It goes without saying that supporters of the DIY scene and its live events are what make the industry so wholesome and thriving. Be it by being a fan of a certain venue or artist, or the owner of a DIY blog or magazine, such support outlets are one of the most vital parts of the underground scene. We wanted to shine a light on some of these creatives, this time focusing on London based videographer John Clay
Jonn Clay is one of those faces you see at every gig; he works on music videos, live performance filming, and in-studio sessions, most notably his work with Margo Boom and Nathan Ridley (Hermitage Work Studios). As a music video director, John provides artists with a new creative outlet of getting their music and vision out there – each video John works on is evocative of his unique filming and direction style, and he has a razor sharp focus on the best new talent, artists transcending all genres within the left-field, punk region of music
We had an in-depth chat with John about the work he does, the new artists he’s been wowed by, and what his favourite creative projects in the past have been
Visually speaking, your work is renowned amongst most of the new bands we work with. Can you give us an insight into the work you do, and how did you get into videography and filming live sessions initially?
Renowned? I really don’t think so! I’ve picked bands that are made of nice people who refer me to others, so that’s nice. Being a music video director can be a tough sell, especially if you’ve no familial ties and mentality to work in a 9-5. It’s this or death I’m afraid.
I love telling stories. It used to be through songwriting, then long and shorthand fiction and then music journalism. I fell into filming bands as a way of promoting the bands I was managing at the time. I owe Cold In Berlin, B Movie Thieves, Mystified and Fur Cough my filming career, as I would not have pursued it into a full time vocation were it not for the camera angles their stagecraft and music inspired.
I must also thank Margo Broom of Hermitage Works for encouraging me to be more disciplined in not just my approach to the task but my attitude to being more accountable. A one chance meeting with her and Goat Girl led me to filming live sessions at Hermitage Works Studios. That was a few years ago now.
You film in-studio sessions and live performances at gigs. Is there a certain type of performance that you prefer?
I do official videos more than I film live gigs these days, mainly because I don’t want to have to mind getting in the way of the audience’s night. Plus, I think working with a band in a studio or on location with multiple takes allows us more options. Nothing quite like getting eyeball close to a band and them having that trust that I’m capturing something with an informed sense of composition. I’m open to any kind of performance that is true to the personality of the band. There’s nothing I haven’t had to work with, but making people look good who put no thought into telling a story with their movements can be challenging.
Which projects are you proudest of, and are you working on anything exciting at the moment?
I loved shooting the video for Reals. All that newspaper and paint spraying! Working with Cold in Berlin’s videos last year was a highlight. It was a very good year in regards to creativity (23 plus vids released and some still in the can. One by Stash Magnetic that’s gonna fry some brains!). I adore multiple takes, mainly because the philosophy wasn’t about what we could get away with, but what we would be comfortable watching on our own in the future. You should never try to fool anyone, as you’ll always be watching the lie within the frame and justifying nonsense. And then, there is always the limit of time and the patience of those on the other side of the camera lens …
Ultimately I’m keen on filming in an environment that’s awfully reminiscent of the visuals in Bladerunner. Got a project in the werks (ha!) with a certain venue opposite Rough Trade. To be continued when we’re off the record so to speak.
The work you do goes hand in hand with DIY artists, independent labels and promoters, and grassroots venues. Of the many people you’ve worked with, who have been your favourites?
I don’t like the idea of favourites. Sasha and The Shades, Yur Mum, Snakerattlers – they’re all bands and people that I hope I’ve learned from whilst on set. I appreciated Abjects’ video for Never Give Up as we filmed each scene on different days of the week rather than squeezing it all into one day. That band knew what they wanted and all I had to do was find ways to interpret their direction rather than assert a dominance.
I started doing more video work with bands as I figured written articles only really benefit a band after there is enough visual art in a more say, passive medium available. As far as my favourite promoters I’d say Roadkill Records, We Can Do It, Some Weird Sin, Raw Meat, Public Pressure, Joyzine, God Is In The TV, DIY, Clash, The Zine, Some Might Say, DIY Thursdays, Tim Perry (Brixton Windmill) and Fluffer Records … they’ve all been good to me. None of them treated me like I was some loon who ran around with an iPad. Oh, the pixelated past!
You have a very sharp ear for new music, most bands who go on to smash the subculture-scene have filmed a video with you at some point. Which artists are you currently vibing with, and who would you suggest our readers keep an eye on?
False Heads, Table Scraps, Something Leather, Les Futiles and christ … too many to mention. Looking forward to hearing the new material to Noise Noir. Heard demos of it backstage after a Fuzzy As Fuck gig and was impressed.
Who else? Erm … Sistertalk are gone now, but I encourage anyone with soul to have a look at the few online videos that exist. The new electronic poppy sound of Goat Girl was good from what I remember (saw them last year at The Brixton Windmill). Lynx Afrikka is AMAZING! I keep promising to do a whole day of watching all their lock down videos but have found myself working on promotion for other bands.
I must sort this out!
Crystal Rasmussen. Type it in online to see my favourite drag queen strut their stuff. Twink Privilege, Down From Above. The list literally goes on. Leisure Tank have such a good way about their Americana lo-fi rock. I guess the best way to find out about new music is to listen to playlists made by We Can Do It Promotions and the monthly podcasts by Roadkill Records and yeah, take a look around the channel I run featuring sessions for Margo’s Living Room. I like the idea of my tastes being as varied as they are now. The Edit’s Anywhere But Here chorus reminds me of Division Bell Pink Floyd and New Model Army. As you get older, you become less reactionary and more fluid in what you like – at least, that’s how I’ve developed anyway.
The current crisis is seeing a lot of small venues and DIY publications come under threat. What do you think can be done to support these outlets, and can you see the scene potentially growing in the future from this period?
Team spirit is now not only a good idea but essential. It’s good to see artists doing more charity events and pushing the #saveourvenues message. There’s far less band rivalry now, and that’s cos it’s the underground scenes trying to work together for survival. I’m happier now than I was say, ten odd years ago, as it’s far less cool now to define your character/outlook by putting other people down.
If you could be in quarantine with any artist, who would it be?
I live with artists now and wouldn’t swap them for anyone, but okay, with a gun to my head it would have to be Warren out of Meatraffle. We would either make loads of art together (I’m sure he can’t help but make stuff) or it would turn into a long drawn out homage to the Lighthouse with him as Defoe and me wanking myself into madness as Robert Pattinson’s character. Actually, living with Warren would be strange as we’ve had more interaction at gigs or online than in ‘real life’. Hotgothic. I’d happily isolate with Hotgothic. I hate having to choose. Can I not just go into lockdown with everyone? No, I know that would probably be the least healthy move, but yeah, you did ask me the question and I’m giving you a very me answer. So many of these bands are like magicians to me, and I don’t wanna miss a trick.
John has curated a playlist for our Werkhaus page, which you can listen to below:
Follow John on his socials, including the YouTube channel he discussed above
© Photo credit to Keira Cullianne