The story behind Young Fathers’ cultish new music video, ‘I Saw’

The visual heralds the arrival of the band’s newly-announced album, Heavy Heavy – here, filmmaker David Uzochukwu talks about his visual inspirations, self-sacrificial rituals, and the dangerous potential of tight-knit communities

The Berlin-based artist and filmmaker David Uzochukwu had been a “big fan” of Young Fathers for years when he reached out to the Scottish trio early in 2022, but he couldn’t have timed it better. Unbeknown to him, the band were just finishing up their first album in four years, Heavy Heavy – the follow-up to 2018’s critically acclaimed Cocoa Sugar – and would soon make a much-anticipated return with the July single “Geronimo”. In a statement on that track, Young Fathers said that they were “trying to remember how to do this again” (in fact, Heavy Heavy as a whole saw them go back to basics, recording alone in a basement studio). Uzochukwu, on the other hand, was looking to do something new: create his first ever music video.

Now, Young Fathers have shared a striking music video directed by Uzochukwu, accompanying the new track “I Saw” – released to coincide with the announcement of Heavy Heavy, coming February 3, 2023 via Ninja Tune. The upcoming album is the band’s fourth full-length release, with a back-catalogue that also includes Dead, the winner of the 2014 Mercury Prize. “You let the demons out and deal with it,” says the band’s Kayus Bankole of the new album. “Make sense of it after.”

“I Saw” may be Uzochukwu’s first music video, but in the last few years he’s made a name for himself in his own right. In 2017, he shot FKA twigs at the age of 18, and has gone on to collaborate with the likes of Serpentwithfeet and Iris Van Herpen. His work is also currently on show at London’s Saatchi Gallery, featuring in its New Black Vanguard exhibition.

Like most collaborations, “I Saw” opened up new creative possibilities for both Young Fathers and Uzochukwu. The heightened, fantastical aesthetic of the latter brings a near-mythical quality to the video, while the band infuses his work with their distinctive and politically-charged storytelling. The resulting video revolves around a fictional community and the overlapping rituals they perform in the firelight on a stark, moonlit beach – convulsive choreography that moves to Young Fathers’ driving beat. The band itself looks on as these rituals take place, both detached from them and engulfed by them; dozens more glowing eyes watch out of the darkness.

Quite early on it was clear that there should be something very communal about it,” says Uzochukwu. However, the filmmaker took this feeling in some interesting and unexpected directions. The community in “I Saw” touch, heal, and dance with each other – activities that often spring to mind when you hear the word “communal” – but, at the same time, there’s an underlying danger to their intense connections and rituals, something that the filmmaker drew out of Young Fathers’ “unsettling” and “restless” music. Below, Uzochukwu breaks down the “I Saw” video, his creative inspirations for the visual, and what it was like to go from being a Young Fathers fan to a Young Fathers collaborator.


David Uzochukwu: Quite early on, it was clear that there should be something very communal about it. To me, the song felt really unsettling, super restless. At the same time it had this inspiring note, it felt quite dark. There’s something really extreme about it. 

Hearing the band’s various takes on the song, it also crystallised that they thought a lot about turning a blind eye and, at the same time, what it means to hand power to the people, but then maybe that not working out in the way that it should, thinking about escalation. All of these big terms were kind of floating around. And so I decided to go for something that felt both communal, and maybe almost populist, and thinking about the different sides to that. So it was quite clear early on that we wanted to stage various rituals of this fictional community.

This electricity, or this contagious energy between people, it can really break out in any sort of way. It’s quite interesting, the potential within that, on the one hand, of vulnerability and healing, that you might find community, and at the same time the things that you might actually achieve together. And those things not necessarily being opposites of one [another], but being able to sit with both at the same time. The things you might find healing might not be. They might be dangerous.


