It was always going to be a hard task documenting the full on sensory assault that is a Chemical Brothers live show. But the duo’s long-time visual collaborator, Adam Smith, has done just that, capturing the essence of what it’s like to immerse yourself in the overwhelming sights and sounds of one of their gigs, in his film Don’t Think. Released on February 3, the film follows The Chemical Brothers’ Fuji Rock Festival performance, catapulting cinema audiences into the heart of an enthralling audio/visual experience, and allowing them to witness the show from a gig-goers perspective. We caught up with Adam to see what he had to say about the movie.
Bowlegs: You’ve been collaborating with The Chemical Brothers since the 90s – did making Don’t Think feel like a natural progression in your working relationship with them?
Adam: We had been talking about filming the show for a long time, but for various reasons it has never happened. Ed and Tom were not convinced that it was possible to capture what it was like at a Chemical Brothers gig, but somehow the show last year felt like we had reached a real climax of how it was looking and sounding, and perhaps the time had come to document it.
Because the set was not promoting a particular album, Tom and Ed were able to choose what they liked from their incredible back catalogue, throw in some amazing new tunes and make the ultimate Chemical Brothers live set. We had this set three months before the first show, so were able to put together the best visual and lighting show we have ever done. The level of programming detail on the lights and how they react to the visuals was far more intricate than anything we have done before. So it seemed like the right time (or about time) to document the show in the way we wanted to.
Bowlegs: What can you tell us about the film? Where was it filmed and how long did it take to put it together?
Adam: It was filmed at the incredible Fuji Rock Festival, high up a mountain in Japan. There were some debates about whether we could make what we were trying to make for the money available, so it almost didn’t happen. We were confirmed for the job just two weeks before the show itself. So Don’t Think had to be the creative philosophy behind this project as well as the title.
We came up with ideas and story-boarded as much as we could in the time. And then, after a 12-hour flight and a 10-hour coach journey, it was straight to work. Over 20 cameras were used, including remote control ones set up on Ed and Tom’s equipment, four cameras just on audience reactions, five cameras getting the audience point-of-view shots (what it looked like from the middle of the crowd’s perspective), nine cameras that were already at the festival as part of Fuji TV, and a couple of safety locked off shots from the front of house tower, and we filmed the show and filmed all night afterwards around the festival. We then spent three or four months editing the 40 or so hours of footage we had, as well as making specific animations, detailed layering of visuals and the footage we had shot and compositing visuals into the footage in places. It was full on. 12-14 hour days in the edit, and six-seven day weeks.
Bowlegs: Essentially The Chemical Brothers are two guys standing behind a bunch of electronic equipment – do you think people who haven’t been to one of their live shows will be surprised at how visually engaging and entertaining their gigs are?
Adam: Probably not, but hopefully the film will take people to the heart of what it is like to be at a Chemical Brothers show and maybe even make them want to go to one. We have tried to capture what it feels like to be there, not merely document the spectacle of the show.
Bowlegs: Given that the visuals and music compliment each other so well in a gig setting, how well do they work together in the confines of a cinema?
Adam: The response so far has been very positive and the most recent screenings have seen people just getting up and dancing in the aisles – in fact, in Los Angeles on Thursday they stopped the film and made people sit back down again because it had all gone so out of control! It is an unusual cinematic experience, which is as it should be because it is a very unconventional live show.
Bowlegs: Which element of the movie are you proudest of and why? Are there any parts of it you thought might not work?
Adam: The parts which go away from the gig – when we follow one of the audience around the festival, when she closes her eyes during one song (to try and capture what it is like at a gig when you close your eyes) – were a bit of a risk I suppose, but I am really pleased with it. And the shots of the audience reacting are really moving. They were such a brilliant audience and they let us into their joy of the show in a very natural and un-playing to the camera type of way.
The nice thing about taking a few creative risks is that you never know if they will work or not. We have some robots that feature in the visuals and I wanted to get the sense that they were invading the festival, so we took some out there to film. The footage looked really great, but they did not look threatening at all – they actually looked quite sweet, so we made a mini narrative around that rather than the original idea, which was never going to work.
Bowlegs: The crowd’s reaction to the visuals and music makes for an important part of the film – is this the case?
Adam: Fundamental to it. It’s the way that a cinema audience can emotionally connect with the show. It’s the cinema audience’s way in – if we see what they feel we might empathise and therefore feel what they feel. It was so exciting when we saw this footage back. We put signs on the cameras in Japanese saying “Please don’t look in the lens”, and they didn’t – they just experienced the show, which hopefully allows us to. There are some brilliant characters in there.
-Interview by David Standen-