The Devils in the Detail: Nukuluk & Leo DMB in Conversation
Nukuluk are one of those bands you won’t forget in a hurry.
The South East London-based five piece, made up of Louis, Olivia, Mateo, Monika & Syd, find common ground in the spaces between their combined influences. What makes them so unique is how they piece these seemingly contrasting sounds together.
It’s as if all those formative influences that you (well this is definitely the case for me) listened to as a teenager – think noughties lo-fi Indie, raw, experimental hip hop and otherworldly electronica – have been thrown into a pot, given a good old stir and the result is Nukuluk, spat out in all their glory.
It’s a cocktail that shouldn’t necessarily work but Nukuluk make it work for them. Perhaps it’s because the band choose to be led more by mood when it comes to their songwriting approach – with each track they ask themselves “can you set the feeling of a song from the first sound?”
Listening to their debut EP, I’d say the answer to that question is yes. Disaster Pop Song, which finds a home on Bristol’s Spinny Nights, is the first proper look into the group’s musical psyche. Acoustic and electronic sounds melt into one another effortlessly – field recordings, hypnotic guitar licks and dreamy production provide the bedrock for Syd and Monika’s vocals to take centre stage. The two frontmen complement one another perfectly; it’s as if they’re speaking different languages but they both understand each other.
For the titular track on the band’s debut, they drafted in Leo DMB to provide a visual accompaniment. Using stop motion and live action, the video mirrors Nukuluk’s musical world – full of layers and details; of secrets and clues that listeners (or viewers in this case) might miss first time around.
We wanted to know more about how the video materialised, so we got Syd and Leo DMB to get together (twice in fact – a botched in person attempt led to them trying again via the medium of the Internet) and dig deeper into the process, from finding beauty in detail, to embracing moments of imperfection and their relation to the ‘authentic’ moment.
So, without further ado, we’ll let Syd take it from here…
Syd: Sunday is grey again so I mopped the floor and then myself a bit for good measure. I have spent some time trying to track down elusive multimedia practitioner LEO DMB to discuss our recent collaboration, a video for my group Nukuluk’s ‘Disaster Pop Song’.
After a botched in person interview that went horrifically wrong some weeks ago, they agreed to meet me on a google document today, right now, at 5pm, but we never specified which google document we would meet on. I resolved myself to eating nasty lukewarm leftovers and awaiting their digital arrival on the blank screen, enjoying a first full listen to Kid Cudi’s Man On The Moon III: The Chosen, prepared for the chance that I would be here for some time.
Leo DMB: I’m gonna stop you in your tracks, trickle butt. Hello…
S: Hallo, I’m very sorry at the total failure of our last attempt at this conversation. Shall we attempt this again?
L: Yes, I’ll try not to explain why eating with small spoons gives me eternal youth.
S: I appreciate that very much.
L: I think we can jump straight into something you mentioned before we became one big sidetrack. You said something about concealing a million scribbles in the background of the video.
S: Yeah it’s one of my favourite things about the video you made for us, these little secrets and signals. I was wondering if in leaving all these clues hidden in the tapestry of your work, you hope for people to watch again and again and again to try and work them out?
L: Not necessarily, but I’ve always enjoyed pausing at moments in films with a close up on a prop newspaper or fake certificate, and seeing what hidden fun the art department has had. So I wanted that to be carried across, as well as folding the narrative into a more curious goo.
S: Has there been a specific moment of pausing a film and looking at the fun the art department has had that has stuck with you / affected / changed / radicalised????
L: Off the top of my head, all those national treasure films as a kid – and I’m not just saying that to comfort your obsession with Mr. Cage. “Pepperminta”, this Pipilloti Rist feature film is riddled with beautiful details, and goblets and sorts.
I’ll come back to this question, I don’t want to imply that I have been radicalised by Indiana Jones type travellers and that’s the lens I look through from thereon out.
Back to you, mr contentious…
S: I think it’s a real fine answer!
Oh you want my next question! I think it’s a fun thing to think about, concealing clues in your work, because I guess you never consider them as more secret or tactile than anything else, they are just things you want to put in. With music production I love falling into my library of field recordings and using the sound of someone mumbling and pressing the stop button on a bus in line with a snare drum – for me it’s as integral as anything else that might be in that sequence of music but I guess it’s doomed to be seen as a minute detail and not a major player. Maybe these little titbits and easter eggs are given an unfair time by the public.
L: I think you’re right, they’re these morsels that get carried by the listener and weirdly they have more significance than the core of the song, lyrics etc. I think it falls under the same umbrella as keeping a broken riff, or the shout of a begrudged Charlie Mingus behind the glass, or keeping the hook that has a crap lyric and that crap lyric is then discussed at the end of the song. I guess it’s about being allowed into the project, and the audience feeling invited into something further than an end result.
