Filmed in the white working-class suburbs of Detroit (with Jamie's friend the Detroit-born artist Mike Kelley as sound recordist) in the days running up to Hallowe'en, Spook House reveals a community revelling in the macabre. Front lawns are transformed into cemeteries, kitchens become mausoleums and dismembered ‘bodies’ are prepared for cannibal feasts. Jamie’s camera tracks the celebrants as the nights become longer and darker.
Kranky Klaus immerses the viewer in the alarming activities of the Krampus, strange mythical beasts with huge horns, shaggy coats and serious attitude, as they maraud through the snowbound villages of central Austria on the feast of St Nicholas. As St Nicholas rewards the good, so the Krampus punish the bad, mauling and menacing to the very limits — and sometimes beyond — of acceptable intimidation.
BB, Jamie’s acclaimed film of backyard teenage wrestlers in Los Angeles, completes the trilogy. Kids jump from the tops of garages and slam into each other with chairs and ladders. Jamie’s raw black and white footage fuses with (the) Melvins’ pounding soundtrack to convey what Jamie called “a purgatory state of being”. In Jamie's films, the primal and pre-modern confront the ‘civilised’ in works of ominous intensity.
Image: Production still taken from Kranky Klaus by Cameron Jamie (2003)
In the first UK tour of their collaboration, (the) Melvins performed the soundtrack in front of large-scale projections of Jamie’s films, in music venues across England, culminating at The Forum in London. This is an excerpt taken from the performance during Spook House at the London Forum, 28 November, 2003.
A programme of talks and events accompanied the screenings of Spook House, BB and Kranky Klaus including Cameron Jamie in Conversation with Alex Farquharson, the making of Noël Noir, an alternative Christmas panto and the making of Backslang, a short film responding to Jamie’s BB project.
Image: Production still taken from Spook House by Cameron Jamie (2003)
If kids have been bad, they are mauled in an often overly-enthusiastic fashion. 'I met a man,' Jamie relates, 'whose eye was gouged out by a Krampus horn in the early '70s. He was proud of it. — Jason Arnopp, Word Magazine
[Kranky Klaus's] mix of stoner Metal guitar explosion, crazed percussion power and Jamie's recordings of demonic bells gives the piece a feel that belongs more to 20th century electronic music than rock 'n' roll. This attitude to recorded sound is something that Jamie jas always found attractive and instructive." — Edwin Pouncey, The Wire, January 2004
A gunshot-like drum fires into the dark, jolting attentions, and led by Buzz Osbourne, the trio launch into an oozing pile of black grooves while the disturbing, fleece-clad, horned demons terrorise the people of Austria, bucking and bruising above them. A set of low-end resonance, sub-bass throbs and driving beat accompanies the grinning skulls and gardens-cum-cemetries of Spook House. — Ronnie Kerswell, Rock Sound, January 2004
For Spook House he went to Detroit, where suburban disaffection, if anything, runs even deeper. We see front lawns that have been turned into grizzly cemetries and cellars that are now death row penitentiaries. A modest entrance fee admits one to the 'Fear Factory Haunted Hayride', the 'Chamber of Torture' and the 'Cannibal Cafeteria' - where 'manburgers' are served and a human arm roasts on a BBQ. Technically these vernacular installations can be astonishing; hydraulics cause corpses to sit up, pulleys make a ghost glide through the air on wires, and an old sedan holding a bloody crash victim fills with smoke. — Alex Farquharson, Frieze, Issue 83
Born in the suburbs of Los Angeles in 1969, Cameron Jamie’s drawings, films and photographs explore the dark underbelly of the American dream – the way that primal parts of the psyche persistently express themselves, even in the most modern of settings.
Over the past decade Jamie has made a number of films which show social groups performing activities in which violent and pathological urges find expression in different kinds of communal rites and rituals, carnivalesque celebrations and ceremonies.
The black and white film BB explored the phenomenon of backyard wrestling in Los Angeles. Together with two subsequent films commissioned by Artangel, Spook House and Kranky Klaus, the films are normally projected alongside live performance by the west coast slung band (the) Melvins. Exquisite Mayhem, a book made with Mike Kelley, was published to acclaim in 2001.
A subsequent film work JO (2004) documents a French pageant and extreme right-wing rally, both held in honour of Joan of Arc, before concluding at a New York hot dog eating contest – played out entirely in reverse. The music for this film is performed live by the Japanese musician Keijo Haino. His most recent film Massage the History (2007-2009) shows the extraordinary choreographic moves of a young furniture removals team in Alabama, with music by Sonic Youth.
Jamie's films, photographic studies, drawings and sculptural objects have been the subject of survey exhibitions at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis in 2006, MIT List Visual Arts Center in Massachusetts in 2007 and Kunsthalle Zurich in 2013.
Image: Still taken from BB of a referee making a call as two teenagers grapple in a makeshift wrestling ring (left) and Cameron Jamie pictured (on the far right) with (the) Melvins, Milton Keynes, 20 November 2003 (above). Photographer: Chris Taylor
Melvins celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2004. And yet there are still numerous albums and tours left to do. They have their sights set on new frontiers such as radio and television and perhaps even a team-up of sorts with whatever future political party is the most popular.
The core band of King Buzzo and Dale remains intact and they've had the same bass player since 1998! The major rager on the four string motherf*** er, hailing from the Minneapolis Cows is Kevin “Rutmanis.” Ignorance of this fact signifies acute ineptitude in the brain department. The Melvins proclaim this lineup the definitive whatever you want to call it of whatever it is they think they do. Nothing should be denied them now.
In 1999, enduring a long list of albums, tours and labels, they found themselves in the loving arms of Mike Patton's Ipecac Recordings. Dale reminisces, “I remember our first meeting with Mike when Buzz stood up, pointed directly at Mike’s chest and said ‘here's how it's going to be Mister’ it was beautiful.” After extensive contract negotiations and an all-expense-paid Ipecac-signing bonus party, the boys went to work on their most ambitious project to date ... The Trilogy. Actually it should have been four albums, but Ipecac got cold feet when presented with a quadruple fold-out, four-CD jewel case that was almost six inches thick. Instead, Ipecac presented them with the far more ordinary idea of doing three albums spaced apart by a few months each and MAYBE doing a fourth somewhere down the line. Disappointed but still under contract, the Melvins agreed and The Maggot, The Bootlicker and The Crybaby came out over a nine month period. The fourth one, Colossus of Destiny was released in 2001. Ipecac also re-released the Melvins first album, Gluey Porch Treatments complete with “extra tracks.” In 2002 they “got busy” again. Hostile Ambient Takeover was a great new album again released on Ipecac.
The Melvins feel as if a giant ugly hand is shaking them to their very foundation. From this chilling feeling is born a new Melvins and with this new Melvins comes a new Melvins motto: from now on it's all bidness.
Remember, this is the important stuff, the wow and the now stuff. If you insist on more info about the Melvins then just log onto the internet “information super highway.” It's all there somewhere, rest assured.
Gluey Porch Treatment and Stoner Witch count amongst the Melvins classic releases.
Image: (the) Melvins performing the live soundtrack to Spook House, Milton Keynes, 20 November 2003. Photographer: Chris Taylor
Kranky Klaus and Spook House are part of The Artangel Collection.
Who made this possible?
Kranky Klaus and Spook House was commisioned by Artangel in association with the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, with support of the Délégation aux arts plastiques, Ministère de la culture, France, and the National Touring Programme of Arts Council England. Kranky Klaus and Spook House is included in The Artangel Collection, a national initiative to commission and present new film and video work, supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Presented in London with the support of London Arts Board.