The Rest are well known for working with Slowthai and Kojey Radical, artists known for their strong, outspoken personalities, their unique presentations and their particular visual identities.
The Rest have however done a range of work with different moods and timbres, most recently with Lola Young, but also with Peacefrog artists Charlene Soraia and Mined, and with XL Recordings. Their fingerprints can undoubtedly be seen in a lot of music videos released in the last 12 months and I have spoken to many filmmakers who cite their work as hugely influential.
One of UK music’s breakout stars in 2019 was the Mercury Prize nominated Slowthai. His unique blend of punk tinged, grime influenced rap, hard hitting lyrics and delivery, legendary live performances, and his maverick personality, have been underpinned throughout his emergence by The Rest’s arresting and equally magnetic videos.
Music videos are more important now for young upcoming musicians than they ever have been, and luckily for Thai (as he is affectionately known by those close to him), he was able to work with people who really know him (Lewis is Slowthai’s cousin and manager, Alex has been a friend of Slowthai for many years) to create visuals that capture him accurately and essentially.
Kofi: How did you and Lewis meet?
Alex: I met Lewis when he was 12. I was making music at the time, producing and making beats. A couple of years later on at uni, I had to make a music video for my course, I knew Thai and Lewis as well because they’re cousins. I wanted to shoot a video for him and got Lewis to help me. That’s how it started.
That’s a really organic start and not what I expected!
There’s not a lot happening in Northampton. There’s not much of a reason to come here unless you come for the rugby or the cricket, it’s an old town that was a shoe town, then that broke down, and now it’s just our run of the mill slow town. There was a music scene and it was mostly bands, and that’s gone a little bit out of favour, so we were just doing our own stuff and put it on the internet. The Rest started as a collective, kind of inspired by Odd Future, but ultimately it was mostly me and Lewis pushing it forward.
There is a real focus on ‘narrative’ in your videos.
Of course. That’s what we are trying to do, it comes from our love of feature films and our desire to make them. A lot of music videos I watch and forget because I get nothing from them, even though I can still appreciate the craft. The Slowthai stuff is revolutionary for me in a way.
We threw out the idea that a music video has to be visually stunning. Instead we leant on the personality of the music, that became our focus. We packed in a lot of scenes.
In a normal music video you’d get two or three set ups and two or three looks. With our stuff, every 30 seconds we try to hit you with something new. I feel like that’s started happening more, the Stormzy Vossi Bop video, and Wiley video for song Boasty for example. There’s a scene going into another scene going into another scene…
I wanted to maybe talk about some of your favourite scenes and shots from your own work. One of mine is the toilet scene in Doorman. How did you film that?
We built a set around the toilet, we built a platform, maybe 3/4 feet, basically there’s a hole right next to the toilet, so Thai could squeeze in. From the angle it’s shot from, it looks like he’s going in it, but he’s not.
Some of my favourite scenes are things that I feel haven’t been seen that much. In the XL film, (New Gen, there’s a scene with a girl in a colourful coat, she comes out from darkness, we pan down and she’s in an underground car park, and she’s glowing. It’s just really poetic.
Another scene in that film, there’s a kid in an orange jumpsuit in the back of a car, the lighting is perfect, we’re watching him in the backseat of a car passing by a stop and search taking place, that’s one of the scenes I’m really proud of.
There’s another scene that we did for Peacefrog and Charlene Soraia, the first half of that film I just think is perfect. In terms of scenes and how they are done, everything is slow and weighted, that’s how I want to make films. We were going for a sad feeling. The film is about the weird transition from being a teenager to an adult, leaving home to go to uni. The sense of dread and hope. In the scenes they are just talking about random stuff, but it was beautifully done, there is emotion bubbling underneath the dialogue.
There are always three stages for us, first we’ll write the film and the script, then as we’re shooting it we are rewriting, then editing is rewriting as well, so the original intention is always a bit different to the final piece.
Gorgeous is probably my favourite at the moment, the idea of doing something simple but executing it perfectly. It’s like a documentary. It’s not like the other Slowthai videos, where we are coming up with crazy ideas.
Doorman too. But the last third of that I didn’t get to do it the way I wanted to. The pile up with the bouncers. I wanted more bouncers. I wanted them to look identical, and the shot from above…I couldn’t do it the way i wanted. I do think we nailed the ‘going on a wild night out’ vibe. There’s stuff in the Kojey videos too, I’m like ‘wow!’. We did that with almost no money. I could go on, but I won’t.
You work really closely with Slowthai, is he involved in your process? Do you prefer an artist to give you a blank canvas and let you be as creative as possible?
I’ll say it like this, with nearly everyone we’ve worked with, we’ve been able to do whatever. With Kojey and Slowthai, it’s worked so well because we‘ve been able to work with each other across multiple things and because we’ve worked with them for so long.
We knew what to do to put their best foot forward, and it helps that they are both great performers. They’ve also trusted us to do what we think is best. They will say ‘I’ve got an idea for this’ and then we’ll take that and run.
I guess that’s the benefit of really getting to know an artist.
Yeah I think it makes sense, that would be my advice to labels; to find a director and work with them for at least three music videos. Then ultimately, figure out if it works or not. That’s how you start to build a visual identity and work it out. Our videos are so different with each person because we try and cater to what the artist does best or what we feel like we can get out of the artist.
Nobody would say they like working with no budget. I assume you’ve had a larger budget with more recent Slowthai videos. I imagine having more money requires more involvement from third parties?
I guess the money hangs over your head a bit, and working with other artists that we’re not so involved with as we are with Slowthai means there are like five people from the label involved.
The joy of not having money is also in that it’s a bit more difficult to get stuff done, so you’ve got to be a bit more creative, we could get away with much more in Northampton, that’s one of the reasons we film there.
I feel like your videos have inspired a lot of young filmmakers. Do you have any advice for anyone that wants to do what you do?
What I’ve always said, instead of looking out for ideas, try and look inwards. Everyone is different to a certain extent, we can all be into the same stuff and love all the same films and music videos and work, and have the same idols, but essentially we’ve all had different life experiences. Irrespective of how small the differences are.
The best thing to do is figure out what your life experience and world view is and try to use that. That’s what will help you breakthrough I believe. At this moment in time, technology is so accessible, you could be the best technically, but at the end of the day, someone will come along and be better at doing that, what nobody will be better at is being you so you have to start there. That applies to everything.
I also say, a story is important, it works in all streams of life. Know how to tell a story, things don’t have to look perfect, just aim for emotion.
The Rest are signed to Pulse Films