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Taking up space: The radical aesthetics of the women-made, DIY music vid ‘New Song’ by Warpaint (Dir. Warpaint, 2016)

 

Following the success of the band’s 2014 album Warpaint, Heads Up surfaced following the solo ventures of each band member and represents an electrifying cohesion of those individual musical experiences. The fresh energy of Heads Up is succinctly demonstrated by the melodic body of track 3- the aptly titled, New Song. Arguably one of the catchiest tracks on Warpaint’s 2016 record Heads Up, New Song’s energetic beat lifts the spirit towards an ethereal solace at 100+ BPM. The song is blissfully upbeat and beautifully optimistic: it merges the introspective harmonies of Warpaint’s signature sound with the mature enlightenment of lyrical retrospection. Leaping fearlessly into a crisp, musical frontier, the women  hold close to one another as artists, bandmates and friends/sisters.

 

The integrity of Warpaint’s artistic narrative is profoundly resonant in the homemade music video for New Song (edited by fellow LA based, visual artist and friend, Mia Kirby), which was published on Youtube in December 2016. As an astute audio-visual performance, the video delineates the artistic aptitude of Warpaint, while celebrating the collective collaboration of independent, women artists: their respective journeys enshrined into the ontology of the track itself.    


Returning to the video invites new, personal observations and reaffirmed appreciation for the intelligence of its textual form. Returning to both the track and the music video perhaps offers an even stronger sense of energetic cheer and gentle resolve.

Shot entirely on mobile phone(s), using 18mm-style filters and against the backdrop of neon-flooded, nighttime city streets, the video is an exercise in complete creative agency for the band. This isn’t an anomaly for Warpaint: the musicians have always demonstrated proficient control over their image and sound, maintaining their artistic independence since the very beginning. As such, the seemingly ‘amateurish’ aesthetics of shooting footage this way are layered with implicitly profound meanings when utilised by women, for the expression and articulation of their own narratives (those that are so often trivialised, or overlooked).

The video begins with band members looking at themselves through a forward facing ‘selfie’ lens, rested upright on the surface of a cash point; the starting verse of New Song can be heard faintly, through the mobile’s speakers. “Can you fast forward it?” one band member asks, as they each scrutinise their digital reflection, meticulously measuring its frame and balance. In one brief moment, bassist Lindberg clasps the top of her opening t-shirt with both hands, when leaning towards the lens: it is an endearing instant that exemplifies the artist's protection of her own image. Immediately defining what their audience sees, the women counter any notion of ‘looked-at-ness’- constructing their own visual narrative (and gaze) through explicit, collective direction. The diegetic music stops, starts, and pauses again, at the touch of guitarist Theresa Wayman’s fingertip- readying the audience for the debut of their latest track. New Song’s bouncing, cyclical riff jumpstarts under lead vocalist, Emily Kolkar’s direction as she mimics the beat of a sound-machine, pressing the cashpoint buttons to the rhythm of the overlaying track.
 

 As the musical intro continues, Lindberg and drummer Stella Mozgowa are pictured, colliding into one another’s arms and laughing as Mozgawa lifts up her bandmate in a mighty embrace on the sidewalk. The two women stand out against the night’s sky: the intensity of their friendship burning bright like the neon street lights framing the city.


“You come along, you come along

And wash away the rain,”


Kokal’s silver-toned vocals introduce the first verse of the track as the mobile lens follows the singer as she dances with herself down the sidewalk, singing to the camera. A cut is then made to Wayman as she swings, childlike, from the towering pole of a stop-light, as if claiming the expansive concrete jungle for herself. These opening sequences represent the tone of Warpaint’s underlying image: an inherent rejection of the conventions society imposes upon women, pigeonholing us into roles and behaviours that rarely allow us to simply be (childishness is reserved for boy-men only). This is something that the band have challenged since their beginning, especially through the aptitude of their sound, which never lingers enough to be (mis)placed into any given category.    

“You are the sun, you are the sun

That leads me back,

To where I belong, where I come from

Because of you, I know where I belong,”

 

 

The lyrics articulate and celebrate the discovery of revived sources of strength, and fearlessly explore what it means to allow oneself to open up to new beginnings, new meanings and new loves. This sentiment is moulded into the aesthetics of the music video for New Song, which shows the band members deconstruct the perimeters of the frame, in order to reshape it for their own lyrical expressions. In the following sequence, Lindberg, Kolkal and Wayman meticulously position themselves against the backdrop of a colourful wall mural - it is a painted image of a dry cleaners, depicting the innate beauty of the seemingly mundane. Adopting the mural as a brief, poetic setting, the women arrange themselves within its story- merging it into their own, and fusing together two painted realities to form a new space for themselves.


