Behind The Lens: A guide to Nabil’s videos

Henry Boon runs through the career of Nabil Elderkin, a failed photography student who broke big as a director.

Back in 2003 a failed photography student took a chance on a possible future star. 11 years later, Nabil Elderkin is the music video director and photographer everyone wants a piece of.

After a few years of shooting small-time Chicago bands and surfers a young Nabil made the spur of the moment decision of purchasing www.kanyewest.com after hearing one of Yeezy’s early mixtapes. A few weeks later, after Kanye’s multi-album deal with Roc-A-Fella Records was agreed, Nabil received a call asking him to name his price for the domain; his price? One photo-shoot with Kanye. This led to an inclusion into one of the most lucrative and exclusive circles in the music world and the start of a still-climbing career for Nabil.

While the name remains reasonably unknown to many, Nabil is the man behind some of the greatest music videos of the last ten years, picking up numerous award nominations and aiding the launch and careers of countless stars. From big names like Frank Ocean, Arctic Monkeys and Kanye West down to the relative obscurity of FKA Twigs and Poliça; chances are everyone has had their mind blown by a Nabil video at some point. For many, particularly as music television continues to decay, the music video is a throwaway, often hardly considered aspect of music but for Nabil it’s everything. Huge cinematography, meticulous attention to detail and epic story arcs are a staple of any Nabil video. His real talent however lies in his uncanny ability to capture the exact mood of a mindboggling range of music. Somehow his videos depict the subconscious image created by a track you didn’t even realise existed, the link between the ears, the mind and the eyes perfectly cemented.

Recently Nabil seems to be moving away from Kanye’s ever increasing inner circle of celebrity pals, perhaps fleeing his inevitable explosive meltdown, and popping up increasingly within the UK’s more underground music scene. Featuring recently on both Alt-J’s hotly anticipated ‘Hunger of the Pine’ and FKA Twigs potential breakout album’s single ‘Two Weeks’, it’s clear Nabil is held in high regard as a possibly career-changing influence, working only with artists and songs he feels are really worth it. Artists also appear frequently happy to drop all past artistic affiliation given the opportunity to work with Nabil. FKA Twigs and Foals in particular both had very specific artistic direction and loyalty to particular collaborators. Foals moving from early work with Dave Ma which featured seemingly random arty mess-making to clean, focused later Nabil videos and FKA Twigs abandoning futuristic Jesse Kanda projects to make way for the powerful, egocentric video for ‘Two Weeks’.

Just a small selection of Nabil’s work is enough to showcase the way he takes a music video and turns it into so much more, Nabil aims to not only make an accompaniment to the tracks he tackles but a standalone piece of work that captures not only what the track is about but what the artist is about. It is this outlining of an artist’s potential and personality that is so valuable to those lucky enough to work with him. Below we round up his best and most diverse work.

Antony and the Johnsons - Cut The World

The video for Antony and the Johnsons’ ‘Cut the World’ is the clearest example of the way Nabil turns a music video into a cinematic experience. The casting of Willem Dafoe and the way direct dialogue cuts tunelessly through the delicate warbling vocals of Antony Hegarty immediately indicates that Nabil is here to tell a story rather than just run some pictures over a song. The shocking, powerful message of the video however doesn’t detract from the title track of an album rooted in gender confusions and feminist ideology’s, only adding to an already provocative track.

Foals - Late Night

Taking the always arty Foals to lofty new heights ‘Late Night’ echoes through a gritty, Romanian hotel, the theme; blood and its connection with us all. Showcasing Nabil’s dedication, attention to detail and perhaps a little too much desire for realism ‘Late Night’ features both actual non-simulated sex and a real hanging, dangerously close to an on-set death. Interestingly also one of very few Nabil videos to feature any instruments or band shots, although no ordinary band shots by any stretch of the imagination.

Poliça - Tiff

Poliça’s ‘Tiff’ is difficult to watch but strikingly poignant in its message as vocalist Channy Leaneagh brutally tortures herself. As the lead single for Poliça’s second album ‘Tiff’ sets the tone that the Poliça’s follow up is not to be sniffed at and has all of the intensity of their debut, showcasing the way Nabil can draw attention to and outline the mood of new projects.

Bon Iver - Towers

Nabil doesn’t work exclusively in the realms of edgy sex and gratuitous violence. The video for Bon Iver’s ‘Towers’ is mesmerisingly beautiful and torturously heart-breaking as the final days of an old dreamer’s life are lived out. Set in blustery, picturesque landscapes that perfectly capture the soul behind Bon Iver’s music and simply couldn’t be for anyone else.

Alt-J - Hunger of the Pine

One of the most hotly anticipated returns of 2014; Alt-J’s ‘Hunger of the Pine’ had to be something special. Typical to form, the video for ‘Hunger of the Pine’ leaves endless unanswered questions and gaping mouths. Bursting back onto the scene fleeing the arrows of doubt surrounding them following the departure of bassist Gwil Sainsbury and re-joining the pinnacle of UK indie in explosive, fiery fashion the mood of the track is captured perfectly, adding to an already climactic lead single.

James Blake - Overgrown

James Blake is a tortured soul - we all know that - but never have the inner workings of his mind been so accurately depicted as in the video for the title track from his massive Mercury Prize-winning album ‘Overgrown’. As he absconds to the coast chased by his inner demons this video’s not only perfectly Blake but also the start of big a change in the level of success of a humble bedroom producer.


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