Ballroom Battle

NOWNESS is Burning in Clara Cullen’s Interactive Voguing Experience

Make it to the third and final round to crown your champion. Taking cues from ball culture and the hyperreal aggression of Japanese video games, today’s dance-off sees eight new-wave ballers walking it out to be named overall winner by the viewer. “The scene is so alive and the culture is amazing, with all the different houses dancing off,” says Buenos Aires-born filmmaker Clara Cullen, recalling her first experience of attending a vogue ball in New York three years ago. “It started at 3am and didn’t end until nine in the morning.” With dancers including Aniyah Lacroix, Bootz Givenchy and Cullen’s close Ballroom Battle collaborator Alex Mugler, this film takes the underground dance-offs that started amongst America’s black and Latino gay communities out of the clubs and into an online sphere, with help from the transatlantic digital studio, Convoy. With Philadelphia’s Kevin JZ Prodigy providing the beat-laden soundtrack and live commentary, every dancer belongs to a “house”—their moniker is adopted from a leading fashion label and they are clad in their namesake’s clothes: Alex, of course, dances for the House of Mugler. “When I was a kid I used to play the video game Street Fighter,” adds Cullen, whose filmmaking education included stints with Spike Lee in New York and Werner Herzog in Los Angeles. “I wanted to take each dancer and make them into a very defined character, so people could choose their favorite and stick with them.” 
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  • ON REPLAY
    ON REPLAY

    Goldfrapp: Annabel

    The Brooding Pop Outsiders Return with a Cinematic Music Video Premiere

    A young, androgynous boy explores his femininity through a hoard of trinkets hidden in the undergrowth in the accompanying video to “Annabel,” a brand new track from Goldfrapp. For their sixth album Tales Of Us, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have stepped back from the electronic synth pop with which they made their name. “I like electronic sounds because of the iciness, but I find them quite awkward,” says Goldfrapp. “Acoustic instruments have a warmth and sensuality about them.” Each song on Tales Of Us is named after a different person and the album sees Goldfrapp's voice—at one moment rich, the next fragile—paired with understated guitar and strings. The intended effect is to allow the characters and narratives to breathe, which is most eloquently achieved in “Annabel,” inspired by Kathleen Winter's 2010 novel of the same name which follows a hermaphrodite child who is forced into taking on a male identity in 1960s Canada. Today’s short film was shot by Alison Goldfrapp’s partner Lisa Gunning, who worked as Editor on Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Nowhere Boy and here transposes the “endless winters” of the song’s lyrics to a warm English summer. To accentuate the film's narrative, the actual music itself doesn’t appear until just shy of the three-minute mark, a defiant move in an age of fast-cuts intended to grab attention on YouTube. “I don't really like the whole idea of videos,” says the singer. "Even though I know I've done bloody loads of them, haven’t I?"

    So why the decision to make these short films?
    Alison Goldfrapp:
    I think the whole idea of the video has changed—what it does, what it’s for—and that’s been great because it’s opened things up. Lisa knows my aesthetic and I trust her. It’s the first time I feel that we’ve made something that really complements the music—I don’t think I’ve really felt like that before about video.

    How does the film relate to both the song “Annabel” and the book that inspired it?
    AG:
    I read Annabel and was totally drawn into that world, and immediately wrote the song. It’s very much about my interpretation of the book. If anyone hears that song they’ll just think it’s about a girl, they won't know what it is about, so I was very intent on making the film. The boy is amazing, he’s got a stillness and a melancholy to his face, and an introverted quality about him.

    Are the themes explored in “Annabel” present in the rest of the album?
    AG:
    It’s very much about memory, identity and gender. I’ve always been fascinated by dual creatures, personas, people, personalities, and transformation. I think it’s a theme that’s pretty much always in fairy tales and horror, which I love. What struck me about Annabel is that the parents are in total denial of what their child is: this child has to choose in the end, and that’s what society is making them do. Why can't you be both? I feel really strongly about that whole concept in so many things in life. All the characters in these songs are trying to figure out who they are, where they're going, and why they are who they are.

    Tales of Us is out September 9 on Mute.

    (Read More)
  • MOST SHARED IN MUSIC
    MOST SHARED IN MUSIC

    Mykki Blanco on Madonna

    The Provocative Artist's One-of-a-Kind Birthday Wish for the Queen of Pop

    To celebrate Madonna Louise Ciccone’s 55th birthday, NOWNESS presents a very special message from notorious Harlem rapper and performance artist, Mykki Blanco. The Lil’ Kim-inspired alter-ego of Michael David Quattlebaum Jr., Blanco is the hyper-sexualized, underground hip-hop siren whose polymathic portfolio boasts a film collaboration with MOCAtv and a book of poetry published by OHWOW. “Madonna has the ability to create another dimension, something that she has done many times,” muses Blanco, ahead of her forthcoming debut album, M.I.C.H.A.E.L. Now, in a delirious flourish of retro-fitted postmodernism, New York photographer and director Matthu Placek captures her Monroe-style paean to the icon with a gift for self-reinvention: a performer in referential bloom.

    What was your first memory of hearing or seeing Madonna?
    Mykki Blanco: It was sneaking into my father’s room and looking at her SEX book. I had to be about six or seven-years-old, and I remember it wasn't the sex itself that fascinated me but the design of the book and the aesthetic. Even as a child I could tell this book was something special and glamorous.

    How does Madonna inspire you as a performer?
    MB: Her dedication to what makes a whole entertainer; the music, the videos, the choreography. She understands the magic formula of engaging her audience on all levels.
     
    How was the birthday shoot?
    MB: It was a little painful, which makes a great shoot! I had to tuck my genitalia in place and stand for 20 minutes in a very Warhol, statuesque pose in stiletto heels. Matthu was extremely focused, and the hair and makeup team did an amazing job of transforming me into that iconic “Justify My Love”-era Madonna that I personally love so much.

    (Read More)

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