Emotional Extremes: an interview with Matt Lambert
Matt Lambert has an easy smile and a charming manner that belies the darkness underneath. Under the production moniker dieLamb, the LA native (now based in Berlin) has directed and produced some of the most hard-vibe, evil videos I’ve seen. Not the simple sort of evil you get by flinging stereotypically sinister imagery at the viewer; this is sophisticated evil, with a depth that other directors might pass over in favor of an easy kill. Take his work on the new Caspa/Keith Flint ‘War’, for example. While some might be taken aback by the aggression and testosterone-fueled violence, Lambert’s treatment also has a softer side to it, and features characters that have real feelings and depth. Okay, and there’s plenty of violence as well – it’s dubstep, after all.
I had the unique chance to watch Lambert, along with his cast and crew, creating the video itself in the beautifully decrepit Heilstätte Grabowsee. I even got drunk and danced in the rain in an abandoned, roofless chapel, but those details are perhaps better left as private memories. Later on that night, my artist friend Benjamin Spalding and I sat down with Lambert for a cozy chat in my bedroom.
Electronic Beats: Let’s start with the casting for ‘War’.
Matt Lambert: I didn’t want to not go with the ‘traditional’ sort of people that you would expect from this – thuggish-looking kids – but rather kids that could be your friends, people with these softer, rather than tougher, faces. It was all cast through friends and friends of friends in Berlin, so a lot of the people knew each other going into the shoot. This sort of chemistry, this pre-existing friendship, really made a difference on how the video was shot.
Is this how you usually cast your videos?
Sometimes – depending on the nature of the film. I can just get so much more from them. I’m usually pushing people pretty hard when it comes to the shoot. Especially with intimacy, it’s a lot easier for me to have that trust with people going into the shoot then to have to build it, especially since it’s usually a one-day thing. If you have to spend half a day building that dynamic between people, you don’t have a lot of time to actually get into things. ‘War’ covers so many emotional ranges, from soft and intimate to party scenes and fight scenes. We started really early in the morning and the intensity built throughout the day. Eighteen hours later, we’re running through the streets with torches and shit. You start off with this intimate bedroom scene and then end up with fire and chaos. It would be nice to be able to have one day per emotion.
How does it effect the working environment when you’re working that closely with friends in such a high stress situation?
I’m able to disconnect a lot, but with friends you can move really quickly, there’s a comfort and a trust . . . it kind of comes through. The dynamic changes a lot, though; I become almost a paternal figure during shooting, whereas I wouldn’t necessarily take that role with them in real life.
Did the label give you a brief with any requirements beforehand, or were they just like ‘Write a narrative’?’
It was quite open, actually. They wanted something rough and raw, and the fact that I brought this other narrative, this bond between these kids, these love stories that existed underneath the violence . . . I don’t think that was something that they were really expecting. But I thought it was important to have that, to give the violent stuff a bit more impact, to humanize the characters a bit more.
Tell me a bit about the characters.
There’s a lot of ambiguity. The track was set to release on the one year anniversary of the London riots, and the idea for me was ‘what if the London riots escalated to the point where the infrastructure actually did collapse’? Factions of kids moved to the outskirts of the city, to detach from society a bit. I didn’t say that in the video— it could be anything from zombies to economic meltdown, whatever, it wasn’t really important what it was. The video was more of an examination of this group of kids, and the range of emotions they would go through if this was to happen.
So initially it’s this hedonistic party, they’re sort of celebrating the fact that they’re outside civilization, they no longer sort of have to conform. But they soon realize that in order to get supplies, they have to go back where there’s martial law going down, or gangs of thugs running the streets. David, one of the main characters, realizes that if they don’t get their shit together, they won’t be able survive. So he sort of forces them into becoming militant themselves. One day he’s out getting supplies with the main character Malick, who ends up getting killed. That’s the moment when the group realizes their best defense is to actually go back into the city and fight.
Did the video have a lot more context; was it all planned out before?
If we can at least convey on a visceral level all of these emotions, not all the specifics actually have to come through . . . maybe you’ll get all the bits and pieces as you watch it more and more. The editing process was all about simplification. There weren’t any rehearsals prior to this – because I was friends with all the actors, I kind of could walk them through things before, so they knew what was happening. But a lot of the time we would just create a scene and then let the camera roam freely in that scene. They sort of had rough ideas about what they needed to be doing and what their characters were experiencing, but once you get back from the shooting things just changed due to improvisation. People presented themselves as characters you wouldn’t expect them to be, and you also find new subplots in things once you start editing. Music videos move so fast, you have to be really conscious about what you are showing . . . if the scenes are too dense with information, people get completely fucking lost.
