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Exclusive Interview with Diego Poupin | How To Form A Band In A Pandemic

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Synopsis
After more than 30 years of losing contact, Diego Poupin and Andres Markmann find each other in social media and collaborate remotely from London and NYC to make music. As they start getting out there to perfor at several gigs the world goes into lockdown due to Covid-19. However, this does not stop the show from going on.
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1 – Firstly, congratulations on this achievement of being in the five finalists of the BUEIFF Channel Film Festival. We see that one of the central themes is how the pandemic has transformed most of our daily habits. How do you think music has developed within these transformations?

Thank you. In fact, the pandemic has been revolutionary in terms of the way people work with each other at all levels. But this rapidly became the new normal. From the way that artists connect with audiences, to the way we teach and learn, work, build relationships. The way the consumer interacts with content. With regard to artistic collaborations, the physical space is no longer necessary. We are going to be experiencing exponential times at a much faster pace than in the last decade. Our children will possibly be studying subjects and careers that have not been invented yet. They will possibly grow into professions that don’t even exist yet.


I am fascinated by this urban myth which speculates that places such as Canary Wharf or Times Square are to become some sort of dystopian deserted city inhabited by cyber squatters. This is due to major financial institutions realizing that during the pandemic, their investments in infrastructures that allowed personnel to work from home, are actually saving them billions of pounds! It is well known that major film studios have access to services offering super fast optic fibre not yet available to the consumer, wired underneath the oceans for them to share heavy duty raw film footage to anywhere in the world for instant editing and post production work. However, when it comes to sound and music, there is that craftsmanship that comes with being a musician, now even more so, with the birth of the “modern, independent, self-made bedroom recording artist” which is actually transforming the music industry. With Andrés we were writing songs remotely and recording remotely eight months before the pandemic. There was only one plug-in in the market that enabled us to record remotely from my London living room directly into Andrés studio in NYC. Today, for just 100USD per month, you can have unlimited session musicians, singers and even full ensembles recording for you in an entirely remote setting. It’s crazy! and a growing business as well.

 

2- When do you think you realized that this would become much more than just making music remotely, taking the form of a much deeper and more complex project?

Due to my performance art and theatre background, the need for developing visual content and storytelling was inevitable. Although theatre is (of all art forms) the consolidation of multidisciplinary collaboration by excellence, by being isolated during the pandemic, it became a necessity to develop some technical skills in other areas outside my own expertise, such as video editing, alongside recording, live streaming, music production, motion graphics and learning about the key role which social media plays nowadays in music promotion, marketing and PR.


With Andrés being in the USA, I did not have a band to put on a show, so I started thinking of how to become a self contained portable recording studio, performer, singer, songwriter, camera crew, video artist etc…so I can just jump on a train on my own and head off to places such as Bristol, Cambridge, Birmingham, to perform with a full audio visual setup, and be able to set up, perform, pack up and go. (As I did as soon as music venues reopened). It felt to me as if I was preparing to deliver a monologue with a basic and yet powerful setup of audiovisual content. Nevertheless, when we did the Socially Distanced Summer Sessions, I had no idea I was filming a short documentary.

3- How was the experience of developing the audiovisual piece? Do you have any anecdotes you would like to mention that could summarize this experience?

The audiovisual piece appeared by chance. I was putting together a showreel for promotion and one day I sat there looking at the whole body of work and raw footage. I noticed that some sections felt a bit like a documentary. I wasn’t sure what it was. I had no idea of what the structure of a documentary looks like. Or what is the theory behind it or the devices for storytelling in a documentary. I knew some clichés that allowed me to follow my instinct to produce a first cut. However, 90% of it looked like a promo video and only 10% looked like a documentary. I did some readings, watched a few masterclasses. I asked for a bit of feedback from the husband of the Headteacher of the school at which I work as Head of Performing Arts and Media, who is an award winning film director, writer and lecturer at the International School of Film Acting UK. He kindly watched the video and to my surprise, he replied to me with pages and pages with pretty harsh feedback and questions about the purpose of the work. This actually struck me and I was not expecting such comprehensive feedback at all.

And these questions really got me thinking. I came to understand why I was doing this project and I learnt that, as in any film script or dramatic piece, there has got to be a good story, a hero determined to achieve his objectives and conflicting/antagonistic forces in opposition. These are the devices that form the basis of any dramatic structure. From that point onwards, the genre felt more familiar to me and the work started to develop and take some sort of shape or form. So I have no words to express my gratitude to Nigel Bristow for his contribution.

