Mind Spider’s album Inhumanistic from Dirtnap inspired a big concept, lo-fi video piece from Standard Pictures’ own Keven McAlester. The filmmaker and former journalist who directed the Roky Erickson biopic You’re Gonna Miss Me, The Fence, Last Days in Vietnam, The Dungeon Masters, and more presents a nine camera take on Mark Ryan and the band like the views offered from a security control room. Fans of Marked Man, Radioactivity, Bad Sports and more get a closed-circuit seat to the performance space action as McAlester frames Mind Spiders as suspects under excessive surveillance in the performances of “Skull-Eyed” and “City Stuff”.
With the tape and all nine security cameras ready and rolling, Mind Spiders break out the bone-smashing edges and energy on “Skull-Eyed”. The multiple angles look down the necks of guitars, fixate on the pounding keys, generative taps of the drum, to various cold captures of the band. The screeching climax from all involved instruments lead to the display of “video loss” on the screens, as Mind Spiders rearrange themselves and begin the second song, “City Stuff”. On this moving ode to the metropolitan mausoleums and urban minutiae, McAlester fluxes between black and white and colorized modes while getting creative with the camera screen display arrangements. At times we see one camera taking up the whole screen to get a band shot of the group huddled together, focuses on the strings, the audio levels, the keyboards, and the dark spaces in the small room that provide a habitat for Mark Ryan’s lyrics of “so many things we don’t know and never will.” All in all, we just hope this security-camera filmed music video trend catches on.
Keven McAlester from Standard Pictures wrote us the following companion piece about the making of this video with Mind Spiders:
Late last year, I cold — called Mark Ryan about the prospect of filming Mind Spiders, for the simple reason that I thought their LP Inhumanistic was one of the year’s best albums. (If you haven’t heard it—do.) I’d also been a fan of his previous group, the Marked Men, and have liked everything by the various related bands (Radioactivity, Bad Sports) that emerged in their wake.
By the time we spoke, Inhumanistic had been out a few weeks, so it wouldn’t have made much sense to attempt a promo-‐type conceptual or lip-‐synched music video, and anyway, why would you ever: One of the great things about the record is how visceral and raw the songs are, so anything other than an actual performance seemed certain to undersell many of the music’s essential qualities. Moreover, the members are so visually striking during performance—each in his own, entirely-‐ different-‐from-‐the-‐others way—that I could scarcely have conceived of better imagery to accompany the music, even if performance wasn’t already the part of the idea.
So anyway, I blurted out these half‐thoughts to Mark, and he charitably agreed to do something. We quickly settled on a basic approach: two songs, recorded live, in a simple location. The visual concept emerged by chance. At around that time, I happened to re-watch the Ramones doc End of the Century. In it, there’s some video footage from an early CBGB show, and seeing it for the first time in a while, I was struck by two things. First, the image quality was what would these days be considered “unusable”: crappy, unlit, low-contrast, out-of-focus camcorder footage that looked like it had been dubbed ten times, stored in a hot place, and then transferred to HD so that the video-‐interlacing and other format artifacts were even more pronounced, making everything look exponentially ‘worse’ by QC standards.
And second, the footage was stunning.
Like the music itself, it was simple, functional, and absolutely perfect, as if someone had consciously invented the only possible format for the job. And the degraded image also created a haunting mood; watching it felt like discovering something that was never meant to be seen.
I dug around and found some other early camcorder footage with a similar mood (Devo, Clash, Francesca Woodman) and sent a bunch of links to Mark. He sent back a perfect distillation of all these ideas: the great black and white video for Kas Product’s “Never Come Back.” From there, the plan became simply to mine Craigslist for the cheapest, shittiest, oldest video equipment available, and figure out how to make it visually interesting once that specific camera’s limitations became clear.
It took about eight seconds on Craigslist to realize that (a) vintage camcorders are no longer that cheap nor easy to find (though still shitty), thanks to a renaissance to which I was already late (see: Computer Chess); and (b) by far the cheapest, shittiest, and most plentiful cameras these days are from security/surveillance systems. Seriously, forget NSA leaks—anyone who still thinks we don’t live in a surveillance state has obviously never tried buying used video equipment online; it’s as if, once a year, someone just replaces every crappy surveillance camera in existence with another crappy surveillance camera, and puts the old ones on Craigslist. And there are non-crappy ones too—I found a sweet woman named Jodene 45 minutes outside of Dallas who had boxes of these things that, for some unknown reason, had been outfitted with high-quality zoom lenses.
So it was immediately clear that this was the best option, and one that neatly solved an unavoidable problem with the original idea—how to use 1970s video equipment without simply seeming retro. By contrast, the idea of security cameras on nine (ish) split‐screens offered something equally simple and functional, but of the present, and also a perfect complement to the raw, moody energy of the music. And the larger goal could still be pursued: to see if, from the limitations of the medium, something more evocative might emerge. I hope you enjoy finding out if we succeeded.
Los Angeles, CA
Mind Spiders’ Inhumanistic is available now from Dirtnap Records.