There’s something to be said for mystery-bands, groups so obscure that they share a profile on last.fm with three other ensembles with the same name (I’m looking at you, Rogues*), or others that release a bang-up EP or debut, then immediately announce a hiatus, and six years later they’re all but vanished.
Teenagersintokyo is the latter. Friends of mine will attest that I was a diehard fanboy of the Australia spawned, London based band when I first discovered them around the time they gave up recording (about 2011). At the time, I played their youthfully optimistic New Day on endless repeat and probably p.o.’d at least a few casual Facebook acquaintances with my recommending they try it.
Musically speaking though, New Day is a one of just a few rays of sunshine for a group dedicated to creating otherwise drearier content — and trust me, I mean that as the highest praise. Unsatisfied with using conventional genre labels, most reviewers regard Teenagersintokyo as “dark pop,” which Wikipedia deftly shoehorns somewhere in between goth rock and techo. So, while they might be girl-fronted (with vocals from Samantha Lim) and while they may have been featured as part of the soundtrack for Gossip Girl, high-school musical content this is not.
My point being, while New Days contemplates “hearts beating in new ways,” their other songs are considerably weightier, with delightful titles like End it Tonight, Very Vampyr, Sacrifice, and Death Rides a Horse. That last song was actually responsible for me discovering the band, as I tried during an insomniac night to find the soundtrack on iTunes for the 1967 spaghetti western of the same name.
And then there’s the music videos. While Teenagersintokyo may have existed for just four years, there were still able to find the time to churn out several of them in short order, most with the gritty patina of an amateur band trying hard to look professional in the pre-iPhone era of filtered, re-touched digital edits, although there is one standout exception — and that’s the one for Sacrifice, guest directed and produced by Rhett Dashwood.
Let’s just say it involves gasoline and matches.
Artist: Teenagersintokyo | Album: Sacrifice | Song: Sacrifice
Who is this poor fellow, and why are we watching his being barbecued in an abandoned Hyundai Excel (or whatever they call them, down under)? I mean, if you’re going to get burned alive in a car, it could at least be something more appropriate, say a Ford Pinto.
Lyrically, I’m not going to try examining Sacrifice too much as there aren’t many words to work with. It seemingly deals with a breakup, which isn’t too novel — not only that, but visit Rhett’s website, and you’ll see that the exact same video was originally intended to be used to accompany another Teenagersintokyo song, Black Bones (that version here).
Curious, I recently reached out to Rhett, and was delighted to learn more.
Compound Exorcises: What led to the inspiration behind the music video? Is there a story here that we’re missing?
Rhett Dashwood: I like to creatively explore new ideas and executions and this is an idea I had been kicking around in my head for some time, I just had to get it out. The question in mind was “Could you infer emotion and story into a clip that was all in slow motion?” At this point I had only ever seen bullets through watermelons or similar tech demos in extreme slow motion so I was inspired to take up the challenge to push the medium. Most of the story here is missing, and that’s kind of the point. Leaving the viewer with questions, wanting them to want more, or making up the rest for themselves was the goal for investing the audience past the superficial slow motion effect.
CE: I noticed that according to Brickyard Records, this is the official video for Sacrifice, yet it seems like it was originally intended to be used for Black Bones. What’s up with that?
RD: I originally made the clip for the song Black Bones and used the music to springboard the underlying visual emotion. But when the band signed to a UK label they decided not to formally release the song, and instead were releasing another song they thought the clip would also suit and asked permission to repurpose it. I thought this was a mistake, but gave them permission if I didn’t have to do any extra work on it. Later I would find multiple electronic artist had just decided to rip it off and place it on their own Youtube track releases as well.
CE: Any interesting trivia behind the production of this video? How many Hyundai’s did you actually toast (and was that explosion real, or added in post production)?
RD: The budget for the video was just under AU$10,000 and was my own personal money. Most of the crew came on board knowing it was a passion project. It was a real explosion and we only had one take. The pyrotechnic guy I used had promised the local volunteer firefighters to help train them in putting out car fires, so we bundled this together.
