We've been searching for a while for something as disturbingly beautiful as the Irrepressibles' "The Lady is Dead" video. We haven't found it in Gem Club's "252," but it is pretty damned close. It's never going be beautiful because there is just too much pain in it. Granted, there is no true beauty without sorrow to give it its boundaries, but there comes a point when something is just too broken to ever be pretty. Gem Club passed that point screaming and never looked back.
The video follows a series of alone people. Some aren't all by themselves, but trust us, they are all alone. Each of our subjects continuously exudes a desperate desire to connect with someone, but each attempt comes off fleeting and painfully awkward. One man sadly masturbates in a hotel room, a girl cries in the shower, a young couple tries without success to kiss and grope their way into happiness only to break down in tears.
The song itself is as hollow as the video's cast, just a plaintive and sad voice of a haunting, Philip Glass-esque piano. You know from the first notes that the road you're going to travel down is bleak, and hooks for your heart hang from every dead tree. Then, of course, people begin to die.
Almost immediately, what lives the poor wretches are failing to live are snuffed out in a manner more brutal and shocking than any torture porn finale. They simply keel over, and a foam oozes from their orifices in a slow flood while they twitch their mana away on dirty carpets. A black, vicious fluid makes many appearances, more of a sign of sickness than the final flow of life's blood, but somehow it's the white foam and the dying light in the people's eyes that really hammerblows you.
What the hell happened to director Matthew Salton in his life that he had to go out and remind us that the odds are you'll die sexless, badly, and alone? Why make us face that while Gem Club serenades? It's unlikely that we're ever going to get this wasting disease of a music video out of our heads. It's too real, too raw, and too much and too little at the same time. Watch it below if you dare.
Music videos are our passion, and the art form continues to amaze us. Gem Club and Salton once again prove our premise that the medium is alive and well, even if we can't say the same for our sunny disposition after viewing their work. Whatever, that's not their problem. They set out to alter their viewers visually and aurally forever, and "252" has done it brilliantly. Gem Club is a band to watch carefully... not the least because you might want to 'ware of their knives.
We sat down with Christopher Barnes of Gem Club and director Matthew Salton to ask them about "252." Continue to page 2 for the interview.
Rocks Off: What made you want to work with Matthew Salton?
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Christopher Barnes: When Breakers was completed I started to source visual artists to create videos for some of the songs on the record. I called my friend Charlie, who was helping us with our photographs at the time, to see if he knew of anyone in New York who might be interested in creating a video for us. Charlie recommended Matthew. I saw a couple of Matthew's pieces online, namely "Do Your Best" and "Do You Like Black Men," and I knew he would be able to create something unique for "252."
RO: One of the themes seems to be a kind of desperately lonely sexuality, masturbating in a motel, a very awkward and sad make-out session... what is it about sexual expression that made you focus on the most desolate parts of its nature?
Matthew Salton: Christopher and I never talked about the song and its meaning. I believe some of the lyrics allude to a feeling of being uncomfortable in one's own body and there's definitely an inherent sadness in the music. Youth exploring and experiencing their bodies in unexpected and disturbing ways through masturbation, awkward kissing, and excreting mysterious bodily fluids all seemed to fit the general mood and feeling of the song.
CB: I'm not a fan of having some artistic powwow where we sit down and really try to get to the bottom of things. I feel like where I am most creative is in the auditory realm and Matthew probably in the visual. I'll only make myself nervous if I start to get involved where I shouldn't because I don't see things the same way that someone like Matthew can. That's his talent.
To me the song is about the majesty and the fragility of the human body and of our relationships--how some people can run this complex and delicate collection of working parts through so much and have it come out unharmed, while others take great care of it and suddenly develop something which takes it away from them.
RO: What is the black fluid, exactly? It doesn't appear to be blood.
MS: I don't know. It's some sort of mucous like discharge.
RO: What is the connection between death and Tai Chi?
MS: There isn't any obvious meaning or connection. The juxtaposition between a boy loosing consciousness and perhaps dying from this presence in his body while a phony tai chi video played on the television was oddly poetic and moving to me. The tai chi man is in a sort of spiritual ecstasy - losing himself to the moment. It's a nice break from everything that precedes it.
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RO: Are these characters dying?
MS: Possibly. What is happening to them is not good.
RO: Is this what you pictured in your head when you wrote the song?
CB: Not in a million years. Actually, I never thought I would have a video for this song. I thought it was too long. I remember being really concerned in the beginning that it needed to have a strong narrative that held the whole thing together so people wouldn't lose focus. I'm glad I let go of that. Matthew turned in this beautiful and surreal treatment that was somewhat abstract but still story driven. It was filled with these photographs - his friend's hair, a woman's face on the floor--and the whole thing was littered with comments like "I like the harsh lighting of this photo and the weird nakedness behind the plastic." I thought that was great.