S: Yeah, the details create the more honest world maybe – I’ve been recording vocals for the last few days for our next release and am very much looking forward to / dreading the process of choosing what imperfections / errors will make the cut in editing; it feels important to choose the most real moment as much as to choose the most clinical or proficient take.
L: Yeah, I imagine with that it’s really hard to toe the line and not then make a ‘holy moment’ feel contrived by chopping it up, applying effects… etc
S: I always really hope that editing and producing and warping and manipulating can be as holy as any other moment. I had a conversation with a producer I really really respect recently who was saying how there’s an authenticity to recording / making art with humans and instruments in a room that can’t be replicated when you’re on ableton or in post-production, and I strongly disagreed. I think we are entering a new cybernetic phase where the digital warping stage is as true as anything else, and hopefully can exist in harmony with the actual recorded moment.
L: I feel that he was talking more about engaging with someone else’s truth in response to you being seen seen, you can’t feel the same ‘wow we were operating on such a telepathic collective consciousness rhythm’ with a computer than can quantise your beats and – agree and move with your steps.
S: Yeah I feel that – I guess the human relationship with the machine when editing or producing or creating can feel telepathic in a certain way, but is really an individual moment and an extension of one’s physical powers / ability.
L: I guess in both cases you have a really big element of surprise, and somehow with a machine mistakes happen almost more than spontaneity when improvising with friends. There’s a lot of room for error.
S: Yes !
L: How does it feel to produce music and enjoy an error, and not really be able to tell if you would’ve enjoyed it quite as much – had it not been an error – and on top of that, have to make four other bandmates understand that it’s a special arrival of some kind.
S: I don’t think I think of those moments as errors, more gifts resulting from a lack of control. I think for as long as I’ve been making music I haven’t had as much control as I would like – you load a sample into a sampler and you chaotically distress and disfigure it, vaguely hoping for something you imagine to materialise, but the end result is inevitably something entirely new. And when that new chaos arrives you adapt to it, and start flowing further from that point – it’s one of my favourite experiences to be honest! And with the collective, we’re in a lucky position where we don’t have to do a lot of explaining to each other; we all love each others taste and sonic ideas, and when someone is gassed up with something they’ve done and show it to you in the context of a song we’ve been working on together, you can feel their belief and excitement in that moment and completely trust it… and then ask how the fuck they did that and share a big hug and giggle.
I wanted to ask you about your relationship to the live action moment when you’re animating it afterwards. With your incredible video for us, obviously we had the day shoo… yes boss
Before you ask, and we leave this –
I listened to something recently with these Safdie brothers talking about Adam Sandler, I sent it to you – did you listen ?
S: Yes I listened, I felt like an evil film bro man on the train chuckling and smirking about frames with the bros.
L: I think it is OK to feel that way, for a short amount of time. I just came out of a 10 hour overnight Godfather movie marathon and there’s a guy chewing popcorn like he stole every ball of mdma from every decade of burning man festival, and has decided to place his gurn into a room with silent film go-ers, and all I wanted, apart from to destroy this man – was to be this man. Just for one day, just to move around the world without such paralysing awareness of your every action and how it may be received. It must be a freeing experience.
Anyway – back to my interruption…
I was listening to this Safdie brother interview and they were talking to Paul Thomas Anderson about scripts, and making things feel as close to sounding improvised as possible – without ever really leaving much up to the moment. I was wondering if there’s a musician that comes to mind, when thinking of someone who makes things look like they’ve arrived there accidentally – almost. But that every stem, every sample and every crack in the cement is intentional?
Please don’t say burial…
S: I think I get that feeling a lot from contemporary producers who have no regard for traditional song structure or form – people like Standing On The Corner, Injury Reserve, JPEGMAFIA, SOPHIE – all of them have this ability to create deeply emotive, coherent music that has no obvious traditional form; genres burst out of nowhere, the whole beat can suddenly be reversed and a vocal can pitch down billions of octaves, and it feels like absolute freefall and madness – yet it’s controlled perfectly. And I try and make music in similar ways, and I can tell you its a crazy science to pull off – as I was saying earlier with regards to flowing with chaos, to jump from a soft intimate moment of vulnerability into a powerful explosion and then switch it all up again seconds after, it often just feels to me like the right thing to do, the reality of whatever it is you’re expressing.. And yeah I think when you pull it off right it feels un-contained and totally free, improvised and real.. Yet a huge feat that shows a lot of prowess, conviction and ability.
Another nice way to think about what you’re saying musically is that every recording is ultimately a moment; you could be recording this one guitar line and be playing it 99% identically everytime, but every take is still a new moment. And these micro differences are very important to notice and respect and will always and inevitably hold a certain space of improvisation to them.
