their videos.
Do you think YouTube has helped or hindered music videos?
Both. It’s a pleasure to be able to tune into your favourite video when you want, but I’m worried about the notion that on the internet you can get whatever you want for free whenever you want. As the music industry lose money due to this phenonmenon, they spend less and less on videos which reduces quality and opportunity, and means talent gets quickly frustrated (and broke) in the video arena and moves quickly onto tv drama, commercials, and all those other areas that are a bit less fun and creative. It is slowly but surely creating a talent drain, and videos will be less ambitious, have less scope. I don’t see it as remaining a breeding ground for the new Gondrys, Cunninghams, Jonzes, who then go onto make fantastic films on the back of learning their craft in videos.
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What do you think of the spate of the longer music videos that sprang up last year (‘Telephone’, ‘Born Free’)?
I wish there were more of these but it’s a case of there not being enough budgets to do this kind of thing anymore. They are one-off’s.
What do you make of Ok Go’s style of music video making?
They were very clever to find another path to get their music noticed, because their songs aren’t memorable or catchy enough. If only more bands were talented visual creatives/directors, things would be a lot more interesting.
What do you think of stuff like Arcade Fire’s interactive video and Pendulum’s 3D video?
Interesting and clever for a few minutes but not something that I will personally remember for too long. Technology dates itself so 3D and interactivity will feel basic and anachronistic as time goes by. There’s nothing wrong with that, all music videos are a time capsule in their own way, but I just can’t get excited about the immersive experience of clicking my mouse all over a browser while watching windows pop open and a track playing in the background. Each to their own, many I’m sure love it.
How has the recession affected music videos?
In a terrible way, sadly. The epic music video is a thing of the past and it makes me sad. Telephone and Born Free – these music video ‘events’ are rare exceptions that will only come out from the dwindling number of very rich artists. And labels spending less on videos mean you can only get them made by using alot of favours (aka exploiting people’s goodwill) rather than actually paying for them. Why should people work consistently for bands or record companies for free? When labels say to me ‘We really want a really glossy pop video but we can only spend £5k’, it’s like me saying ‘I really want a 3 bedroom house in Chelsea but I only have £50k’. That side of it is pretty demoralising.
Have musicians attitudes to music videos changed since you became involved in them?
Not particularly. They seem still to see the importance of the music video in their campaign, in a way it’s as important as the song being played on radio. If anything, they seem to want more and more videos, such as we have seen in recent times where some bands make a video for every track on an album.
What do you think of David Cameron’s plans for film certificate-style ratings for music videos?
I think it’s fair enough. Speaking as a female, I feel very demoralised by the sexualisation of women in videos, especially as it’s often a bandage placed over blatant lack of talent. Don’t get me wrong, I can love a sexy video when done well, eg Ciara’s ‘Ride’, because she’s genuinely amazing in it, but alot of the time, the results are simply exploitative. A 17 year old girl band who don’t know any better than to basically poledance in their video and send tragic messages to the 10 years old that admire them about what one needs to look like to be attractive or what one needs to do to attract a man – that’s what I have a problem with.
Perhaps it’s when a female artist is that bit older and more in control of her sexuality and image, and not trying too hard but just being naturally sexual, and not being svengalied by a sleezy 50 year old manager, then it feels way less tragic to me. Lykke Li is surely way sexier than Nicole Sherzingher.
What are your 5 favourite music videos?
‘Let Forever Be’ – Chemical Brothers by Michel Gondry.
What can I say, it’s a classic… it’s so wonky with its mixed up use of formats and lofi and hi fi techniques. This was the first time I’d seen anything that inventive on so many different levels.
Triumph Of A Heart – Bjork by Spike Jonze.
It’s my favourite of all their collaborations maybe because it just feels like that’s how Bjork’s life genuinely rolls in Iceland.
Forever Dolphin Love – Connan Mockasin by Daniel Brereton.
There is so much heart in this strange video.
Somebody To Love Me – Mark Ronson by Saam Farahmand.
Apart from being a great song, and great video, very few people realise it stars actress Diane Kruger as Boy George – and I love that, so refreshing because it’s so anti-hype.
It’s Automatic – Zoot Woman – by Mike Mills.
It’s no grand concept in this video, but it fills me with both melancholy and joy every time I see it.
What’s the future of music videos?
An increase in hobbying directors springing up, brandishing their Canon 5D’s and shooting lo fi but hopefully exciting videos for their mate’s band. The end of shooting on film, which is very tragic.More product placement.
Check out our new site NMEvideo.com
Click here for our countdown to100 Greatest Music Videos