Purely instrumental tracks rarely become music videos for singers, but Colombian techno-pop-performer Ela Minus has always trodden her own dogged, unique path. Acts of Rebellion opener N19 5NF, named after the co-ordinates of the North London hospital she was treated at, sees the artist letting loose in a techno club before engaging on a strange odyssey that enigmatically straddles the line between fantasy, reality and nightmares. The result is a probing, often disturbing work of art that prioritises image, whether it’s body or sexual horror, over narrative, allowing for a variety of different interpretations, from a cautionary tale about drug use to a rebirth story. We talked to N19 5NF’s Director Losmose about initially connecting with Ela Minus in Mexico, the possibilities of digital manipulation and finding the right 90s reference points for shooting rave scenes.
Be aware that the film contains multiple flashing images unsuitable for people with epilepsy.
How did you first get in touch with Ela Minus?
We met in Mexico. She was here and some friends of mine were doing a video for her. When we met, she mentioned she wanted to really do something for the first track of her album. It wasn’t a single, it was just a purely instrumental piece of music. So we started sharing ideas and it was all shot here in Mexico.
I looked into real footage of 90s raves for direct visual references.
How much input did Ela Minus have? I understand it’s quite a personal track for her, with the title being the postcode of a hospital in London she was treated in…
It was strange because she told me what the title of the song meant and the different events around it, but from there, it was purely my own interpretation. I just wrote a script around what she told me. Afterwards, we didn’t change anything. We just shot the script that I wrote. It was really a collaboration because I think it’s my own interpretation and how I felt about the music.
I loved the opening nightclub scene with the strobe lights. What’s it like trying to light and shoot a scene like that with the strobe light coming on and off every half a second?
It was very complicated. It was difficult to stop it from getting to a point where you can barely see the action, but it was also important that you got the feeling of the scene. It was a subjective moment of entering within what Ella is feeling at that moment. I worked with a Mexican DP named Alfonso Herrera Salcedo. I wanted lasers. I didn’t want all these strobe lights coming on and off at the same time. There are layers and different rhythms and patterns that create a connection with the use of maps in digital renders and fit the music as well. It was also difficult because I couldn’t find great club scene references so I started looking into real footage of raves, mostly from the 90s, like Daft Punk and stuff like that. Those were the direct visual references in terms of the energy, the quality of the light and the movement.
Digital images are just numbers that create the illusion that you’re looking at New York City.
It must have been fun editing in those aerial shots within the dancing. What was it like trying to bring it all together?
I really wanted there to be a sequence of the camera going inside and entering another layer. So there are a lot of zooms and the camera going from up to down before you start entering from within. We spent a lot of time just planning the exact shot. There was no thought of shooting a bunch of additional footage so we could edit later. It was important to have that feeling of going inside and inside and inside.
When I rewatched these strobing sequences, I paused the film and noticed the insert of raw code in one of the frames. I’m not sure what it means…
It’s something that I’ve been exploring because I am very interested in the fact that using digital images are just numbers that create the illusion that you’re looking at New York City. This breaks the illusion and you see the reality of it, which is like the molecular side of the digital image. That specific code is referencing something within the video, but it’s hidden. I think that is the render of the maps you see in London.
It’s something that experimental Stan Brakhage triggered because his films pushed the texture and broke the use of films. He even made films without cameras, just processing 16mm. Watching his films triggered a lot of those ideas of seeing what’s behind digital and fully embracing the digital world. There’s something beautiful in the bleakness and flatness of digital, but I haven’t seen much of people trying to break or expand it as much as possible.
It was important to have that feeling of going inside and inside and inside.
Talking of digital effects, it gets much darker with this creepy sex scene where you are not sure where one body starts and the other ends. I really want to know how you approached that scene.
I worked with visual effects artist Dan Williams. It was a long take and the effect had to hold: I think it’s a one-minute shot and through it you can’t see where the effect is and where the body is. It had to be simple enough and at the same time hold the whole take because you’re very focused on what you’re watching and you’re getting closer and closer. The idea was for it to be very natural. Through the shooting as well, we tried to do as much practical filmmaking and lighting as possible, then add as many layers of visual effects, so it doesn’t feel like it relies on it too much.
It seems like there are so many ways that someone could interpret the film because it seems to capture the conflict between fantasy, dark nightmares and reality, and the way that they can converge. What’s it like trying to create that balance between these different emotions, feelings and settings?
It really comes from intuition. When I was writing it, it naturally progressed towards that rightness and feeling. And it felt right at the specific moment. It wasn’t like a planned structure in a way. It was from an intuitive moment of how very powerful and impactful moments in life transform the self in a way that will make you grow and it is those big challenges in life that give a lot of dimension to your life. That’s the kind of feeling I felt was needed to proceed.
There’s something beautiful in the bleakness and flatness of digital, but I haven’t seen much of people trying to break or expand it as much as possible.
I like that it’s unexplained. I like when a film just priorities the image. Is this the way that you like to approach music videos and do you get this freedom a lot?
Yeah. I think I collaborate with people that are open to ideas of trying new things and making music videos from emotion, and not from necessarily giving a pure narrative or making it aesthetically pleasing. It’s very fruitful to work that way because there is this great freedom in that it doesn’t have to be explained. It’s something I want to continue working on, trying to have these more poetic connections.
What are you working on next?
I’m making my first feature film, filming here in Mexico. It’s a personal, spiritual film shot with lots of natural light, non-professional actors and lots of animals. It’s about political and religious manipulation. And madness.