Standing Out in the Sea of Bizarre

Tracking the music video’s compulsory creativity. 

These are strange days for the music video. Its YouTube-borne renaissance, set in motion in 2006 with OK Go’s clever treadmill choreography, reached apotheosis last year with “Gangnam Style,” the most ubiquitous four minutes of video footage the world has ever witnessed (1.5 billion views and counting). In the years between, countless bands released countless videos from every corner of the globe. Each presumably lives on in Internet-cache eternity. Most we’ll never know.

Music videos are now made for decentralized web dissemination rather than consensus-building broadcast. More than kinetic eye candy or a means of creative expression, videos are a conduit for social-media approval. Their material content is secondary to their metrics; we see the number of “likes” before we see the video itself. We watch in tiny windows opened onto other tiny windows opened onto a digital screen.

Whether the form is simply a compulsory marketing tool or maintains its artistic allure—or, more likely, both—it continues to evolve. Bands strive to put images to music and filmmakers struggle within creative confines closer to haiku than cinema. The bar for access has never been lower. Neither has the general standard of quality.

According to our research, between Feb. 16 and March 31, 17 Seattle bands released music videos. That number is not insignificant—and we probably missed some. Here are three of our favorites.

Tall Mountain, Gems
dir. Ryan Wylie
For the last 10 years, from his home base in San Francisco, Ryan Wylie has organized and curated the Free Form Film Festival, presenting experimental works in cities across the Western U.S. No surprise that Wylie’s video for Gems’ “Tall Mountain” meshes a wordless, momentum-building, dance-friendly jam with kaleidoscopic VHS imagery that ebbs and flows like video hypnosis. “Trans-cosmic geometry,” he calls it. “I’m interested in when video starts breaking apart.

Ryan Wylie: I knew I wanted the video to be about body movement, because their music is about movement through a fantasy world. I scaled it down to the RGB palette because that’s the video palette, and it doesn’t get more deconstructed than that.

The music video medium is struggling. It used to be a form for trying out the newest special effects that might make their way to the [feature] film world. It should be the heyday of video but the judgment of the fine art community keeps it from being so. If you wanna enter your work in film festivals, the music video category doesn’t exist. It’s seen as entertainment, not art.

Guttersnipe Bridge, RA Scion
dir. Garrett Gibbons
The “town video” is a classic variation of the form. Embraced especially by hip-hop, it casts the urban landscape as a principle character, as essential to the music as words and beats. Commercial videographer and photographer Garrett Gibbons had previously produced high-concept videos for journeyman rapper RA Scion (aka Ryan Abeo) but the budget for “Guttersnipe Bridge” demanded simplification. What you see is a travelogue—elegant, fluid, beautifully rendered—following a day in the life of an artist and father against an idyllic Seattle tableau.

Garrett Gibbons: We wanted to do something that reflects the reality of the hip-hop community and not show anything oversexed or overhyped or overdramatized. It was all me filming, one camera, nothing staged, really free form. I came to a show at the Croc—we filmed before, during and after. The next weekend we did some stuff on the street over in Fremont with the bridge in the background. It’s one of the quickest music videos I’ve made.

We weren’t trying to break ground, but it takes the traditional rap video idea and inverts it. We were on West Mercer or Denny where he was walking down the street rapping and we were like, do we really wanna do that? Who raps when they walk down the street? So I was like, let’s film you walking backwards rapping. In rap videos you usually have a scantily clad model that’s booty dancing. We said, let’s put in Ryan’s daughter doing ballet. She’s 15 or 16 and part of PNB’s youth ballet program and has been in all his videos since she was nine.

Cold Feet Killer, My Goodness
dir. Jon Meyer
In its crisp, professional-grade cinematography and action-packed storyline, “Cold Feet Killer” plays like a tiny feature film. Director Jon Meyer is a childhood friend of My Goodness singer/guitarist Joel Schneider and has directed all four of the band’s videos. Working with a decent budget provided by Seattle media firm Votiv, Meyer and his fiancé/producer Rachel Sharkeye shot over four days in a handful of locations around Seattle, using five cameras, a pair of battery-powered LED lights and two assistants.

Jon Meyer: We went all-out story-wise but we were using cheaper equipment. We wanted as much story as possible and to still feature the band. That only leaves two minutes of story.

It sounded like there was a real story behind the song, so I made up one of my own—not interpreting the lyrics but making my own thing. It helps that me and Joel are close; I don’t know if I would’ve had the balls to do a drug overdose and church scene if I didn’t have his unspoken trust in me. I wanted to make it as real as possible without going too artsy.

Videos aren’t nearly as good as they were in the ’90s. It’s not anybody’s fault, but that’s how the trend is going. I appreciate the artistic stuff, but I wanted to do something that hasn’t been done in a way it hasn’t for the low budget and the narrative I wanted to tell. I wanted the video to stick out and be different among the sea of bizarre out there.