Simply the best: Huse Monfaradi on what makes a great music video

Promonews - 11th Feb 2021

For more than fifteen years, Huse Monfaradi has been making music videos by doing what comes naturally - trusting in the power of performance.

In recent times he has directed videos and content for the likes of Michael Kiwanuka - the UKMVA-nominated Live at The Mildmay Club - Declan McKenna, Louis Tomlinson and Bombay Bicycle Club, offering insights into the personalities of the artists through their performances. Back in the mid-Noughties when he started out, he also directed the iconic video for Eric Prydz's Call On Me, before moving on to direct two early Arctic Monkeys videos, for I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor and Brianstorm, and for Paolo Nutini and others.

Huse Monfaradi aims for the heart - and in the case of Call On Me, other parts of the body - rather than bamboozling the brain with visual trickery. Even though he emerged at a time when the concept video was king, this was also the kind of work he (perhaps secretly) preferred. But now he's coming clean about his love for the good stuff that's strong by being simple, rather than complex or super-arty.

What speaks to me most is simplicity, courage and conviction.

"I didn't go to film school or do media studies - I have a degree in Spanish from Birmingham University," he explains. "All I did from the age 11 until 18 was skateboard and watch a lot of TV. Every single day. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, even after college when I was unemployed for over a year trying to work it all out."

Oblivious to the world of filmmaking right into his twenties, his introduction came when a friend strolled into the pub and announced he had a job as a runner on commercials and music videos. "I didn’t even know what that meant, but one thing lead to another and I soon found myself hanging about on sets, making cups of tea and driving vans badly," he recalls. "Within a few months I figured that I was being inherently drawn towards directing. It would seem that spending all that time watching films, videos, sitcoms, cartoons and documentaries had paid off by, on some level, permeating into my very being. I’d just never put two and two together."

Above: Huse Monfaradi, channelling Kurt Russell in 'The Thing', one of his favourite movies. "I had a lot of Godard, Truffaut, Fellini DVDs - don't think I finished a single one."

By mid-1997, he found himself working at MTV, working alongside Zane Lowe on Brand:New. "It was here that my love of music videos was really cemented," he recalls. "I developed a voracious appetite for watching anything and everything all day long in front of a Beta SP tape deck and monitor, researching ideas for strands on various shows. Remember, this was pre-internet and Youtube, so MTV really was the place to be for this."

It so happens that the MTV tape library was being run at the time by none other than John Hassay - just before he became a music video commissioner of era-defining videos for Fatboy Slim. But it took a few more years before Huse directed a proper video himself. He was struggling to find courage to invest in my ideas, hamstrung by the prevailing notion that a director had to be a chin-stroking auteur, who spent most of their time devouring the masters of art cinema. But he happened to prefer rather more mainstream fare.

"I had a stack of DVDs that consisted of films by the likes of Godard, Truffaut and Fellini. I was convinced that I needed to watch them to be a true director. I don’t think I finished a single one. I couldn’t relate to any of the work. I’d been brought up on a diet of skate films, trashy 80s movies, comedies and espionage thrillers."

It might not be immediately apparent, but Eric Prydz and Arctic Monkeys share the same DNA.

His taste in music videos, he says, follows that in film overall. "What speaks to me most is simplicity, courage and conviction. It’s the same conviction that The Beatles had when they presented the cover of The White Album, or when Warhol created his Campbell’s Soup Cans." In other words, there are the videos he admires for their conceptual and technical brilliance. But then, there are the videos that he actually loves.  

"I can be completely in awe of the artistry, beauty and intricacy of, for example, Encyclopaedia Pictura’s video for Bjork’s Wanderlust. But can I relate to it? Perhaps not as much. For me personally, the simplest ideas, for whatever intangible reason, have always been the one’s that have spoken to me and worked best - that perfect synergy of visuals and music where each compliments the other. That for me is what music videos are all about.

"There are videos that have over the years blown my mind, and then there’s the videos that have hit me in the heart and soul. Why? Because I’ve watched them and thought: 'oh man, why didn’t I have that idea? I could have had that idea!' I couldn’t have come up with Michel Gondry’s Chemical Brothers video for Let Forever Be, even if you’d put a gun to my head. But could I have written the idea for Spike Jonze’s Wax video California? You know what, I think I could have. And let me make it clear, that’s not me being bigheaded. It's just a really well executed video with a very simple concept behind it.

