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If You Listen to It As Music, Then It Is Music

British writer, director and producer (Lush Films) Andrew Standen-Raz recently moved to Vienna. With a peculiar interest in contemporary Vienna’s multifarious music scene, he decided to capture the vivid electronic and experimental music movement in his documentary film Vinyl (Tales from the Vienna Underground).

 

VINYL (Tales from the Vienna Underground)

Production company: Lush Films

VINYL (Příběhy z vídeňského podzemí) , Austria, United Kingdom, 2010, 78 min, HD, Arts and Culture, Experimental, Music

VINYL (Tales from the Vienna Underground) is the first feature-length documentary to reveal the interconnected world of experimental, trash & electronic musicians in Vienna, and how the artists in this historically unique space interpret which sounds make music in very different ways. V I N Y L is also partly a love letter to a cultural icon – vinyl records - which have been a part of so many people’s lives for decades, and which persist in the future of music creation & distribution, despite the pervasiveness of digital technology. In this film, vinyl is a metaphor for something we love, even for its imperfections and scratches, and so it is with these musicians’ love-hate relationship to their city. Some things must change, but some things will be important forever.

 

The film, currently included in East Silver Caravan, will be presented at the upcoming Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (July 1 - 9, 2011) in a non-competitive documentary section. The screening in Karlovy Vary will be accompanied by a special event at the festival music club where several Austrian artists portrayed in the film will play their live sets. We had an opportunity to meet the director during the screening of Vinyl in April in Prague and talked about his film and new projects connected with Vienna.

 

When I first saw Vinyl, I got the impression that there is a lot going on in Vienna at the moment - music, culture, parties, etc. All this is usually connected with Berlin. Do you think Vienna is going to be the next Berlin?

It’s a good question. My film in a way is a documentary about a moment in time, which is not strictly historical, but I wanted to cover people who built up the scene. You have to give back respect to people who started it in the past, when Vienna was really much more into its classical history and it wasn‘t really known for any kind of cool international scene. Now people like Kruder & Dorfmeister, Christian Fennesz or bands like BulBul are really pushing the boundaries and at least trying to do things. But they do things in a Viennese way - I think Vienna, maybe Prague as well, doesn't have such in your face style, but a more laid-back style – you don’t notice it, but it’s happening.

How much time did you spend shooting? How long was your moment of time?

That’s the trick of cinema; we can make a moment look like an hour. The thing with a documentary is not the same as with a feature film - you can’t control the shooting or say "let’s shoot for the six weeks and that’s it". I always knew I wanted to shoot people for a period of time. Also when you are a foreigner in this situation, you have to earn people’s trust, and musicians are very often distrustful of journalists or news media. So I had to basically convince them that I am a serious artist and I am serious about music and Vienna. To make a film like this, you need two or three years because you have to get funding, do the initial pre-interviews, shooting, editing, re-shoots, because often you are missing something, so it takes time.

How did you select the artists? Did you have the list from the beginning or did it grow during the shooting?

I realized very early that I had to meet some key figures of each particular music scene in order to convince other artists that I should be the person to represent this whole scene, even if I am not one of them. So for instance I met with Richard Dorfmeister in Switzerland hoping he would like me because then other people would say "if he’s involved, than ok, maybe this sounds like an interesting project." And the same thing with each scene - I met with B.Fleischman, Karl Killian and many others and slowly I was able to get people involved. And since I was there, I kept my eyes open and listened to what people recommended and it became a natural flow.

At the beginning, Vinyl looks like it's focused only on electronic music, but then I was surprised when artists like Marilies Jagsch (singer/songwriter) appeared on stage. Was your initial idea to focus only on electronic and experimental music?

Yes, very much. I mean when I started, and this is my first solo produced film, I knew I was going to make millions of mistakes - and I can see the mistakes now. Initially I was going to make a film about electronic music in Vienna, but it became much broader. I had to quickly split the project in two, when the project started covering Vienna and all of its music. I am actually producing the second film now, which covers society and politics, as well as all the Balkan and other types of music that can be found in Vienna. But Vinyl really started as an electronic music film. I realized that the Vienna music scene is very connected, so I had to somehow connect it and represent what actually exists. I realized that vinyl – the use of vinyl – spreads throughout every different type of music. That’s why you see Marilies Jagsch, who is a singer/songwriter working with B.Fleischman, a key figure of the electronic scene. So in the end I realized I had to find a common universal denominator.

Did you plan from the beginning it would be a documentary film? I know you made an exhibition called Vinyl.

Actually the exhibition came after. I made the film and many people said it was very much like an art movie. A friend of mine is a curator in New York and he said "Look, I will put this in my gallery, you just rework it for an exhibition." How should I turn a movie into an art installation? But then it became a very simple concept because I realized that we experience life in a very disjointed way – we have a mixture of memories of moments, we hear disconnected sounds and conversation around us but we are also hearing lots of extraneous noises... I took Vinyl and I split it into three loops. The idea is you are walking into a normal white cube gallery space where you have a wall with looped black & white interviews, one with colour performance scenes and one with the colour scenes of the Vienna city, and in the background you hear the soundtrack of the movie played as it is. So you are enjoying the movie in a completely deconstructed way, which at some point is the reality of our existence. We live in a more deconstructed way.

