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Addictive TV: mashup masters and audiovisual auteurs

Graham Daniels and Mark Vidler, otherwise known as British electronic duo Addictive TV, are mashup masters. For well over a decade Addictive TV have become internationally known for their spectacular audiovisual mixes. They’ve remixed songs, films and Olympic ceremonies. They’ve played over 50 countries at venues and festivals including the Pompidou Centre, the Royal National Theatre, the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai, Glastonbury Festival, Roskilde Festival and the San Francisco Film Festival.

To say they’re pioneers is something of an understatement. Featuring in Splice Festival this June, also showing scourge of the political class Cassetteboy, they’re finally among peers and friends but for a while they were flying solo. As recently as 2008 they said in an interview with The Times (aptly titled ‘Sounds addictive’), that they were often the only AV act at a festival. “When we started there were almost no other artists doing anything like us, even now I only know of a handful worldwide”, Daniels says.

Addictive TV’s style is marked by a synergy of sound and image where they keep the audio and video samples together. This way the audiences of their live shows get to see more than just a DJ or graphics or visuals, at an Addictive TV gig you get to experience music in a genuinely holistic way.

They talked to Honour Bayes about, amongst other things, their new project creating an international, digital super-group Orchestra of Samples, and transitioning from mash-up bootlegging to the establishment, artistic license and why John Lennon got it right.

Honour Bayes: Audiovisual art has a pretty fluid definition incorporating a variety of forms as dispirit as digital theatre and projection mapping.  You were at the start of this world, today where would you place yourself within its landscape?

Graham Daniels:
Yes, it’s a very wide ranging term!  And even though we’ve been performing for many years, it’s still early days in many ways for the whole genre - if it can be called a genre.  We’re in the area of audiovisual sampling and remixing, creating music from AV samples.  So in many ways, in our work, the audio and visual elements are far more integrated together than others that are more on the abstract tip.  But if you come to the Splice Festival in early June that we’re part of organising, you’ll get to experience pretty much the whole audiovisual performing landscape as you put it, from Addictive TV and Cassetteboy at one end to Sculpture and French act Bunq & Eb at the other, each of us are totally different but all of us are creating both images and sound as performance.

Mark Vidler: That’s why genre names and sub-genre names need to appear, as happens in music… I mean the whole AV art landscape is also a little like comparing sports. Golf, football, swimming and even snooker are all sports, but you can’t really compare them as people do with AV artists.

Honour: You’ve been heralded as “Inspiring an entire generation of artists exploring the crossover between audio and visual mediums”.  Who inspired or inspires you?

I’d say so many have influenced our actual tastes, from William Boroughs to Daft Punk but I think very few have directly influenced our actual AV work.  Canadian music producer Akufen was definitely an influence in the early years with his ultra-chop up style of sampling, and of course EBN from the early 90’s who were the grandmasters of the audio/video remix.

Mark: And I’d say the one band who’ve been my main musical inspiration since my teens has been XTC, they first appeared at the tail end of punk in 1977 and went on producing right up until 2005!  A truly diverse band, able to embrace multiple musical styles and forge a very unique sound.  I’ve also a passion for Psychedelic music, from its original conception in the late 60's with bands like The Beatles, The Byrds, Seeds etc to the mid 1980's revival with Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen and even in its current form thanks to bands like Flaming Lips or Tame Impala.

Honour: Your latest project ‘Orchestra of Samples’ uses technology to make the international intimate. As you continue to work on the forefront of new developments what is exciting you most about technology’s future within live performance?

There has been several recent new hardware/software combos appearing on the market that are definitely enhancing live performances.  One that I particularly think could benefit us is Native Instruments Stems, which has the potential to split musical layers live, that would be great for our Orchestra of Samples show as it’d enable us to focus on a specific instrument during a track, but right now it hasn’t been developed with a video counterpart yet…  in fact the Native Instruments Traktor software we use is a special version integrated with Arena video software that we’re testing for them, so that’s not even on the market yet.

