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Neil Krug and Jardine Libaire, GoldTwinz [2021]
Neil Krug and Jardine Libaire, GoldTwinz [2021]Photography Neil Krug

The Gold Twinz: a thriller starring deviant lovers in Florida’s underworld

Jardine Libaire and Neil Krug – a long-time collaborator of Lana Del Rey – have created a crime novel and art project following charismatic protagonists into the dark underbelly of the Sunshine State

Los Angeles-based photographer Neil Krug has a flair for creating imagery that distils the sweetness, nostalgia, and romance of Hollywood technicolour and underscores it with an unmistakable sense of foreboding. Drawing on Southern California’s rich lineage of glamour, dissolution, golden light, and fantasy, his work is abundant with all the cinema, folklore, pop culture, music, and ideology that haunts Los Angeles.

You may have encountered his work when his dreamy psychedelic desertscapes appeared on billboards in cities across the UK earlier this year. Or you might have seen his haunting photographs on the album artwork by the likes of Bonobo, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Tame Impala. His images also grace the record sleeves of long-time collaborator, Lana Del Rey. Krug shot the “soft-core horror” cover of Ultraviolence, along with creating the artwork for Honeymoon, Lust for Life, Chemtrails Over The Country Club, and her latest album, Blue Banisters

His most recent collaboration is with American writer, Jardine Libaire. Together, the pair have created The GoldTwinz – a crime novel and art project published by NeoText that gives voice to all the psychedelic, uncanny, morbid fantasy that resides in Krug’s images. This ‘sunshine noir’ draws on the tradition of the classic pulp novel and the American southern gothic, as the orphaned protagonists Marc and Yvette navigate the worlds of webcamming, nightclub singing, and the dark web. 

Inspired collectively by Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfant Terribles, the sound of Dusty Springfield, the romantic sensibility of Bonnie and Clyde, the movies of Harmony Korine and John Cassavetes, and the inscrutable landscape of the Everglades, Libaire’s compelling narrative follows the fortunes of a pair of star-crossed twins through Florida’s criminal underworld as they attempt to make a bid for freedom, revenge, and stardom. Krug’s images – starring his collaborator and muse, the artist and model Kaiman Kazazian – illuminate the text like film stills from one of the greatest film noir never made.

Take a look through the gallery above for a look at the imagery created by Krug to accompany The GoldTwinz. Below, we talk to Neil Krug and Jardine Libaire about setting their thriller in the Sunshine State, subverting genres, and creating the deviant, magnetic sibling-lovers in their novel.

Could you share with us the premise of the story and who the main characters are? What drew you all to Florida as the setting for this mystery?

Jardine Libaire: It’s a sort of technicolour genre mash-up. 20-year-old twins Marc and Yvette, anarchistic souls who live in the Everglades, finally admit that she’s meant to be an outlaw mega-star and he’s the only one who can get her there. First, they have to destroy his childhood abuser and get her out of a sex-cam ‘lullaby’ contract she made to support herself and send money to Marc’s commissary

They also have to figure out who they are: twins or lovers. They were thought to be abandoned orphans, their family history is unknown. They were literally found as babies in a swamp, raised by an elderly casino-rat, Colleen Gold, and are being reunited after his prison term at the beginning of the book. They’re inspired by Elisabeth and Paul in Les Enfant Terribles by Jean Cocteau.

Yvette is exquisite, gifted, seductive, vicious, mischievous, and sometimes pathologically shy. She’s a cross between a medicated but genius Marilyn Monroe, Aaliyah at her peak, and Nikki Minaj before she hit it. Darkly morbidly funny. She stays anchored to her own true soul. She’s a born singer, but she’s also worked and taught herself to do it.

Marc is brilliant – lawless in one sense and the definition of integrity in another. He’s spiritual and has an altar, and a practice. He’s straight edge, except every six months when he goes on a monster bender. He’s working in an underworld, the dark web; he’s not quite Robin Hood, but he’s also not criminal-minded – just entrepreneurial and able to think out of the box. His charisma is laidback and introverted, and both men and women fall in love with him in a hot minute.

I loved the idea of the Everglades as a place where humans have tried and failed to manipulate and control the environment for decades. It seems a perfect setting for a story about people who don’t obey institutions, but who do self-organise with nature, with family, with their own hearts, and consciences. Neil’s work, in all its moody, subversive, intimate beauty seemed right for the location, too.

“Like some of my favourite American gothic stories, The GoldTwinz chronicles misfits in a particular little universe – the Everglades in this case – and the way tensions are structured around power, money, and the class system, and portrays the wilderness as its own dangerous and beautiful force” – Jardine Libaire

I’ve chatted to Neil and Kaiman before about their love of cinema (and their film club of which I’m dying to be a member!), but how important is the influence of movies in your work, Jardine? Which films were most instrumental to you all as references for the mood, aesthetic, and plot of this story?

Jardine Libaire: I was definitely thinking about Spring Breakers, Wild at Heart, Moonlight, anything by Michael Mann. I love Sean Baker too. The GoldTwinz is an almost campy, psychedelic story about Yvette’s rise to fame as an artist and singer, as well as being a mystery and crime story, and for that I love great films like Lady Sings the Blues with Diana Ross and Coal Miner’s Daughter and even Velvet Goldmine. A smidge of Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde, for that loyalty between two people as they run rampant, chasing or fleeing or both.

