Interactive Music Videos Are More Than Just A Gimmick – They’re The Future

Foals’ new video has landed and it’s a doozie: an immersive black-and-white interactive experiment directed by longtime collaborator Nabil, who also oversaw their NSFW ‘Bad Habit’ and ‘Late Night’ videos. After a brief, disorienting flight over a city you land in a plaza, with a 360º rotatable view of the band, featuring multiple Yannises. Trippy. As the track reaches its crashing climax and you notice the ominous approach of the mountains in the background, you’ll swivel the camera towards the skies, which are swarming with flocks of CGI birds. And then you’ll probably wonder how the hell we got from the homespun 4:3 footage of ‘Red Socks Pugie’ to this high-tech nightmare-land.

It’s another example of interactive and VR technology breathing new life into a format that, in an age where music TV has pretty much faded away, doesn’t have quite the cachet or reason to exist it once did. Arcade Fire’s 2010 ‘The Wilderness Downtown’ video could be pointed to as an early example of the genre, building on the song’s sense of hometown nostalgia by creating bespoke videos for users based on the postcode they grew up in. Since then, huge strides forward have been made, leading to standout efforts from Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, to name but a few.

Just try and not smile at this kaleidoscopic marvel from Adelaide dreamers, Alpha Beta Fox. You’ll journey into a world of cube-headed dancers as an active participant. Using the keyboard you can wander around the psychedelic landscape as lyrics float past you, or float around in space with the cube-heads. Towards the end, as you crash through a trippy time tunnel, you’ll actually feel like you’ve gone somewhere.

Bob Dylan did the impossible and managed to make a decades old track seem fresh again with his interactive video for ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, possibly the definitive interactive video thus far, allowing viewers to flip between the 16 channels of a virtual TV, featuring history documentaries, cookery shows, news bulletins, tennis matches, CCTV footage, shopping TV and more. Every single one involves lip-syncing to the track at varying levels of seriousness – but even better are the cameo appearances from real-life TV stars ‘Property Brothers’, Drew Carey as host of The Price Is Right, the Pawn Stars team, and last but not least, Danny Brown, who said of the appearance, “Ain’t nobody gonna say no to Dylan”. It’s a delight from start to finish.

Led Zeppelin’s promo clip for ‘Brandy & Coke’ meanwhile allowed fans to enter the building on the front of Physical Graffiti with this video for the early version of ‘Trampled Under Foot’. Using the arrow keys you can flip between the 16 rooms of the building, which contain an overwhelming array of images: archive footage of gigs, a cinema screening the song’s lyrics, a showering silhouette and a canoodling couple, amongst other 70s-tinged scenes. Just beware of their weird angel floating about…

Then there was Coldplay, whose late 2014 video for ‘Ink’ had you making decisions for a heartbroken animated man who is following his departed lover. Created by Interlude – the same company behind Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ interactive vid – it isn’t really about what you pick – but the interactivity makes it hard to avoid becoming invested in it anyway.

Jack White might famously be a bit of a traditionalist, but his ‘That Black Bat Liquorice’ video was essentially three videos in one: an animated Jack White, a real one, and a load of randoms freaking out in a car park. The animated one is the standard version: hold down your ‘3’ key to see Jack, or ‘b’ to see the car park action. Flipping between them makes the video seem dynamic, as you’re always convinced you’re missing something in the other two scenes. That is the canny trick of many interactive videos – three skins deep is deeper than one, after all – but this is a cut above the rest.

Another favourite is this from Unknown Mortal Orchestra. It feels similar to Vinyl Williams’ 2013 interactive video game for ‘Stellarscope’ – no real surprise, given that Williams also directed it, describing his ‘Multi-Love’ as “meant to represent the vacuum of space by impressing upon inter-dimensional folding, immaterial objects and time-driven reverberation of events.”

So how does Foals’ video match up? It’s ambitious. It’s atmospheric. It’s artistic. It may not be as fun as Dylan’s, but that’s not its aim. It does something new and interesting of its own, something that makes the possibility of actual virtual reality – Oculus Rift-enabled music videos – seem a bit closer. Kanye may have just debuted his buzzy, Steve McQueen-directed short film exclusively at a gallery, but what’s to stop other artists moving beyond the video format and using gallery space for virtual reality experiences you can actually walk around in? A few years ago it was easy to write off interactive video as a novelty or fad. More and more, it looks to be the future.