“You're a new song,

You're a new song baby,

You're a new song to me,”

 

 

As the chorus comes into play, a cut is made to a close-up of Lindberg, headbanging to fellow bandmate Mozgawa’s percussionary crescendo, before leading back to the opening image of the band peering into their own reflection on the mobile screen improvisationally propped up against a cashpoint, while spontaneously dancing with one another. The chorus continues as a cut is made to Mozgawa and Wayman, clapping hands with one another- their playful silhouettes embossed against a cool, pink sky at dusk. In the next scene, Wayman lovingly drapes a coat over the shoulders of her bandmate- briefly embracing her as they continue to mouth the chorus. The foregrounding of female friendship forms the proliferating energy of the band, continually guiding them forwards. As the opening, cyclical riff returns to play, Lindberg rests her arm around Mozgawa, dropping her head onto her bandmate’s shoulders. Before breaking off into laughter, the two women look at each other knowingly, timing their backing vocals in unison: amplifying their overlayed voices, together.

“I was, I was, I was so wrong

To think, to think that it was wrong for me

I want, I want it, I want it all

I want, I want, I want it all so sweet,”


In the following sequence Wayman, Mozgawa and Lindberg are framed outside a shop window: behind them a gleaming red, neon light in the shape of a pair of glasses, serves as a prop that signifies further deconstruction of the gaze. The artists occupy space between two separate lenses (the ‘glasses’ and the mobile camera), while shuffling to the rhythmic beat of their self-made track, at their own pace and motion: a meta-esque demonstration of self-image agency.
The handheld mobile camera then tracks Kokal, Wayman and Lindberg strolling down the sidewalk. Lindberg dances to herself a few paces behind her bandmates, playfully choreographing her steps to the lyrics of the track. A cut then returns to the opening, ‘selfie’ shot, as Wayman punches the air with both fists, echoing the beat of each word.

“You got the moves, you got the moves

You got the moves, bang bang baby

You got the moves, you got the moves,


I have never felt this strong

Dancing to you all night long,”

 

 

As the chorus returns, Wayman and Lindberg are filmed linking arms and spinning each other across a stretch of sidewalk: the artists continue to take up space- owning the cityscape and moulding it into their own artistic playground that is brimming with improvisational dance moves and experimental, budget filmmaking. This implicit call to action for women to unapologetically occupy space is present in a following scene that shows Wayman juggling with market stall vegetables- Lindberg watches mesmerised, before her bandmate drops them and comedically walks away. A cut is then made to the two band members sat at a table tucking into a thick slice of pizza, while bobbing along to the track’s chorus. This particularly evocative shot inherently challenges the societal shaming of women when it comes to body image, and as such, offers up a fierce “fuck you” to the patriarchal policing of women’s bodies.      
 

 

 

As the video continues, we see Kokal’s silhouette dancing in the centre of the frame: her arms outstretched as she whips her head from side to side along the street. Similarly, in the next shot, Wayman gazes into the lens of the camera and begins circling it faster and faster, defining its direction and movement until everything else is out of focus. Cutting back to Kokal, the lead singer is filmed underneath a shop with a sign that reads ‘Cougar’: she glimpses knowingly at the camera, shrugs her shoulders, and laughs while walking away. The following sequence adds to the abstract tone of experimental filmmaking as the band notice a dog being taken for a walk on a skateboard: Lindberg turns excitedly to the camera before she and Kokal skip after the dog as it wheels away. It is a celebration of the weird and wonderful and and a tribute to those who refuse to be confined by societal norms, or mainstream conventions.


“Dancing to you all night long,

Dancing to you all night long,

Dancing to you all night long,”


A cut is then made to Kokal, framed against the vivid colours of a painted wall: the bright blue hues of both the singer’s hoodie (official Warpaint merchandise) and the mural fill the lens of the camera in a shot that bursts with warmth. The camera then watches Mozgawa as she kneels by an upturned bucket: introducing the final stretch of the chorus, she hammers onto its base with her fingertips, mimicking the sound of her own recorded percussion, while smiling gleefully.
 

 

A close-up of Kokal and Lindberg shows the two bandmates throwing their heads to the swelling energy of the track, before a cut is made to Lindberg and Mozgawa  dancing with one another across the centre of the sidewalk. The sequence serves to undermine countless instances where women are employed as faceless, sexual objects for the mastorbatory pleasures of men, within male-fronted music videos. Instead, the two women are shown holding one another close, in a scene that celebrates sisterhood and survival, through the creative collaboration of women.

 

 

 

These are the subtle, yet resonant moments that signal Warpaint’s irrevocable artistic agency and feminist credentials. Reminiscent of the experimental aesthetics of artists like Peggy Ahwesh and Pipilotti Rist, the seemingly simple use of a mobile phone to record a music video becomes inherently political, particularly for the self-expression of women within an industry all too often dominated by men. In the final sequence, Kokal, Lindberg and Wayman stalk the retreating camera down the sidewalk before a cut to the video’s final shot of the familiar, cashpoint ‘selfie’.  While the band continues to gaze back at the camera, the image shakes as Kokal lifts the mobile towards her, and the video ends just as it started: at the touch of their fingertips.

 

You can watch the music video for New Song here.


Words by Laura Nicholson

 

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