As its title would suggest, The Divine Comedy’s 12th studio album Office Politics broaches the theme of the workplace, with a particular focus on the increasing presence of machines and technology. The double LP was released earlier this year, and now has a two-part music video to go with it.
The visuals are the work of Mathieu Persan, who did all of the storyboarding and illustrations, and Maeva Pensivy, who took care of the animation. Persan first crossed paths with The Divine Comedy back in 2017. The band was doing a three-night run at the Folies Bergère in Paris, which was exhibiting some of Persan’s personal collection of posters that he’d designed for The Divine Comedy.
The new video is split in two halves: one for Infernal Machines, a growling glam-rock chant on the role and ubiquity of machines, the other for You’ll Never Work In This Town Again, a rejection of these systems set to a salsa rhythm.
Not only did Persan need to create a video for two songs, but also join them together into a harmonious watch. While it might seem like a painful task, it wasn’t that much of a challenge in reality. “The music is different but lyrically they clearly make sense being presented together,” Persan says. “My job was to imagine a story to link them flawlessly. So I had to find a strong element that could make sense all through the video.
“The hypnotising big ball swinging above the city representing the machines was the key,” Persan explains. Once he had established the common elements in the songs, it was a straightforward path to tying both halves of the video together in a cohesive way.
While the meaning behind the songs is firmly rooted in present-day concerns about technology and mechanisation, the graphic style looks to the past as a reference, namely Saul Bass, “who did the best opening credits of all time”, Persan notes. “I must say that finding the right graphic style was not the hardest part: it was really dictated by the music itself.”
“Infernal Machines had to have that grainy, dark and scary atmosphere while You’ll Never Work In This Town Again had to have this 50s/60s ‘cocktail’ touch,” he adds. While the concept behind Infernal Machines is told through gritty black and white visuals, the latter half of the video is injected with a spectrum of orange hues that bring it to life. There’s a neat parallel between the second half of the video and the iconic Mad Men title sequence, which share themes of despair and escape from systems, whether societal or mechanical.
The project kicked off in July with initial discussions with frontman Neil Hannon and the label, and from there the video took roughly two and a half months to make. Since the process took place over the summer, there were naturally breaks and interruptions, which gave them the time and space to “really think deeply about the concept before going into the production phase”,’ says Persan.
“The collaboration process was a breeze. I had almost total creative freedom,” he continues. It began with initial meetings with Hannon, who shared his overarching vision for Infernal Machines. “Neil had a precise view of the kind of atmosphere he wanted and it was totally in line with what I wanted to make: something dark, bold and violent but still elegant.” For You’ll Never Work In This Town Again, Persan had to delve deep to come up with the story.
“I really had to think a lot to come up with the right story. But once it was clear in my mind, I submitted it to Neil who just said, ‘OK I trust you on this’,” Persan recalls. “I was really surprised (and flattered I must say) by all this trust and freedom. It was quite a big pressure though because I didn’t want anyone to be disappointed. In the end, I think everybody’s happy and it was one of the best projects I ever worked on.”