Emanuele Kabu Energizes and Elevates the Music Video
Skate culture, graffiti, and the theater have all influenced his vision.
A self-taught Italian animator, Emanuele Kabu is constantly raising the bar for what music videos can be. His clips for bands from the Helio Sequence to Lucifour M fearlessly explore color and texture, spinning elaborately offbeat stories. And Kabu’s short, animated art films—like Aperture, whose rapid-fire editing rightly comes with a warning about epileptic seizures—push viewers to the brink of visual overload. Lemonade spoke with the artist about graffiti, The Cure, and his side passion for artificial intelligence.
How would you say that music videos can be works of art?
The first music video I remember is “Lullaby,” by The Cure. I was 10 or 11 years old and I was at my grandmother’s house, looking at the TV and covering my eyes with my hands because I was so scared by all these cobwebs and that man lying in bed. I was mesmerized by that video and for the next few weeks I kept looking for it on TV to watch it over and over.
Many things happened in my life just because of that music video, so my heart is screaming: “YES! Music video is a wonderful art form and should be exhibited in galleries and museums!” The truth is that I don’t know, and probably art critics and curators will answer this question much better than me… but music videos surely were a key element in my life and brought me closer to the art world.
When approaching animation for a music video, is it important that you really love and connect with the song itself?
What’s usually most important to me is to connect and talk with the artist behind the song. Even if I might not particularly like the song at first, I’m always curious about the stories behind it. If the conversation is inspiring the job is almost done and the visuals come easily.
Having said that, a few years ago I worked on a song that I really didn’t like. It was a disaster and the video never came out, thankfully.
That day I learned to say: “I’m really sorry but I can’t work on this project.”
Who are some of your creative heroes?
Too many to mention so I’ll stick to musicians and name a few albums: Coil (Musick to Play in the Dark, Vol 1. & 2); The Flaming Lips (Soft Bulletin); Autechre (Tri Repetae); John Coltrane (A Love Supreme); Scanner (Cystic)… but this list could go on forever.
Tell me a bit about your commission for #ConnectedByLemonade — it’s this psychedelic animation in which we see someone swimming through colorful, swirling pink shapes…
I’ll leave some free interpretation to whoever sees it. Let’s just say that the idea came while I was walking towards the public swimming pool, [only to] discover that it was the last day it was open, due to the pandemic. As there are only two quick routes leading from my house to the pool I know them both very well — I could walk them with my eyes closed. So, in order not to get bored, I always look for new and hidden details that I had not previously noticed, and more or less I always find something…
Is there a ‘dream project’ you’d love to undertake some day ?
Many! A couple of years ago I started writing a project that combines music and dance choreography. It needs to be better defined but might be cool and that’s definitively something that I’ll investigate further.
I would love to work on a title sequence for a movie.
Lately, with a friend, I’m experimenting with artificial intelligence. It’s really crazy, but super interesting, and I hope to find the time to move forward on that.
Do you feel like Italian art or visual culture has influenced your own style in any direct ways?
For me it all started with skateboarding and graffiti, then the hardcore/punk scene, so when I was a teenager I was more interested in American visual culture.
But the truth is that many of my favorite graffiti artists were European, especially French. The British electronic music scene had a strong influence on me as well as the books and drawings of Dino Buzzati, just to mention a few, so perhaps I would say that European culture, rather than Italian, has strongly influenced me.
What advice might you offer to a younger artist who is just starting out?
Take the right amount of time to try new things — mostly failures — without a precise project or a deadline, just for the sake of it.