If David Lynch and Lewis Carroll transcended the time-space continuum to co-produce some audio-visuals after guzzling large quantities of disco sherbet, it might look and sound something like Unoriginal Sin, a lavish 8 minute music video from London-based duo Pandora Drive.
In reality, the two men behind the release are lens jockey and musician Thomas Knights and DJ and producer Nick Sheldon. The dark slice of trippy house and its decadent accompanying video represent the first in a series of short conceptual films charting the story of Alice, ‘a girl desperate to escape her perfect life for something more dangerous’.
Exploring the seedy back streets and down town strip clubs of an open-all-hours urban playground, the 12 instalments of Pandora Drive’s ambitious concept album will navigate a cityscape of addiction, loneliness and escapism.
PHOENIX caught up with one half of the twosome, Knights – a name you’re likely to recognise not only on account of his videos for Maya Jane Coles and Willy Moon, but also for his hit exhibition and subsequent bestselling art book, Red Hot – to get the lowdown on the project.
UNORIGINAL SINUNORIGINAL SIN
The darkness got to her.
Crept over each bump of her spine
Like the belly of a snake on rough terrain
She drank it in
Until her name was replaced
By the way neon lights insist upon eyes.
Alcohol. Hot breath.
Until she craved rooms with the walls painted black,
Smoke from sticky lips.
It’s so much better this way.
Footprints in shadows
Cast by concrete.
Faces flicker orange, oppressed by orange streetlights.
This. Always over daylight.
It filled her up.
A match to petrol in her gut.
Because you can never truly be good enough.
This way is more fun.
Heavy bass shakes collarbones
Walls wet to the touch
Sweat like morning grass
Home a million miles away-
Sink into the city sewers.
Into its belly. Pulse with the reverb, crouching over toilet seats,
Dirt on knees
Breathe it in. Feel nothing. Sleep through sunlight.
Wake up with aching hearts and empty bottles.
Go back. We want to feel nothing again.
Poem by Cecilia Knapp
Posted by Pandora Drive on Friday, 5 February 2016
You’re best known for your filmmaking and photography, when did you start making music?
I’ve been doing music my entire life really. I started out doing a whole funk album, before disco and funk inspired pop music was really in vogue. I was very young and there were a lot of knock backs. Then I discovered that I could take photos and became more of a photographer and filmmaker for a while.
What triggered the songwriting revival?
It was so funny how it happened. I bumped into Maya Jane Coles’ manager at the gym and we started chatting. I mentioned that I had all these old tracks that were sitting around doing nothing. There was one called When I’m In Love – it was a real slow jam, white boy soul – and he said it was perfect for a track that Maya was working on. At the time, Maya was being held up as ‘one to watch’ and had already done a Mixmag cover. I’d been missing doing music and that moment got me back into it and gave me a boost.
You’ve directed videos for Maya and Willy Moon, amongst others. How did you end up branching out with your own project, Pandora Drive?
I’d been thinking that I’d love to have my own music project that I could do the whole creative for, but I parked it for a while. Fast forward a couple of months and I met Nick Sheldon. He does a lot of deep house and I’d always thought that if I ever did music again I’d want it to be super credible – dark, atmospheric and filmic. He gave me a load of backing tracks that were perfect for what I was thinking of – naughty, anxious sounding stuff that you’d put on when driving to an illicit affair or to score drugs. So Nick and I are a duo and Pandora Drive is a partnership of film and music, but the idea is that we’ll be collaborating with other artists.
You’ve co-written a lot of the tracks for this concept album with Karin Park… was your collaborative track ‘Hurricane’ a prelude to ‘Original Sin’?
I had an immediate connection with Karin when I first worked with her and whenever she was in London she’d stay with me. I was like ‘would you be up for writing something together?’ We wrote Hurricane in about half an hour and that was our first release as Pandora Drive – it’s all about trying not to get swept up in city life. Karin makes me go to places creatively that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Both Maya Jane Coles and Booka Shade remixed Hurricane, which was an incredible launch for the project. Karin and I ended up writing an entire album together, she and I on the songs, Nick supplying the music. She sings on about four other tracks.
Tell us about the concept for Unoriginal Sin in your own words?
I wrote Unoriginal Sin with a guy called Neil Thomas, who I’ve known since I was 17. It’s about a girl called Alice who wants to escape her perfect life for something more dangerous, and we watch her go on a mission of self-destruction. Ultimately it’s very much about my own experiences and doing things that you told yourself you wouldn’t. I felt disheartened with my industry and was going out and getting completely off the rails in order to anaesthetise myself from what was going on in my head. I couldn’t understand why I was out to destroy myself. It’s easy to be led astray in the city.
This looks like a pretty high spec production! How long were you filming for?
Three days. We had no budget at all, and whatever money we had went on the camera, so the rest was thinking outside the box. I pulled so many favours and our stylist Mike Adler managed to call in so much great stuff. A friend of mine gave me the use of his strip club for a whole day. Another friend has a really big office, which we turned into a house – I took my bed over there in an Ad Lee!
Were you involved with the casting?
Yes – we were so lucky to get Pip Phillips, who plays Alice. I just hadn’t found anyone who was right, but Pip walked in right at the end. I asked whether she’d be comfortable stripping at gun point for the video and she was like, ‘Oh, that’s fine, I just had to dance naked in the opening credits of Spectre’.
I also love Samantha, who plays ‘Mother’, the disabled character. I met Samantha on a night out – she was out clubbing in her wheelchair, dressed up in this crazy clothing. I said ‘I’ve got this role you’d be amazing for, she’s a criminal gang leader, strip club boss, and drug mule.’ She said, ‘Oh my god, that sounds amazing!’ As it turned out, she was an actress. Samantha loves the role because she gets to play this sexy bitch and not the victim. Here she’s the most powerful character in the world, controlling her henchmen.
Do the ‘ear drops’ in this video represent a particular drug?
I wanted to get drug taking into this film but it’s tricky. I thought ‘what other orifice is there?’ This doesn’t feel like a drug that we know, but from my point of view and experience it represents G [GHB]. A lot of my straight friends don’t know about G, but all my gay friends recognise it immediately and I think this will resonate with the gay community. It’s a problem in our culture. This is a way of stylising it, but it’s not meant to glorify or demean the whole drug thing, it’s just an illustration.
Next we’re going to release three underground records in quick succession that aren’t going to have big budgets or videos – just artwork. Then we’ll do the next part of Alice’s story in about four months time, so it will be out in summer. The next video will have dialogue in it. Over the course of the 12 films, each one will pick up where the last one left off. The plan is to do three per year. This is a chance to become the filmmaker that I want to be…
Words: Mary-Jane Wiltsher