In a mid-’80s interview, the Korean video artist Nam June Paik meditated on the role of music videos and MTV in spreading the techniques, if not the agenda, of the work he and others in fine art pioneered. “MTV’s videoclips have already shown that there is great intimacy between sound and image,” he mused. “MTV is not the only approach to the issue of sound-and-image, but it is an interesting solution, which has contributed a lot to the development of a ‘visual music’, and to video art.”
One would have to consider, therefore, certain video formats in this “visual music”—like VHS or Super 8—to be the equivalent of a Roland TR-303 or a Fender Rhodes—valuable for their ability to evoke the enduring aesthetics of the era in which their influence predominated. And it’s even better when those instruments are sitting around in a pawn shop or on Craigslist waiting to be rediscovered. At least, that’s how it worked out for Gabe, 22, and Mike, 25, of the club-pop/video collective UZi.
Meeting up as students at the University of Cincinnati, Gabe and Mike formed UZi as a pop-rap production duo, and started directing their own videos after other directors flaked on them. Moving into the congested field of event/party photography upon their entry into Los Angeles, they discovered the forgotten video format of VHS might just be a low-cost way of competing in the wilds of Los Angeles. “This is a town where people have $30,000 cameras in their apartments,” says Gabe. “We couldn’t outspend them, so we just went the other way.”
Pretty soon, Gabe and Mike decided the digital grain provided its own built-in aesthetic charm, and took it out to capture parties in LA’s Fairfax District. After the two emailed a video link to Kreayshawn via her Twitter feed, they shot the video for “”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAOnMzNN1hU" target="_blank">Summertime," which garnered a mention on MTV.com. The focus, however, has remained on their moving portraits, which are shot with a JVC Super VHS-S and “some random panasonic camera from the 90s” (the duo also shoot video on a Canon T2i). Essentially four-to-five-second edits of nightlife scenes, AfterEffect-ed portraits, and occasional slice-of-life snapshots, the duo provide a willfully naive and unvarnished glimpse of the LA culture industry as they attempt to break into it.
Practically by accident they’ve staked their claim in the millennial demimonde by filtering their documentation through a nostalgic invocation of old-school technology, similar to their peers in pixel art, chiptune creation, and ’80s New Wave revivalism. Drawing partly from Andy Warhol’s screen test series as well as the snapshots in the Harry Potter movies, UZi’s shots preserve the glitches and artifacts native to VHS, bestowing a back-to-the-future historization onto their subject matter. No matter if they’re shooting Grimes or shooting an LA scenester, each subject is trapped in the cycle of obsolescence and longing of the past endemic to a hyper-accelerated culture.
In addition to Kreayshawn and Grimes, the duo have worked with Mike G [OKWGKTA] and Riff Raff. And the portraits have succeeded in the initial goal of bringing the group’s music to the attention of millennial hip hop’s movers and shakers—Mike has produced “In Your Car Girl” and “White Sprite” on Riff Raff’s The Golden Alien mixtape and as-yet-untitled tracks for Trouble Andrew, and they hope to expand their reach into advertising and media work for selected corporate lifestyle branding. With any luck, they’ll also source a working VHS reporter camera (not the easiest thing in the world, they’re finding) and integrate the footage into the group’s musical performances. “As of now, we’re just working on a lot of music and releasing some video portraits in place of album covers. Like living album art,” says Gabe.