: warp: various artists

London: Warp, 2004

Warp Records' ground-breaking release and distribution of Aphex Twin’s 1999 single Windowlicker as a unified DVD package (with both the audio visual product and associated artwork designed by director Chris Cunningham), almost single-handedly revolutionized popular music distribution. While the full impact of this belated recognition of DVD distribution is still making itself felt, more DVD music video compilations are coming onto the market. The best and most unified, coherent examples of these are the profiles of music video masters–Cunningham, Spike Jones and Michel Gondry. These exceptional collections allow one to observe each director’s development and–particularly in the case of the Gondry compilation–come with impressive extras and background interviews. Given the important role which Warp played in establishing both cinematic auteur Cunningham and drill-funk, electro and glitch composers like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre and LFO, Warp’s recent entry into the field is an impressive and important addition–the lack of good extras notwithstanding (a dubious audio remix CD is all that is offered, while even the DVD table of contents is confusing).

The Warp compilation is, by definition, a less cohesive viewing experience than the director-based collections. Although Warp tends to focus on electronic musics, there is also the richly drenched neo-lounge band Broadcast (a wonderfully evocative video from Barback, playing with color whorls, oil projections and other appropriately historic motifs) or the weird, echoing, poser electro-schlock rock of vocalist Jamie Lidell (his camp performative excesses aptly serving as the basis for 2 videos here). There is moreover some doubling up with material already available on the Cunningham collection and the diverse but better presented Visual Niches series (E Motion: 2002-3). Such drawbacks aside, this is a great, extensive collection of 31 videos, allowing one to revisit the Aphex Twin trilogy of Windowlicker (the undisputed and much discussed masterpiece), Come to Daddy and Donkey Rhubarb (the latter by director David Slade), all on one DVD. The wonderful central visual motif of all three pieces is the self-consciously narcissistic multiplication of Richard James’ blankly grinning face onto multiple, aggressive, sexualized bodies.

Aside from many other fine videos, there are also several gems not previously available on DVD. There is the amazingly detailed and surprising matching of abstract mecha-style, 3-dimensional forms with Autechre’s beats in director Alex Rutterford’s Gantz Graf. Equally arresting is director Lynn Fox’s Gob Coitus, an almost butoh-esque correspondence of Chris Clark’s slurred glitch breaks with a staggering, twisted and totally transformed, human-animal-machine: mouth open, the tongue rolling up from the glottis, as the crawling, hunched structure of the dancer becomes radically Other.

Another highlight is director Daniel Levi’s brutal, schoolgirl dance sequence for LFO’s Freak, the cinematography of which is strongly influenced by recent Japanese horror film. Through close framing and the manipulation of visual playback time, the screen becomes increasingly filled with high-contrast and drably-colored, violent, young female bodies. The actual reversal of time in the vision playback, with bodies rising against gravity, accords with the highest density of sound and beat near the conclusion of the song. Finally one is left with a prone, ecstatic body, whose seizures are unnaturally in time with the closing high-hat signatures. This is a great music video and along with the revolutionary cinesonic explorations of the body produced by Cunningham, Goudry, Fox, Levi and their peers this is yet another proof that calls for the recognition of dance film as a new genre are completely superfluous.

Jonathan Marshall

1 December 2005