Reflektor Tapes is an exploration into the creation, madness behind the fourth album of Canadian indie heavyweights Arcade Fire. (Watch the trailer above).
It’s an ethereal, visual assault that visits their isolated recording sessions, sold-out concerts and cultural journey through Jamaica, Haiti, Los Angeles, London and Montreal. It also introduces a few previously unreleased cuts from the album, including “Get Right” and “Crucified Again”.
While trippy and sporadic in its style, Reflektor Tapes conjures philosophical thoughts from the band while jumping into the rhythmic rabbit hole of isolated vocals, distorted images that represent an ideology spoken by Win and Régine Chassagne: “Storytelling is more important than the melody, sometimes it’s more important than the music.”
These are five of the many learnings from watching Kahlil Joseph’s Reflektor Tapes:
KAHLIL JOSEPH HADN’T LISTENED TO ARCADE FIRE
Director Kahlil Joseph is a newcomer that has worked with Kendrick Lamar, FKA Twigs and has been heralded as “the brightest music video director since Hype Williams.”
After the film screened at Bloor Hot Docs, Joseph admittedly confessed that he didn’t know Arcade Fire beforehand, only knowing the name through his friend Spike Jonze, who has worked with the band countless times. Asked by the band to film some concert footage at Montreal’s Salsatheque, the project grew organically and Joseph was handed unprecedented access to Arcade Fire’s rich catalogue of selfshot in-studio footage and more.
In an interview with Billboard Magazine, Win spoke about knowing of Joseph’s work when he was working for Terrence Malick as an editor and for his work with a group called Shabazz Palaces.
Digging through that archive took nearly eighteen months with many versions of the film. The result was an audiovisual overload, complexity that reflected the band’s transition. Joseph noted inspiration from the “pretty unwatchable” Jean Luc-Godard documentary Symphony With the Devil and Les Blank’s freewheeling study of Leon Russell in Poem Is A Naked Person: “When he was alive, [Blank] could show the film in person but you couldn’t buy tickets to see it. I saw it in so somebody’s backyard and that blew me the fuck away. His ability to do a music doc that wasn’t a music doc.”
WIN BUTLER AND ELVIS
Win Butler’s fascination with Elvis is documented in promotions for his side-gig as DJ Windows 98 and frequent comparisons as his potential reincarnated doppleganger. At the beginning of the film, he alludes to a dream he had where Elvis struggles with satisfying his fans, turning to Colonel Tom Parker. Later on, Win hazily remembers another: “I had a dream where Elvis came to me and said that if we need to make it as a band we have to practice 37 hours a week. It worked.”
Win Butler looks a lot like Elvis actually. pic.twitter.com/j6654lOS
— Arcade Fire tube (@ArcadeFiretube) September 23, 2012
While making it as a band isn’t solely defined as commercial performance, Reflektor reached number one on the Canadian and American album charts and sold more than 140,000 copies in its first week and its artistic merit earned them a short list nomination for the Polaris Music Prize.
Assumed, explored through countless thought pieces around the release of the album, Søren Kierkegaard‘s acerbic essay, “The Present Age”, was confirmed as a conceptual inspiration. In the essay, the reflective age is one of continual talk with no action. Win highlighted one specific reference to Kierkegaard as a direct homage: “The present age is one of understanding, of reflection, devoid of passion, an age which flies into enthusiasm for a moment only to decline back into indolence.”
“We wanted an inverted relationship with the audience and make cartoon characters of ourselves. To be not taking pictures all the time and be in the crowd feeling communal energy with the whole thing.” – Win Butler
For any fan of the Arcade Fire hype machine, their obsession with bobblehead-esque masks is widely known. They utilize their paper mache heads in the live performances and press appearances, often with celebrities donning the responsibility. This concept was seemingly born from Kierkegaard and the band’s experience with carnival on the streets of Haiti, which Win describes: “the high are made low, low made high.”
Their affiliation with Haiti, through Chassagne’s family heritage and their charitable involvements, has extended into their album. Reflektor Tapes explores the Caribbean country’s direct influence on this album, especially a form of festival music known as “rara.” When speaking about the sounds of the country, Chassagne says “it has nothing to do with music, it has to do with actual communication.”
In the film’s post-Q&A, Joseph described himself as a sentimental man had been infatuated with the story between Win and Regine, which had been the initial focus of his film’s narrative. According to Joseph, the songwriting husband-and-wife team behind Arcade Fire turned down the idea.
Their love and admiration for each other is unavoidable. It’s a classic case scenario of Johnny and June or Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. The boy from Texas and the girl from Quebec have a musical chemistry that is well-documented and although it is not the focal-point of the film, Win narrates their bond while they romantically stroll through Haiti: “We were 19 or 20 when we met. It’s what happens when you get to know someone and someone’s family. People have false expectations of what love is, they don’t talk about it in school and your friends don’t talk about it in the bar.”