Sometimes the best way into the future is to embrace the past. Still, it’s odd to see such a grainy, lo-fi music video for rock gods such as the Foo Fighters. “Rope” was the first single off their latest album, Wasting Light (2011). Even as a dedicated fan who enjoys their repertoire of goofy, narrative videos such as “Learn to Fly” and “Everlong”, it took some time for me to appreciate this distinctively artistic approach. What is essential in appreciating the uniqueness of the music video “Rope" is in understanding its contribution to the Foo Fighter’s album as a whole.
Wasting Light was not recorded as various sound files on a computer. It was recorded entirely on a reel-to-reel tape recording device and mixed with outboard analog equipment – no computers, no digital mixing of any kind. To top it all off, the whole thing was recorded in leader singer Dave Grohl’s garage, without any acoustic treatment whatsoever. Nowadays this is simply unheard of, and for good reason. It’s expensive, it’s incredibly difficult, and most people would argue that the technique is simply outdated, especially for a release on a major record label. However, the guys stuck with it and managed to produce one of their most stripped down, raw and rockin’ albums to date (Here’s a tip: buy it on vinyl. Not only was it engineered to be enjoyed that way, the digital version just doesn’t hold up to the sound).
The greatness of this album is only made greater by the contribution of the music video “Rope”. Following the same values of no-fluff, old-school audio/visual techniques, the entire thing was recorded on VHS. This throwback to old technology asserts the Foo Fighters' artistic integrity and is a sure sign of their maturity as a band, thanks in part to Dave Grohl who helped develop and direct the project. Grohl uses an 80’s performance-based approach as opposed to the more presentational and flashy music videos that saturate the market. His use of light, camera angles and color make up the majority of the special effects of the video and add to the DIY-feel of the video as a whole. Grohl cites classic music videos by artists such as Black Flag as his inspiration for this concept.
At the start of “Rope”, the Foo Fighters stand in the middle of a giant paper cube that is vaguely reminiscent of an inside-out Chinese paper lantern. The lights shine in on all walls from the outside of the cube, illuminating the men inside it. The lights act almost like an iTunes visualizer - it follows the bass lines and musical scales to determine their brightness and intensity. The scene parallels what it must be like to watch the Foo Fighters perform in a garage somewhere – claustrophobic, loud and AWESOME. “This indecision got me climbing up the walls / I've been cheating gravity and waiting on the falls / How did this come over me, I thought I was above it all / Our hopes gone up in smoke, swallow your crown”. The scene and lyrics echo each other beautifully; phrases like “climbing up the walls” and “cheating gravity” not only reference the relationship in question, but the claustrophobic nature of the cube itself.
The second leg of the video naturally corresponds with the beginning of the second verse - “These premonitions got me crying up a storm / Leave your condition, this position does no harm”. The Foo’s environment abruptly turns dark as the lights concentrate on one wall of the cube, creating an eerie silhouette effect similar to that used in iPod commercials, but without all the bullshit. The guys take some classic 80’s poses with close-up profile shots used in combination with background full-bodied shots, appropriately adding to the nostalgic esthetic. This being one of the biggest reasons why I enjoy this video; it doesn’t feign to be anything else other than what it is. The Foo Fighters decided to go lo-fi, grungy, grainy VHS style and they don’t hold back.
At the bridge of the song, the lights change once more, keeping with their almost theatrical-like function, shifting the mood and visibility of our performers. Suddenly the visualizer goes on overdrive and flashes of light now change color so rapidly, it could provoke a seizure in the faint of heart (or epileptic). “Give me some rope I'm coming loose, I'm hanging on you / Give me some rope I'm coming loose, I'm pulling for you now…”. With the flip of a switch, heavy distortion is heard and the cube turns fire engine red. A killer guitar solo follows quick cuts and leads us into the final leg of the performance.
The music and lights continue to inform each other, each seemingly pushing the other faster until we can’t take it any longer. “Give me some hope I'm coming through, I'm counting on you / Give me some rope I'm coming, out of my head, into clear when you, go, / I come... Loose”. As the final guitar riffs echo through the flashing lights, the camera finally pans outside the cube to finally reveal their full enclosure. The reveal being that the cube is enclosed within a large, empty warehouse – what was once claustrophobic now seems large, empty and void.
Not all bands can pull off an ambitious project such as this one. It’s difficult enough to create an entertaining and non-annoying music video on VHS, but to do an entire album on analog equipment is virtually unheard of nowadays. If there is anything I’d like to say to the Foo Fighters, it is a big and sincere ‘thank you’. Analog recording, mixing and editing is not only a challenge, it’s an art form – one that has certainly been ignored since the birth of the mp3. One can only hope the Foo Fighters inspire others to do the same, as the music industry would be better off for it.