I have a deep place in my heart for Dum Dum Girls. Their music is a kind of aching, empty light that is like being shot with some sort of experimental anesthesia before a doctor restructures a deformation. Think of it as Adele, but produced in an alley where crime and art are not mutually exclusive terms.
This analogy is nowhere more apparent than in the group's latest video from, "Coming Down" directed by Malia James. It's a work that is both insultingly simple and undeniably brilliant.
You might have read about the Top 10 Laziest Music Videos here on Rocks Off, which included Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Last Beat of My Heart." It was a bare-bones effort indeed, just one long shot of Siouxsie being slowly pulled back as she sings sadly out of a window, but in spite of its minimal effort, it may be the greatest piece of cinemaudio ever done in one shot.
Or it was, because the Dum Dum Girls blows it away.
Dee Dee stands dressed in a kind of gothic/gypsy flapper outfit, gaze focused intently on the viewer. She's positioned on a raised pedestal singing the soulful tune. Meanwhile, a group of people take turns with scissors slowly cutting her outfit to shreds. It's an homage to the legendary bit of performance art Yoko Ono did at Carnegie Hall where she sat still as her puritan clothing was bit by bit scissored away.
Ono was making a statement about the death of inhibitions, but James and Dee Dee turn the act into something much, much darker.
"My main focus was on singing a convincing sped-up version of the song, but I was rather distracted by the scissors," says Dee Dee via email. "I've got a morbid fascination and have always been the sort to enjoy shots, giving blood, etc., so I was a bit disappointed I suffered only one minor superficial scratch."
There is something very ritualistic about the act, and it plays out much more emotionally than videos of the Ono piece. You don't feel like you're seeing a woman drop a societal dress and decorum norms so much as it feels like you've been dropped into witnessing a ritual of bizarre power. It's a touch of Skull and Bones, pinch of Eyes Wide Shut, and a dash of being publicly stripped of rank.
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All the while Dee Dee wails this impossibly beautiful nightclub destruction, oblivious to the blades and her own undressing. She is deep in the throes of musical ecstasy, and all of her focus pours out of the screen and into your eyes as the whole of the act unfolds... and all in just in one long panning shot!
"Failure is always a risk," says James. "We had a limited number of outfits to work with and thus only a few takes to get the shot. The key to shooting a one-take video is to rehearse as much as possible before filming ever begins so all the movements are secondary; it makes it more of a theatrical production. The risk is higher, but so is the reward."
The reward can't be argued with. "Coming Down" is one of those music videos that an art critic could dissect for hours on end, looking for what kind of motivation and meaning can be found in the reflections in the stainless steel of the dissolving and disrobing Dee Dee.
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Nothing can prepare you for her apparent sacrifice of herself to her self. Check it out below.