L: I’m going to pee – hold up. Also, really really big promotion to you for using prowess and Injury reserve in the same breath. I agree a lot with what you’ve said above.
S: Have a nice pee! When you get back can I ask you about your video?
L: I’m back.
S: Hi! So I wanted to ask about your relationship to the ‘authentic’ moment with your workflow. With your masterpiece video for Nukuluk we obviously had the day of shooting on set, and you did lots of portraits and extra bits of shooting, but then it seemed to me that the real world building and universe setting happened in your studio months afterwards. Where do you place the reality of that piece of work? Are you sculpting around or in response to the live action stuff or is the live action footage simply material such as a cut out piece of paper for you to create the actual work from? I hope that makes sense…
L: I think the answer is totally sporic, if thats a word, it cross pollinates the house, because the initial idea – which I’m not sure I ever mentioned – was imagining the thoughts of a young girl underneath a table at a dinner party, tying up peoples shoelaces, sawing the table in half – that’s where the objects inside of jellies idea came from – cross sections of objects split apart by this cheeky umm girl. Yes, and then I dropped that video for whatever reason, and stayed more with the banquet.
S: Woow I never knew this! I really loved being under a dinner table as a kid, it was a very special place.
L: Yeah, me and my sister used to spend a lot of time under the table, tying the shoelaces and generally being a pain in the arse. But mainly it was addressed towards this lady who was very mean in a very karen way to my mother when she’d arrived in this country – and I think she (my mom) secretly approved of us doing that to her.
S: I feel maybe you didn’t lose this original idea though – I feel like I see that quite clearly in the video you’ve made still, wouldn’t you say? Perhaps you’ve put the band at their banquet and you as the filmmaker are under the table manipulating and disfiguring and tying shoes together.
L: Well kind of, but I don’t even feel like I had the power in that situation, there’s this magistrate and there are these weird secret strings being pulled, but I think maybe the little girl under the table person, was also just the inner psyche moments, things inside the characters that were longingly brought to the foreground. I think, because there was so much time to play with the narrative, and because it’s a music video – not everything needs to be coherent in the mind but in the mood and angle. To put it simply. Also – that’s where a lot of the joy comes in with working at home and being able to build on things that might’ve just stayed stagnant. Like making louis’ fake ID as a reptilian specialist, otherwise the technicalities of making a stop motion become so repetitive and constant.
S: Inner child partydom! I get that feeling from the video – this huge nostalgia sort of washes over it. I guess it’s a song that we made ages ago, and it was a nice time of life making the video, but I don’t think it’s that – there’s a sense of innocence and play about the whole thing that sort of uplifts me and feels in line with you and this girl under the table. And I’m with you on not necessarily needing to be coherent in mind in the act of making; these meanings can exist purely in mood. It’s one of the joys of music too, the objective meaning of something often comes out a year after you’ve made the track and you’re working out where to put it in a tracklist or what to say about it in an interview; the reasons for it can exist purely in the sphere of mood for a very long time..
L: Yeah I think post-rationalising in the art world can be such a drag, and you can really see it in an exhibition, when someone just droles up a script because it reads well and uses the word community and post-truth enough. It’s something that makes me dribble in a bad way, and it can be such a joyous occasion to thread things together that feels authentic to your practice and makes you realize that your intuition for some reason was playing a big game of ‘mind at large’ all along.
S: One of my main issues with the universe is that I can’t convince Google to make the British English language the default setting in its documents space.
L: Ahhahahaha, even my hahahas have to be capitalised, what if I want a horizontal haha that is mainly hhhha’s
S: Even now they are asking you to put a Z in capitalised these awful bastards
L: Maybe has this come to a natural conclusion? I guess we can add some stuff from the verbal transcript to the beginning because we just jump right in?
S: Yeah I don’t think they need much more out of us. Maybe I can wrap up and say we at the Nukuluk Corporation are very grateful for your artistic collaboration and think you made something very remarkable with us and hopefully we can make more art together for years to come. Maybe you can tell the folks at home about what offerings you will be giving to the culture in the coming months, I heard you’ve captured some kind of moon???
L: I caught the moon, yes – with all my reapings from national treasure watching. We made a film called barnacled recently which will be airing at the Tour de Moon festival soon. It’s about what celebration might look like on the moon, more so about rituals we hope to keep precious and the mundane etc. Other than that, I am fiddling with loose ends – a jewellery collection for a friend’s new clothing line, a book I think will be about the portrait, id’s – still up in the air. Otherwise, you can find me under your table presumably putting Mali’s hot sauce in someone’s clogs, getting ready for your next album.
S: Moon jewel cloth ID! Thanks for ur time maestro seeeee u next time.
Disaster Pop Song is out now on Spinny Nights.