video premiere: nolay, have you forgotten
NoLay teams up with Olivia Rose on powerful visual examining stereotypes of street culture.
Produced by Kid D and taken from NoLay's recently released EP, Grime, Guts and Glory, Have You Forgotten is archetypal Isabella Gotti; this is considered, powerful, evocative writing that punches straight in the gut. "I wrote this track at home in my kitchen, while my son's dinner was on the stove and he was at football practice," says the West Londoner of creating the couplets that discuss the implication of living life in suffocating situations that encourage and propagate negativity. Shot in black and white by Olivia Rose, Have You Forgotten uncovers a vulnerability often ignored in the depiction of working-class boys and young men. Press play on this unforgettable short and discover an alternative vision of street life…
How and when did you meet and decide to work together?
Nolay: I met this Fluffy Empress aka Olivia Rose at one of the photoshoots for the brand new book This Is Grime, which I believe is available on Thursday of this week! Olivia was doing the photography for the book. She took a few pictures but then wanted to meet up at a later date to take some better ones. This was not so long after my car accident so I met her in Tottenham on crutches and on plenty of pain killers (laughs).
Olivia: I had to cut our shooting time short [that first time] because we had so many people to get through, but there was something fearless about NoLay that I wanted more of on my camera, so we ended up doing a second shoot, post her accident, in Seven Sisters. Despite being on crutches and clearly in pain, she gave me face, emotion, fierceness… basically all the feels. Then I downloaded the Grime, Guts and Glory EP and decided that I wanted to work with NoLay on a visual. I knew she was open to a wider remit than your classic grime 'spitting to camera' set up, from her previous videos like Unorthodox Daughter, so I literally texted her one day and said: "You should let me film a video for you." NoLay: "I didn't know you made films!" Me: "I don't, but err, take a chance on me, the first one's a freebie!!" But on a real, I love that she instinctively trusted me. Sometimes you don't need a fat technical CV to convince someone you're going to do a good job. I think it also helped that I started off my own back and sent her a tiny mini edit before we'd even technically started shooting. That spurred us both on to turn this around in - what - three weeks from conception to delivery.
Although she knows what she's doing with a stills camera, Olivia hasn't directed a video before. NoLay, why did you decide to take a shot on her?
NoLay: I thought Olivia was worth every bit of the shot because I've worked with a lot of directors in my time. Olivia approached me at a later date after hearing Grime, Guts And Glory with a video she had previously shot. It was her first video and it made a lot of video directors with a healthy video catalogue under their belts look stupid to be honest. The video was very visually appealing to me; it just looked like great photography but in motion, if that makes sense? I She later asked to shoot Have You Forgotten and I agreed - I'm 100% happy that I did.
Olivia as a relative novice to moving image, what were your worries/ fear/ hopes before you came to create the video?
Olivia: Mostly, 'Oh fuck can I actually do this'? But then as soon as I got into shooting I remembered how natural a step it is to move from stills to moving image. I actually really enjoyed the process, it was a dream to be editing and not scanning for once (laughs). I guess also there are concerns with whether or not you've got the shot etc., but mostly the fears were related to the process which is actually insignificant or unimportant once you've got the footage together for the final edit - who cares if I used a professional tripod or lighting, if the end result is effective and what we were going for, it doesn't matter how it was achieved.
Did you both see the song in the same way? Did Olivia's visual treatment correspond with what you had written, NoLay?
NoLay: The track is pretty straightforward, it tells it like it is and there's no hidden meanings to it. It is what it is. It is a very clear and concise concept. However I wasn't going to film it. It would have just been a good track on Grime, Guts And Glory that people would hear on the EP and have to mentally create their own visual for while listening. But when Olivia suggested the whole video should visually represent boys and men in different settings, I became quite excited about the track all over again and I saw the vision very clearly.
Olivia: NoLay actually offered me a different track first but I was caught up in the [This Is Grime] book madness. After I turned that one down, I figured she might think I was a wind-up merchant so I started pushing for Have You Forgotten, which I think was a track she hadn't even planned on making visuals for. I'd be running it on repeat in my car because the lyrics felt really poignant and spoke to me in relation to my work on my long term body of work, the 'Boys' project. I loved how NoLay was taking the perspective of the female voice of authority on the problems that face young men today.
