fka twigs on the honesty of voguing culture and her creative childhood
Last night, Twigs presented the world premiere of her new short film, ‘Soundtrack 7,’ at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In an intimate Q&A that followed, the artist introduced the audience to her inspiring Calvin Klein campaign co-star.
Visuals and choreographed dance performances have always been indivisible from FKA twigs' intoxicating sound. Every track included on her first two records — 2012's EP1 and its 2013 follow up EP2 — has its own music video, each more surrealist, provocative, and enigmatic than the last. As her career has skyrocketed, these visuals have become more complex and other-worldly. But what's possibly Twigs' most ambitious creative effort — Soundtrack 7, a short film which made its world premiere last night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music — is also one of her most stripped-back. And that's exactly the way she wanted it.
A Soundtrack 7 primer: last summer, Twigs participated in a seven-day residency at Manchester's Old Granada Studios during the 10th annual Manchester International Festival, the radical art gathering which also hosted Bjork and Jamie xx. During each day of the residency, Twigs created and rehearsed a new dance piece, directed a film that captured each of these individual performances, and maintained a Tumblr page to track her progress in real time. Throughout the residency, small groups were able to sit in on the action for 30 minute intervals. Some of them arrived smack in the middle of choreography rehearsals, others were only able to see"a spotlight being planned for half an hour," Twigs explained in an intimate Q&A following the film's premiere. "People would leave and be like, 'I didn't see anything.' But that's the truth of theater; it doesn't happen just like that. And I wanted people to be able to see that."
Soundtrack 7 compiles these seven videos into what Twigs calls an "abstracted autobiography," a short film that captures the simultaneous grace and tenacity of her movements. Though Soundtrack 7 features a kaleidoscope of visual and lighting effects, the film is a departure from Twigs' highly produced, conceptual music videos. Chief among them, M3LL155X: the stunning 16-minute film in which Michele Lamy portrays a deep sea glow fish and Twigs takes the form of an inflatable sex doll (BAM screened M3LL155X before premiering Soundtrack 7 to a raucous chorus of whooping cheers). Soundtrack 7, however, is not about "smoke and mirrors, a hit song, a snazzy costume, or a sexy body. It's about a group of people who have devoted so many hours to training in dance and training in feeling," said Twigs. Here are five important takeaways from the Q&A:
"You can't copy talent and you can't copy training:" According to Twigs, that's been her mantra for the past few years, and one of the most important driving forces behind Soundtrack 7. "It's not heavily costumed, it's not about the makeup, it's not about anything like that. All of the dancers in the piece really feel; you can really see the expression on their faces. Some people are really technically gifted, some people just feel. That was the most incredible thing: to have a group of young people in the room who are really passionate about creating something."
One of her favorite childhood games informs her creative process: When asked about any art historical references that influence her work, Twigs emphasized that she's "always very upfront that I'm not well studied at all." In fact, her approach to making work is one she practiced as a kid. "Do you know what rub-ins are?" Twigs asked the crowd. "When you get a piece of paper and a crayon and put it on a texture. When I was a kid, I'd do that for hours. My mom used to give me a piece of paper and some colored crayons and say 'how many different textures can you find around the house?' And I'd be like, 'I've got this.' I'd go off for hours and do it. I feel that's still what I'm doing now with my work — working with different textures and different colors, seeing what happens when you layer one thing on top of another."
She respects voguing culture for its honesty and commitment: When one audience member asked about her involvement with the ballroom scene, Twigs got pretty real about paying her dues. She recalled the videos that surfaced following her impromptu performance at Vogue Knights, one in which she got "chopped" (a disapproving motion when moves aren't executed to perfection). "You have to go through the process of being chopped, the process of thinking you've got a move and having someone you don't even know come up to you and be like, 'no, it's like this.' I enjoy that. In terms of voguing culture and ballroom culture, I just respect its honesty. I respect that no matter who I am, if I don't train and I go and dance, I'm not gonna get my 10s, I'm gonna get chopped, the video's gonna go online, it's gonna be a whole thing," she laughed. "But I respect that. I also respect the people that have been doing it for 10+ years, that are legends, and that have devoted their whole life and passion to community. Not for glamor, not for money, not for fame, but just to support their community."
Her truth is in her eyes: Whether making music or performing dance movements, Twigs strives for intuitive truthfulness. "If I write a lyric, I'll know when it's not the truth and I don't want to say it. If I move in a certain way and it doesn't feel truthful to me, I know it," she explained. "There are so many important things that go into telling the truth for me. You've got to remove your ego, because not everything truthful is pretty. You have to be really open, trust yourself, and respect people around you to help you." She also believes everyone has innate physical sense to detect these truthful emotions — tingly fingers or a twitchy face, for example. "Everyone's wired with it, we just don't always listen to it. I know what mine is; my eyes are really sensitive. It's very strange. I just feel it and I know it's an honest reaction."
She rolls with a really inspiring crew: One mother in the audience took the opportunity to tell Twigs how much one of her friends, Kaner Flex (a dancer who starred alongside her in her recent "Glass & Patron" music video and Calvin Klein campaign), inspired her 19-year-old son with autism. Kaner was in attendance, and addressed the audience with his own truthful message. "I don't find my autism as a disability, I find it as an advantage. It's a part of me; I parade it and I'm proud of it. It makes me who I am, and I'm not scared. I'm sure of the man who I am, so I'll cry in front of everyone, I'll be angry because I know that I'm good 100% from within. I'm proud to let that out to the universe and to the world," Kaner explained.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Jamie Strachan