Objects and Empty Scenes

Watch Ikonika perform ‘Nobody’ with immersive four-wall visuals by London artist MUNGO

When choosing a collaborator, it’s a good idea to find someone with similar likes and dislikes — no matter how dark or misanthropic those tastes may run. The creative partnership of Ikonika and Mungo is strengthened as much by what they don’t like as what they do, and their shared audiovisual imagination is haunted by the cold, hard edges of science fiction and the depopulated spaces of dystopian architecture.

“We both like the idea of trying to tell a story through objects and empty scenes, without characters,” says Mungo, AKA London-based designer and DJ Leo Thomson, who’s been working with Ikonika for years as well as creating visuals for UK club and grime icons like L-Vis 1990 and Boy Better Know. His previous assignments for Ikonika include the cyberpunk cover for her 2017 album Distractions, where he imagined a brutalist urban precinct, devoid of people and glowing with turquoise lights — a concrete futurism that echoes the cold funkiness of the Hyperdub artist’s club tracks.

Having established a shared vision, the duo tend to collaborate at arm’s length, with Ikonika bringing the concept and Leo coming up with a visual response without much further direction. Their existing creative bond was even more crucial to the end result of this collaboration, with the clock ticking as they raced to come up with a complete audiovisual experience. “We had to go into it not overthinking — making decisions and not knowing exactly why we were making them,” explains Leo. “Spontaneity was a big thing. I really like working like that.” Ikonika remembers it more starkly. “I told him, just do what you want, don’t listen to me. But we’ve worked on live AV before and we’ve got to that stage where we can trust each other.”

To capture the steel-capped soundworld of ‘Nobody,’ taken from Ikonika’s latest EP on London label Don’t Be Afraid, Leo dreamt up a series of uncanny urban scenes, using choreographed strobing to light up familiar objects and quirky staged elements. Watching the video is like surveying a crime scene, he explains. “You’re working it out, ‘how did that quad bike get in the lake?’ ‘Why is that deck chair on those rocks?’” Rather than attempting to incorporate animated shots, Thomson stuck to using static images, a move that actually gave him more creative freedom. “If you want to change an animated shot you have to wait for it to render, make the change, then render it again — and in that process a lot of creative momentum is lost,” he explains. Working with still lifes meant he didn’t need to have a fixed idea of the end result. “You don’t have to be so disciplined.” Ikonika took the opportunity to wind up her imagemaker with impossible request. “I was like, ‘Leo, can you do some tracking shots?’ Just to piss you off. You were like, ‘Do you know how long that would take?!”

While Leo was rendering his cyber-noir scenes, Ikonika was busy programming the Launchkey Mini, splitting the track into stems and rehearsing the live performance. “I did a special edit of ‘Nobody’ and was triggering sounds live, playing bass and synth and then recording it and looping it,” she says. “The Launchkey was really easy to learn, the layout of it is very hands-on. I’ve used Novation gear for quite a long time, actually. I’m really into the Launchpad. It’s a simple layout, there aren’t too many things to twiddle. When I’m in a live situation — and I don’t play live that often — I need it to be easy, like muscle memory.”

The final shoot was “a wild experience,” she remembers. With Covid restrictions in place, Ikonika was left alone in the dark, standing on a tiny stage with the Launchkey Mini for company. “Everyone was so far away from me. It was a bit surreal, but it also made sense because of the track and the visuals — the way everyone was part of it but not part of it. There was a disconnect and I think it made sense with our work.” For once, a socially distanced performance felt like an artistic decision. “Our collaboration is made for club music in an empty space,” she laughs, “for nobody to listen to.”

Words: Chal Ravens