On top of notching up credits across experimental punk releases from Puzzlehead, Big City, Mr. Dusty, and more, Vancouver artist Katayoon Yousefbigloo is building up a sizeable highlight reel as a video director. With the help of an old Hi8 camera and a greenscreen suit, Katayoon’s most recent clip— for San Francisco quartet Pardoner’s “Donna Said”— crosspollinates the Home Shopping Network with The Invisible Man. As live footage of the band plays on a living room’s flat screen, a disembodied pair of pants saunters into the frame, does a twist, and departs. Contrasting Pardoner’s lyrics about trading “feelings” for cash, it’s flashed across the screen that you can pick this “gently used” item up for the low, low price of $9.99.
Katayoon’s extended videography also includes work for Texas alt-gazers Narrow Head, Vancouver acts like Dumb, lié, and Swim Team, and an immersive 360° concert experience from her own Puzzlehead. She has to keep a recent livestream project of hers in the vault, though, after the algorithm caught wind of some unlicensed jams playing in the background.
“I tried to win every radio contest that I could, [playing] four radios simultaneously for eight hours a day. Because I was doing it live on YouTube, I got all these copyright infringement notices. They kept taking my videos down,” she explains. “I never won any contests but I got through a couple times for those weird questions they ask, like, ‘What store can you not go into because you'll spend all your money?’ or other stupid things. They never aired anything I said, though.”
Speaking with Gut Feeling, Katayoon further weighed in on the appeal of low-res aesthetics, tech advancement, and an accidental at-home co-star.
This interview has been edited and condensed
How did you first get into video making?
Katayoon Yousefbigloo: Andrea Lukic, who was in Nü Sensae, had this music video festival called Symphony of Fire, very d.i.y.-style. I made my first video for a Puzzlehead song and was like, ‘Damn, that was easy and fun!’ I started making more for Puzzlehead, and then people started asking me to make videos for them.
Were you learning as you were going along?
K: I’ve pretty much been using the same video camera until this latest video, when my camera broke. It’s a handheld Hi8 camera. There’s no learning curve, you just turn it on. That [first video] was very performative—theatre-y, almost. Elaborate. I shot a lot because I didn’t really understand how music videos worked, enough footage for it to be a feature length film. When you edit a music video, you realize that it’s 80 per cent “cool shots” and then 20 per cent story. Basically it was a bunch of vignettes of people who have these missed connections. They were either waiting to meet someone, or playing tennis against no one. Things like that. Far more complicated of a plot than what I would use now.
The next video I did was for Swim Team, and I continued that narrative. I reused some characters. I did that for a few videos, kind of expanding on this weird world that I was creating, but the amount of effort I was putting into constructing these weird little narratives and characters didn’t really lend itself to the music video format. What ends up being impactful is just cool shots and a good concept. I find that more gestural, singular concepts are more effective.
With that in mind, how much plotting went into making the Pardoner video?
K: I’ve done a few videos during the pandemic. This was my fourth or fifth that I’ve done where I had to think about how to make something without anyone, or the band. You know, that limits the possibilities a bit. Originally, my concept was to do this fashion show outside and have different people wearing greenscreen suits, runway style. I was interested in the idea of erasing the people from it [a fashion show]. Right now, you know, the commodity of presence is valuable. Actually being physically somewhere is so valuable. I thought that would be an effective little concept to work with.
When they sent me the song and I listened to the lyrics, I was like ‘Oh, I can totally just do this myself and keep that fashion look.’ Clothes on. Erase the body. Doing it with a shopping channel style made sense with the lyrics of the song. The video format I used is pretty retro in its aesthetic, [but] I wanted to make sure it was a tasteful amount of nostalgia. I wasn’t trying to recreate the shopping channel from the ‘90s, or anything. I was trying to do something that feels like right now, but in a different reality.
What draws you to this kind of worn-out video aesthetic?
K: I like being able to see the actual material of video. A lot of digital media— high definition, augmented reality filters— is so immersive, and it blurs reality in this way where you kind of forget you’re watching something. I’m totally interested in that as social and artistic concepts, but for me, I want the material to be evident. I want you to know you’re watching a video. I’ve been having discussions about this now that my camera’s broken, but it has become trendy, this retro, nostalgic vibe. There is this feeling of going back to when things were simpler, which I understand in chaotic times like this. But for me, the part that’s interesting is the speed at which technology advances. It doesn’t let us sit with one material for a long time, especially with video and media art. If you want to be a relevant artist, you have to be adaptable to the next thing. It’s all about innovation, the next cool software.
I’ve been working with this camera for so many years now that I really understand its capabilities and limitations. I’m much more consciously working within those limitations, and playing those limitations into the video concepts.
On the other side of things, how did you end up working on Narrow Head’s “Stuttering Stanley” video? It’s a much more hi-def presentation than your other videos; you have a cinematographer on it. Had you gone down to Texas to shoot the video?
K: No. They had asked me to do a video, and initially wanted me to be in Texas—obviously that wasn’t possible. That one was much more collaborative between me and the cinematographer, James Templeton. I didn’t think that the concept needed that kind of [Hi8] media quality because of the way I was going to edit it, which was very layered. But the layering also [gives it] that same kind of effect....It still has this grainy film quality, but it’s digital and easy to edit over long distances. They just sent me a hard drive. I’ve done two videos for [Narrow Head]. I edited one that just came out the other day.
Out of all the songs on the album, “Stuttering Stanley” is lighter—it’s less hardcore, less Deftones—so I wanted to do this really bright, beautiful video. The source of inspiration was a Sonic Youth video. You know the one where she’s on the carousel? [“Cinderella’s Big Score”] It’s one of my favourite videos, it’s so simple: Kim Gordon on a playground carousel, singing to this teenage boy. She looks so bad ass. I took that concept [and applied it to] the context of [Narrow Head’s] lyrics. I wanted to have some real movement, this flow to the whole video to contrast the feeling of stuttering.
Is there anything else you’re working on at the moment?
K: I’m taking jobs. When I do videos for bands, there’s the type of band that has an idea for what that they want, and I execute it for them. But I’m not the most technically skilled person, or anything. If you just want this edited in a certain way, then I’m probably not the person for you. I learn a lot on those videos, though I always give people the option to just let me do whatever I want. A very affordable flat rate, but you get what you get. It’s cheaper, and I have some creative control.
As far as music goes, I have another band called Big City, and we’ve been working on getting some recordings done since April. I just re-recorded vocals two days ago. Perennial Death is going to put it out, and I’ll be making videos for that, for sure.
You’ve moved away from using the characters of those early videos, but you may have started another shared universe since your dog Rocky has popped up in the videos for Pardoner and Mr. Dusty…
K: It just happened to be that I was filming at home, and he’s just there. With the Pardoner video, I included him at the beginning—Well, I didn’t have a choice, that’s his chair. I thought it was cool because it showed the process of layering in editing. He’s cutting in and out. And then for the Mr. Dusty video, he just made that video so much better. He just got so excited when I was dancing! Pretty much anything I film at home has him in it. He’s a star.
You can find more of Katayoon’s video work at www.katayoonyousefbigloo.com