Drawing their inspiration from sources as diverse as sunlight entering a train window, classic pulp illustration, and old erotic comics, music video directing collective Canada have become known for creating their own genre of bewilderingly surreal music videos, instantly recognisable as their handiwork.
Canada joined production company Partizan after gaining widespread attention for their work for El Guincho’s song, Bombay. The video, which Canada themselves refer to as “a visual encyclopedia of contemporary lifestyle”, introduced their distinctive approach to an international audience. In their native Barcelona they have made videos for a number of Spanish indie bands, but following Bombay they have increasingly been able to work with bands outside their home country, including Battles, Oh Land, White Lies and Scissor Sisters.
Comprised of Luis Cerveró, Nicolás Méndez and Lope Serrano, Canada came together in 2008 through a sense of shared frustration with their jobs at production houses, and some existing experience of working together on projects. Their creative process continues to focus on the collaborative nature of things, and they work as a collective to brainstorm and write treatments. Canada compare the process to a mud fight. “If the treatment is approved, then we all enter the mud pool room, and fight in the mud until two of us surrender. The mudpool champion gets to direct the work on his own. Many times also, one will lead the whole thing and the other two will be there for second unit or second camera work. And in the edit room one has the controls, but the other two keep coming in and telling him to change absolutely everything. And back to the mud pool one more time,” they say.
Whilst their music videos may often appear to be collections of fast moving, disparate images, Canada insist there is a rationale behind their work. “Although we are conscious of some of our work being apparently random, truth is we are actually incapable of working without a bonding concept, a cryptic storyline or at least a loose excuse to make things work in our heads,” they claim. “We don’t see it as a collection of vignettes for no purpose, but rather as an act of deconstruction or structural language, which is as old as Soviet cinema or the avantgarde films. So nothing new, really.”
For Bombay, they aimed to “mirror the golden phonograph records that were launched with the Voyager spaceships back in 1977. They were supposed to contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, just in case extraterrestrial life found them (and were able to listen and watch the content). And that is the reason why the piece starts off with Pablo’s mimic of a famous Carl Sagan speech, and him throwing out a golden cassette into the sky,” Canada say.
The video for Battles’ song, Ice Cream, is comparable in appearance, with shots of martial arts performers immediately followed by vignettes of girls licking various unexpected objects – a pine cone, a door handle, and the wheel of a roller skate. Canada say that after the band explained that the song attempted to “deconstruct the concept of an ice cream”, they aimed to parallel that with their video, using “playful imagery that tried to take an approach in all things related to ice cream: its colour, its texture, its lickability, its emotional side etc”.
Their latest video for Danish artist Oh Land appears to take more of an obvious narrative slant, with the singer transported into a surreal dream universe. Despite this, Canada don’t perceive it as any more straightforward then previous videos. “We’ve done narrative storytelling before, and we find it funny how people think if there is a narrative style things make more sense. In fact, the Oh Land video is way more abstract than other things we’ve done. But people seem to relate to it because it’s set in a dream world.”
The complexity of Canada’s work would seem to be hard to convey in a treatment, but Canada say they haven’t encountered any difficulties. “It isn’t that hard, really. You just have to explain all the imagery you want to put in the work, being as detailed as possible, and trying also to give it a conceptual reason so people understand why you plan to do the things you plan to do. Usually it is just a bunch of photos, stills, links and other referential work.”
As for the future: “We’re not making any plans and we like it like that. If you think of the future, you might get disappointed. If you just let things happen it can lead you to a real surprise and unexpected fun.” Canada attribute the immediately recognisable quality of their work to this philosophy, “working under a mix of control freakiness and room for things to happen, which usually leads to total chaos, the Big Bang, and the birth of a new universe.”