"I guess my directing career has been based on 'doing simple well', and I say that unashamedly. After all, when I did eventually start directing videos in 2004, my second ever video was for Eric Prydz's Call On Me - a choreographed routine. Six months later, I directed Arctic Monkeys' I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor - a band playing live and raw. It might not be apparent to anyone reading this but for me both videos share the same DNA, and it’s still my approach to this day, every time I’m asked to pitch."

So what are the videos those all-important criteria - that hit in the heart and soul? We asked Huse to come up with a list of his all-time favourites and he has obliged, with what he calls "a list of videos that inspire me where simplicity was at their heart, and that I think: 'damn, I wish I’d directed that... not in a big-headed kind of way though'.”

He's picked some classics, and a few surprises. They are all absolute bangers.

HUSE MONFARADI ON HIS FAVOURITE MUSIC VIDEOS:

Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy (1991) dir: Baillie Walsh

HM: For me this was one of the original single shot concept videos. Beautifully shot in LA around magic hour, all one continuous steadicam shot. I love the imperfections as much as the perfection of it all, spotting people who have wondered into shot, the cameos by the band, seeing the traffic cops and cones blocking roads. It has a kind of punk rock 'let’s just shoot this and see what happens' kind of vibe to it.

I think people remember the video just as much as they do the track, if not more.

Ultimately your eye always comes back to Shara Nelson’s understated performance. She’s just a person walking down the road singing the track, and that’s all the music needed. But more to the point it was kind of an original idea at the time. I think people remember the video just as much as they do the track, if not more. It’s been imitated endlessly in one form or another ever since.

This came out fifteen years before I started directing videos at Black Dog Films where I was on the same roster as Baillie - and I don’t think I ever told him how excellent I thought this was!

REM - Drive (1992) dir: Peter Care

HM: I was 18 when this came out, and this was one of the videos I taped onto VHS from MTV and kept in a compilation.  Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was another, as well as The Beastie Boys So What’cha Want, to name a few others. I know it sounds nuts but I really did not think I’d end up directing videos even though maybe the signs were there. I genuinely just liked having them on tape!

Primal, physical, frenzied and metaphorical, but without any pretension.

The top shot with the sea of arms with Michael Stipe being passed around in his crisp white shirt, the black and white image, the strobe and spotlit lighting... there’s something almost Caravaggio about it all. It's really primal, physical, frenzied and metaphorical, but without any pretension. And then Peter Buck being hit with a high pressure water hose when the guitar solos drop. It’s all really understated, almost obvious, yet super-powerful and energetic. Just brilliant.

Richard Ashcroft - A Song For The Lovers (2000) dir: Jonathan Glazer

Just as Seinfeld is often described as a “show about nothing”, Jonathan Glazer created a video for A Song For The Lovers based on the mundane - Richard Ashcroft going about his business in his hotel room. No doubt Glazer based his idea on the opening lyrics: I spend the night looking for my insides in a hotel room, waiting for you.

You have to take your hat off to the video’s bravery, but also the fact that Ashcroft and the label embraced it and ran with it. I would have loved to see the treatment for this. I sometimes fantasise there was no treatment and Glazer’s on the phone to Ashcroft pitching it: 'It’s just you in your hotel room doing nothing. That’s the video.' It’s that intangible alchemy of having everyone on your side and trusting your vision, which at times isn't completely explicable until you see the final film.

I sometimes fantasise Glazer on the phone to Ashcroft pitching it: 'It’s just you in your hotel room, doing nothing.'

I think this was also the first time I’d really seen the use of diegetic sounds in a music video too, something which further elevates the 'believability'.

I sometimes cringe at getting the talent to act in videos, but Ashcroft undoubtedly pulls this off with pure class and charisma under Glazer’s faultless direction. And dare I say it, I think the ending is a cheeky nod to the uneventful narrative. What’s more mundane than going for a wee?

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps (2004) dir: Patrick Daughters

I love the way this video by Patrick Daughters opens with the camera moving through behind the scenes, incorporating the crew, again using diegetic sounds, before coming to rest on Nick Zinner’s guitar intro. I’ve got to say, I’ve definitely ripped that from Patrick on a pitch or two here and there over the years.

One of the all-time defining moments in music video - whether intentional or not.

