Hector Aponysus repurposes old and new film technology to salute London’s DIY jazz culture

Behind the scenes with Wu-Lu

You don’t need us to tell you that jazz is having a moment. Although not the only catalyst, London is front and centre in this renaissance, thanks to a combination of older wisdom and youthful energy. Together they have combined inside the fast-paced, multi-cultural ice-rink that is London life as a musician: a wealth of opportunity just around the corner, yet often out of reach.

Farah‘s new film A London Dance captures a particular cluster of musicians in South East London who are excelling under these conditions. We catch up with Director Hector Aponysus about how he captured this hyper-creative, independent group; the storytelling and cinematic techniques used, his points of refence and sensitivity to films that came before.

Watch A London Dance in full below.

Looking beyond just profiling some key jazz talent in London, what did you want A London Dance to say about where this movement is at and going? 

I’m interested in how tradition works and how it hybridises to remain relevant. jazz is a genre that’s been redefined consistently since it’s inception. In this phase, the echoes of grime, dancehall, dub and so on, are so present that it’s fair to say that this moment in jazz’s history could only have happened in London. I think the artists would agree that the sound that’s been created has been developed to a point where you might even struggle to call it jazz.

What was your approach with the film’s aesthetic as a compliment to the narrative? 

All of my films incorporate a lot of experimental in-camera techniques. In this film I wanted the aesthetic to respond to the sound of the music as much as possible. The majority of the film is shot on 16mm film using a Bolex and a lot of the footage and the edit itself, is quite free form and frenetic and I think that reflects the nature of the sound. More broadly I feel like the ethos of this scene is rooted in a DIY approach that favours repurposing old and new technology to make something innovative, so it only seemed right to go with this kind of approach.

Poppy Ajudha

Who are some of the filmmakers who have influenced your visual work and storytelling using film? 
When I was making A London Dance I was thinking about old graffiti films, particularly London Tonight. The sense of city chaos and the hyper-creativity of the subjects is really palpable, there’s a sense of movement as you tear around the area and I felt like there were comparisons to be made between those subjects and the artists in this film. Broadly I’m influenced by Tarkovsky, Casavettes, Les Blank, Wong Kar-Wai and contemporary directors Kahlil Joseph and Arthur Jaffa.
It’s hard to ignore the impact and reach of the We Out Here film, which also features a number of artists in A London Dance. How did you try to create something complimentary yet distinct from it? 

We Out Here documents this scene so extensively that when the brief came through I was really conscious of finding a new narrative. The first thing was narrowing the focus to South London (with the exception of Femi & TJ who are from North). I had the privilege of watching this scene in its early iterations in that area and always felt like the geographical aspect was really important for what was happening. Someone told me about The Alpha School in Jamaica which got me onto thinking about the nature of locality in shaping a genre. The combination of people all creating in the same area and drawing from a really sprawling but quite distinct set of sonic references is bound to create a genuinely unique sound and I wanted to highlight that.

TJ and Femi Koleoso, Ezra Collective

How does being a performing artist yourself influence the way you represent others in your films? They’re as much contemporaries as subjects. Is it difficult to separate the two or does it enhance the narrative of the films you make? 

I feel like it’s easier to get on a level and understand an artist’s motivations, there’s also a degree of respect in how to portray the artist that comes quite naturally.
In the Boiler Room film Beyond a BPM that you worked on as Creative Producer, it opens with a line about the velocity of London and how it stifles new dreams. This sentiment runs contrary to A London Dance, which speaks of DIY creativity and collective empowerment. Could you expand on your ambivalence with London and its relationship to culture? 
I think what the two films have in common is that they both represent artists working with what’s available to them, often in spite of what’s not. Maxwell Owin talked a lot about the influence of sound system culture on this scene; that idea that everything’s against us and you’ve got to work as hard as possible to make it happen. Words like DIY creativity and collective empowerment tend to arise when there’s also a lack of opportunity for artists. It’s that paradox of making music in London that I guess is quite unique, seemingly endless opportunity whilst also very little. What’s beautiful about it is that this environment’s created such amazing music.

Maxwell Owin

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