SPACE Jam: Video Jam spreads its wings with the SPACES tour

In November, kickass Manchester audio-visual night Video Jam takes to the road, bringing its unique brand of film and live music collaboration to Leeds, London and Liverpool. Video Jam co-curator Shereen Perera tells us where it all began

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 03 Nov 2014

Take a moving image, add a score; hey presto, you have cinema. Video Jam brings an additional element: a live music performance. Initiated in late 2011 by a group of four Manchester-based artists, curators and promoters, this collective has quickly become a darling of the local art and music scene. Their audio-visual nights pair short films with emerging local bands, who are in turn commissioned to create a score that will be performed in a live bill. The resulting hybrid, part pop-up cinema, part gig, creates an intimate one-off.

“There’s always a ‘magic’ moment when a musician/sound artist pulls something truly surprising out the bag,” says Shereen Perera, one of Video Jam’s quartet (the rest of the collective is made up of Sam Hughes, Sarah Hill and Paul Evans). “The live aspect of a musician scoring a film is an essential part of Video Jam, it’s what makes the event an ‘experiment’ and allows the audience to share a collective experience that is completely unique.”

Video Jam reaches something of a milestone this month as it takes its show on the road with a trio of Video Jam nights beyond its home town. Working closely with Slip Discs, they’re bringing a newly commissioned programme called SPACES, which takes the form of three collaborative works from three pairings of emerging filmmakers (who include Mary Stark, James Snazell and WULF Collective) and musicians (Chaines (Caroline Haines), MFAAH (Max Hampshire) and Spaak (Joe Snape)), that’ll be presented in three distinct venues, namely Wharf Chambers in Leeds, The Vaults in London and Liverpool’s Kazimier.

Perera tells us more about Video Jam and its origins, and lets us know what to expect from the upcoming tour.

The genesis
“The concept for Video Jam was born out of a film made by film curator Sarah Hill, for which she invited local musician Michael Seal to compose an original score. The experience of this collaborative relationship struck a chord with Sarah, as it opened up a sudden awareness of the unlimited potential of sound to alter perceptions of moving image. Furthermore, in combining the two, a new, third entity was born. These ideas greatly appealed to her as aspects of an ongoing experiment to undertake in the form of an event series, and not long after a team of us came together, met up in a pub and began strategising. From the word go we took it seriously. Three of us had just graduated from the University of Manchester (in Drama, English and Screen Studies) and were wanting to get our teeth stuck into a new creative venture.”

The early shows
“The first show we did was extremely DIY – red tablecloths, two bed sheets for the projection screen sewn together by a friend (that fell down!) Programmes were printed at MMU Student Union and we used tealights in jam jars for lighting. To promote the event we created a Facebook event, put up posters around universities and art colleges and spread the word through friends. We thought we would get an audience of approximately 40 people on the night, but over 200 people came through the door. The detail and energy that went into orchestrating that first show is still there in every event we do. Video Jam seemed to a fill a gap in Manchester’s cultural landscape, appealing to all ages, artists at all stages of their career and anyone that wanted a good evening’s entertainment. After all, everyone likes music and everyone likes film – put the two together and you’ve got a live experiment that everyone can relate to, respond to and form their own critical opinion of.”

The Manchester art scene
“Video Jam seemed to tap into what was going on in the arts at the time; not only were we witnessing a rise of DIY events in and around Manchester, which gave us a lot of encouragement in starting our own, but curiously there also seemed to be an increased interest in the live scoring of classic films, gigs with moving image backdrops and A/V events. Audio/visual experiences have become increasingly normalised and now almost expected. Video Jam presented itself as a way to join in with this critically in the form of accessible events that aimed to be both thought provoking and entertaining.”

The key to its success
“Video Jam is a very simple idea based on a brief premise: ‘an experimental evening of short films with a variety of live musical accompaniment.’ We like to try and represent as many genres within film and music as possible. You’ll come to one of our events and you may see a folk singer followed by a girl-boy pop duo followed by an electronic artist followed by a 19 piece orchestra. It’s an adaptable format that can be changed to fit whatever situation we find ourselves in. We don’t just use one venue to host our events, we’ve been lucky enough to curate events in incredible spaces whether that be in front of the huge glass doors of Manchester Art Gallery or the derelict 5th floor of Islington Mill or a tent decorated with paper lanterns in Whitworth Park.”

The Video Jam audience
“For many of our audience, coming to Video Jam gives you an introduction to who is making films and who is making music in Manchester. As a music event Video Jam offers a greater diversity of acts that you just wouldn’t get at a regular gig, and as a film event it highlights to audiences the power that a soundtrack can wield. Most of all I think Video Jam has struck such a chord in Manchester’s art scene because it’s a social event that brings together like-minded people, encouraging them to have discussions about film/music – conversations happen which lead to collaborations.”