His coverage is really basic but perfectly framed and paced. He’s not afraid to hold on shots and the lens filtration he uses adds a further dimension. Really beautiful cinematography. Of course the video gained much of it’s attention because of Karen O’s exceptional performance and how she breaks down into tears. It’s completely captivating and for me one of the all-time defining moments in music video, whether intentional or not. Sometimes things just work out on the day.

Patrick was also at Black Dog Films with me for a while. A lovely human being. I don’t think I ever told him either how brilliant I think this video was either. I really need to speak up more often….

The Vines - Ride (2004) dir: Michel Gondry

Dare I say this is perhaps the most un-Gondry Michel Gondry video? When I watch his work it’s a mixture of art, science and mathematics all rolled into one, but at the heart of this video is just a beautifully constructed performance video 'with a twist'. How many times have I read that as a brief? Needless to say Gondry nails 'the twist'.

The track is pretty short and sharp and the energy that Gondry captures is relentless throughout. The choruses perfectly suit the multiple band imagery and I love how he approached the guitar and drum breakdowns. I think I read somewhere that they put out a casting for unknown bands to learn the track and come and feature in the video. Having that visual cross section of all these different personalities and eclectic looks just seals the deal for me.

I can’t begin to tell you when listening to a track how many times I’ve thought, 'okay, for the chorus maybe we see a bunch of drummers and guitar players all come in….', and then I remember this video. The perfect performance video.

Popcaan - Firm & Strong (2019) dir: Nabil

HM: When I told my friend Swedish Daniel I was writing this article for Promonews he was asking me what videos I was going to include and I mentioned this one. He didn’t know it so he watched it and called me back. I asked him 'does it make sense that I chose this video?' and he replied 'sometimes shit just looks cool'. That’s it in a nutshell. Some might argue this is an 'average' music video, but for me it’s the epitome of timeless cool. It’s James Dean in a white t-shirt and blue jeans. There’s not much to it, but everything on screen is unfathomably good and I think the same can be said for many of Nabil’s videos.

Everything on screen is unfathomably good.

I’m not the biggest reggae fan - having said that if you haven’t watched Steve McQueen’s Lover's Rock, you must do so immediately - but the track is so mesmeric, as is the cinematography by Galo Olivares, who DP’d Roma alongside Alfonso Cuarón. Nabil captures the performance, the landscape and the people of Kingston in a way that just lets them be, without messing with it too much. Come to think of it, it's rare to see anything shot in Jamaica that doesn’t look great against that very cinematic backdrop and its people. The same can be said for Iceland. I’ve pitched a tonne of ideas over the years to shoot there. Just stick a camera out the car window and the job’s done. Bosh.

Jay Z - 99 Problems (2004) dir: Mark Romanek

HM: Clearly 2004 was a great year for music videos! Okay, so I’m going to put this out there. This is the most copied/ripped off/homaged video in the history of music videos. Why? Because it’s simple perfection, but also completely relentless in its imagery and narrative.

There’s not a duff shot in there. It’s constantly attacking the senses. The portraiture, the vignettes, the characters, the themes, the locations… they all just keep coming. Was that Rick Rubin? Wait, is that Vincent Gallo? Hang on we’re in a prison now? This choreography is awesome! Who’s the guy dressed in a tribal witchdoctor outfit? Oh shit now Jay Z’s getting shot?!

I think Romanek’s work is the most relatable to me... Yes, I want to be Mark Romanek.

It’s so personal and biographical to Jay Z as well, something that I think often gets missed in music video. I sometimes feel that videos don’t represent what the track is truly about, and are perhaps just an idea a director wants to express and the music is an afterthought. This most certainly cannot be said for 99 Problems.

I’d also say that Romanek captures that inner city New York vibe like no one else has, not since Friedkin’s The French Connection and those iconic 60s and 70s movies that made me so desperate to want to go there one day when I was a kid.

So many of Mark Romanek’s videos are exactly what I’m trying to describe. They feel effortless and simple, with every department coming in 10/10. Whether its Johnny Cash’s Hurt, Audioslave’s Cochise, or Coldplay’s Speed Of Sound, I think Romanek’s work is the most relatable to me, and as a consequence the work that I subsequently envy the most. Yes, I want to be Mark Romanek.

• Huse Monfaradi is represented for music videos and commercials by Kode Media, view his work here

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    Promonews - 11th Feb 2021

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