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Dave Ma Directs the Tribes

From Chernobyl to swamps, video director Dave Ma makes his bands work hard to preserve his art.

Music video director Dave Ma may have been overlooked at the recent UK Music Video awards despite being nominated in various categories for his work for some of the UK ’s most artistically-minded bands, but here the Australian director and photographer talks us through braving radioactive sites and leeches for the sake of his work.
Dazed Digital: Delphic’s original brief was “beauty within the mundane”, how does the video you made for This Momentary communicate that?
Dave Ma: Yeah, I could see where they were coming from with that brief and the track which has a slightly haunting quality to it that isn't too depressing. I had been wanting to make a music video that translated some kind of documentary of a place that had a dark past but to focus on finding the beautiful moments that exist there, and Chernobyl seemed like the perfect place. I knew that I wanted to do more than just film beautiful or interesting landscapes and wanted to show the human side of a place like that. I had been reading about elderly people moving illegally back into the abandoned villages within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and it seemed like a good idea to go and seek that out.
DD: The video is stunning. How did you find all the people featured in it?
Dave Ma: Ross McLennan (director of photography), that I work with a lot, did an incredible job, as usual. And James Tillet at Prime Focus graded the video amazingly. I did a lot of research before we went out there and knew vaguely where I wanted to film and the types of people I hoped to encounter and how I wanted to structure the video. We were lucky to have a really good guide who understood what I wanted to do and where to take me. I showed him a lot of reference images and he knew where most of the places were, but a lot of things were unplanned and it was just about capturing the tone and atmosphere of the place.
DD: Isn’t it still very radioactive?
Dave Ma: Yeah, basically there is still radiation all over the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion. It's not something that will necessarily harm you just by being there, the possibility that you might ingest radioactive particles is more dangerous. Standing next to the Nuclear Power Plant where the accident happened was our first taste of radiation and our fixer gave us a Geiger counter that was up round the 0.400 mark. Normal background radiation is 0.015.
DD: How do you feel about taking risks like that for the sake of making a video?
Dave Ma: I think all good directors take risks every single time they work in one way or another whether creatively or physically depending on the creative and idea. Of course, I believe in taking risks because I really believe in what I do. Sometimes the risks are higher than other times but you just focus on what you are trying to say and why it is important and you just do it. If you think too much about things then you just end up talking yourself out of doing them and the idea gets fucked up.
Will I do it again? Fuck yeah. I love music videos and I always have. Growing up in Australia my brother and I used to watch a TV program called Rage. Basically it runs uninterrupted music videos from midnight to dawn every Friday and Saturday and has been since 1989. That program was instrumental in my love of music and music videos. I can still remember the first time we saw the 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' video and how drastically that changed everything for me.
I hate it when people say music videos are dead or dying. Sure, things are changing and video budgets are getting spread around other mediums but people still love watching music videos and love sharing the ones they like with their friends. In fact you should check out Keith Schofield's latest video which is pretty amazing.
DD: So you're currently in Sweden, what are you working on there?
Dave Ma: Sweden was a visit to film a bit of Foals who are recording their next album - which is sounding amazing. They're living at the studio and we cooked Mexican on Saturday night, tacos, guacamole and enchiladas. Tasty! Edwin made some quality caipirinhas then we played darts. Turns out Yannis is a pretty good dart player. We're going to hit the Oxford dart scene and hustle some of the punters by posing as inexperienced dart chumps.

DD: What really stands out from your other music video work?
Dave Ma: I'm really happy with the Lost Valentinos video we made early this year out in Australia. We spent two days in swamps getting leeches, climbing sand dunes and the band performed a drum ritual in a black burnt out forest. That was a lot of fun. It always feels good when a band have been threw the ordeal of a shoot and come out the other side as a close group. Bands are really just modern day tribes.

Videos Courtesy of Pulse Films