Graham: Yes, our new project Orchestra of Samples has allowed us to create a digital band with hundreds of members that couldn’t easily exist in the real world!  In fact, modern camera and sound recording technology has made this project possible, allowing us to easily film and record hundreds of musicians around the world while touring, which wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago without huge budgets and an entire crew!   I wouldn’t say anything technological excites me really though, maybe I’m ‘uncool’ for saying it and it stands me apart, but I just see technology as a tool at the end of the day.  It’s great that technology allows us to do what we do, and in the last few years it’s become even faster and smaller which for us makes international travel much easier, but it’s still just a tool.  I get excited by the ideas, by the art itself not by the technology.

Honour: Is art political for you? Orchestra of Samples is pegged as 'a musical journey without borders'. For me that means inclusivity and internationalism as opposed to national separatism. But am I reading too much into that? If it's not political what is the connection about?

It can be at times.  But yes, Orchestra of Samples is very much about inclusivity and internationalism, it’s about bringing people together.  It’s not overtly political with a capital ‘P’ but is certainly saying something about the times we live in.  In fact many people have said this, that it’s very timely, creating a project about bringing people together from many countries at a time when so many are concerned with having more borders.  Personally I don’t like nationalism, never have and in fact I’m third generation immigrant myself with my grandfather coming from Poland in the 1930’s.  The world’s problems aren’t really about borders, it’s all about money and its distribution and who’s in charge of that distribution…!

Mark: John Lennon got it spot on with "Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do".

Honour: You began by bootlegging remixes of films but were then sanctioned to do one by a studio. How do you keep your creative autonomy now that you’re established in this way?

I think it’s the same for any artist, there has to be an element of trust from any client within a creative process.  If someone is commissioning us to create something, they have to trust our artistic vision and go with the idea that we know what we’re doing.  But absolutely, when someone is paying a fee then of course they have a say, and it’s a process of listening to what they suggest and seeing what works.

Honour: All artists borrow from one another but you do it perhaps more obviously than most. Do you have any rules when using other artistic sources to create a new one? Do you try to stay true to how you see the original or is everything free game?

Yes, we always try to stay true to the original, whether film remixing or creating music mash-ups - as we’ll be doing at both Splice and Scoop’s summer festival next month.  In some ways, being very obvious is what we’re about, as you point out, as oppose to like some producers or DJs who sample a track to build a new composition and you’d never know they’d built it from samples. We’re more about making people think ‘how did they do that?’ or ‘how on Earth did they put those tracks together so seamlessly’.  Our track blending The Charlatans, Usher, Adel and Grandmaster Flash is a good example of that! 

Mark: We definitely have basic rules which we follow to do with sampling, making sure both audio and image are great in a sample.  Image wise we’ll often look for close-ups as they work much better and audio-wise we’re always looking for rhythm in what can often be very unmusical sounds - especially with film remixing.  And within film-remixing, we follow what we call ‘fractured’ or ‘splintered’ narrative, not straying too far from the original feel.  With our classic Star Trek remix, we made sure that all the obvious classic sights and sounds from the original series were used to create the music - phasers, communicators, transporters and even sliding doors!  And all those rules apply whether we’re sampling films, other music tracks to mash-up or our own recordings of musicians in the case of Orchestra of Samples.

Honour: What catches your eye when working on something new? Is it a certain style of visual or sound?

As Mark said earlier, it’s more about the material we’re sampling, so we’re always looking for good images where you ‘see’ the sound, or the source of the sound as it were - that’s what always catches my eye.

Mark: Yeah, it's not so much the style we are drawn to, more the actual content.  We’re always on the lookout for good contemporary subject matter in films, TV and music, as well as the old classics that everyone can relate to.  Our audiences can often be a real mixture of ages and that's why the film and musical mashups work really well when the content is something classic mixed with something more contemporary.  Our Red Hot Chili Peppers vs Stevie Wonder track is a good example of that.

Splice Festival
Friday 3rd June - Sunday 5th June
Various venues, London

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