David Uzochukwu: From the band, there were some quite specific ideas floating around. Graham [Hastings] specifically had interesting documentaries, and video footage of gospel audiences in some Afro American congregations, people having these super spiritual moments. And then I obviously threw in a bunch of my own work. I also thought about Moonlight by Barry Jenkins. What’s actually also quite interesting – it wasn’t in the mood board directly – but just before [shooting the film] I also saw Nope. There’s this one quote by Daniel Kaluuya’s character, where he says: ‘What’s a bad miracle? They got a word for that?’ And that also really stuck with me, this idea of a bad miracle, and the appalling notion of not even having a word for it. I think that really read into how I wanted to see the main ritual in the video.


David Uzochukwu: It’s quite challenging to style a larger community, 15 to 20 people. We really wanted to make sure that you could tell it was this community that was living a little out of bounds of regular society, and at the same time, find ways to queer it and to make sure that they still felt new and fresh, and that we somehow felt represented in it. Eventually, we ended up working with both clubwear and workwear, and grinding things down and giving them patina and stuff in order to make them feel a little more lived in.

There were [also] moments where we wanted to really highlight that there was a ritualistic side to what we were seeing, and so we decided on these red flowing robes, or capes. There’s the sheer drama of people moving within them, but also the regality and royalty, and I liked how it toyed with this idea of privacy, and how much we reveal of ourselves, or don’t. Having that fabric recur throughout the video was really interesting, using the styling to tie the narratives together a bit more.


David Uzochukwu: It’s super intense, and it’s also quite strange, because I was a fan of their work, but actually didn’t know as much about them. I think they’re also really good at creating these images for themselves, and so it’s super interesting to be able to bring [out] those faces and personalities in relationship with the work and the music.

There was a lot of trust, and the creative process felt very direct and productive. They did have quite specific ideas, on the band’s side, sometimes, regarding the kind of visuals that they would like, or the tone that they would like to strike. But it was super helpful to be able to take that in, and then just sit on it and come back with something that spoke to both of us. That’s what I think is always super interesting within collaboration, being able to really delve into someone else’s world or invite them into yours, and find that sweet spot.


David Uzochukwu: We went not far from Berlin, like an hour and a half south of the city, and it’s like an old mine. It was just super beautiful, a really wide, large, sandy desert areas, but also a big lake. But it was quite challenging, because once you’re out there, you’re really just exposed to the weather. There’s not a lot of infrastructure around. But it was so worth it.

We started shooting without the band. It was really amazing to have this beautiful cast that was committed to sweating and freezing for-slash-with us. [There were] five main cast members, two of them I had worked with before and I’m friends with. Then we needed to expand, to get more people in for this larger community – it’s just friends and acquaintances from a lot of different ends. 

[The shoot] was really exciting because in a way it was super physical. I quite enjoy that, as a director, to work with the body, and to get a feeling of authenticity through that. Then having the band come in was super exciting, because they just fit in so seamlessly. They just popped up and they have fantastic energy, they fit together really, really well – you can tell that they’ve been doing this, the three of them, for a long time. Actually, I gave them directions, but they brought so much themselves, regarding their energy and obviously another take on the song. It was quite interesting to almost replicate whatever is happening in the video, onset, [to] already have this established little world that they then wander into.


David Uzochukwu: We wanted to kind of have this main ritual that unfolds around the band as observers, and that has its own peak. Then we ended up blending at least two more smaller rituals into it. To me, those were all connected through a focus on self-sacrifice, and the focus on vision, and seeing, and unseeing.


David Uzochukwu: It was really interesting to think about this self-sacrificial notion, and maybe find a way to embody this layer of meaning that the band had brought. It’s also about turning a blind eye, or giving yourself away, or almost feeling like a lamb marching off to the butcher. I was thinking about ways to represent that,aAnd so there’s a point where they all close their eyes, and we begin to realise that there’s this other sort of visionary presence in the night.


David Uzochukwu: I was just so excited to see what would come out, since I’ve never directed a music video before. I was so focused and interested in what the actual product would look like, trusting someone else with one’s world, and being trusted with someone else’s work in that way. It’s such an exciting, additional way of positioning yourself. 

Young Fathers are super political, and it's really exciting to be able to explore that in different mediums, to see what your beliefs translate into. That was something that was super satisfying in this collaboration, to know that you’re on the same page but also learning from each other, to let that affect what you’re visualising.