The video represents a section of society - young, mostly black and mixed race men - who are typically presented in a certain way. Why did you want to talk about these kids in this way - showing vulnerability, their physical and emotional scars, and so on?
NoLay: If the video does represent mostly black and mixed race men I'd have to make clear that this is so far from my intention as I know a large amount of white men and other races, religions and creeds that participate in the same way of life and activities on a daily basis also. With society stereotyping black and mixed race men on a daily basis and typically representing them as riff raff I wanted people to look beyond that! Look beyond their gang signs, their tracksuits, their tattoos and the block they happen to be standing on and look in their eyes, look at some of the kids smile, look at the ones that can't even manage a smile on camera and then try to take some sort of emotion away from the video instead of some shallow stereotypical opinion. This is art and emotion; it is to be seen in that way and felt in that way.
Olivia: NoLay and I spoke about how we were going to approach this before I started shooting and It was important to both of us that we show a true cross section within the visuals. We wanted the vulnerability of the boy to be as apparent as their bravado and aggression. There are lots of tropes of 'road' life within the video, from weed to dogs to weapons and tattoos, but we have tried in some ways to subvert those symbols. The dog is passive, panting not barking. The blade belongs to the barber and not the street kid… the weapons are mounted on a wall and not being bandied about. The tattoos, bizarrely often religious in theme, became symbols of this life and how it's shaped the people born into it. The scars are symbols of lessons learned but not forgotten, visual reminders for the viewer that this life comes with very real repercussions.
NoLay: The message I'm trying to send out is that street culture and this way of life is not a movie, it's not a game or a bit of fun. If you have an option to take another route then do so - or face the consequences of your choices.
We can't ignore that we have a song written by a woman, with a video directed by a woman. What is the role of women in the lives of these young men?
Olivia: From my perspective as a photographer and now filmmaker, I think one of the reasons that I am able to capture moments of vulnerability with these guys is because I am a woman. Their reaction to me - be it confused, attracted, intrigued or just disinterested, is somehow softened by the fact that I'm female. There is a lot of respect for women amongst these guys, who are so often assumed to be the absolute epitome of misogyny - I might remind one of them of their mum and that makes them somehow more pliable for me in terms of getting a good shot.
NoLay: There are many roles that we play as women in the lives of these men; Mother, Aunty, Sister, Girlfriend, Friend, Wife. As women we naturally have it in us to care for and nurture man and boy. Being a mother, sister and girlfriend, which I am, is a first-hand experience of a woman's guidance and healing power to the man. So I know what it is to nurture these boys/men first-hand. Although, not every woman is mentally and emotionally structured to nurture these men which is a shame because they actually become the problem rather than a solution. A lot of women in street culture have been responsible for a man's demise but that's a whole different story.
The track is short - was that a conscious choice?
NoLay: It wasn't a conscious decision to make it short but it was a conscious decision to say no more than what needs to be said. Get to the point and make your point was the goal.
What do you hope people take from watching Have You Forgotten?
Olivia: Maybe a fresh take on the idea of the grime music video as more than just an MC spitting to camera. That was a really conscious decision from both of us; I think that when you remove that element and work on a narrative, art visual, people somehow listen more to the lyrics. So I hope people finish watching and say to themselves, 'Yeah, that was unexpected but it was really right'.
NoLay: I don't mind what the feeling is, as long as they feel.
Did you enjoy working together? Will you work together again?
NoLay: I loved working with Olivia it was straight-forward, professional and fun and that's a great combination. I would absolutely work with Olivia again. We have nothing planned as of yet but I wouldn't rule it out.
Olivia: NoLay is one of the realest women I've ever met. Working with her was easy, we're lucky to have been on exactly the same page with it - we didn't storyboard anything or have to sit down for hours to hash it out, I just sent her one long rambling email and she got it straight away, bish bash bosh. There's something amazing about the trust she put in me that made this project even more organic and authentic than I expected. Basically she was continually supportive without ever interfering with the creative process. I'm sure we'll work together again.