Most of the budget went into the car, explosion and ultra slow motion camera rig, so this one take was very important. It was the last shot of the day, and to see filming finish with a bang made me happy. Although, until I see the footage off the hard drive and in my computer, I remain anxious. The next day when I went to review the footage, each clip opened up fine, except the pivotal explosion shot, both angles. Nothing. A blank screen and the files wouldn’t play. “Files are corrupted” was the message that sank my heart. They wouldn’t load, I didn’t have the shot. Without the shot, I didn’t have a video. I even got the camera makers and software designers to have a look at it and they couldn’t resolve the issue.
After dealing with my initial dejection I decided I had nothing more to lose, so for the following week I felt like I became Neo in The Matrix trying to understand a screen full of hexadecimal characters that were the building blocks of the the visual information contained in the footage. I was trying to uncorrupt corrupted data by manipulating the raw data. I would randomly copy a block of data from a working clip into the corrupted clip hoping it would somehow fool the clip to accept new metadata in the hopes I could load something. Well, my determination paid off and I was able to salvage enough of the clip that I could fix the errors and remaining glitches in post.
CE: What ended up happening to Teenagersintokyo, anyway? I figure this was their last major Australian-based project, prior to moving to the UK in 2010, and subsequently disbanding after the release of their first studio album. Do you stay in touch?
RD: I have no idea what happened to them. I liked their music. Everything was organized via email and Skype and I’ve never met them in person.
CE: Lastly, any new projects or music videos you’d like to let us know about?
RD: I was again dejected at the start of this year after spending my own money to make a personal short film project which I had to disband because essential stunt talent had to pull out. So I’ve continued working with my 7 [year old] daughter to grow her Youtube channel. You can check that out at Youtube.com/RileyDiary or Instagram @RileyDiary otherwise I post my experiments in VR and film making at @Rhett
CE: Thanks for your time Rhett.
RD: Glad to share.
And thus we move on to our second feature.
Artist: Sleigh Bells | Album: Jessica Rabbit | Song: I Can Only Stare
Gasoline … get it? Yeah. That’s today’s theme.
I don’t even know where to start with this. Why Alexis Krauss, why? A triple suicide? You had to kill not one, but three different incarnations of yourself? Fanboys everywhere have probably been scarred for life.
As far as I’m concerned, I Can Only Stare is pretty new territory for Sleigh Bells, and really you could say the same about their new album Jessica Rabbit as a whole. While I’d wager fifty percent of the latest content from our Brooklynite duo contains definite throwbacks to their usual style (colloquially known as noise pop), the other half, where we find this song, tilts towards a new wave/rock genre blended evenly as a swirl cone from the nineties. The end results are smooth and pleasing, if not a little ordinarily foreign for a dedicated fan of the band — although if you liked the feel-good rhythm of their earliest hits, like 2010’s Rill Rill, you probably won’t be disappointed.
Inventive lyrics feature, as they usually do, with lines like Why aren’t we sharing the breath/’Til there’s nothing left/but carbon dioxide; however, just like Sacrifice, again we’re in breakupland — another new twist for a band that usually deals with great topics like burning orphanages (in Demons) or quoting Ernest Hemingway (Bitter Rivals). Yet stylistically, this path of singing about failed romance — well beaten by others — is now trod over in the spiked leather boots of Krauss and lead guitarist Derek Miller, and as they do, they take something usual and make it original.
But enough minutiae (yeah, big word, couldn’t resist). Let’s dig into that video.
The Three Incarnations of Alexis (referred to as the “doomed women” by the band), all grieving something or presumably someone, possess wonderfully distinct identities that they inhabit to some great effect. As I recall we’ve got Plain Vanilla, Punk Girl, and Retro Bride. One wears a beige outfit and drives a Honda Accord (ew), another traces her steps along a rocky outcropping by the sea, clutching a bouquet of roses, and the last waits lonesomely at a fifties pulpit for her vanished suitor. What do these characters each represent?
