words: Nathan Ditum
pics: Chris Saunders
The following interview took place in the garden of the Lescar, Sheffield, on Saturday April 21st. In attendance were Media Lounge members Tim Parmee (Tza), Dave Holloway (Dave), Paul Huxley (Hux) and later Tom Rose (Tom), interviewer Nathan Ditum (ND) and Nathan's girlfriend Sarah (Sarah), who couldn't resist asking a couple of questions at the end.
Garish neon graphics float over a lo-fi Pearl & Dean style cinema introduction accompanied by the somehow appropriate hummings and beepings of Kraftwerk. A voice: "Tonight's feature may contain numerous sexual swearwords and scenes of sustained peril. If you are easily offended, please make your way to the front of the auditorium so that we can see your soft, pulpy faces writhe and distort in disgust, fear, and humiliation. Enjoy the show!"
So begins Media Lounge's latest opus, a multi-format, meta-textual orgiastic assault on sex and, well, everything - Media Lounge: Re-entry. "It's filmed in sod-o-rama!" they explain enthusiastically when Sandman catches up with them in the garden of the Lescar, which hosts regular Media Lounge screenings. 'They' in this case is Dave Holloway, who is joined at the table by his Media Lounge colleagues Tim 'Tza' Parmee, Tom Rose and Paul 'Hux' Huxley. A fifth Lounger, Damien Wasylkiw is elsewhere, and sorry he couldn't make it. But wait a fucking minute - "sod-o-rama"?
"Yeah," grins Dave. "This series we've been theming our shows a little more than we did last time, and we thought we'd do a sex show, basically. Well, not a sex show, like live action, but we thought we'd do a sexy show-", "More a sexuality thing, I suppose" interrupts Hux, helpfully. "Yeah," agrees Dave, "celebrity nudity, boners and foreign politics."
This happens a lot - Media Lounge talk quickly and with an infectious excitement about everything they're interested in, finishing each other's sentences and shooting off on tangents. Sandman is worried about keeping up, and this is just the beginning.
Before we get started a little contextualisation is needed. These are the things that barely seem to matter when Media Lounge are talking to you, firing off ideas, one-liners and idiosyncratic observations at an unhealthy speed, and indeed Sandman almost forgets to ask altogether. But where did this come from? How did Media Lounge meet?
"We all met at University really," says Tom. "It's a bit more complicated than that, though" interrupts Dave. "Yeah," says Tza, proudly, "I met Dave in a shop!", "And I met Tza at a house!" says Hux, joining in. The specifics of their introductions remain murky, but eventually it becomes clear that most of them met at Hallam University, and Media Lounge came together through "Old friends, old friends of friends, that sort of thing".
Asking about their work is much easier. What shape does it take?
"The first show was a three hour barrage of non-linear free association," says Hux. "Yeah," takes up Dave, "it's sort of intended to be non-…exclusive?" He looks to the others. "Yeah, it's very easy to get," says Hux, "it's very pop-culture". "No! That's bollocks. Don't say that," says an alarmed Tza". "It is, though…" the others reply in unison.
Tza's point is fair - it's all too easy to watch Media Lounge and file it alongside other musings on pop culture and all things trash, but it wouldn't do justice to the style or intent of their work. Still, it must be hard to avoid descriptions and tags like that? Tza agrees.
"Yeah, just to make it more accessible. Occasionally we are very in-jokey-", "Judd Nelson jokes, that sort of thing," interrupts Dave. "Judd Nelson is pop-culture, I'm sorry," says Hux. "He used to be," Tza corrects. "Unpopular culture," concludes Hux.
So what does a Media Lounge show consist of? "When we first started," Tza answers, "it was like, 'Oh, that looks cool, ha that's funny, oh that's fucked up, lets show that', and then stuck them all together and showed it. Gradually we've sort of evolved a bit and become more sophisticated, theming things and creating our own pieces". "It's more like a TV show now." says Hux. "That's what we were trying to do, wasn't it? Make it like a proper programme that could be broadcast, made of smaller, digestible, bite-sized chunks."
So how is it put together? Do Media Lounge appear in their own shows? Dave answers this time,
"We take submissions from all over the place, artists, established video artists, bands, animators, they all send stuff in to us occasionally. And we make our own music videos to pre-existing material, and sketches, which we appear in or actors we know appear in, so kind of everything."
This sums up Media Lounge: Re-entry perfectly. Running just over an hour and a half, the show consists of dozens of short sections - music videos, old (and terrifying) public health videos, news clips, commentary pieces, animations - which work individually and combine to comment, sometimes very incisively, upon the central themes. An outrageous and inaccurate rant by a Fox News broadcaster, for instance, in which he attacks the BBC following the conclusion of the Hutton report, is followed directly by a Fox News promo in which the station boasts of having no agenda and telling both sides of the story. As well as working together very directly, these sections also form part of a wider consideration and criticism of American foreign policy within the film, with the result that the whole is far more coherent and powerful than the sum of it's nevertheless interesting parts. The effect is that a Media Lounge show can be viewing and enjoyed with varying degrees of concentration. As Hux says,
"There are many levels. It's designed so you can listen to it, without even watching it, you can watch it without paying attention because it's just pretty visuals, or there's actual content there as well." Dave concurs. "Yeah, exactly. The main feature of it is that there is real depth."
Where does the inspiration for all this come from?
"Well," begins Hux, "for example, I came out of originally just doing music pieces and then you start doing a music piece and you think 'I'll cut this funny footage to this, you know, I'll cut the 'Badminton: Play to Win with Lee Jae Bok' video to, I don't know…", "Coldcut?" suggests Tza, "Manowar?" suggests Dave. "Whatever," Hux continues. "Then you get to thinking that we all have little personal fixations with different subject matter. I'd be meaning to do something with a certain song or a certain bit of footage, and you start then putting in quotes from something that fits with what you want to get across, and then that gets a bit more sophisticated and you end up with what we've got now which is the occasional 12-minute piece. Like the last thing Tom did, which started off as a music video for 'Dead by Dawn', the Depth Charge track, with loads of horror movies cut to it. But then he book-ended it with loads of documentary footage from various different sources on video nasties and the whole early 1980s censorship thing, this freakish overreaction to something that can educate and amuse."
With such a flexible format is it easy to fit in familiar elements, clips from things people have seen or heard before?
"Yeah," says Dave, carefully, "but we always like to offer a slightly skew-whiff version of it. To our fault we are, not elitist, but a bit snobby, in that we won't put in stuff that you've seen before, unless we're completely subverting the meaning of Die Hard or something like that, and then we'll have bits of Die Hard. We like to take stuff that we as geeks know. The audience doesn't necessarily need to know the specifics of the material we're using as long as the point comes across. Like, we did a big thing in the last series with Rob Lowe, ripping the piss out of Rob Lowe just on the basis of three interviews he gave, where he said the same thing, and we kept using it and using it and using it." "And it was wrong anyway," says Tza. Sandman is curious. What was it? "'Malappropriatism'," says Dave, enunciating the fictional word clearly. "And no-one knows who Rob Lowe is anyway," says Hux "which is just funny."
Tza then gives a fuller explanation.
"It's kind of like if you were making a mix tape, and you dig out as many obscure remixes as possible - a popular track, by a well-known band, but a really obscure remix of it. So the audience are like 'Oh, yeah I know that,' or they recognise it by the chorus but suddenly it goes 'bwwwah!!' and takes you off in a different direction." "That's very good," Hux says in mock-admiration. "I like it," replies Tza. "As analogies go it's alright."
It's more than alright - the comparison with remixes is very astute indeed. Much of Media Lounge's work consists of videos cut to music, but specifically music which cuts, samples and remixes itself. So, in the 'Dead by Dawn' video, repeated sounds and phrases are matched to similarly repeated images and clips of film. The parallel comes full circle when Media Lounge reunite visuals from movies with the audio samples Depth Charge took from their soundtracks in the first place, a oddly satisfying media cannibalism. This style reminds Sandman of many things - famous videos for DJ Shadow, Avalanches, and even the Doves with their use of a government mental health film for 'Here it Comes'. But through their choice of material Media Lounge stand alone, similar in style but not necessarily in tone.
This prompts Sandman into asking whether Media Lounge find themselves compared to other self-reflexive media work? Takeover TV, Adam and Joe, Spaced?
"Spaced is our favourite programme of all time," says Dave. "It's not mine," says Tza. "Isn't it?" Dave asks, surprised. "It's mine. Well, one of mine - that, M*A*S*H and The Bill. I had a friend at school who'd seen every episode of The Bill and I wanna catch up with him now to see if he still has." Tza gets back to the point. "I think you've got to be careful with that. We never wanted to be nostalgic, we never wanted Media Lounge to be inspired just by the 1980s. It would be easy to stick a tape on Bravo, record a couple of episodes of Automan or something, whack it on and people will say "Oh, I remember seeing that" or whatever, but what are you gonna get out of that? Its empty."
Perhaps the most impressive pieces on Re-entry are 'Hacker's Delight' and 'Jam Jam (Hacker's Reprise)'. These shorts are filled with clips from various TV documentaries surrounding the first high-profile hacking cases on BBC Micros and ZX Spectrums, cut to Future Sound of London and Curtis Mayfield. They confront directly an issue very pertinent to Media Lounge - copyright infringement.
"Shhh," says Dave jokingly when Sandman raises the issue. "Not a word we mention," explains Tza. "We've got to be careful," Dave continues, "Hexstatic told us 'Never do Disney'. We still did." "We burned the evidence" jokes Hux. "We kind of hope," Dave says, more seriously, "that if we were to get in trouble for it people would be able to see beyond the fact that we're just nicking material. "Yeah," agrees Hux, "there's that whole thing of 'quoting' and 'reviewing'". "Exactly," Tom says. "If you use 10% of the footage for something, theoretically, it's a loophole, and it's never been tested in court. "If you review," Tza explains, "if you present it as a critique of the source material then it's a loophole. But, again, it probably wouldn't stand up in court." Without consulting the lawyers, Sandman couldn't be sure, but the point seems a valid one. Media Lounge aren't bootlegging or pushing pirate videos, they're creating eclectic montages of material which stand on their own.
Media Lounge's almost unnatural energy levels make the interview fly by. Before they go, they briefly tell Sandman what to expect in the near future. At the end of May they're programming over 70 hours of TV for the Dedbeat Festival (including BBC Halloween classic Ghostwatch), as well as a one-off show at the Big Chill in July. Their new show, Pump up the Media Lounge (a "90s, Ant and Dec, Manowar, Nirvana tribute") is on at the Lescar on Monday May 24th. They're also entering the main competition at the Raindance Film festival and providing visuals for the Roots Manuva show at the Prince of Wales Gala in Earls Court on Saturday May 8th, with a possible tour in the offing. They are very busy young men, catch them wherever and whenever possible - their work is fantastic and even if it's just on in the background while you're having a pint, you'll feel better for it.