"I still get people coming up to me today saying they were 13-years-old when they first saw the ‘LFO’ video on Top Of The Pops and it changed their whole attitude to music."
That’s Steve Beckett, co-founder and MD of Warp Records, the pioneering independent label, considering the impact Warp’s biggest chart hit – Number 12 in 1990, by Leeds duo LFO – had on a generation of future ravers. While hundreds of thousands bought that track, you forget that millions more first encountered LFO when ‘LFO’s striking promo, a hectic DIY collage of circuit boards, hand signs and white boilersuits every bit as mental as the music, was shown on TOTP, MTV and long-gone ITV Saturday morning favourite The Chart Show. Whether viewers liked, loathed, or even understood what they saw didn’t matter: the fact that peak-time mainstream TV beamed a budget techno video into the nation’s front rooms was rude testament to the sudden popularity of an incipient rave culture, the sound and style of which Warp would help define.
You know the rest – Nightmares On Wax, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher blah blah bleep (just check warprecords.com) – or, at least, you think you do. Because now Warp Vision (The Videos 1989-2004) presents for the first time a kind of secret history of Warp Records: an alternate look at 15 years of incredible, radical electronic pop music in the form of 32 equally radical, eye-popping videos created by some of the world’s finest film-making talent. In a way it’s Warp’s first proper greatest hits compilation, a comprehensive audio/visual retrospective of the best the label has to offer. Is it long overdue? Yes. Very.
Many of these videos, like Jarvis Cocker’s inspired reading of Nightmares On Wax’s 1991 classic ‘Aftermath’, have not been seen for years, let alone available to buy. More recent shorts such as Delicious 9’s psychedelic animation for Luke Vibert’s ‘I Love Acid’ tend to only be shown online. Alex Rutterford’s breathtaking analysis of Autechre’s ‘Gantz Graf’, meanwhile, is a staggering feat of programming that receives rounds of applause when it’s screened between acts at Warp parties. And then there are four by superstar director Chris Cunningham, whose viciously modern technique perfectly complements his subjects’ advanced, audacious music; think of Aphex Twin and you automatically picture a scene from Cunningham’s ‘Come To Daddy’ or ‘Windowlicker’ masterpieces.
"In terms of promotion, ‘Windowlicker’ was madness," Beckett says, smiling. "It was a single that wasn’t on any album and we didn’t have an album lined up and it’s never been on an album. But it was definitely the right thing to do."
It wasn’t always so smooth, however. Beckett is the first to admit that the early-’90s videos were fairly random affairs. "The distributors would tell us we needed a video to help sell a track, so we’d ask our friends around Sheffield and someone would say, ‘Oh yeah, Jarvis knows how to do videos’," he recalls. "But this was dance music – videos had been quite slick up ’til then and now people were making music with a DIY attitude which we applied to film. I mean, that whole time was a complete revolution so people were amazed we were getting this music in the charts. They were more amazed when we got it on TV."
Through producing these early videos and working with upcoming directors often as unhinged as the recording artists, Warp learned to appreciate the value of film. The label has always had a strong visual identity, courtesy of cool, clean artwork by The Designers Republic and Kleber’s award-winning website design, but now film offered another, unlimited medium in which to explore the Warp aesthetic. Hence the arrival of Warp Films in 2001, which won a BAFTA two years later with its first short, My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117, the directorial debut from Chris Morris. New Warp Films features by Chris Cunningham and Jarvis Cocker are imminent, while Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes feature has already been accepted at the Edinburgh, Venice and Toronto film festivals, and is released on October 1st in the UK.
For Beckett, there are obvious parallels between the post-acid house explosion in bedroom-based DIY music production and today’s cutting-edge methods of film-making. "It feels like exactly the same time now film-wise as it did then with music," he says. "Back then bands realised they didn’t have to spend 40 grand on a recording studio when new technology allowed them to make music at home. With film now, fresh directors are filming things on DV and editing on Macs at home. It’s not as cheap as making music yet, but it will be. People are making really cheap guerrilla-tactic movies and documentaries. There are new ways of hyping work up and establishing a massive following without going through the big studios. So I think there’s a really similar feel, especially with the sort of directors we’re working with, who are just as bonkers as our artists."
Bonkers? Arguably, but this new school of multimedia-literate directors is certainly insanely talented, as Warp Vision reveals. Just as Chris Cunningham delivered his debut video for Warp in 1995 with Autechre’s ‘Second Bad Vilbel’, so others have cut their teeth at Warp before progressing to bigger projects. Laurent Briet, of hot Paris collective Cauchemars (meaning Nightmares, fittingly), provides a beautiful interpretation of Aphex Twin’s ‘Nannou’. He’s since produced promos for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and !!!’s ‘Hello? Is This Thing On?’. Also from Paris, Pleix, the celebrated animators behind Plaid’s disturbing ‘Itsu’ short, recently completed Basement Jaxx’s ‘Cish Cash’.
Like Pleix, fast-rising British director Ed Holdsworth was one of the winners of the hugely successful 2002 Warp/Creative Review magazine competition that offered contestants the chance to submit videos of certain Warp artists’ tracks. Following his acclaimed treatment of Prefuse 73’s ‘Half Of What’, Ed has worked on videos for Radiohead and Four Tet. Fêted design trio Lynn Fox, responsible for Chris Clark’s harrowing ’Gob Coitus’, are currently working on the visuals for Björk’s opening ceremony performance at the Athens Olympics, and last year designed a window in Selfridges as part of Creative Review’s Creative Futures exhibition.
Elsewhere on Warp Vision you’ll discover rarely-seen gems like Jimi Tenor’s ‘Midsummer’s Night’, in which the Finn idles in a rowing boat with his father, a former top national athlete who appears in his Olympics shirt, and John Callaghan’s bizarre, no-budget ‘I’m Not Comfortable Inside My Mind’. There’s an excellent Jamie Lidell video for ‘The City’, a brand new track which shows how far he’s come musically since ‘Muddlin’ Gear’. So Warp Vision boasts its fair share of psychotic Japanese schoolgirls, grimy industrial and council estates, padded cells, and anxious protagonists writhing in claustrophobic conditions. What can it all mean?
"Well there’s a lot of pretty dark music," Beckett admits. "Even 'Windowlicker’, though it’s still a pop track, has French lyrics going, ‘I wanna suck your dog’s cock’ or whatever. Apart from Chris Cunningham’s, you forget that most people haven’t seen these videos at all. This DVD really does set a standard."
So feast on Warp Vision, the definitive video collection from the world’s leading label.
Biography by Piers Martin.