Parisien guerilla video bloggers Vincent Moon and Chryde (aka The Take Away Shows) bring music and film out of the venue, onto the streets, and onto your computer. Cian Traynor tracked them down on the streets of Paris.
Whether it’s squeezing Arcade Fire into an elevator or getting Grizzly Bear into a bathtub, French music site La Blogotheque has a way of capturing bands in a moment of haphazard beauty. The Take Away Shows are a series of vignettes that lure artists, with instrument in hand, out to wander the streets of Paris under the gaze of a loosely held camera.
Perhaps there’s no better example of the wonders that have been worked than when Architecture in Helsinki come to town. Having put together a makeshift choir from MySpace volunteers, neighbourhood residents and curious passers-by, the band are all set to cheerlead their way through a back-alley rendition of “Heart It Races” only for the power-supply to their amps to die out. Several stories above, the use of two flats are commandeered and, plugging in around a mother preparing dinner and a gracious host serving iced tea, Kelly and Cameron conduct the ensemble below from separate windows. As dusk settles and show time nears, the final song takes on a conga line that picks up more newly acquired fans en route, shaking its way past a bewildered queue straight into the venue.
For director Vincent Moon, these videos attempt an exchange between song and city that often culminates in a performance more memorable than the concert they precede. “Sometimes a Take Away Show needs nothing,” says Moon. “Sometimes you must fight to get anything out of a session at all. Sometimes the band is so enthusiastic that they take full control; they light the spark that will make the difference…”
The project began when Moon met Chryde [founder of French music site La Blogotheque] and were wowed by what they saw at Arcade Fire’s debut concert in Paris. “By the end of the show they did something that every music fan dreams about,” enthuses Moon. “They left the stage and took the show out onto the street. Then we realised that’s what we want from music, that’s how it should be. From that moment on, we knew it would be a waste to use the time the blog has with musicians for interviews. There are enough of them already.”
From there, they set forth with a clear idea of how the project should be developed and transmitted to viewers. “There’s a real hierarchy between images and song because you have three minutes and thirty-seven seconds of music and you have to put visuals to it. I did a few music videos for people like The National and it just didn’t excite me. I’m more into the non-editing, staying closer to a certain reality by just filming in one shot, keeping all the mistakes. Normally if the videos have any emotional aspect, one cut can kill the whole thing. I really hated MTV from the beginning,” he says, stirring an espresso on the terrace of a side-street Parisian café. “But being on the internet and having those videos available to people on their iPod was something different. I think it’s the best way to watch them – walking down the street, on the subway or in the bath – because you’re surrounded by a similar environment. It all mixes together in a way that creates a unique viewer experience.”
The execution, on the other hand, was something Moon felt comfortable rolling with on the spot. “I never plan anything and it’s something I don’t want to do,” he says. “I think it’s more interesting with an element of danger. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next five minutes, how people in the street will react. What unfolds from that moment on is a mystery: you know there’ll be a band, you know there’ll be a camera and you know there’ll be some form of alluring chaos. All those little moments are the bits that make the videos. It’s something you just can’t predict.”
While many of the series’ highlights tread that precarious line between splendour and disaster, the one Moon recalls most vividly is perhaps La Blogotheque’s most well-known video. “With Arcade Fire, it was so tense that when I filmed it, I thought: ‘fuck, it’s terrible!’ I was inconsolable for the next two days…I couldn’t even watch it. But when I did, I was like: ‘wow!’ I didn’t realise how well it turned out. Then every time I saw it, it made me cry.”
The key, Moon claims, is to let things unfold naturally until the right moment reveals itself. “So it’s more important,” he says, “to win the trust of a band from the initial handshake than trying to get the right frame.” Such was the case with a memorable outtake captured during Cincinnati’s Music NOW festival. The director’s plan to film a different artist in every room of an old cathedral in one thirty-minute shot involved coaxing Sufjan Stevens onto the roof. Moon distinctly recalls the vulnerable look in his subject’s eyes, like a wounded animal desperate to take flight. “I never thought I’d be able to film Sufjan. I tried one time before but the good man needs his time. And so it was no surprise that ten minutes before filming, he kind of freaked out, saying: ‘No, no, I don’t want to be filmed anymore, leave me be’. ‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘so we’ll do it calmly, letting the camera roll as discretely as possible’. You have to give artists enough energy to feel really confident about the project. Even if they haven’t seen any before, I just say ‘if you don’t like the videos, we won’t put them online’. But they always do.”
On a balmy Monday night in Paris, when the city has already begun to shut down and clear out for the month of August, the queue to get inside the perennially free La Flèche D’Or venue stretches on for several blocks and continues around the corner. It’s La Blogotheque’s first event night and the turnout pays testament to the popularity of the Take Away series, now filming up to five sessions a week. Yet even with an organised concert, the policy of veering away from convention remains the same. “It would have been a bit silly after a year of filming outside on the street to have bands on stage,” considers Moon the next day, “so we used the venue in a different way. Zach [Condon, of Beirut] was playing solo and when he finished, the Kocani Orkestar entered the place from the back, continuing the same song. Everyone went crazy…they couldn’t believe it.”
Still, the director considers that the true measure of their achievement lies not in the recognition or in the names they’ve attracted, but in the impact their approach has created. “What I really wanted to do was change the way music videos were made and watched, and that’s already spreading. From America to Australia, people are doing the same kind of thing now, so it’s becoming a big family and I’m really proud of that. But for some of the musicians, it’s even changed their way of thinking about playing music.” The Shins, initially cagey about the prospect, were positively gleeful after parading their songs around the streets of Montmarte while swigging from a bottle of wine. “They were so happy at the end,” Moon remembers, “saying how great an experience it was…and that’s rewarding.” Even more pronounced was the effect it had on songstress Marla Hansen who, shortly after her own Take Away Show, walked out of one her concerts prematurely. “I was overcome with the realization that things would be much better if I left the club and played my songs outside, to do a Take Away Show right then and there,” she writes on La Blogotheque’s website. “…it was great; spontaneous and intimate in the way that only something quiet done in public can be.”
Of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that for the viewer, the real magic of the series is being able to imagine yourself turning down a certain street at just the right moment, only to find your favourite band performing alone, for no one.