Life in Mono is a band I have followed since its earlier iterations when I was the videographer for Sofar Sounds. What really caught me was how much their music reminded me of Akira Yamaoka and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s music from ‘Silent Hill’ of which guitarist James Davis’ spaghetti shredding and the melancholic vocals of Sarah Clayton is a mirror pairing.  Joining them is Mike Gill on drums and Adam Darroch-Thompson on bass who together add enormous slam and gravity to the tracks. This isn’t traditional pop-style writing but a more cinematic style of rock that will detour into dynamic instrumental, which, coming from an electronic music background is something I love.

The song

‘Blackout’ has that trademark Life in Mono dynamic instrumentation and troubled lyrics that dwell upon themes of obsession and fixating upon the idea of a person until it becomes abstracted and polluted – that dark sickness that can arise within us every once in a full moon. That was my interpretation at least.

Whilst the track certainly has weight, it isn’t the band’s heaviest track. It’s slow and brooding, building from the top down with a guitar loop that underpins much of the song with the low end eventually revealing itself a good quarter way in. This structure reminds me of horror movie scores like Carpenter’s theme for ‘Halloween’ (1978), where light and pretty elements are used to set up an uneasy atmosphere and then the bass is eventually revealed to say “here comes trouble”.

Treatment concept

Sometimes you see a music video and it’s exactly what you pictured in your head. I’ve always thought ‘Stan’ (2000) by Eminem is a great example of this. ‘Blackout’ is a song that gave me everything on a plate. The setting would be a David Lynch Twin Peaks/Silent Hill esque mountain town in the North West of America with lost highways reaching out to remote truck stops and moody dive joints where something dark bubbles under the surface. The narrative of the video would need to establish this setting then introduce a toxic element and show it move and transform from tangible to abstracted states representative of the inner state of mind of the central character.


‘Twin Peaks’/‘Silent Hill’ would be central references not just in terms of the setting but also in how they are places that host dark and abstract otherworldly elements parallel to the real world. The Silent Hill series has loads of cinematic moments that scan perfectly. The abandoned car on the remote highway, the death of Nurse Lisa Garland where she spontaneously begins to bleed profusely from her face, sinks pouring with blood and the ‘blood mirror room’ sequence were all big inspirations.

I didn’t want to do blood as I find hazardous materials much scarier, especially when you read stories of what became of the victims of nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Tokaimura.  Surprisingly the concept of a malevolent fluid hasn’t been covered all that much besides ‘The Blob’ (1958/1988), ‘Dark Water’ (2005) and a kill from ‘Final Destination’ (2000). There was also the true story of Elisa Lamb who mysteriously drowned in a water tank of the infamous Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles in 2013 with guests of the hotel washing and even drinking the water polluted by her decomposing body. Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece ‘Death Stranding’ (2019) depicted entities from the world of the dead crossing into the world of the living via an oily tar-like substance and Johnathan Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin’ (2013) that showed an alien inhabiting the body of a human using a black fluid to trap and harvest its victims.  Going back to David Lynch – “Eraserhead” (1977) is a primer for the industrial and otherworldly, where an alien seed drops from space into a puddle and whilst I haven’t watched it in years, the feel of that movie really engrains itself deeply into how you process the dark abstract.

For the band performance material I looked to my favourite band in the world and one of my favourite all-time music videos, Autolux’ ‘Turnstyle Blues’ (2004) directed by Shawn Kim, using side and backlighting to maintain a very moody and mysterious look and feel.


I love horror aesthetics and often try to work them in where I can. For ‘Blackout’ the setting was perfect for that kind of feel. The story would be that a woman breaks down on a rainy highway and walks to find a trucker bar to drown the troubles she was trying to escape. Meanwhile, an ominous toxic entity emerges in the darkness, seeping into the ground and channelling its way into the woman’s world where she becomes intoxicated and overcome. This is where the story ends because I have a hard rule that I will never play into the tired and hacky “was it all a dream/insanity” trope that makes up 90% of the movies on Shudder.


Production Design

Moving into production I decided that the video would consist of three strands that were, real-world story elements, performance footage of the band and abstract shots of the fluid.  To create the fluid I needed to find a way to produce something that looked like oil as working with actual oil doesn’t bear thinking about and simply adding black dye to water would just look too flat and lifeless. I first tried mixing black dye with fake blood though the consistency remained too “jammy” and still had a red tint to it. After further R&D I settled upon a formula of corn syrup, guar gum and pond dye.  The fluid looked great but to bring it to life I used ferrofluid which is made from nano-particles of iron suspended in a fluid which, when exposed to magnetic forces creates strange, abstract structures.

In the summer I shot a live studio recording with the band in which we made heavy use of strong aqua-coloured LEDs. This same colour looks amazing when shone over black oily substances so it made perfect sense to set aqua against dirty gold as the primary main colour scheme both as a nod to the colour scheme of the studio record and using the increasing intensity of the aqua to show the increasing intensity of intoxication.


