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Addictive TV
Addictive TV's Graham Daniels

Addictive TV's Graham Daniels

APEngine talks to Addictive TV‘s Graham Daniels about life as an audiovisual artist.

How did it all begin… how did you come to set up Addictive TV – and why?

I started my creative life working in a studio that made music promos and all kinds of bizarre corporate videos, and later began working in film as an assistant director, then later a producer for broadcast television, mostly making arts programmes and off-beat late night shows.

This was how Addictive TV originally started. I’d gotten into VJing in my spare time at clubs and parties and wanted to fuse this experience with producing, and so created a TV series about electronic music and visuals called Transambient for Channel 4 – this was back in 1998.  Transambient led to another music series called Mixmasters for ITV1 and it opened up a whole international world of visual artists, VJs and music producers for me. Even though I began to perform professionally more and more as a VJ, I grew tired of playing all night for little money with the DJ getting all the glory, and this led on to thinking about how to create material that combined my love of cinema and music.

I wanted to combine electronic music with film, but not in the way others were doing it, I wanted to create much more integrated tracks where you could see pretty much everything you also heard, so there was little separation or emphasis one way or the other. The visuals would be the music.

It’s not a new approach – early experimental filmmakers had been doing this since the 1920s with abstract art, painted frame by frame on film – but what was new with us was that we didn’t want to go the abstract route, we wanted to experiment with narrative film and figurative images. Video artists like Emergency Broadcast Network (EBN) in the US had been doing this since the late 80s, remixing news from the CNN and the like, and they really inspired us, although I’d also say that that people like Oskar Fischinger, who worked on Disney’s Fantasia, also provided initial inspiration.

So… what and who is/are Addictive TV?

We’re a group of artists and producers, based in London with one of us up in Liverpool. Things have changed slightly in the last year, as former member Tolly departed having started a family, and the team has now expanded to include ex-Cream resident DJ Morf, who I’ve been playing all our live shows with, and mash-up guru Mark Vidler – best known for his Go Home Productions remixes – who’s been working in the studio with me on a lot of new material, including our recent football idents for Channel Five.

And in the back office are producers Francoise Lamy and Nick Clarke, who get the fun job of managing us creative types and our various projects.

In your live work, how does the balance between sound and image work – how much is planned, how much is ‘mixed live’?

We’ve always said – and hopefully showed with our work – music is inseparable from images. It’s unthinkable for us to not to be influenced by music, but it’s just as unthinkable for us not to regard images as equally important. They’re synergistic partners, which means the sum of their parts is greater than they are in isolation. We create original music built from sounds and their associated images sampled from films, music concerts, archives, video games and even sports events – so when audiences watch the results, they can ‘see the music’. With our work, images and sound are equal partners in a more pronounced way than in conventional audiovisual work such as films or montages, where the soundtrack is created separately, or even music promos where the video is created separately to illustrate the music; we create both side by side. And in our live shows, it’s all mixed live, just as any DJ mixes a live set, plus we use effects and live triggering of audiovisual samples – cutting and scratching. But it’s also all planned, in the sense that huge amounts of studio time has gone into creating all our tracks that we play.

Do you like the term VJ?

It’s fine to describe an artist who mixes visuals with a DJ or band, but it’s not really relevant to what we do, so we prefer to be called audiovisual artists. VJs will typically work with images only, whereas we work with sound and music too, but that’s a simple way of looking at it though; the wider media has been slow to understand this field of work and still likes to refer to anyone who works with images – despite what else they do or how they work – as a VJ – though it’s a bit like calling any musician a DJ.

Grandmaster Flash described you as ‘next level shit’ – is experimenting and playing important in pushing forward possibilities?

For sure, ’if you gonna do the crime you gotta do the time…’ It’s not an entirely appropriate saying, but you get the idea… there’s no progress without investing time and effort in experimentation. Doing audiovisual remix work sometimes seems like reinventing the wheel each time, there are always new challenges and things to learn, and no two remixes are alike. A remix made for our live set would have a very different feel to an installation created for an exhibition or even an alternative web-trailer for a film.  Creating our installation Sportive for the Beijing Olympics was a real challenge and forced us to think outside of our comfort zone.  Like most worthwhile things, it’s hard slog in equal measure with creative pay off.  Over time our work changes and develops, and now our work is different from how it used to be, and that’s how it should be – we’ve hopefully picked up something along the way and developed new techniques.

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Why do you think film companies are happy to let you re-mix things up? Are they hands off ? Has anyone ever been unhappy with what you’ve done with their stuff?

I guess because they like our work. We understand film and that we treat the material with respect. Cinema is immensely important to us, we love it and I think we probably became as known as we have because of our remixing of films. It was never a conscious thing to do to get noticed, it just happened that way when years ago New Line Cinema saw our bootleg remix of the Michael Caine classic The Italian Job. They approached us to remix the 2006 Antonio Banderas film Take the Lead, and at that point no one had ever officially remixed a movie, and that job started the whole ball rolling, with making official film remixes for the Hollywood studios, and it also made the whole film remixing thing a lot more mainstream.

Remixing Slumdog Millionaire was great for us because up till then we’d only done big American movies and this was a credible indie movie really. When we were creating the alternative trailer no one knew the film would go on to win so many Oscars – we were just over the moon to be offered a Danny Boyle film! He was shown some of our previous work, loved it and gave the go-ahead and that was really pleasing -  having a great director allowing you free reign to remix their work is as good as it gets.

By and large we’re given total creative freedom with what we create, but when you work with a Hollywood studio for instance, they quite rightly have their own ideas and needs, which adds to the creative challenge. A viral or alternative trailer has to hit the right buttons for the marketing department and their vision of the film as well as anyone else who might have creative or artistic veto like directors, producers or distributors.  We’ve only ever had one instance of ‘unhappiness’ with a remix we created for one of the studios – they felt it was too ‘weird’ and ‘disturbing’ – so had to start again from scratch, and they loved it second time around – but don’t ask me which job it was, we’re sworn to secrecy!

Addictive TV is lots of things – but what do you enjoy most about what you do?

Creating the work is probably still the main thing. Flying around the world gigging in lots of different countries can be great fun too, after many years performing at clubs and festivals and all manner of arts events, it’s still a buzz to get up on stage and see an audience having fun and responding to what we do. You always meet great people too, working in the area we do; crazy creative types that become good friends over the years but still at the heart of it, I’d say creating work is still the most enjoyable.

What’s next?

Next is whatever anyone throws at us and we like the sound of…! In reality that means more live shows and remix work. Early next year we’re playing a few dates in Canada and the US and before that in early December we’re performing in Jakarta at the big annual music conference; it’ll be the first time we’ve played in Indonesia, so really looking forward to it. We’ve also just been asked about a national ad campaign for TV by someone who likes our style of work and thinks it fits with what they’re planning, so fingers crossed!  We’ve also been asked by Warner Brothers about creating an alternative trailer for an upcoming film, and by a gallery in Belgrade to exhibit a solo selection of our work.

Check out a taster of Addictive TV’s remixes here on APEngine.

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