Whoever said listening is just for ears? Lying in the dark with headphones, the mind acts as a visual interpreter in response to the audio stimuli. Most artists are content to let the music and a few lousy pictures in the liner notes set the mood, but Hexstatic is busy filling up television monitors and computer screens. Not just MTV promotional videos, these clips travel with the music, created with the specific goal of experiencing both at once. The footage for the single “Salvador” was accumulated during a tour in Brazil, and the resulting clip represents their most accomplished video manipulation technique to date.
Originally formed as the visual wing of Ninja Tune founders and U.K. sample pioneers Coldcut, Hexstatic has grown furiously under the guidance of Stuart Warren-Hill and Robin Brunson. Since taking over the project in 1995, they’ve combined with Coldcut to release the award-winning Timber, a masterpiece of audio-visual synchronization and a potent condemnation of cross-cutting and deforestation practices. Also demonstrating their distaste of musical hegemony, the duo has presented an eclectic, style-hopping mixtape, Listen and Learn, as part of Coldcut’s ongoing “Solid Steel” turntablist series.
Their only full-length to date, 2000’s Rewind, revolved around a technology fetish that didn’t exactly approach the Kraftwerkian ideal of man as machine, but instead attempted to be honest about the harmful side effects of our fascination and inevitable dependence on technology. It’s easy to love video games, drum machines and Simon, but adopting the same attitude toward all in the name of progress is difficult when cars crash, media outlets deceive, and telecommunications companies proliferate an unyielding stream of pointless mis- and non-information. Although conceptually heavy, Hexstatic’s fun, multilayered brand of cartoon-ish funk and electro break-beats kept it chirpy and light, combining easily with colorful and flashy visuals to create an entertaining diversion that was the apotheosis of electronic audiovisual culture of its time.
With many A/V’ers, the visual side tends to develop as an afterthought, fully constructed tunes that get all arty on your ass by adding evocative pictures that have almost nothing to do with the sounds they are putting out (think Rechenzentrum). Hexstatic’s approach develops the two elements in tandem, often sampling straight from the video footage, taking the cut-and-paste aesthetic of Steinski and their fellow ninjas Coldcut to an unprecedented new level. To their credit, it is often used to humorous effect, in the same way that popular animation will repeatedly use certain sounds linked with their own identifiable visuals. At their mind-blowing best, Hexstatic has as much impact as one of the ubiquitous falling anvils of Warner Bros. cartoon heyday. On “Timber” this worked to sublime effect as a bleating rainforest frog and a chain-sawing worker would appear to represent a visual cue, each indicating a memorable rhythmic element of the song.
“Salvador” finds them revisiting similar territory, this time appreciating the indigenous culture with a bewildering montage of Amazonian-sung folk tunes and capoeira dancers kicking to a berimba refrain. After the video transitions through some images of colonial architecture (a reminder of the cultural imposition these people must have struggled through) it rebuilds as a dancing drum corps that emits sparks while dancers in extravagant costumes swirl and shake to a climax.
Despite the excellence of this approach on the A-side, “Living Stereo” and its Eclectic Method remix don’t fare as well. Essentially an uninspired break-beat with little frill or pomp and slightly boring visuals culled from ancient audiophile documentary footage, it practically had B-side tattooed all over it from the get go. Still, Salvador is an enticing preview of the upcoming Master-View, an album whose CD/DVD format boasts eleven songs with accompanying videos, many of which are in glorious 3D. As demonstrated here, Hexstatic’s move to DVD format is a great boon, with its leaps and bounds of resolution over the CD-ROM of their other releases, and the quick-editing and musical diversity are as sharp as ever.