The Video Jam team
“We like to play around with this and have fun. The Video Jam team all have different areas of interest, we keep a discerning eye for quality through constant exposure to new work. As curators we complement each other and bring to the table a knowledge of film, music and event curation. We’re not established promoters or curators, instead we use a ‘hands on approach’ to develop Video Jam, we’re very much learning as we go along.”

The films
“All the time we are looking for work of excellence that is in some way interesting, engaging and that may be lacking exposure. We always try to avoid the ‘obvious choice.’ Some films we may watch and have a strong idea of what convention would dictate ‘worked well’ musically. It’s important to hold on to this awareness, as our purpose is to dismantle and undermine such conventions; sometimes with subtlety, other times really putting a spanner in the works.”

The musicians
“The musicians place trust in us as curators to choose a film that will be interesting for them to score – that’s part of the process. Many musicians adopt a different way of working specifically for Video Jam, some who are used to free loose improvisation and jamming spend days watching the short film we pair them with, meticulously scoring it. Some of our musicians have never played live for anyone else! For many it’s an opportunity to ‘do something different’ with their musical practice in an unintimidating atmosphere that actively encourages experimentation while also being a chance for them to play in front of a large crowd. Many of the musicians we work with are typically huge film fans and have an active interest in visual arts. Something we will always put value on is the importance of providing visibility in our programmes for emerging artists or first time performers alongside those who are very established. The live aspect of a musician scoring a film is an essential part of Video Jam, it’s what makes the event an ‘experiment’ and allows the audience to share a collective experience that is completely unique. For many musicians, Video Jam is the first brief given to them by someone that’s not themselves. The musicians' visual contribution and physical presence is secondary to that of the moving images they are working with.”

The audio-visual collaborations
“Video Jam takes a creative risk in matching live music performances with film, sometimes it works beautifully, other times it may not work so well but it’s an experiment and a rewarding experience for both participants and audiences. For the contributors it’s a different way of working and for the audience you’re hearing and seeing an audio/visual work that is live and new. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ score, the musicians have complete artistic control to score the film however they like, some have used iPhones, others have used toy telephones or dismantled bicycle wheels – we don’t place any rules apart from that the score must be performed live.”

Perera’s Video Jam highlight
“A score that sticks was masked band HORRID scoring film collective Soda Jerk’s The Time That Remains at Liverpool Cathedral as part of AND Festival. The audience were joined together in a collective ‘hella yes’ when HORRID’s timing and crescendo of noise worked meticulously in time with the terror scenes and haunted nuances in the narrative.”

Taking Video Jam on the road
“A long term ambition of ours has always been to commission new work made specifically for our events. Over the past few years we have started to include ‘New Commissions’ in our programmes, with audience and musicians working closely together to create new audio/visual works from scratch (rather than our usual ‘blind collaboration’ process). SPACES is a development of this idea. Working closely with experimental record label Slip Discs we have curated a series of three unique site-specific events with new audio/visual works from three pairings of distinctive filmmakers and musicians. The musicians have been chosen by Slip Discs and the filmmakers by Video Jam. We have dipped into Slip Discs and Video Jam’s pool of artists to curate a complementary supporting programme for each event of the tour. The SPACES artists have been working on their new commissions for the past six months and are presenting their completed works in three different cities around the UK. For Video Jam, SPACES is our first significant impact outside of Manchester. We’ve got a loyal and dedicated following in Manchester and are now keen to develop ourselves in different cities, reach new audiences and forge new creative partnerships with arts organisations, venues and artists.”

What Video Jam virgins in Leeds, Liverpool or London can expect
“Expect new and exciting collaborations, 16mm projection, optical sound and found footage, ambitious sonic collages and visual experiments incorporating performance and shadow play. Expect a visceral experience that appeals to both the nervous system and the intellect. Expect to be thought provoked, inspired, entertained and to make a few friends. For The Kazimier event, expect all this presented site specifically in the round with an atmosphere of theatricality, accompanied by sensational live music sets and a banging and boozy after party.”

SPACES 1. Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 1 Nov. Special Guests: Negra Branca & Rian Treanor

SPACES 2. The Vaults, London, 8 Nov. Special Guests: Ex-Easter Island Head, Charles Hayward and Oliver Coates

SPACES 3. The Kazimer, Liverpool, 14 Nov. Special Guests: Bernard & Edith, Sex Hands, Wanda Group and Deep Hedonia AV Party

Video Jam at the Whitworth Gallery Re-Launch, Manchester, 14 Feb 2015