The xx Slowly Submerge Underwater In The Premiere Of Their Music Video "Chained"
In 2009 the average pop listener was accustomed to bombardment by audio, a garish amalgam of rock and rap dominating the airwaves, the energy and volume of each new hit rising to top its predecessors in an indefinite cycle. It was in this explosive atmosphere that The xx emerged, flipping the script by bringing forth a sound that sacrificed largeness for minimalism, replacing feigned excitement with raw emotion. The xx somehow put a funky spin on melancholy vibes, and it filled the void with honesty and thoughtfulness, elements that had been absent from mainstream music for quite some time.
Establishing themselves as purveyors of good music transcending genre, the band toured the world creating fans in its every corner, each show building a larger audience to eagerly anticipate their next release. Three years after their debut, the follow up finally dropped last month. Coexist, the sophomore release from The xx, strips down their sound even further, getting to the essence of what makes their music so affective and relatable.
“Chained,” the second single off the album, embodies this reduction perfectly, with all the somber intensity that is distinctly xx and nothing more. The play of lyrics between Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim invoke heartbreak and the rhetoric that often emerges in its wake, asking, “Did I hold you too tight?”
In conjunction with The Creators Project, bringing this lament to life is LA video production crew Young Replicant, who have previously created videos for Purity Ring, M83, Wise Blood, Baths, and more. Applying their abstract narrative style to “Chained,” the team brought to life a story conceived by The xx’s Romy Madley Croft that takes place underwater. With the same simplicity of their music, each of the band members plays a part within this setting. As Croft describes it, “No vignettes, just three individual journeys.”
In a video mood board created by Croft to flesh out the concept of the video, we see the themes she drew together to bring this story to life. It begins with the splash of “an indistinguishable figure entering the water,” followed by shots of two figures purposefully pacing at the edge of the water. Then, an image of a child mentally preparing to dive into a pool, shaking himself loose to withstand the shock of the water. A man lunges toward a pool in extreme slow motion, suspended in the air, and then a diver entering the water just as slowly, breaking in with a gradual explosion of bubbles. She also included sweeping shots of the surrounding landscape. A third character plunges into the pool. The sky turns colors, like paint slowly dissipating in water. A single figure floats peacefully, deeply submerged. Juxtaposing slow-motion and regular speed shots of people swimming through the water hints at the gradual buildup of the song, eventually leading to the three characters coming together in the water and rising to the top.
The execution of this simple but beautiful concept involved the challenges you might imagine come with shooting underwater. But the incredible setting and the band’s natural charisma shone through it all, carrying the narrative forward. We spoke with Young Replicant director Alex Takacs to find out more about production of “Chained.”
Describe the process of filming “Chained,” and also the idea for the video overall.
Alex Takacs: From the beginning, Romy, Oliver, and Jamie had a very specific idea in mind for this video, so the process was intensely collaborative. Our goal was to create something that was understated and abstract but with just enough narrative tension to drive the images and channel the emotional quality of the music. It’s about three separate paths that converge under the light of an otherworldly phenomenon—three friends connected to one another. We wanted it to be elemental and true to the persona of the band rather than create fictional characters or an elaborate cosmology.
What is it like directing those three, especially with Romy’s role in the idea itself?
The xx are pretty much the opposite of every director’s nightmare artist, especially ones who’ve had so much success. They’re exceedingly kind and were committed throughout the whole process, even after we got them up at 5 AM to be repeatedly dunked in the freezing salt water lido. They all have a very natural camera presence—there were moments when it was literally just point and shoot.
Everything is shot beautifully, but the water particularly stands out—the motion, the drips, the light… It feels like a bit of a fourth character. What did you film it on? What are the challenges of working to capture the perfect shot within the pools and swimming shots? What was it like directing the band in terms of swimming and being underwater?
The majority of the video was shot on an Arri Alexa and the ultra-slow-motion elements with a Phantom by DP Steve Annis. Moving water shot at high speed has this ethereal hypnotic quality which felt like an ideal visual translation of the sinuous synth element in the music.
Despite the freezing water, the outdoor shoot at the lido was relatively easy going compared to the underwater scenes. When you’re working underwater, even the simplest adjustment can snowball and set you back 15 minutes. The position of a single lens change in the schedule can make or break the entire day since everything moves a third of the speed it would take on land. You basically give directions through a karaoke microphone to the people beneath the surface and watch as each decision unfolds in agonizing slow motion. We were only able to get through a lot of set-ups thanks to a really pro underwater operator and diving team.
Romy had never breathed underwater with compressed air before, so it was a pretty brave leap to pretend to be drowning at the bottom of a 30-foot deep pool. There were a couple times when the safety divers had to tie a chord around her ankle and pull her down about 15 feet to get the shots, which was pretty freaky to watch. It was like when characters in movies get trapped underwater and the audience holds their breath along with them to see if they could make it. Everyone was doing that at the monitor.