“I wanted to go on tour, just to get a feeling of how it is to play so many shows in such a short space of time, like bands do. As it turns out, it’s really fucking exhausting.”
Vincent Moon was born and raised in Paris, but has carved out a reputation as a modern-day nomad over the course of his colourful career to date; not that it’s prevented him from struggling to adapt to the rigours of a quickfire jaunt around Europe. “You don’t get to see any of the place you’re in; you’ve got to keep moving. It’s only for two weeks, so I should survive…hopefully.”
He’s in Copenhagen when I speak to him at a frankly ungodly hour of the morning, ahead of a one-off project that will see him go back to his roots; a one-take film of Efterklang’s final ever show. They’re just one member of the veritable who’s who of indie rock that comprises the list of Moon’s past collaborators; it’d be quicker to list the major alternative bands of the past decade that he didn’t film playing in the streets of Paris for La Blogothèque’s Take Away Shows, and he also produced full-length documentaries for the likes of Beirut, The National and – infamously – Arcade Fire.
The past five years have seen him doing something completely different, visiting all manner of far-flung destinations as part of his Petites Planètes series, which investigates traditional and religious music in locations as obscure as the Amazon rainforest and Chechnya. This tour of Europe has him presenting some of that work, alongside another nod to his more conventional beginnings; the six-film series From ATP, which he’s finally managed to finish, strangely enough, around the same time that the festivals have wound down for good in the UK.
“I thought it’d be nice to go on the road and show these little films, as a way of hanging up that cycle, and closing that part of my life,” he says, his English delivered impeccably through a thick, Parisian drawl. “I went to ATP for the first time with some friends from back home, and just took a small camera with me, with the idea of maybe making a little film. When I was there, I spotted that a full crew was shooting, and realised they must be making a proper film about it. Later on, I found out that Warp Films were putting together this thing that was supposedly going to be directed by Jonathan Caouette. I got in touch with them, because they were looking for recordings that people had made at the festival that year.”
“They really liked what I sent to them; I think they were kind of surprised at how close my films were to what they wanted. They invited me back and paid for the trip, and I ended up going to another six or seven editions, shooting more and more. Some of the footage was used in what became the All Tomorrow’s Parties documentary, but the deal was that I could use some of it for my own short films.”
Expenses aside, Moon didn’t make any money from the project; in fact, he doesn’t make much money from anything he does, making all of his work available for free online (“ATP was like everything else; I did it because I was passionate.”) There was clearly something about the festival’s unique atmosphere that appealed to Moon, and lent itself quite naturally to the way he makes films.
“I think it’s very obvious that I’ve always wanted to approach live music with the point of view that what you see on stage is only half the story; I’ve always been more interested in how people interact with musicians when they’re no longer on a pedestal, when they’re back to everyday life and everybody’s on the same level. ATP was just fantastic for that, because the shows were great, but before and afterwards, everybody was together. It was just the simple fact that the musicians came and stayed for the whole weekend, even if they were only playing once. That was so unusual, that they all excited enough to make the time to see everybody else play.”
“Then, there’s the fact that everybody stays together, too; you’d come out of your chalet and realise that Sonic Youth were staying in the next one. That was mind-blowing, and I remember thinking, “this is it! There’s no hierarchy here. We’re all together.” You’d be up at three or four in the morning, drinking beers in your chalet with guys you’d seen earlier onstage, and it was such a beautiful feeling.”
The From ATP films – which all run between twenty-five and thirty-five minutes – are shot in Moon’s inimitable style, with plenty of black-and-white, washed-out images and eccentric approaches to angle and focus. Some of them, too, feature narration from musicians involved with the specific installment of the festival they covered. “I’d look at the lineup and think about who I’d like to exchange ideas with,” Moon explains. “I was always wanting them to focus on bigger ideas about music than just their own careers, to think about how our generation interacts with it. I thought of people like Lydia Lunch and Saul Williams, people who were eloquent enough to express what I was looking for, or Josh T. Pearson, who’s just an incredible character. I wanted to have these beautiful voices holding the narrative together, kind of an omniscient presence running through the sequences.”