Like the rest of the creative world – and indeed the world in general – here at Hyperfine we were shocked and upset to hear of the death of David Bowie. His albums have soundtracked much of our lives and Diamond Dogs, Low and Station to Station have provided the background music to many a late night Hyperfine edit session.
There have been countless tributes covering his contributions to the world of music, art, fashion and film, but let’s not also forget his contribution to music videos – even here he was always pushing the boundaries creatively and technologically. Here are 5 of my personal favourites:
- Life On Mars/Heroes
There aren’t many (any?) other performers then or now who could get away with a music video like Life on Mars. Bowie, wearing a powder blue suit, with a shock of red hair and heavy eye shadow, sings alone against a plain white background. No effects, no props, no narrative (and one assumes no budget), this somehow manages to be both otherworldly and intimate.
Bowie repeated the trick a few years later with Heroes, this time the gaudiness toned down and a darker, backlit palette – but it’s every bit as arresting.
2) Ashes to Ashes
A number one in 1980, musically ‘Ashes to Ashes’ was very much a look back on Bowie’s 70s output, revisiting Major Tom and described by Bowie as an ‘epitaph’ for the era. The video is washed in neon pinks intercut with stark negatives, and provided another of his iconic looks with an unsettling Pierrot clown costume (one later used to great effect in the BBC time-travel police drama ‘Ashes to Ashes’). Of many striking images the lasting one is of Bowie ‘strung out’ on some kind of subterranean life support.
3) The Hearts Filthy Lesson
For me 1995’s ‘Outside’, the last of his albums produced by Brian Eno, is Bowie’s late underrated masterpiece. A cyberpunk influenced trawl through the underbelly of a future dystopia, with a loose narrative concerning ‘art crimes’ and murder, and driven throughout by a grinding, industrial sound. This video perfectly matches the album with an eerie aesthetic that brings to mind the work of David Fincher – and indeed the track featured over the closing titles of Se7en later that year.
4) Where are we now?
The single Where are We Now? landed without warning in Jan 2013, breaking Bowie’s decade-long drought of new releases. The video is heavy with nostalgia, but gives little else away. The camera floats into an empty artist’s studio where flickering images of a cold war Berlin play out on a canvas and Bowies face is projected onto an immobile mannequin, alongside an unnamed woman. A brief glimpse of Bowie himself towards the end did much to dispel rumours that ill health had plagued him for years – hard to believe that almost exactly two years later he’s really gone.
The meaning behind Bowie’s first single from his final album was thrown into stark relief by his death less than a month later. Opening with the lines ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven…’ with an image of Bowie laid on a hospital bed with his eyes bandaged and covered with buttons, Lazarus is the sound of a man facing death and was intended as Bowie’s ‘parting gift’.