There was one character in the video who was actually a farmer or a field hand in Grabowsee, right?
The little kid with the shaved head and the bull mask. He was doing an apprenticeship at this location, so we talked to him and he ended up becoming someone whom I’d love to feature more. I’d love to do a film with him. Then there was the kid with the wolf mask on top of his head, sitting on the motorbike…he and his girlfriend were just neighborhood kids who showed up on their motorbikes. I would love to work more with kids like that. He even has a twin brother.
Maybe for the next project.
The next project is going to be pretty weird, actually. It’s kind of like a gender-bending film about the evolution of sexuality, about the mind being able to manipulate and alter the world around it, but in a sexual context, so you could actually change your gender or other people’s gender. It’s going to be for Channel 4 in the UK, and Dazed & Confused is commissioning it. It’ll be quite surreal, kind of a return to the kind of work I was doing before.
I don’t know, I feel that that kid would be good for it, especially with his twin brother. Can you imagine the scenes you could set up with that?
I’d feel guilty about it, he’s too nice of a kid. I need some people who’d be willing to go . . .
He might be into it, he might be a freak.
It doesn’t hurt to ask, I guess.
Do you have a fixed aesthetic behind what you do? A focus on specific visual references?
There are a lot of visual ideas at the moment, ways to shoot eroticism and sexuality in a new way, abstract ideas that play with subjectivity of how you see things in the height of passion. Try to visualize perception, how our sight and how our view changes depending on hormones and how they are affecting our physiology. There’s been a lot of projects that have been leading to this. It’s been a theme I’ve been focusing on for the past few years. There are a lot of big ideas at the moment.
What are the other ones?
There’s this project I am working on with this interactive company in Amsterdam called Mini Vegas. It’s an art installation, basically real-time pornographic tweets which you can manipulate and pick apart, also in real time. It looks for hashtag tweets like cock, ass, tits, whatever. The project is called XXX Anima and it basically looks like this giant vagina organism, basically this brain of our pornographic collective digital consciousness.
When the images are transferred, is it just displayed?
It’s projected on sheets, so you have all this cloth pulsating, and it becomes this abstract intersection of images. Sometimes you can make stuff out, sometimes you can’t. If there are hundreds of images then it’s harder, and with less you can see more. There are sounds as well, orgasm sounds . . . the more tweets that come through, the louder it gets. I’ve also done a lot of print work and little films for Bare Bones.
But it all comes back to sexuality and eroticism?
It’s one part of the art/personal work I’ve been focusing on. A lot of the work is looking at the evolution of sexuality in a digital age. Most of the work I did in the beginning is a very nihilistic view at how digital affected sex, and actually killed our ability to create original sexual thought and sexual feeling because we are, in theory, being programmed with the amount of sex we are consuming visually. ‘Fuck Machines’ would be machines that are reenacting acts that we have seen. This new film shows how we are sexually evolving into a new dimension, another way to experience sex beyond touch. I don’t know if I totally believe it. One of the ideas that it came from was, ‘What if you started to evolve physically to compensate?’ If, in fact, digital consumption is killing our sexual appetite and is killing our sexual creativity, what if, through natural selection, the body was actually able to change your physiology to offset what digital did to you?
In the future, we no longer know to express that we like something anymore – we only know how to click a button. So in order to offset that, your mouth would grow a little larger so a tiny smirk would actually become a big smile. You lost those physical abilities because your body would be doing that in the digital space. So that was the initial idea that came from that, that we would have to evolve to offset the digital handicaps. The other idea was about perception, it’s still coming from this digital space. You look at someone’s profile, you can only look at the things you want from them and you can redefine people based on how you perceive them digitally. You can turn someone into someone else in your mind. Your mind becomes so powerful that you can bend reality.
And this will be the video for Dazed?
Yeah, in theory perception is reality. Subjectivity is reality. The way you see someone is exactly how they are. Blurring that line between dreams and memories and perceptions. This film could take place inside Facebook, inside a dream, inside a memory. It’s going to be left open whether this is really happening. Reality, digital, perception and time merge.
Would be intriguing to see it as the next big music video . . .
I tend to keep concepts like this for my personal work or artistic commissions to protect their integrity. Most dubstep fans won’t be the kind of people interested in my more esoteric ideas, to be honest. But promos do get more eyes on my work. It’s okay if not a lot of people watch this next one. We’ll see.
Published July 10, 2012.