Neil, most of your recent work has been based on your own narratives. How was it collaborating with Jardine in building this series?

Neil Krug: Jardine and I met up for dinner in Los Angeles sometime in 2019 and discussed how best to go about developing the project and so forth. I think we’re kindred spirits as we both have a shared sensibility of the type of imagery and stories that inspire us; we both wanted this project to be bold and unforgiving.

What also made this project unique is that it was predominately made during 2020 while the pandemic was surging. This influenced how I went about shooting the material as not everything was available. I needed to build many of the scenes in green screen and digital compositing since some of our previously selected locations were shut down due to the pandemic. That proved to be more challenging than I imagined, but I’m grateful that everything came together in the end.

Jardine, could you tell us about authors who have really inspired you? I love the concept of a ‘sunshine noir’ – could you elaborate on that?

Jardine Libaire: For this novella, I was particularly inspired by Harry Crews, Flannery O’Connor, Vicki Hendricks, and John Fante for their deep attachment to location; Barry Gifford for his swan dive into stories that go on and on, creating a sense of pulp instalments that I adore; definitely all the classic noir that I started freaking out over as a teenager – like Patricia Highsmith and Dashiell Hammet; but then also less obvious choices like Cookie Mueller whose writing just reminds me that there’s room for tenderness and humanity in every paragraph.

Sunshine noir to some means films set in Los Angeles, and I think in the book realm it means something more abstract, like exploring the dark world in the bright sun. This just thrills me because it feels so American to have two extremes in the same moment – violence and threat in a Disney-ish, tropical, technicolour, blue-sky, smiley-face landscape. It highlights how good we can be at ignoring the obvious thing in front of our eyes.

Neil, how did you approach photographing this project? Were you influenced by anything in particular whilst putting the imagery together?

Neil Krug: First, I started with selecting the cast as I knew the scenes would be of a more raw and unapologetic nature, I wanted to make sure everyone cast would be on board for the journey. Once I had my talent, I made the decision to divide the shoot into two sections: the imagery that would be reality-based, and the imagery that would suggest a subconscious rendering of the characters. I found this technique worked well as it kept a certain momentum whilst moving from sequence to sequence.

The one film that comes to mind when I think about influences is probably The Killing of Chinese Bookie by John Cassavetes. The nightclub scenes in that film are covered in this red, smoky glow. They were done so brilliantly that I attempted a similar style in some of the imagery of Yvette performing onstage. I love that time in cinema, and I was definitely inspired to have this collection of images feel like a continuum of that period.

“I was listening to a lot of sunshine pop music from the late 60s during the making of this project, which is a genre I admire, but I can’t help but detect a strong undercurrent of darkness in it” – Neil Krug

In what ways is The GoldTwinz part of the American gothic tradition? And in what ways does it deviate?

Jardine Libaire: It’s such a plush, juicy tradition to dig into! Like some of my favourite American gothic stories, The GoldTwinz chronicles misfits in a particular little universe – the Everglades in this case – and the way tensions are structured around power, money, and the class system, and portrays the wilderness as its own dangerous and beautiful force.

Where it probably diverges is in its hopefulness. It’s funny, as we went through the pandemic I found myself still craving the relentless narrative and grit of something like American gothic or classic noir, but I didn’t have the stomach for full-scale betrayal, bleakness, and grimness. I wanted a little loyalty and sweetness to go with it. So a core group of these characters really take care of each other, through thick and thin, and have transcendent, triumphant moments.

If the story had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?

Jardine Libaire: There’s a whole library of psychedelic songs that would be perfect for this story, but the ones I really homed in on are the songs that Yvette would be studying as she taught herself to become a singer. Everything from Etta James, to Sade, to Dusty Springfield, the women who take over the microphone and fill the room and own your record player. Bobbie Gentry,  Odetta, Sylvie Vartan, and Betty Davis. Then the new wave of artists like L’Rain, Lava La Rue, and Rosalia.

Neil Krug: Dusty Springfield, absolutely positively. I was listening to a lot of sunshine pop music from the late 60s during the making of this project, which is a genre I admire, but I can’t help but detect a strong undercurrent of darkness in it. Maybe it’s just my interpretation of the genre, but some of the melodies are so overly optimistic and euphoric that it feels a bit terrifying. I often found myself laughing in the studio whilst building the imagery with the records playing in the background since the contrast was so apparent. Calling this piece a ‘psychedelic sunshine noir’ is apt, as that juxtaposition is definitely present as far as I’m concerned.

What’s next for The GoldTwinz? Is there any hope of a sequel? Or how do you see the project evolving?

Jardine Libaire: The project was definitely created to be ongoing, in any modality it chooses. The magic of serialised pulp has always gripped me. The idea that the story is never over, that it can become whatever it wants to, it’s not a single finished airtight piece like a traditional literary novel published in book form. The GoldTwinz is really made to continue in print or film or via other experiments in collaboration. 

The GoldTwinz by Jardine Libaire and Neil Krug is available now from NeoText