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Feature: Charlie Phillips on the Nick Abrahams retrospective at the ICA

A Nick Abrahams retrospective is something to get excited about.

He’s a man who makes lovely films, art and music videos evoking a bygone age of eccentric pop obsession and wild abandon. He’s a right old independent fellow. He’s the kind of filmmaker who gets called ‘cult’ or ‘underground’ because he has a big ginger beard, when really his work is fun and accessible for all. He’s a filmmaker who should be known to more people, not least by more film industry people who should give him more chance to make more brilliance all the time. He’s someone who’ll be hailed as a genius in 50 years and you’ll regret not going to this retrospective when you could.

Well done ICA for making this happen – I hope they’ll have lots more seasons of contemporary iconic filmmakers operating in the outer limits of acceptable film culture. Maybe Nick is about to get famous. He’s just made a celebrated short for Sigur Ros, Ekki Mukk (pictured), in which Aiden Gilled (the Wire, Game of Thrones) wanders the countryside and meets animals. It’s folky, but it’s not a cute facsimile of folksiness, it’s sinister and wild folk. It packs all forms of life into 10 minutes, it’s not like any other fiction shorts you’ll see this year.

Prior to this, Nick’s biggest sort-of-hit has been Our Hobby is Depeche Mode, a little-seen feature documentary co-directed with Jeremy Deller about Depeche kids going crazy all across the world like their lives depend on it – which in some cases they actually do. It features a scene of of mass bacchanalian nightclub singing that is the one of the finest contemporary documents of why pop fandom matters. Our Hobby should be celebrated as one of the greatest documentaries of the last decade, but due to legal wrangling this retrospective is one of the few times you’ll be able to see it with permission on a big screen.

He’s collaborated with Jeremy Deller on other projects – last year’s brilliant Bruce Lacey Experience documentary was part of the Lacey career exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre. Lacey freewheels around the land, talking rituals and magic, and sending his grandchildren to the sky with fireworks. I know Nick would be embarrassed by the comparison but there’s a similar folkloric madness in his own work. Take Doghouse, his Stooges homage with actual dogs – it makes complete jaunty sense.

The big highlight of this ICA programme will be the opening night’s compilation of music videos from the mid-90s and beyond, including Nick’s work for the incredible Huggy Bear, Prolapse, Stereolab, Add N to X, and a scary one for the Manics (another Deller collaboration). His music videos are glorious shorts in themselves, filled with the joy of pop and dancing fun, the real masterpieces of recent UK music video history as opposed to the accepted advertising-executive history of the genre.

There’ll be chatting, DJs and general revelry too. Nick speaks beautifully about his work, he’s a funny and intelligent man. We really don’t look after our uncategorisable British film talent enough, preferring easy boxes for easy talent. One day, when the mainstream UK film industry impolodes and independent film storms the barricades and takes it over (it’s coming soon), the record books will look back with pride on the vanguard time the ICA did a Nick Abrahams retrospective.

Thurs 24th Jan - Sunday 28th Jan 2012


A Night of Nick Abrahams Films
24 January 2013

The Bruce Lacey Experience + Jeremy Deller & Nick Abrahams Q&A
25 January 2013

Our Hobby is Depeche Mode
26 January 2013 - 27 January 2013




Win 1x Pair of tickets to attend 'Our Hobby is Depeche Mode' on 26th January.

To enter the competition, send an email to with the correct answer in the ‘subject’ box. The winner will be randomly selected.

Q: Depeche Mode formed in

A 1)1980 2)1984 3)1989 4)1990

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