We are the robots: The title Electro Dziska, according to Venezuelan-American director Iris Cegarra, doesn't really mean anything beyond attempting to define a distinctly Miami experience. "It basically encompasses going to a disco or a club ... experiencing electro in all of its forms," she explains via phone from New York, where she's showing the film at a party in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Electro Dziska the film is equally abstract, a half-hour documentary dominated by performance footage and artist interviews. At times the screen splits into twos and threes, a hallmark of cheesy early-Eighties videos by Duran Duran. Young, geeky white kids play with banks of electronics hidden under knots of wires; Salim Rafiq crows, "Now that's some ass!" as a big-boned beauty struts down an illuminated sidewalk; Exzakt moves among large synthesizer equipment as lights flash and flare around him. An interview with Ectomorph is sped up until he becomes a shadowy white figure gesticulating over a pounding electro soundtrack. There is grainy footage of enigmatic composer Anthony Rother sitting under a tree, explaining, "I like all this computer stuff and all the technologies, and all the visions about technology, and I think electro is pretty much music that describes living in the future."
Far from a history lesson, Electro Dziska, mostly filmed during WMC 2002, attempts to match its subject's sonically rich, musically complex compositions with an equally beguiling visual flair. "There is a little history in there," says Cegarra. But in the end, she continues, "It's more like what was going on during that particular time."
Eventually the film grows into a pile of information: The interviews feel random, secondary to the nonstop, MTV-style imagery shooting across the screen. But in spite of its lack of a straightforward narrative, it reveals how Miamians often hear electronic music through an electro lens -- that is, grainy, astringent, and occasionally decadent machinelike sound. Everyone from hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa, co-author of the legendary "Planet Rock" single, to turntablist Q-Bert, who cuts and scratches with Eighties West Coast bass tracks, is grouped in this category, creating a dialectic far different from Britain's emphasis on techno as the foundation of electronic music and New York's concurrent argument that disco is the blueprint. Hence the phrase "electro disko" or Electro Dziska.
But Cegarra, a lifelong fan of electro music, was attracted to the subject for less ambitious reasons. "It's just a good topic," she explains, adding that she often throws parties with her boyfriend, electro DJ and producer Uprock. "We try to produce as much media to support the music. It's also a way for me to practice as a filmmaker, as a documentarian [sic]."
Cegarra has been working on student films and videos for local artists since 1999. Her first short film, Bass Frequency, featured 2 Live Crew, Dynamix II, and Afro-Rican. After completing it, she showed it at local clubs; "That's how I got some exposure," she says. In contrast she's taken Electro Dziska on an international tour; since premiering the film last December 8, she's thrown viewing parties in Birmingham, Paris, and Barcelona. Last week she teamed up with Osiel store on Miami Beach for an Electro Dziska party with electro acts DMX Krew, Salim Rafiq, and Uprock at the Williamsburg Public House in Brooklyn. "It went really well," she says. "The whole place was packed."
Now pursuing a master's degree in film at Miami International University, Cegarra recently released a VHS version of Electro Dziska. For more information, log onto www.electro-dziska.com.
We are pure poverty: If Electro-Dziska is a hybrid of music video and cultural documentary, then Michael Garcia's new clip for "Darkest Days," a track from his soon-to-be-released debut album, Anti-Social, uses video to make social commentary. Shot on a Panasonic SV-AV 100 digital video camera, it interchanges images of the Cuban rapper walking down a street darkened by nightfall with his crew, Crazy Hood Productions; shots of homeless people in downtown; and news footage of riots, young men being brutalized by police.
Although the video inevitably comes off as a political statement, Garcia, who helmed the clip with director of photography George "Jokes" Yanes, says the song was inspired by recent tumultuous events in his own life. "The song was written around the time my cousin went into prison and a lot of different things were falling apart on me. It also deals with a lot of different struggles I've been through in the music business," he explains. "Darkest Days" is a melancholy number that features another cousin, Adrianne, on acoustic guitar and the chorus. But despite its origins in Garcia's own problems, the video has a distinctly universal appeal. "It's for anybody who hit rock bottom," he says. "That's why the video is real racy. It has a lot of different footage of people getting arrested and a lot of police brutality and a lot of craziness."
Garcia built his chops through attending Miami-Dade College's film school for a year. Last year the Hialeah-based rapper directed his first video, a clip for Miami hip-hop group DA ALL's "Starshine" track from its recent album, Who's Crazy? Though he notes that he's "still getting his feet wet" -- "Darkest Days" is only his second work to date -- he'll be directing clips for other local artists like Heckler and Prsona in the months to come. Much of his energy, he admits, has been focused on getting his fledgling music career off the ground. "The music comes first, but video's my second love," he says.
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Garcia plans to put out a DVD of his works -- videos that he has appeared in, like a clip for his recent single "None of Dem," or directed -- in the next several weeks. He has also submitted "Darkest Days" to Mun2 in hopes that the music channel will add the clip to its daily rotation of videos; it's under review. In the meantime you can see "Darkest Days" on Video Mixx, a music show that airs weekends on WVIB-TV, and at www.crazyhood.com.
From the desk of Mr. Basshead: If Garcia and Cegarra are precocious upstarts in music video production, then Chris Cunningham and Michael Gondry are its masters. The British-born Cunningham is best known for his video for Björk's "All is Full of Love," where two lesbian androids fuse themselves together through machinery and fluids; and Madonna's "Broken," a mysterious depiction of the Material Girl as a bewitching temptress. Gondry, for his part, recently won acclaim for his re-creation of the White Stripes as Lego toys in "Fell In Love With a Girl."
Both directors have collected their works with fellow auteur Spike Jonze (who graduated to feature films with Being John Malkovich) for the Directors Label, a new DVD series being issued through Palm Pictures. Gondry's playfully eclectic disc features twenty videos for artists like Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers; childhood stories; a short film, "Pecan Pie," starring Jim Carrey; and a 75-minute documentary of his career. Cunningham's disc highlights considerably darker and more complex efforts. One short film, "Flex," finds two lovers fucking each other, then beating each other up; a popular video for Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker" concentrates on a pair of garishly stereotyped gangstas -- one Mexican, the other black -- spouting out the word "nigga" in a nonstop, Tarantino-esque conversation. But hey, whatever floats your boat.