4- How do you think the experiences of the beginning of the post-pandemic may affect the world of music? How does it affect you as an artist?

Everybody is talking about The New Music Industry. What does that mean? I guess you can interpret that in many ways. However, iIt is absolutely clear that the days of a music industry ruled by established record labels will ultimately be a thing of the past. Demo submission, multi million record deals and the entire iconic figure of the pop or rock star will be memorabilia. As described by the CEO of one of the most popular current self promotion music platforms, “You no longer need to be a superstar to succeed in the music industry.

You just need 500 committed fans for life that will stream and buy your music, merchandise, films, in order to have a sustainable business”. With good knowledge of promotion and marketing, good branding, understanding of algorithmic growth, understanding of how low cost social media advertising, conversion rates and re- targeting works in platforms such as Facebook Pixel, you are more likely to reach the right audiences that could become committed fans for life. However, that comes with a cost, which is less time for the creative flow. How much time and effort we are willing to put into the above and make those sacrifices will actually affect us as artists and will determine the sustainability of the project.

5- We see some resources of an experimental aesthetic in the material. Was the edition thought of as an integral whole or was it a more piecemeal work?

My lack of technical knowledge and a non- existing budget kind of made the entire process rather unsystematic. The pandemic provided that extra time to develop ideas, learn technical skills and I saw an opportunity there to develop those skills without the pressures of the final product. Because there were no gigs, there were no bookings to be made. But plenty of time to research. And this is exactly what experimental work is all about in film, music and performance art. Like any other experiment carried out in laboratory conditions. Here you test and retest things, but in this case without worrying about the final outcome. There was plenty of room for error, which actually gives you artistic freedom.

6- What news can you tell us about the current status of the project? 

We are in the process of implementing a two year digital distribution plan of tracks on a six weekly basis and building relationships with a range of collaborators. Each release will have its own cycle kicking off with a radio edit, an acoustic or stripped down version, a lyric video, and a live stream (and hopefully a music video if funding becomes available). The more expertise of individuals and artists that we can bring into the picture (including musicians, visual artists, videographers) that are willing to collaborate and jump into individual mini projects, the more robust our brand will grow. Just think that twenty one years after the release of the album Amnesiac, Stanley Christie’s paintings and drawings that he made for the iconic Radiohead album art cover are being exhibited this year through a digital experience designed by gaming developers and hosted by Christie and Thom Yorke. This type of long lasting collaboration is what we are aiming for: where there is a synergy flowing between artforms. It is very inspiring.

7- Do you have more musical and audiovisual projects in mind for the future?

Developing live site-specific performances in unusual spaces, using video elements projected in scenic gauze, alongside creating content using new technologies such as AR, and other immersive trends like 360 videos are the type of gigs we want to develop for ourselves. We are exploring as many possible fundraising opportunities in Chile, the UK and the US, to be able to compensate collaborators and artists for their work so relationships can be sustainable. Personally, I am currently subject to a regime of singing coaching three times a week and daily routines of vocal training. I am in conversations with Martin Christie who is an extraordinary poet and electronic music artist who created EMOM: an electronic open mic night that has grown massive with events taking place across the UK and now even further, in Australia and the US, gathering an extraordinary community of unheard electronic and experimental music artists and providing them with a space to perform live. I really want to make a documentary about this extraordinary growing community.

8- Having already spent the whole year 2020 of the pandemic, what thoughts does that year leave you from the vision as an artist?

It is known that adversity and creativity go hand by hand. The best playwrights in history emerged after the great wars. In the early days of the pandemic artists came up with extraordinary ways of communicating with audiences and at the same time audiences were getting fed incredible amounts of content which I think will actually change the way that people perceive culture. Psychologists say that consumers can determine in a few seconds if they like or dislike a particular piece of content and will either engage or swipe to the next.

The danger here is that we could experience another type of pandemic: desensitising culture. People could lose the capacity to sit down, put on a record and just listen to it from beginning to the end. Or watch a painting, a sculpture or even a film. I often think that Film is an art form already threatened by the popularity of box sets and series, that gives the espectador nothing more than a fake sense experiencing the drama through unresolved cliffhangers. Like in a soap. Nevertheless, it is not quite as powerful and well constructed as a Greek tragedy by Sophocles or a movie by Ingmar Bergman.

How To Form A Band in a Pandemic
Short Film Documentary
Year completed: December 29, 2020 Runtime: 20 minutes Language: English, Spanish Country: Chile, United Kingdom Director: Diego Poupin

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