Read the latest post from our Digital Resident for May, Patrick Samuel, all about making a video with a little budget and a lot of imagination.
How did a song like Stairway to Hell come into existence?
It was during the height of the first lockdown in 2020. I was working on an EP that reflected on the zeitgeist of the time and I needed one final song to finish it off. It needed to be something completely insane that would knock listeners back.
Originally the intro featured an excerpt from the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, but once I started writing the lyrics, I realised how problematic that might be. It’s a shame because it was quite beautiful, but the song was going in a different direction already, away from the eastern influences of the opening track for the EP.
At the same time, Stairway to Hell would feature some of my most intense guitar work I’ve ever recorded as the song gradually grows into a frenzy.
Was the video easy to imagine?
I knew from the start that this had to be my most over-the-top video. When you listen to the song, everything you hear is exaggerated, from the lyrics to the music, right down to the phrasing of every word. The video had to be faithful to that. But rather than scary, I wanted it to be beautiful and bold, subverting expectations.
I’ve always been fascinated by Kabuki, a form of classical Japanese dance-drama that’s been around since the 16th century, and I saw this as an opportunity to create my own Kabuki stage with my own characters. I’ve studied it quite extensively over the years.
There would be an angry royal figure whose temperamental personality would be characterised by the red lines across his face. And a shy, bashful and mournful geisha. I thought it would be interesting to depict them in Heaven and Hell, but their worlds would merge for the climax. There would be a lot of red and blue, against stark backgrounds and a slew of cherry blossoms.
How did you prepare for transforming into these kabuki characters?
I spent around 6 weeks watching a lot of traditional kabuki performances, making notes and practicing my own movements and preparing my costumes. I watched Amaterasu, a 2006 performance featuring Bandō Tamasaburō V, a Kabuki actor, and the most popular and celebrated onnagata (an actor specializing in female roles).
The same actor also plays in Orochi and his graceful, delicate movements helped shape my own character for the video. I prepared her movements meticulously each day, from the way she enters the scene and beckons the audience to come closer, to her bashfully applying her makeup and her fan dance.
Did you feel nervous about being in so much make-up?
Not at all. This was me embracing my neurodiversity and embracing all that my autism equips me with. It was about transforming and becoming something beyond myself as an artist. I think it’s part of my neurodiversity that I have never perceived a gender identity within myself, I feel quite neutral about it and comfortable that I possess what is thought of as both male and female qualities, so I’m happy to have the chance to play both of those in exaggerated forms in a single video.
Was it easy shooting the video?
We put aside an entire day for the shoot. Constructing the stage, setting up the lighting, getting into each costume, doing the make-up, hair and all the accessories. The shoot was very demanding and required me to stay focused and in character throughout.
I was also incorporating elements of butoh, a different form of Japanese dance theatre with very stylised movements, into the choreography and had to remember my markers and to stay within camera range.
Unfortunately, we realised the next day when watching the footage that it would all have to be done again because the stage was not sufficient – we needed it to be much bigger. So the following week the entire video had to be reshot.
One thing I was sad about was that I couldn’t seem to repeat my butoh choreography because by that point during the second shoot I was becoming overwhelmed and overstimulated.
Do you think you will revisit these characters in future work?
I would love for my geisha to feature in a live segment on stage. Sometimes when I need to distract myself for a while I play around with a set-list for my dream show and envision the whole thing would take place on a kabuki inspired stage with the geisha segment forming the final act. I would love the opportunity to do that. I also hope to draw on inspiration from other cultures around the world in my future videos. I think as an audio-visual artist, my neurodiversity has been an advantage because I often don’t see a barrier between dreams and reality.
Digital Residencies is part of Drake Music’s covid-secure artistic programming and is supported by the Arts Council England Culture Recovery Fund. It is a self-directed online residency for Disabled artists.