THE SMELL Virtual Reality Tour premiere
- Vice Cooler and Gil Kenan interviewed by Chloe Ginnegar, January 2017
Chloe Ginnegar: I think to begin it would be great if you could explain why you chose The Smell as the setting for your VR movie and not another venue (DIY or otherwise) here in Los Angeles?
Vice Cooler: I have been involved with The Smell through playing shows and volunteering for a majority of my life. Like most of my peers, this space has had a tremendous impact in helping develop creative and social skills within an encouraging environment. I have had so many great experiences at The Smell, both as a performer and as an audience member.
When The Smell was served a demolition notice last summer, I went downtown with David Scott Stone to help Jim (Smith, owner) out. Myself and David were both looking at the structure wondering what will happen next. He mentioned that I should make a virtual reality documentation of the building for preservation purposes. This was a great idea since the building itself holds thousands of memories for so many people. We started discussing some ideas about how to go about this project. I went home and thought really hard about it. I reached out to a good friend who also has roots at The Smell – Gil Kenan. Gil is a very talented director and we share similar aesthetics. I thought this would be a fun project to collaborate on, and luckily he agreed. Gil brought in a ton of brilliant ideas. He was instrumental in developing it into what it became and bringing in the VR production house Butcher Bird. I learned a lot from him and enjoyed making it.
CG: I have to confess that I am not very familiar with the production surrounding VR movies. However, given each of your varied histories in film production and direction it seems that there would be no better place to experiment with the fusing of VR and musical performances then at the Smell. Could you explain how you first started thinking about which bands and musicians would be best suited to this movie? Did their participation change your initial plans?
VC: The goal from the start was to have it represent different pockets of people who have made The Smell what it is. We had multiple generations of volunteers, audience members, and performers.
Gil and I really respect the space and wanted to do it justice. Hopefully this experience can convey what a night at The Smell actually feels like.
Gil Kenan: Creating an architectural tour would have only given a small part of the picture of the Smell. You simply can’t separate the space from the bands from the audience. It’s the relationship between the three that’s made the Smell such a vital part of LA music history.
Having bands play was hard wired into the concept. The bands that played came together very organically – It was important to us that the bands represented a spectrum of musical forms and were mindful of having legacy acts share the screen with bands that are freshly formed. The cool thing about the Smell is that it’s a common ground for underground music, and so it was our task to represent that on screen. Vice and Jim worked quickly to assemble an incredible lineup.
CG: Was the Smell video each of your first interactions with filming in 360º?
VC: I had never worked in this format. It was a welcomed challenge learning how to shoot where you have to imagine all angles being viewable while not having the luxury of proper monitoring or a place to hide out of view.
GK: I’ve been curious about the medium for a long time, but had never created anything in it before the Smell VR piece. My first experience with the technology was in a mall kiosk in the mid-90’s. It cost $5 to float on a virtual grid with a CG marble hovering in space.
CG: The Smell is run so well due to its steadfast DIY ethics and strong community support. When you were thinking about the narrative of the video what were the important elements of being physically in the space that you wanted to convey to the viewer/concert goer?
VC: Gil and I desired for it to be legit. We wondered if the lighting rigs being shown in the video would be a problem since they weren’t a part of the space, but we came to the conclusion that it was ok. We weren’t trying to make a perfect video – we were trying to capture what the venue brings out in musicians and their audience. When musicians perform at The Smell they are working creatively and as efficiently as they can without any frills – and the sound that is produced is energetic and unpolished. The venue itself has no proper lighting, sounds raw, and is dusty. However those things don’t matter when the most amazing band is playing the best set you’ve ever seen. Hence we felt very confident keeping any flaws in the final edit.
Additionally Gil had the brilliant idea of not having any professional camera operators and to instead have people in the crowd with absolutely no experience be the ones to move it around. I think that perfectly captures the punk ethics that the venue holds- anyone can become a creator.
As a testament to The Smell’s volunteer system, this entire film was done by professionals donating their time and talents.
CG: 2016 was a tough year for DIY spaces in Los Angeles and beyond. When I learned about your movie it struck me as a pretty radical tool of preservation. The technology used to create this movie opens the door for future generations, people maybe not even born yet, to ‘see’ a show at the Smell. How important was the act of preservation in your interest to make this movie?
VC: This was a huge motivator. It’s very rare that a space like The Smell has existed as long as it has. This is the reason why we included transitions of the rooms from being filled with life and music to being empty and quiet. We wanted to show the transformative power of music along with giving viewers the ability to see the details of how raw of a space The Smell actually is when it’s empty.
GK: when we started making the piece, we had no idea when the doors would close for good or the wrecking ball would swing, so it gave an immediacy to the task. At the outset, the goal was to create a document of a place, a scene, its music and the people who make it happen. It’s nice to think that zero gravity children in 500 years will be able to relive a NO AGE concert in a quaint 2017-vintage VR terminal.
CG: The nature/narrative of this movie places a lot of emphasis on the physical structure of The Smell. In the process of working on this project, from pre-production to post, were there any memories or experiences that either of you had forgotten about that you were reminded of?
VC: I have been volunteering or attended a show there for almost every month of my Los Angeles life. The Smell is constantly evolving and I always feel very present when I go there. However, the building structure is over 100 years old and has seen a lot of history so I found out about the removable brick which in its past in the 1920’s had hidden codeine bottles!
GK: The physical space is special, but the takeaway for us is that the Smell as a concept is more potent than the walls that contain it. But it’s still a trip to see the bathroom and it’s graffiti come to electric life with an intimate Dave Scott Stone performance in the round.
CG: What would you like to see as the next steps in immersive music video performances/experiences?
VC: Technology changes rapidly. 5 years ago the Feist and Mastodon HTML5 video that I made was a very radical idea, and the thought of having access to filming something in a real interactive 360 format seemed so distant.
Perhaps in 50 years we’ll be making interactive video simulations of Richard Simmons aggressively ramming a military tank through the wall of The Smell while Jimi Hendrix performs the Star Spangled Banner- and it will FEEL LIKE YOU ARE THERE.
Chloe Ginnegar is the Gallery Assistant at 356 Mission
Premiere of The Smell Virtual Reality Tour featuring VR performances from Verbs and Alpha MC, David Scott Stone, Celebrity Crush, Clit Kat and No Age. Directed by Gil Kenan and Vice Cooler.
The Smell Virtual Reality Tour can be viewed/downloaded HERE
Raw file for the entry ticket. Attendees were given a numbered ticket upon entry to ensure that everyone got to view the Virtual Reality Tour with VR goggles.