Artist interview – Beth Kettel
Tell us a little about your upcoming screening at Phoenix
I’ve created a video made up of six songs produced in collaboration with various musicians. It is a kind of series of experimental music videos, in that it’s made up of music, dance, gesture and costume, but is a bit stranger than your average music video.
All the components in the work reflect across each other, for example, a Gobstopper sweet is used as a formal object, it’s pattern reflected across the visual components – on the costume and backdrops – whilst the lyrics offer up different options for its meaning. I used three simple gestural movements in the work, each choreographed into dances, and each gesture changed meaning and tone as it moved between the genres/styles and was put alongside varying words and objects.
Did you draw on any of your own experiences of Leicester?
I used to go to a lot of gigs in the area, at The Shed and The Soundhouse, and both of my parents used to enjoy music around the area, my Dad in the 60’s and Mum in the 70’s. It was good to talk to them about going out to Palais de Danse and other nightclubs and gigs and how they changed over time.
I’ve used a lot of objects in the video, which form associations and compositions as well as setting up a colour palette and patterns for backgrounds and costume. I bought these objects from shops around the Cultural Quarter – when we were younger me and friends would around the small and obscure shops around the area.
How did you and Tom approach creating the music tracks used in the video?
As a starting point we chose music styles based on genres found around the Cultural Quarter past and present, from Hardcore clubs that used to exist, to HQ, the recording studio that is working today with a lot of Grime, Hip Hop and Rap artists. We wanted the tracks to offer a lot of tonal diversity – they are made up from Hip Hop, 60’s, Disco, Trance, Happy Hardcore and Grime – and we worked on finding commonalities of stems and sounds eg. high hat, claps, synth that could shape-shift through these quite disparate genres.
We used these music stems to play with foreground and background and what’s highlighted at different points. The sound and music are used as another material in the video so it wasn’t about making spot on tracks of those genres, but more a way to play with how using the same isolated components can completely change the feel as they shift in different context and genre.
How did the collaborations with Leicester-based dancers come about?
I ran a workshop at Phoenix earlier in the year, exploring ideas around gestural movement related to the historical and cultural identity of Leicester – from contemporary pop-culture and dance, to industry or other cultural activities. The workshop was really great and I met some amazing, generous and open people. All sorts of references came from them – from voguing to knitting and hosiery movements (inspired by factories in area) to energy points, miming and slang hand gestures. I ended up collaborating with three of the dancers that came to the workshop.
How did the collaborations with Leicester based musicians come about?
I went to some gigs in Leicester to see who was about and at a really varied House of Verse night I first saw and heard Starboy SunSun. I also asked around other Leicester based musicians, studios, producers and funnily enough after explaining what kind of thing I was looking for, Starboy and Jafro were recommended on four different occasions, so it was meant to be.
With Asher I had heard her older stuff and absolutely loved it – she’s an amazing writer and poet and when she raps her Leicester accent is glorious. Asher recorded a voiceover for a text I wrote for the beginning of the video, I usually read the texts myself because the shifts and pronunciations of the words are slight but really important for the work. It was the first time anyone has ever done a voiceover for me and she absolutely smashed it first time. I stood in the studio laughing, it usually takes hours to get it right. It must be the Leicester phonetics vibing.
I already knew and wanted to work with Andy Jenkins, who recorded the vocal and composed some of the stems for the 60’s and disco tracks.
How did the collaborations work with the texts and lyrics?
The work is grounded in an experimental text that I wrote. Individual words and phrases from the text are associated with individual sounds, which then develop into the lyrics and songs. When working with the musicians, I offered words and phrases from the text to form the lyrics, it was really open to how they could be used and interpreted. There were quite a few Leicester phrases in the text and was exciting to hear how the repeated words took different stylistic and narrative routes with the musician’s own set of references. The individual words, along with isolated gesture and sound change meaning with the change in genre, for instance, ‘a point’ can change from being a gun sign to a disco boogie to an accusation. I was interested to see how certain words could be as malleable as the gestures and sound.
Can you tell us about the process of filming the work?
The video is essentially made up of 3 scenes: the dances, the objects and the gestures. I worked with a filmmaker called Reece Straw, and together we filmed it mostly on green screen between a few different studios. I wanted to use visual elements from the objects and costume to inform the patterns used as backdrops for the dances, which were added in post production. I wanted the gestures to have their own limelight and so they were recorded separately on green screen and isolated. Everything started to come together and make sense in post production, which was why I did the edit myself, because it seemed impossible to explain what I was after to someone else and I really enjoy moulding the work in the edit and the little surprises that happen during the process.
The video will be showing for the first time in the cinema – has your work been viewed in that way before?
No, I’ve showed videos in gallery spaces before but I’ve never made a work specifically for the cinema. I usually make performance work that then becomes video so it’s been both challenging and exciting to work the other way round to what I’m used to.