We’re big fans of visual artist and director Kenzo Digital, and apparently, so is Kanye West and a host of other hip-hop heavyweights. We first fell in love with Kenzo’s work after listening to his experimental “sound film,” City of God’s Son, an epic feature-length mash-up that uses audio from rap songs, film soundtracks, interviews and other stray footage to weave an intricate narrative starring seminal NYC rap stars like Nas, Jay Z, Ghostface, and Notorious B.I.G. We later screened one of his short films at our Beijing event last year. And earlier this year we were blown away by the visuals he created for Beyonce’s Billboard performance.
So it came as no surprise to learn that Kenzo was the mastermind behind a new series of video art-inspired concert videos for Kanye West, which debuted today. Filmed on June 9th during a performance at Skylight 1 Hanson Place in Brooklyn, the series aims to elevate the concert video to the status of fine art, or at the very least, the oft-neglected music video. Tired of the dull and straightforward concert footage flooding the internet, Kenzo and Kanye’s team worked to capture the energy, intensity, and visual dynamism of Kanye’s famed live spectacles on film so that remote audiences could relive that moment.
We spoke with Kenzo over email to find out more about how the project and the techniques he used to transform the “concert video” model.
The Creators Project: What was the creative vision for this project? As director, what was the goal and do you think you accomplished it?
Kenzo Digital: We wanted to do a really distinctive take on concert videos, which typically tend to be really boring. The style of it, the use of layering, color, camera movement, were all designed to push this surreal element into Kanye's already incredible stage performance and design. I wanted each video to have its own distinctive style and feel, and add an element of video art in the vein of Nam June Paik (the father of video art). The little artist name titles are also kind of a nod to that (shout out to Attack at Wieden + Kennedy).
How did you work with the stage designers to transfer the energy and feel of the live show to video format?
Kanye works with some of the best stage and lighting people in the business already, so really that was largely in place. We just had creative input to make sure that the lighting design was optimal for the video, since the entire event, as much as it was for the attendees, was also primarily [designed] for the film component. As a director, I really just wanted to make sure I created a palette that I could layer with and that the camera movements moved dramatically in line with the tone of the song. I knew going in that I would be heavily layering the pieces to give it this unique video art/collage-like effect.
What’s the most interesting/novel bit of tech being used here? How is it being used?
Technology-wise, the most interesting piece here is really the intro title effect. As I mentioned before, there is this video art angle that I wanted to work into this series. A lot of that comes from Nam June Paik, the father of video art and my mentor. The intro title sequence was inspired by an old Nam June Paik piece called Magnet TV. It is a manipulation of an analog video signal that is distorted through placing a magnet on the tube of the TV.
What was Kanye’s role in putting this together? How did you collaborate with him?
I met with Kanye in the beginning of the project and then from there mostly interfaced with his creative director, Virgil Abloh. We all were trying to solve what we thought was a common problem with concert videos—that they typically suck and add very little to the performance. We wanted to really push the envelope and add a hyper-visceral element to the experience.
As a huge hip-hop fan, what was it like for you to work on this project?
I'm definitely a fan of Kanye and all that he does. It was really an honor to work with him. Kanye is one of those rare performers in hip-hop [whose] performance really elevates the music. A lot of rappers scream into the mic or just don't sound like they do on the studio version of the record, which kind of takes away from it in my opinion. I got so used to listening to the live versions of the songs while working on this project that I really started to prefer them, which is rare. The synths they added to "Flashing Lights" are so ill. Kanye is able to sound like he does on the record so that as the listener you can really identify him and enter the same mind frame you do when you’re listening to the record at home, but then he adds so much energy to his performance, and of course visually there's the stage and lighting component that really brings the whole song and concept full circle. He is truly an artist in his ability to add a true visualization of his music and emote that physically.
Did you get a chance to ask Kanye if he’d seen City of God’s Son? Any idea what his thoughts on it were?
He blogged about it when it first came out but I didn't get the chance to ask him about it. I think Kanye is one of the few rappers in hip-hop to really use music as more of a narrative format, so I'm dying to know what he thinks about City of God's Son, which is a film made with a microphone instead of a camera. I would love to do a screening for him and Jay Z. That would be crazy.