Thursday, 10 March 2011

Lotus Flower

The new...ish (hit YouTube two days before my last birthday) Radiohead video, Lotus Flower - the first single from their already available to download album The King of Limbs - continues the band's interest in promoting themselves via simple, low-fi, low-budget promos that seem positively homemade in comparison to the celebrated, high-concept videos for Street Spirit, Karma Police, Pyramid Song, etc. Having first discovered the notion of music as something more than just a soundtrack to childhood family outings during that particular period of the band's creative evolution there's still a lingering sense of warm nostalgia for the days, pre-access to the Internet, when coming home from school and flicking through the music channels to see the new Radiohead video (or Björk, or Blur, or Eels) brought on a rush of excitement unlike anything else.

It was the whole cultural communicative thing too, which probably still exists, but like everything else these days is accelerated; no longer something to actually wait for, discover or stumble across when you least expect it, but there, at your fingertips, and on-demand. The playground buzz of the next few days when you'd ask your friends "did you see it?" no doubt has less of the same sting of anticipation that it used to have in the pre-millennium days when the thought of using a computer to simultaneously link your friends with the relevant clips and information was the stuff of older kids, or science fiction.

Lotus Flower begins, in back-lit black and white, in a severe looking service tunnel reminiscent of the one featured in Philippe Garrel's silent post-May '68 psychodrama, Le révélateur (1968). It could be described, with total straight-faced honesty, as a "performance video", though not in the industry jargon sense of a band or musician sitting in a room hitting their instruments in-sync with a studio backing track. This is the performance video as a work of legitimate performance art; where the movement of the body, in time and in step with the beats, melodies, counter melodies and chord changes of the song itself creates an expression that articulates, not necessarily what the song is about, but the mood, the atmosphere and the way the song makes us feel.

The feel of any Radiohead song is unmistakable: nocturnal, restless, desolate and claustrophobic; with the sense of technology as both a liberator and facilitator in our own glorious downfall. A cultural year-zero in the beautifully Ballardian notion of consumer meltdown; kingdom come and the myths of the near future. Though the dance is typically a kind of celebration, it is here a solitary expression, performed for the benefit of an audience no doubt alone or connected to the world only by that thin invisible thread that links us, from one machine to the next. As the video develops, moving with each new change in rhythm and tone, the hypnotic convulsions on screen become as mournful and sombre as Yorke's wailing falsetto. At the same time they possess a freedom and a lack of self-consciousness usually reserved for the inner-city drunk or the roadside lunatic. Someone like Denis Lavant's character in the Yorke affiliated Rabbit in Your Headlights video, who finds strength in absolute abandon.

Lotus Flower may not have the immediate awe-factor or something like Just or Street Spirit or Knives Out, with their unanswerable questions, technical virtuosity and endless imagination, but there's something quietly overwhelming about this video that at first seems to be almost thrown-together as an afterthought, but reveals, with subsequent viewings, to be something quite remarkable, fascinating and total alien to anything else currently being produced.

Lotus Flower directed by Garth Jennings, 2011: