Interview by DJ Ultra Violet (Sean O’Neal)
From Mute’s Website:
Johnny YesNo Redux features a new re-imagining of the cult film, plus bonus material and 2 CDs, including new mixes and exclusive tracks. Mute announce the eagerly awaited release of the Johnny YesNo – Redux box set.
Featuring the original 1982 classic slice of Sheffield Film Noir, Johnny YesNo alongside a new re-imagining of the film plus 140 minutes of bonus material and 2 CDs including exclusive Cabaret Voltaire tracks and new Cabaret Voltaire mixes for the film by Richard H. Kirk.
Directed by fledgling director Peter Care with a cast of unknown actors, Johnny YesNo, originally released on Cabaret Voltaire’s video label, Double Vision, became an instant cult hit on the independent film circuit helped in no small part by its hallucinatory soundtrack by electronic pioneers Cabaret Voltaire.
Johnny YesNo – Redux reunites Cabaret Voltaire and Peter Care almost 30 years later with a completely new cast, a relocation to LA, and an entirely new soundtrack remixed by Richard H. Kirk, the film has lost none of its hallucinatory power.
Peter Care and Cabaret Voltaire worked together again with the video for Sensoria (1984), which became the most requested independent music video on MTV. Care also directed music videos for Clock DVA, Depeche Mode, R.E.M., and Bruce Springsteen. More recently, in 2005, Care received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his music videos from the Music Video Production Association and also directed an episode of the HBO Series, Six Feet Under.
Cabaret Voltaire, alongside Human League, Throbbing Gristle, Fad Gadget, and The Normal, were at the forefront of the UK Electronic Movement of the late ’70s and were, without a doubt, one of the most influential acts of the last thirty years. Way ahead of their time, Cabaret Voltaire were prolific with blending dance music, techno, dub, house, and experimental.
Their love/hate relationship with pop music that had led to the punk rebellion had by then extended itself to broadcast television, except that this time the independently produced single would be replaced by the independently produced videotape.
Johnny YesNo – Redux goes deep into the structure of Peter Care’s original film and the Cabaret Voltaire tracks used in connection with it. What emerges is as much a juxtaposition of times and places as sights and sounds. The tale changes in the retelling, but that change now seems to be taking place on a molecular level. Richard H Kirk has reconfigured the film’s soundtrack, giving the proceedings an ominous sense of something slowly sliding into view from afar, glimpsed out of the corner of the eye.
Johnny YesNo film represents a split reality: a moment of transition that simultaneously reaches into the past while at the same time hinting at what might be to come.
Cabaret Voltaire knew that the way to handle this audiovisual divide was simply to embrace it: allow the senses to become caught up in the seemingly random connections between what is seen and what is heard. The resultant scrambling of impressions was often hallucinatory in effect.
THE JOHNNY YESNO-REDUX INTERVIEW
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted previous to the release of the boxset.
DJ Ultra Violet -I would like to start off by saying the music of Cabaret Voltaire has been a major influence and inspiration in my life for over 25 years. I’ve followed the various facets of your career, and the collaboration with Peter Care culminating into the Johnny Yesno project proved to be one of many highlights.
Was the original soundtrack inspiration for the film direction, or was the film inspiration for the soundtrack, or a simultaneous collaboration?
Richard H. Kirk – The soundtrack to the original Johnny Yesno was made after the film was shot. This time around, the music was created first, the filming coming later.
Peter Care – Before making the film I was a firm admirer of CV. I had an instinct that the noirish/paranoiac mood I wanted to capture in the story would be matched by CV’s music. I started editing the film by using tracks from “Voice Of America” as “scratch-tracks.” Seeing how well picture and music were working (some of the accidental synchronicity was astounding) I approached Richard and Mal to create original music.
DJUV – With the two of you being such accomplished artists, what was the motivation for the decision to do the Redux almost 30 years later, complete with a new cast, music, and remixes?
RHK – Peter and I had been out of touch for a long time then I heard he had been trying to contact me, so eventually he called me from Los Angeles. Out of that conversation came the idea to reissue Yesno on DVD as it had been out of print for years. Then we thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to have some extras for the release’, so that’s how it initially came about, and of course the “extras” ended up being longer than the original release. I guess we both got carried away with enthusiasm for the project and the buzz of working together again.
PC – Richard set this up with Mute. I was very excited (and fearful) about the challenge of picking up a 30-year-old project. The main motivation at first was the chance to work with Richard again. I’d been following his solo work pretty closely so the idea of him remixing the music was really attractive. After many years directing tv commercials, working with him, and knowing he was executive producing the DVD sounded like a breath of fresh air. I knew we’d be pretty much in tune and that he’d have my back on all issues. So, getting into it was an enticing challenge creatively, and a way to re-bond with someone so important to my own growth as a filmmaker.
When I heard the monumental aspect of the remixes, I became doubly inspired but also concerned about how I’d be able to create imagery with the requisite impact.
DJUV – The repetition of various tracks (especially Taxi Music) creates a hypnotic and hallucinatory ambiance in congruence with Peter’s quick-edit style. Was that the original intention with each version of Johnny Yesno or did you allow smaller ideas to take its own shape and form?
RHK – I think a lot of Cabaret Voltaire music was grounded in repetition, perhaps that’s why Peter thought it would work well with his style of filmmaking. For the original, we were creating music to order, especially with things like the hallucination sequence and the cold turkey. We were trying to create in the sound the feeling of what was happening on screen, the scrambling of the senses caused by Johnny being shot up with junk.
PC – This looks like a question for Richard but I’ll add my thoughts. I was always intrigued by Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine – a dream state created by pulsating and flickering light patterns. So fast-paced editing or retinal excitement produced by, say, strobe lights, never felt antagonistic to the idea of hypnotic or hallucinatory experience.
My approach to all of the Redux versions and “extras” was literally experimental. The editing room was the focus of creativity, rather than the film set. I tried a lot of things that you do not see on the DVD. Different combinations of imagery and music. Some pieces were a struggle – like “Invocation” where I was frustrated for a year trying to recreate the analogue effects of the original picture and looking for a suitable coast-line for waves. It was better, in the end, to go in an entirely new direction. On the other hand, the two “Aluissi Treatment” pieces came together very quickly. Dominic’s work with his optical printer synchronized with the music in a miraculous way – a bit like how the original film came together. (He had no idea which track his footage was for.)
DJUV -I first saw Johnny Yesno at the Music Box Theater in Chicago around 86. Are there plans to do an art theater release with the Redux?
RHK – Hopefully. I would love to see it go on a tour of cinemas.
PC – That’s a question for Richard and Mute. I’m trying to find a way of screening the project publicly as a “one off” in Los Angeles.
DJUV -As a collaborating team, have you been working on any other projects over the years that have yet to be released ?
RHK – Not really, although I hope this will be the start of other collaborations.
PC – I wish. I’d like to do more work with Richard in the future. I hope “Gasoline In Your Eye” is re-released as planned. That’s an amazing artifact. I’m very proud of my work on that, and I really like Richard and Mal’s work – especially their editing.
DJUV -The clips I’ve seen for JY Redux, in comparison to the original, gives a sense that you could remake this project over and over again with satisfying results. I find this very intriguing. Would you care to comment?
RHK – I don’t doubt it, and it would probably turn out very different each time!
PC – Yes, I’ve been thinking about that! Our three editors keep talking about “the director’s cut”. My basic idea was to treat a short film like you would a dance track – a bunch of producers and DJ’s remixing it for a single or e.p. We could have more editors re-editing the footage that we have; we could have other technicians or artists rework the imagery. I could shoot new material 30 years from now and start all over again. So yes, the process could be satisfyingly endless.
DJUV -Where do you find such beautiful cast members? Are they friends, lovers, or do you conduct traditional auditions?
PC – It took 18 months of looking around for my cast. I did audition some actors in the traditional sense but was not convinced. I met Isaac on a Tv commercial and he had a very kind, sympathetic presence – almost the opposite to Jack in the original – with an innate understanding of his role. His kind of photo-geniality was an obvious plus, and it was important to Richard and myself that the “new” Johnny was not Caucasian looking. I found Andrea through a friend. She had her own website that was very appropriate for the character. It was refreshing to work with untrained, unseasoned actors. A lot of the time I directed with the cameras running, and, free of any self-imposed technique, the two of them brought their own experiences and instincts spontaneously. On the shoot, they did not talk to each other at all! Which of course was perfectly in-character.
DJUV -For Richard: I’ve not heard the new music or remixes, but was wondering if you used some of the original sound and recording equipment or strictly contemporary software and technology?
RHK – Well I’ve used some of the original sounds as a building block for the new pieces and a combination of old (analogue) equipment and new mac based software, trying to combine the best of each.
DJUV -You have both been at the influential apex of art and technology, how do you compare the work you have done then and with the work you do now?
RHK – Regardless of the technological changes, people change over the years, so for me it’s almost like a different person did the earlier work, but despite the experience gained over 30+ years I’m never going to forget the early principles that shaped me as an artist.
PC – My work in commercials has evolved deliberately into very conventional narrative and comedy work. It’s like I’ve gone full circle because my work before Johnny Yesno and Cabaret Voltaire was in a very British, documentary-based style, with some sly humor. I have not made a music video for about 8 years, so I do sometimes miss the possibilities for experimentation. I’ve enjoyed watching digital camera and editing systems evolve over the years, along with the democratization of filmmaking that has, ironically, happened with the shedding of film technology.
DJUV -What are the possibilities of a Johnny Yesno T-shirt?
RHK – Hey, I would love one too! I will look into it.
PC – Very good question. I’ll have my vast team of designers on it straight away. What’s your size?