The story so far: It's May, and there's a three day music video festival going on in Berlin. Our man in the German capital, Luke Bather has thoroughly checked out the first two days of screenings and awards-giving. It's been hot and sticky (sound familiar?), and it's been interesting. Could it get even stickier, and more interesting? Yes, it certainly could...
And lo it was upon us; the final day of competition. Somehow, impossibly, today was even hotter than the previous two days - to the point that the event staff had overnight sourced an inflatable paddling pool for the courtyard of the Nuke Club which served as both a wonderful makeshift swimming pool (above) and a disaster waiting to happen given its proximity to the bar.
But it was time to continue the screenings and the awards, and first up was the Best Low Budget category. At any awards show this can be one of the most interesting categories – limitations forcing filmmakers to get creative with little means and Berlin’s selection didn’t disappoint (for the most part). Low Budget here is defined as anything with a budget less than 1000 euros, which is a considerably lower threshold than a lot of other awards.
From a single-take close-up of a woman’s face as she bursts into tears (a surprisingly simple and effective video for Tom Rosenthal directed by Thomas Vernay) to the downright creepy orgy of ‘Two Girlfriends are Better than One’ by Berlin’s answer to Right Said Fred, Felix Ruckert. One of the biggest reactions came from Julien Patry’s Berlin:Classified which is no surprise – it’s a celebration of patterns in found in the city we’re sitting in.
Eventual winners The Wanton Bishops and their director André Chammas take to the stage with a massive entourage – which is fair enough, they’ve come all the way from Beirut to pick up the award for their 70s-inspired exploitation B-movie style video Hitman.
Best Low Budget
Winner: The Wanton Bishops ‘Hitman’ Dir. André Chammas
Best Experimental Video was yet another category where heat and exhaustion could get the better of you. We stock up on Club Mate (Berlin’s love-it-or-hate-it energy drink of choice) and buckle up for a trip.
It’s a varied selection – experimental is perhaps an unfair term for these videos, but I’d struggle to find a better one. They defy conventional definition but that doesn’t make them abrasive, challenging or unwatchable (or any other negative connotation that comes with ‘Experimental’). Third place La Femme’s Spynx video is an incredible digital collage that maybe owes a thing or two to FKA Twigs’ general aesthetic and The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, but it makes something damn unique out of those influences.
Highlight of the entire category comes towards the end when Ninian Doff’s second video in as many days gets screened – this time his pollination promo for Run The Jewels’ Love Again. Being familiar with the song and video already, but being surrounded by people who are seeing it for the first time, has us brimming with anticipation for when the video’s concept lands with the audience. Of course, as soon as that first chorus kicks in with a certain fellatio-based refrain, the penny drops and laughter erupts.
Son Lux’s incredible video for Cage of Bones by JP Frenay takes home the top prize, and rightly so. The video is a haunting gaze into the abyss of the future soaked in artful nihilism. It makes Black Mirror look like the Teletubbies.
Winner: Son Lux ‘Cage of Bones’ Dir. JP Frenay
Probably one of the best parts of the festival – but arguably programmed at the worst possible time – was the Sex in Music Videos Panel. At this point in time, it’s Friday night and the weather has been glorious for days. Everyone is more than a little bit drunk, and a frank, insightful panel discussion about sex and representation doesn’t sit well with the talkative and distracted crowd. Especially the idiot near me who took it upon himself to shout ‘BORING!’
This was a necessary conversation though. We heard from Brian Fairbairn & Karl Eccleston – a director’s duo who’s incredible video for Brendan Maclean is essential and provocative viewing. They talked of how gay sex and gay men having fun was still such a taboo that they struggled to get their film processed after they’d shot it, or even find support in queer music video festivals.
All the way over from New York, artist Hila The Killa spoke about how vital it was that everybody has a voice – her song and video ‘Body Hair’ being a celebration of something too-often reviled.
There was even a heated discussion about whether or not gross, messy, funny sex should be represented, with most of the panel saying yes – but some arguing for a more traditional assumption of responsibility with what we expose people to (noting that music videos can be for people of all ages). Things got a little heated...
To try and lift spirits after a serious, frank discussion about sex, the hosts awkwardly made their way through the crowd to offer free shots to a lucky few. As if you needed any liquid preparation for the next two categories. The venue is quite possibly over-capacity busy, but nobody seems to fussed. Everyone is rapt at the Most Bizarre category, and with good reason!
The biggest name on the list is undoubtedly Gorillaz, whose video for Hallelujah Money directed by Giorgio Testi is an intense archive-footage dirge of rear projection and unflinchingly discomfiting performance. But it’s nothing compared to some of the lesser-knowns. There’s visceral, slimy body horror, a culturally diverse bloodbath meets a bondage-based cooking show.
The winners, Hyenaz, sort of set the scene for this video with their live performance on Day 2. Did we mention that the duo were completely naked, painted silver head to toe and screaming in the crowd? Well, it happened. It was intense, and so is their self-directed sealife-inspired, quick-cut and genitalia-ridden shocker for Binaries. To call it a confrontational visual assault is to downplay it massively.
Winner: Hyenaz ‘Binaries’ Dir. Hyenaz
The final category of the night and the final unique category of the festival and the Berlin MVAs may well have saved Most Trashy ‘til last for good reason: rashy is right. These are some explicit music videos that together become the stuff of legend. Of course, this category is unique to the Berlin MVAs in of itself, which is testament to the open mindedness of the festival.
Tommy Cash’s incredible Sex, VFX and flesh epic Winaloto isn’t even the most shocking thing here, but it’s always a treat to see, purely for its sheer brash insistence on making you uncomfortable. Beyond that there’s some rampant drug-taking, a giant pair of floating CGI tits, some hairy naked bodies on a New York rooftop and a not-so-subtle stand-in for Donald Trump. But the winner of this award is truly a step above.
Sex in Music Video panelists Brian Fairbairn & Karl Eccleston’s video for Brendan Maclean is a bold and audacious celebration of gay sex. Shot on 16mm and presented as a how-to guide to the world of gay men, the video is hilarious, but it’s also pretty shocking if you’re not expecting the twists. Using gay porn stars as their cast, the video features a lot of graphic sex, but uses it to take a playful look at gay seduction and stereotyping. Knowing of the difficulty they had getting the video made, this is a thoroughly deserved win and a hell of a way to close out day 3.
Winner: Brendan Maclean ‘House of Air’ Dir. Brian Fairbairn & Karl Eccleston
With that, the competition draws to a close. The Berlin night air is cooler now as we wander in a daze with the last three days in the front of our minds. 130+ music videos in three evenings is a hell of a consumption rate, even for Promonews.
The awards now look forward to their fourth and final day – a glitzy dress-to-impress celebration of the winners of each category, wherein the winner of winners gets the prize for Best Music Video. Deservedly it goes to the first winner of Best Concept award on the first night, Ilya Naishuller’s insane video for Leningrad.
From here it’s parties, afterparties, burlesque, DJs and live music. Not for Promonews though, we’ve got a plane to catch in the morning.
Best Music Video
Winner: Leningrad ‘Kolshik’ Dir. Ilya Naishuller