We never really figure out what’s troubling Vanilla Alexis, although troubled she is, weighed down by something she’s either driven away from, or hesitantly driving towards. Whatever it might be, she’s been pulled under by it long before the the carbon monoxide snuffs out what remains of her presumably already extinguished flame. It looks to have been gone for quite a while now.
I imagine in this parallel Sleigh Bells universe, maybe Vanilla just got sick of her presumably droll existence; maybe her diminishing time was squandered once again and thus she decided to take her grievances to the big HR department in the sky. Fittingly, she does so in the most dull, suburban way possible. There’s no fiery flourish here, and even her suicide kit is laid out in the trunk with an orderly verve that would make Martha Stewart sanguinely smile (and I’ll bet her will divvies up more than a few Tupperwares to the next of kin).
Visual touches I can appreciate in this vignette: the deep-lunged sigh of consignment she heaves just shy of a minute forty-five into the video — defeat personified — and the doom of a drab overcast sky overhead — these are all touches that I feel anyone could relate to on a personal level, barring the soccer-mom (or dad) crowd high on the amphetamines of their own denial. And that “Dead End” road sign? A classic jab in the ribs that does the band proud; just when you think all is lost, they remind you, with a liberal pinch of gallows humour, that it really is.
The second Doomed Woman, though. Stylistically, she’s a bookend to the metaphorical purity of the bride, and the extreme end of the sliding scale of depicted lifestyles on display here. Punk Girl looks like she’s fallen victim to the ultimate stand-up — a BFF OD’d perhaps, and now she’s left alone, the lone groupie surrounded by literal seas of regret. Or not. Perhaps I’m just projecting a little too much here, but I almost sense familial connotations in the truly bummed-out expression she wears upon her face, as though maybe it’s not so much a love lost we deal with in this vignette, but a sibling departed, or a idol snatched away from her forever.
That brings us to Retro Bride. Well, we can assume with relative accuracy that her beef is personal. Whether or not the story told actually involves being abandoned at a wedding, or the ill-fated matrimony is merely some sort of thematic allegory, she quite nicely personifies the very title of the song as she longingly, achingly stares into thin air, Bettie Page bangs and all. Who is she waiting for, or maybe more importantly, what did that person represent?
However, flying in the face of the predictability of the era the Bride supposedly inhabits, there’s one thing we’re left to ponder. Despite dousing herself in gasoline, despite striking not one, but a fingerfull of matches, we never actually witness the inferno they’ve been summoned to create.
Interviewed by Rolling Stone, guitarist Derek Miller (who co-produced the video with filmmaker Alex Ross Perry), declares the video to be “bleak, but hopefully inspiring, too” without elaborating on exactly how. But does he need to? Like some of Sleigh Bell’s other video content, a faint glimmer of hope is left lingering, almost tearing a page from the playbook of film from the seventies with their cliffhanger unresolved endings, left to your best imaginings. Despite the suggestion these people all die at their own behest, do they really?
The video for I Can Only Stare leave you with that question, in block capitals, at least for the character chosen to host the ending. Does the Bride follow through with her blistering, fiery intentions, or have an eleventh hour
They say anger makes for a great motivator, but could it motivate someone enough to reconsider living?
Do the matches get snuffed out?
I Can Only Stare is featured on Sleigh Bells latest album, Jessica Rabbit, released this past Remembrance Day. I suggest you try it – the whole thing. There’s a reason why this band is one of the few that’s earned my trust to the point where I will buy the whole thing on iTunes, love it or hate it. I think that sanctity is shared only by a few other ensembles, Ladytron (sadly becoming a bit of a mystery band themselves these days) and maybe My Gold Mask.
Like I said: a musical swirl cone. Given how hard those are to come by these days, give this one a lick and let me know how you find it.
* (The particular Rogues band I refer to earlier on, is a presumably disbanded group responsible for producing an EP and singles like Not So Pretty around 2008, if you were curious).