FIFA: La Blogothèque Director Nat Le Scouarnec gives Karkwa the rockumentary treatment
If you pick up NIGHTLIFE assiduously to peruse our features on emerging musicians, you probably already know all there is to know about La Blogothèque and its Take Away Shows (or “Concerts à emporter” for all you Francophiles). Since April 2006, the ubiquitous Vincent Moon and a few Parisians with a monster appetite for melody have been filming the planet’s finest indie acts in the downright wackiest on-the-fly scenarios, favouring performances in unusual settings (buses, boudoirs and supermarkets are all fair game) that give way to captivating moments of spontaneity. Think Zack Condon singing the haunting “Nantes” as the camera follows him down an echoey stairwell, while the sounds of his Beirut menagerie going at it at ground level gradually become discernible. Or Arcade Fire performing “Neon Bible” in the freight elevator of Paris’ Olympia music hall, with the tearing of magazine pages filling in for percussions.
Nat Le Scouarnec, one of La Blogothèque’s architects, recently directed Les Cendres de Verre, a documentary about Quebec indie rockers Karkwa that will premiere at FIFA this month. The filmmaker adapts the intimate TAS approach to a longer format, allowing for a more revealing glimpse into the band’s creative process leading up to the release of their fourth album. After meeting in Paris two years ago for a Take Away Show, both parties were eager to reconvene for a more drawn-out rockumentary-type project.
Le Scouarnec will also be participating in a panel organized by FIFA on the convergence of pop music and alternative media online. After editing the Arcade Fire doc Miroir Noir and directing Burning, about Glaswegian rock quintet Mogwai, the filmmaker is living proof that one can successfully translate exposure gleaned from an entirely volunteer-run project (TAS) into a slew of interesting commissions.
“I think the most moving thing about TAS is that you’re seeing an artist in a completely new light,” Le Scouarnec tells me, on the line from Paris. “All the risk-taking this type of set-up calls for makes it a pretty treacherous endeavour, but an even more powerful one when it works. Those long, uninterrupted takes are quite complicated, especially sound-wise, as are the conditions in which musicians perform, so viewers get to witness a really precious, unaffected moment.”
Internet Killed the Video Star
At a time when the very existence of major record labels is called into question and youth are fleeing the boob tube en masse in favour of infinitely sexier LCD monitors, many in the indie music community regard TAS as having revolutionized the music video format. Have we evolved from an era when MTV and video crackerjacks like Madonna and MJ engineered the killing of radio stars to an age of pop stars being rendered obsolete by the Internet’s guerrilla army of alterna-culture providers? “Indeed, I think music videos’ heyday is behind us,” says Le Scouarnec, “but I still love the form. That’s why [in Les Cendres de Verre] we shot a real music video with a script, a casting for the actress and a crew of technicians. But unless you’re Lady Gaga or Arcade Fire and have the means to afford them, I don’t think music videos are as powerful as they once were.”
Given that our interview takes place mere days after Arcade Fire’s triumphant Album of the Year win at the Grammys, I can’t resist asking Le Scouarnec whether he agrees with those who saw in that victory a looming death knell for indie music. “I’ve read a lot of blogger commentary about it, and frankly I think it’s ridiculous. Nowadays, artists can develop a fan base without industry backing. We’re light-years away from manufactured boy bands. Now, it’s really the quality of the music and the performances that determine whether a group will break out or not. At the end of the day, it’s really just about the music.”