All this suggests that your primary background is not connected with documentary filmmaking, right?

I studied anthropology and documentary filmmaking is like applied anthropology. For me it’s important to examine not only other people’s lives, but also our own lives. Making documentaries is fantastic because it gives you the opportunity to - if you are open - not only look at the scene in front of you but to feel how it affects and changes you.

So one can say you are using an anthropological approach towards the music scene in Vienna?

Yes, in a way. I mean there are two types of anthropology, there is structuralism and observationalism. And obviously in documentary it’s best to be an observatonalist – you see what’s there and you try to represent it without any kind of interference or imposing your own philosophical attitude. Like for instance, there is one scene when you are in the Flex club. The film was originally edited by Izvor Moralic and we had a really good dialogue about it. I said to him "Look, we really have to represent what it feels like to be in this space." If you are looking at the screen and you see an electronic or a thrash club, how does it really feel? How can you make the audience really feel that? In a music films you often see the images, but you are not drawn so much into it. There is one scene in the Flex club, where you just get the sense of being really in the club. The anthropological aspect is often the teaching aspect; you are often taking something and showing it to somebody saying that these people are just as human as we are. And the same with music – somebody, who is only into a classical music, might look at my film and say „fine, now I understand why people are doing this...“. Onno, one of the musicians, records food being cooked and transfer it into electronic music. Some people could ask, "is that music? The experimental musician Dieb13 said to me - "If you listen to it as music, then it is music."

Many music films often use a central character as a guide or a main protagonist. Did you ever think about finding one artist who will guide the audience around Viennas underground?

The problem is you can’t reinvent the wheel but every filmmaker is trying to, especially with their first movies. With my film I realized I can’t reinvent the wheel, but I also didn’t want to make a traditional documentary – I wanted to make something as a cross between a traditional documentary and a film essay like Koyaanisqatsi. There is this lovely film Crossing the Bridgeby Fatih Akin, which has strong atmospheric aspects. He used Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubauten as the audience POV. But I wanted you to be the POV, to sit in the chair, watch the film and get thrown into Vienna’s underground, so in the end it will be like "Wow, I have just experienced Vienna through the eyes of the musicians."

At the moment you are preparing a new project which is connected with Vinyl...

I am trying to finish the second film, which is called Vienna Not Everything Will Be Taken into the Future. We are finishing now and after that, hopefully some very low-budget film again, because I made both films only with 5,000 EUR in public funding, which is not enough to make a movie, especially for a music film - no one thought I could convince the musicians to share their music for free. It was very hard to put the film together for that little money, but people believed in the project and they wanted to do it. I would like to try the same with a low-budget independent feature film, so at the moment I’m working on a couple of – hopefully interesting – ideas.

You made a new version of Vinyl recently, you cut down several minutes, from 94 to 78 minutes. Why did you decide to make a new version afterwards?

Basically, everybody liked the film when I screened it in Iceland last year and New York as well, but it was a rough cut, more than 90 minutes long. This longer version contained a lot more about the city, a bit more about the artists, and where you have now two interviews, you had three, etc. The reason for cutting it down was that I wanted to keep it relatively short because the film is not about the Rwanda genocide; it’s about some crazy musicians in Vienna. It will not necessarily change your life when you see the movie but it’s still an interesting ride, it’s a cool trip. I also realized that if I want to make the second film, I had to make the slice, to cut it in more pieces. So I split the film into two – I had two 45-minute versions and I had to re-shoot some more material in order to make each film work independently.

So the new film will also be using shots from the original Vinyl?

Actually only some parts of the interviews, some bits about the city. For example, the parts where the Gürtel is described, where the Rhiz club is, there it goes a little bit into the history of the Gürtel and how it changed from a red light district to a party place. What I wanted to do was to focus this first film Vinyl on the music, just sound and pure discussion about music. It’s a more intellectual film based on that, whereas the second film, Vienna..., is really about the city and about all the people, so in a way it takes into account some of the social aspects. Like for instance, there is this English musician, Scanner, who played in the Flakturm, where I showed the rough cut of the second film, and he was very much affected by it. He said: "Now I am in this strange, amazing building that was built for the war and I am here playing experimental music in it..." The trouble is when you put that in Vinyl, then you necessarily have to discuss the whole past. I couldn’t just move on so I had to figure out how I can fix this. The only way was to focusVinyl on music and take out the past but you may still hear the musicians complaining about the fact that the city of Vienna is promoted mostly for its classical history and not for its coolness and whatever goes on. So they are frustrated and you can feel that in Vinyl. The new filmVienna... is not your typical exploration of Austria; it’s definitely pictured from a more underground perspective.