Interview Published by: Promo News
As cameos go this one was subtle. With the public having seen very little of Kwabs – minus a few session promos – it was a bold step to step back and allow the voice to flow, literally, through the dancers. He does feature if you keep an eye out at 2:51 but it is the carefully chosen and choreographed dancers that star.
One could argue that dance-based promos struggle to be as compelling as the best-known viral dance promos, like Amazing Tron Dance or LES TWINS. So it’s to Emil Nava’s credit that he has electric-slid (sorry) beyond the norm with a high-energy performance supplemented by a loose storyline, together with a level of production he has brought us to expect.
Emil Nava is at the top of his game; and its great to see him working on projects outside of the top 10 chart type tracks. We got the chance to find out why, how he picked the dancers, and what advice he would give to future directors.
word is cheap: Kwabs has been steadily building his following in the music scene and although as talented, he is perhaps a little more underground than you are used to, how did this project come about?
Emil Nava: I guess one thing that is really important for me is to try and stay relevant all the time and to be constantly trying to create things that feel like a progression and I think sometimes that can be hard with Pop videos. You want to push creatively but you are also ultimately trying to sell a product. So more recently I have been trying to get a balance and working closely with the crew at OB Management to bring in tracks that work on two levels. On one side big Pop numbers, which are always fun, have much better budgets and allow me to develop my skills to a high end standard. They grant me to work on larger scale productions with art direction, lighting etc. Then we balance this out with finding cool new artists that want to push creatively. And that’s where Kwabs was sitting perfectly. He was new, fresh and has one hell of a voice with musically, a real tone. I have worked a lot with Atlantic and Dan Curwin is always amazing at getting behind an idea he believes in. I feel if a commissioner really believes in you it really pumps you up to try and write a killer idea.
Unlike your other projects the artist doesn’t star in this music video. In what ways did that affect you?
Kwabs said right from the off that he didn’t want to be in the video which I admire so much in an artist. It’s like they believe in the music and really want to open up the visuals to make something different. For me I sometimes disconnect from a music video if the narrative or concept has no hard connection to the song, so that was something I was really conscious of. When I listened to the song I would almost imagine the movement of the body to the sounds in song. That was what really grabbed me. So I felt this was going to be my core and then I thought there needed to be a connection for the watchers and that’s how the lead dancers story and journey came in. I guess in my head I made him the star.
The video represents for London, was that important to you and the project?
I think it was really important to Kwabs for it to feel English and have that real stamp on it. For me I kind of wanted it to feel a bit like the underbelly of London. The world after dark, where the wanderers of the city roam. We shot some of the video in Canary Wharf and it has such a weird vibe down there, in the day heaving with this money world but at night completely dead. We also shot out near Dagenham, which has a crazy vibe of just being so quiet. A lot of factories and huge industrial estates that were totally empty at night.
Dance is a hard medium to portray, how did you manage to overcome this and capture the dancers’ energy?
I guess I was using the dance as a sort of way of capturing each characters personality. Like they all had their own demons, their own pasts and idiosyncrasies that comes out in their dance. So I did a lot of shooting in different frame rates almost using the movement to portrait how they are feeling. Slow and flowing for more intense or sad moments and then speeding it up for more frenetic crazy feelings. I have always been really interested in dance not being dance, but more movement that is only personal to that person. A lot of the time I like dance that is just weird as fuck like just flailing around but it just feels like the person is just completely letting go and their body is just lost in the music. I know it sounds a bit wanky but its almost like you can see in their eyes they are totally lost in it and that was something I really wanted to capture.
Who are the dancers? Is this an existing troupe, or did he put them together for this project with a choreographer?
The casting was one of the hardest parts of this job I think. Finding dancers that almost didn’t dance in any conventional way. They were all dancers but we told them not to dance but just go a bit mad. Almost animalistic mixed with being fucked on acid or something. I worked with choreographer Suzette Brissett and casting director Kharmel Cochrane to put together the crew. They both brought in people they knew and after half a day of freaking out thinking how are we going to find people when we say ‘don’t dance but dance’ we started to build the group.
You’re the go-to director for pop in the UK. Do you have any advice for those that want to follow in your footsteps?
I guess advice-wise I think just to keep making things. I learn so much every time I make something that I just try to get better and always learn. Getting that balance right between making a living and making things really close to your heart is a battle you’ll always be trying to perfect.