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Zombies, Safi, art noise in Leipzig

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“I’ve got a question about the way we move. What kind of zombies are we supposed to be? The classic slow-motion type or are we able to run?”

It’s not the typical question one hears everyday. Yet on a Thursday evening in early April, the question made total sense. Since the early evening people in grey sweaters had been gathering in a old industrial building in Leipzig Plagwitz. I was among them, just as curious about the procedure as about the outcome of the evening. Grey clothes, preferably hoodies, had been requested, as well as gloves and torches.

One doesn’t get to attend a music video shoot everyday, either. Let alone as a zombie. For I didn’t just get to catch a small glance behind the scenes, but had the chance to actually take part in the shoot.

It was for the noise rock trio Safi, which divide their time between Berlin and Leipzig. Since then, I’ve eagerly awaited the resulting clip, as well as the release of their second album, “Janus.” My patience was well rewarded with an album as two-faced as the Roman god who served as eponymist, released two weeks ago. I had to wait several weeks for the music video to come out, too.

I still remember the evening of the shoot quite well. The willing performers had been greeted by a make-up team consisting of Safi (visual designer and singer of the eponymous band) and E. S. Mayorga (artist and, as in his role of director, the one in charge of our movements in the next few hours). As the sun went down, they transformed face after face into zombies. A girl I know joined them, adding her talent in dramatic make-up and zombie expertise to the whole affair.

Zombies. Public domain photo.
Zombies. Public domain photo.

It was she who uttered the seemingly absurd question at the beginning of this article. Mayorga replied that we were modern street zombies, thus we could run, protest and dance properly. Everything else would have been counterproductive, because the video that was about to be made is a fast-paced affair. We didn’t know anything about it yet, however; I only got to listen to the song for the first time much later.

We merely created, scene after scene, the ingredients of the clip. So despite the typical notion of the sluggish, erratic zombie, we embodied a very mobile angry mob.

At first we had to climb through a hole in a fence (a few of the artists chanted “Die Mauer muss weg!”, the battle cry of the German reunification), then destroy a road sign, attack the band car, and dance as furiously as possible with the torchlights in flicker mode, while Safi strode slowly through our ranks with a burning molotov cocktail. As if this wasn’t exciting enough, the highlight of the shoot occurred when we went over to one side of the premises and encountered a row of ambulances on the adjacent property. We gained the permission to turn on their emergency lights and then simply rallied towards the blue lights, jumping up and down along the fence.

To see the result, I had to wait several weeks; for you, it is just a click away, I present you “Ausgebrannt”:

Needless to say, there are a few extra scenes added in the final video, and I’m not referring to the scenes in which the band is playing. After all, we lacked the proper police force to fight against, about which I’m not sorry. Two weeks ago, when the album hit the stores, the publication was celebrated with a concert at Ilses Erika. In accordance with the album title “Janus,” the ancient Roman God, frontwoman Safi appeared on stage with a second face drawn on one cheek. It’s just one of the many visible signs that give her away as an alumni of the Hochschule fuer Grafik und Buchkunst, internationally known as Academy of Visual Arts. Further signs are the minimalistic, yet stunning photographs that where taken by an artist friend of hers. In these, she wears her trademark leather jacket and a broad stripe of black make-up across her eyes.

The picture that made it finally onto the album cover came together by pure chance. While she removed the black streak, the paint began to run down her face in a quite photogenic manner. Yet this is just the one face of Janus, the visual side. The acoustic side can be best described as rough, yet pretty addictive. This at least was the effect it had on me, when I was presented with “Offensichtlich,” another album track that was used for a video:

Thematically it deals with the sort of people who talk a lot without saying anything (“Immer diese Menschen und diese Mitteilungsbedürfnis”), but believe to be doing something different from the rest (“Und alle machen etwas anderes nur ich nicht”). The heavy guitar riffs offer the ideal valve to deal with the exasperation that may arise.

But there are also quieter moments to find on the album. The song “Menschen” deals with human limitations, thus it seems fitting that Safi modulates her throaty voice from a deep sigh in the beginning, via staccato verses to a wistful melody in the chorus before climaxing in a fulminating finale. There is a compelling urgency that navigates the listener safely over the atonal bits and pieces. The instrumentation, partly pure dynamite, partly evocative of the mellow Sonic Youth harmonies underlines the varying vocals perfectly. The album is full of suspense in its play, with such dichotomies as introversion vs. extroversion, or quiet vs. loud. Just like the Roman deity who presides over beginnings and endings, the album “Janus” shows more than one face. It is a highly infectious mixture.

More Safi on YouTube…

Sabine grew up in the idyllic suburbs, appreciating the benefits and offers of a city close by. Apart from a short au pair stint in London, this anglophile music lover never left her hometown, because she never saw a point in doing so. At the local university she threw herself into the humanities, where she followed her passion for the English language, names and the arts. At the university’s radio station she lived out her adoration for musicians who are always a tad out of the ordinary. The avid cyclist values things that are cleverly designed and done properly. The only thing she loves more than music is food enjoyed with family or friends. In her garden, preferably.

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