Locations became the biggest ballache of the project. It’s one thing to settle on wanting to shoot on highways and truckstops but unfortunately, these things simply do not exist in the UK. However you really only need enough for the frame you are shooting to work. After searching high and low the locations I finally secured were a lay-by, a burger joint and the toilet of a community centre.

The road scenes were shot on Tog Hill in Bath across from a notorious and very lively dogging spot.  We saw a bald bloke show up wearing a sleeping bag, but I think it was a bit cold for him as he soon emerged from a bush and went home.  We were blessed with the most hardcore downpours of November rain imaginable. We had studied the weather forecasts to the minute to choose our moment, but nothing can express how soaking wet and cold we were. To light the scene I used the car headlights to backlight, a gold LED on the left as key to enhance the road lights, and a cool white light to the right as a fill/contrast and to imply the moonlight leading the character toward her decline, with the intensity of the colour blue growing throughout the video.  Funny story – I came out to the location to test some shots and actually ended up breaking down when I left my lights on for too long, thereby doing the very thing that the video was about. For the oil leak, I pre-created a thick gel-like slick that I laid on the ground and dripped fluid onto it. This image of the leaking oil can either be taken literally as an oil leak that caused the breakdown and/or interpreted as a representation of toxicity becoming uncontained.

The band performance shots were filmed in the carpark of Crossfit Bath as the warehouse has these big steel shutters that carried the industrial/automotive theme of the video. As well as aqua vs gold LEDs I also shot a projector at the shutters to give subtle fluid ripples, thereby directly connecting the band to the fluid and giving the look of the slow refresh of a CRT screen. Again, the weather was freezing. We shot a couple of performances wide, individual close-ups and a couple of takes where I fed my own pre-recorded directions into my headphones in sync with the backing track so I know exactly where to be throughout the track. The final thing to be shot was the drum close-ups and again we were blessed as nothing looks cooler than the smash of drums being showered in rain.

The trucker bar was actually a burger joint called Magu Burger in Bath. The owner was an absolute hero who also acted as our barman/hand model. I chose this venue based on those great-looking neon bar signs which completely sell the trucker bar vibe even though it is actually in the middle of a suburban high street, though that doesn’t show on film. The black jager shots and bottle spilling again echo the theme of intoxication intensifying and becoming uncontained.

The bathroom scene was shot at the Percy Community Centre in Bath. It’s a weird thing to approach someone about filming in a toilet but they were great. I had eyed up a bar sign for the scene but on the day I went to collect they’d all been returned as defective, so I made one out of LED rope. I really wanted to avoid corny Evanescence-style melodrama and over-acting so we kept everything quite moody and downplayed.

The final thing I shot was the abstract fluid shots. I filmed it in my kitchen and bathroom up close using a macro lens to make everything look bigger and to dial in on the textural details. When I had the ferrofluid in the centre of a petri dish it began to remind me of Hal from Kubriks’ ‘2001 – A Space Odysee’ (1968) or numerous other films with the Lovecraft style, where “the entity” is not depicted as a tangible creature but rather something more akin to a swirling mass or vortex existing in an “other space”. This structure could then collapse, transform and translate into different forms (drips, channels, pools, torrents etc..) in line with the narrative of collapsing mental states.


In the edit, I focused primarily on how one shot could link to or match to the next whilst also tracking the dynamics of the song. For example, matching lateral camera movement where truck shots will cut to other truck shots, transition via slide wipes to truck shots or cut from a truck to a static shot for pause. I also used match cuts to carry the action of one cut onto the next e.g two drum sticks smashing drums cutting to Sarah bashing both hands on the edge of the sink, or the ripple of the ferrofluid cutting with the ripple of the skin of the kick drum.

The biggest trick was compositing. Many shots seem like straight shots when in fact they are multiple layers and masks composited. For example, the opening titles look like a flickering CRT television with oil dripping upon it. In fact, this is a composite of fluid dripping into my bathtub, fluid rippling in a tray and a subtle CCTV effect to add scan lines. Also, any shot of dark fluid pouring from a tap is a composite rather than crafty plumbing. I also used subtle vignette-style masking to darken the space beyond the subject to give that “noir look”.  It’s not an immediately obvious effect but it works to enhance the intimate tone of the scene, drawing you deeper into the character’s mind space.

One tiny touch I did add was to add 16mm film grain to the abstract footage.  This was inspired by both the visual noise that amps up on-screen in the Sileny Hill games when danger is near, and also a photo of the “Elephants Foot”, which is a lump of concrete that melted into the basement of the Chernobyl reactor which still remained so radioactive the radiation caused grain like noise on the film.

The Wrap

I wouldn’t put my name on a project unless I was really happy with it. There were points in production where trying to secure locations was starting to seem hopeless and all the while the clock was ticking as the lead was 6 months pregnant. But it’s turned out to be one of those videos where the images in my head from first hearing the track are exactly what has translated onto the screen, and I could want for any more than that. Great band, great track, cool video.