soda jerk remix cinema history to create the best movies that never existed
Following their epic collaboration with The Avalanches, we talk to the creative duo and sample-nerds about free culture activism, the politics of images and literally rewriting film history.
Dominique and Dan Angeloro are the Australian siblings behind Soda_Jerk, an art collective who creatively borrow and sample from existing films to create original movies full of new meaning. Since the early 2000s, the pair have spliced and remixed familiar scenes and stories, re-contextualising the segments to produce original narratives and alternative endings. Characters from decades of film and television meet in classic scenes that seamlessly meld one into another. Together they reveal a deep understanding of the history and theory of cinema through work which teeters, as they say, "at the intersection of documentary and speculative fiction".
Fittingly, their last film was made in conjunction with music's sample kings The Avalanches. Released to coincide with the band's second album, The Was is part experimental film, part music video and part concept album. As with much of their work it cleverly fuses a selection of cinema's most iconic moments, creating a world that is a perfect visual accompaniment to the Avalanches' music.
At the end of last year, Soda_Jerk were announced as the winners of an initiative established by the Ian Potter Moving Image Commission and Australian Centre for the Moving Image that awarded them the funds to produce their next film, Terror Nullius. The project will have its world premiere at ACMI in 2018.
While we wait, we spoke to the sisters in China, where they were busy hosting a lecture and showing their groundbreaking work to a new audience.
Congrats on your recent win. Your work is so original, you really own the cut and paste format. What led you to this method of image making?
In some ways we emerged from the Sydney electronic music community more than the art scene, taking vision from our friends in and around music — scenes like Frigid, Electrofringe and the Australian hip-hop label Elephant Tracks. Sampling was a big part of the experimental music of that time, and there was also a punk approach to tech. We became interested in what it might mean to apply the tactics of sonic sampling to video.
The Was is so great. How did that project come about with the Avalanches?
The excellent guys at Modular reached out to us initially with the idea to collaborate with The Avalanches on some kind of parallel project for their album. It felt like the perfect shazzam of our two sample-nerd collectives. It also meant everything to us that the project was not intended as a music industry thing, but rather an art project destined for the internets.
Can you tell us about making it? It must have taken so long!
It was an on-and-off labour of love over about five years, gradually building the narrative and visuals as The Avalanches dropped us new tracks. We're based in New York and Robbie, Tony and Chris are in Melbourne, so most of the collaboration took the form of an unwieldy online correspondence. It was a really loose process, with things being reworked whenever tracks were remixed or cut from the album. So there's this whole parallel universe of material that never made it in, like a stoner scene from the film Friday that accompanied this dreamy psychedelic track Blueberry Sky. Throughout the project we also did a couple of insane postproduction boot-camps in Berlin with our great mate Sam Smith, where the three of us would spend months living together inside a deep rotoscoping k-hole.
On that, I imagine you guys spend a lot of intense time together. How is it working as siblings?
It definitely has its charms. It can be pretty gloves-off at times, but we think that kind of rawness is a good fit for the openness required of collaborative practice.
I'm sure that's true. How has your work changed over the years, taking into consideration your interests as well as technology?
The things that drive our practice haven't really changed all that much. A key motivation for us starting out was to support free culture activism, which we're still deeply committed to. And we've retained an eclectic approach to technology too. Whether it's new software or an old video synthesizer, we're just interested in working with whatever fits best with the concepts of the project. We are always interested in the politics of images: how they circulate, who they benefit, and how they can be undone.
Can you tell us about Terror Nullius, the new film you're working on which will show at ACMI the year after next?
It's a project we've had in our heads for about a decade, since we made a short video work called Picnic at Wolf Creek, in 2006. It's a kind of rogue retelling of Australian history that wilfully conjoins Australian Gothic films, Ozploitation, eco-horror, road movies and pub rock.
Recently we've been thinking a lot about the optimism of the Whitlam era, and just how shockingly remote that moment seems now. Terror Nullius is sort of our way of taking revenge on that. We're interested in creating a narrative space that reverses this tragic historical trajectory, and where nature itself conspires to terrorise the triumphant oppressors of Australian national mythology. We hope it will be a beautiful, bloody mix of the historical and the speculative, parody and sincerity, bleakness and hopefulness.
We're seeing Terror Nullius as a way of bringing together some of the image tactics and feels we sharpened on The Was with the political bent of other projects. What we're chasing is an elusive sweet spot somewhere between the arthouse and the grindhouse.
That sounds amazing. Sorry to ask but what are your favourite ever movies?
We're currently only watching Australian films, and one we're really feeling right now is Goldstone by Ivan Sen. We're also long-time fans of the Ozploitation film Dead End Drive-In. But if we even begin to consider what we have watched and loved in our entire viewing history, the memory bank of films in our heads begins to rattle and fly off the shelves like the NYPL library sequence in Ghostbusters. It's a scary beautiful chaos.
Text Briony Wright