Gatekeeper are open to interpretation. An ultra-masculine voiceover introduces the anxious and agitated, dark and absurd grandiosity of "Sword of the Gathering Clouds" like it’s a trailer for Armageddon itself. Is it a fabulous story or terrifying reality? It depends on how you look at it. You could read a fatalistic accelerationist impulse, with the music’s cavernous echo and monstrous growl crashing through simulated choral patches and hurtling towards self-destruction. It's an interpretation that seems especially true when Aaron David Ross uses words like “compression”, “accelerated” and “speed”, over videochat from his Yamaha office in New York, smoking an e-cig (which I mistake for a joint) with friend and visual collaborator, Alex Gvojic.
Gatekeeper’s second half, Matthew Arkell, couldn’t make it but as a Cultural Studies graduate (to Ross, who is trained in music), I’m sure he has his own ideas about their Young Chronos EP narrative – which was released via The Pirate Bay. Mine crosses a theory positing a macro-social death drive that is only intensified by the "Imperatrix" blurb referencing the “homonids”, “time-engineering blasphemies” and “permanent unlimited respawning" of its geological-era crossing narrative. “I can get behind that, I support it”, responds Ross about said interpretation of the "Sword of the Gathering Clouds" video, where a “fake triptych” of animated scenes of human catastrophe bleed, burn and bombard its viewer with recontextualised images from across artistic periods. Not that it matters. All Gatekeeper – and specifically this video by Gvojic – want to do is offer an entry point. What happens beyond that is all on you.
Dazed Digital: Do you have a vision of the Apocalypse?
Alex Gvojic: I had a lot back in pre-2012.
Aaron David Ross: I think we were all really counting on 2012…
Alex Gvojic: Yeah and then it didn’t happen and we were like, ‘well, guess we should figure out what we should do’.
Aaron David Ross: I know right? It’s like, 'time to pay off your student loans', the apocalypse didn’t happen. I think it’s really fun to fantasise about it but it’s impossible to assume. We could be in the middle of it right now or it could never happen at all, it’s impossible to have an object view on it. But I do like the obsession with it that our generation seems to have and how fun it is to imagine these scenarios that are likely not fun. They seem really romantic and absolute. It’s interesting to examine our fixation on that idea. It’s mostly just through pop culture and different interpretations of the media that you become so interested in it.
Alex Gvojic: For me, it was watching lots of Michael Bay films when I was a kid; seeing entire cities being destroyed in Armageddon and almost selfishly wanting to see that, even though it’s like a horrible thing. I feel like all my work has a little bit of that big budget action vibe of destruction.
Aaron David Ross: Yeah, we’re really inspired by that; as to how it relates to movie trailers, that kind of hyperreality, or that acceleration, of an entire story condensed into 45 seconds with the most bombastic visuals and sound possible. That aesthetic, both visually and sonically, is really important to our work. It’s all about that filtration of a narrative into a more compact and powerful place; removing all the scenes you don’t want to watch, cutting that out between all the tiny ones you do.
DD: The way that you pieced together your ‘Imperatrix’ blurb, it reflects the way you appropriate and recontextualise sounds and visuals but part of me wants to think there’s a more distinct narrative thread running through it.
Aaron David Ross: I would call it a narrative but I think that ambiguity and narrative is something that we’ve always been really interested in with Gatekeeper; creating these specifically musical worlds that can describe in a whole slew of situations, in extreme detail. None of them necessarily have to be related to each other, it’s all totally in the eye of the person listening and experiencing, to create their own story.
Alex Gvojic: Yeah and I think, coming from a film background, narrative is really important in my work any time I create a certain world. I make a set of rules that exist within that world, so I can have some sort of narrative to follow within that. I just have something that guides my work better so it’s not just some random imagery.
DD: I guess this kind ambiguity and agency that you give your audience, in terms of interpretation, is a natural progression from the Exo video game concept?
Aaron David Ross: Totally. But I think that there are a few layers that, as a user in a game, you’re able to make those decisions and you’re allowed to walk where you want to a very limited degree. But then, that entire game and that entire world that was created by Tabor Robak is just one possible visual interpretation of that sound world. It’s multi-layered like that.
DD: I find that at the end, where you’re taken back out of the image in the "Sword of the Gathering Clouds" video, it comes as a bit of a relief. As someone who actually isn’t excited about the end of the world, that removal illustrates, in some way, that this is just one narrative that you can choose to engage with, or not.
Aaron David Ross: Yeah, I think that’s really important. It’s something that we were self-inspired to do again because we’ve utilised that same technique before; where we have all of these insane mechanisms moving and illustrating all of these ideas and then you sort of reveal something that’s unknown the whole time that kind of trivialises all of the activity. I think that’s a really important thing, especially in this case, I really like that process. It sort of works like a punch-line but it’s also this incredibly potent conceptual pin that’s simultaneously little bit funny and then completely transformative and transgressive.
Alex Gvojic: That’s why we work really well together. Because that’s everything I want to do with these videos, create a world and then at the end be like, "Hey here you go, It’s really not that serious."