Last month, the Berlin Music Video Awards marked its fifth year in operation, in which time the festival has grown from humble beginnings into an event spanning several days and welcoming over 5,000 guests from all over the world. Their ethos is simple: everyone is welcome, regardless of language, budget or label. This is artistic inclusivity Berlin-style. So, of course we had to go and check it out.
So how can an award ceremony possibly last for three or four days? Well, the Berlin Music Video Awards have another selling point beyond inclusivity; they screen everything. Over the course of the three days of the main competition they screen all 10 nominees from each of the 13 categories. That's 130 videos, and that's not all. That doesn’t even include the additional screenings of videos out of competition. There is a lot to watch.
On the first, very warm night at the Nuke Club, where the event was taking place, there was a full crowd milling around, slightly buzzed from the free Jäger they’re giving out on the door and browsing some of the stalls set up selling anything from vintage clothes to leather-based kinky apparel. We have to remind ourselves that we're here to watch videos...
In the first screening, before things get underway, the crowd is entertained by the acoustic glam-rock drag act Eat Lipstick, warming the crowd up for our hosts for the evening; American comedian David Hailey and Berlin-based musician Gad Baruch. Then we're into the first category: Best Concept. Which frankly seemed like a strange one to start off with. In fact, this entire first day seems like they’re getting all the ‘big ticket’ categories out of the way first. But where any other awards show would save these until the very end, Berlin switches it up and kicks off the evening with a showing of incredible ideas.
It has to he said that we’ve seen most of these before, but the joy of watching something like Ryan Staake’s Young Thug video or Sam Pilling’s promo for DJ Shadow & Run The Jewels with a large and unsuspecting crowd is something of a joy itself.
Eventual winner Ilya Naishuller’s video for Leningrad is always a treat to watch because it is the very definition of organised – a fact bolstered by the video’s Creative Producer, Dimitri Muraviev as he thanked his crew of over 280(!) people.
Winner: Leningrad ‘Kolshik’ Dir. Ilya Naishuller
According to the Berlin MVAs website, the Best Narrative award rewards “a music video with emphasis to originality of storyline” and thus the focus is on the storytelling, rather than the overall concept. This does make for a varied list of nominees – from the dance-lead storytelling of Tesla Boy’s video for Nothing by Ryan Patrick, to the hilarious conceit driving Alexandre Chatelard’s beach-babe video by Allen & Smithee.
This category also gave us the first glimpse of some of the amazing European videos that don’t necessarily make it to British shores in a big way - Mario Clement’s video for Maxim’s Wilkommen Im Club being a prime example. German pop music never really sells well over here but this 70s period piece following a bungled heist deserves to be seen.
More traditional narratives seem to play best here, with the biggest responses coming from Dexter Navy’s incredible La Haine-inspired A$AP Mob short film for Money Man and the pitch-black comedy of eventual winner Peder. In which we follow an unrequited office romance to its logical conclusion; cold-blooded murder.
Winner: Peder ‘Shadows of my Mind’ by Peter Harton
To some, the biggest category of all. To Berlin, Best Director is just the third category on day one. This is a strong category with surprisingly few big names, and certainly one that shone the light on more European directors. First of all, news that might shake some to their very core (including me) – the first Facebook livestreamed music video was actually made late last year by Måns Nyman for KLINGANDE ft. M-22 (Sorry Kasabian, sorry Sing).
Impressive as that one-take wonderment was, it was no match for the winner – The Blaze, a little-known French duo who self-directed their video for Territory and truly blew the world away. Intelligent, razor-sharp and almost intimidatingly confident in its execution, it’s a clear winner both with the judges and the crowd.
Winner: The Blaze ‘Territory’ Dir. The Blaze
Maybe we were just tired at this point, or maybe it’s the heat (just ticking over to hour number six of being sat in a dark hot room) but Best Cinematography starts off relatively weak. This is one of the pitfalls of another of the Berlin Music Video Awards’ quirks – you won’t see the same video nominated twice (Best Music Video category notwithstanding).
After a brief intermission in the nominee screenings (featuring the third short performance of the night from Gad Baruch’s band The Dirty Honkers, who are about as good as the name suggests) the latter half of the nominees really step the standard up. The first, second and third place winners all come from this second batch of videos, including the incredible sci-fi epic for Ásgeir by director Julien Lassort and DoP Julien Meurisse. Although it’s a shame that Yagaboo and Luke Jacobs’ underwater work for Seramic didn’t finish in the top three.
Nobody was ever going to dispute the winner though: Romain Gavras and Marrias Rudh’s work on Jamie XX’s Gosh left the crowd stunned, and rightly so. The UKMVA video of the year for 2016 was always going to win practically any category it was entered for.
Winner: Jamie XX ‘Gosh’ Dir. Romain Gavras, DP. Mattias Rudh
On the second day of the Berlin Music Video Awards, the Silver Screenings opened - which is a second room of music videos that weren’t shortlisted in the regular competition that are screened continuously. Just in case you got tired of watching music videos in one dark room, and fancied a change of scenery.
As for the awards screenings, the running goes something like this: each day opens with a music performance, then the presenters – David Hailey plus a rotating cast of extras, which on the second day is Alexandrine Joseph – try to get the crowd excited whilst also repeatedly thanking the benevolent event sponsors (predictably, dropping the word Jägermeister elicits the liveliest response).
Following this, the first five nominees from the first category are screened, then the sponsors are thanked one more time, then the second five nominees are screened. Then, without any real explanation, a woman dressed as a bear comes onstage holding prizes as the winner of said category is announced. Speeches are made, photos are taken and then the whole process (which takes an hour, give or take) is repeated four or five times.
Now, as tight a scheduling idea as that seems on paper, when you’re actually sat there in the room sweating more than you can physically drink, it becomes akin to some sort of strange, repetitive fever dream. That being said, maybe that enhances the viewing experience somewhat – everyone enjoying crazy ideas under a state of shared mania.
The second night of awards, which continues the focus on technical categories, begins with Best Animation. This category is a real treat, purely for the huge scope in artistic styles that are being shown off. From the beautiful illustrated colour palettes of Quentin Baillieux’s video for Charles X, to the black and white manga-inspired video for Lorn by GERIKO or the darkly hilarious body humour in Hasse de Moor’s CGI dance party by Balázs Simon. It’s a mixed bag, but everything in there is a joy to behold.
The eventual winner is Karni & Saul’s clip for Katie Melua, which was actually the first video show tonight – a beautifully charming piece of animation that creates an entire snowy world on a kitchen table.
Winner: Katie Melua ‘Perfect World’ Dir. Karni & Saul
This is followed by a celebration of the visual results of a deeply technical craft in Best VFX, and the versatility of what those crafts can accomplish. Shy Luv’s rubberized bodies fall infinitely from the sky and bounce off gigantic women, DJ Shadow’s clip sees a man battle an ominous alien light source hell bent on abduction, and Thibaut Grevet’s Vimeo Staff-picked promo for Sage follows an infinite amount of disembodied legs. Oh, and then The Weeknd robs a bank, shoots a bunch of people in the face and blows up a few cars in that insane video game style clip for False Alarm.
The winner, and rightly so, is Vania Heymann & Gal Muggia’s awesome clip for Coldplay's Up&Up. Building on Heymann’s impressive visual blending made famous in his sensational clip for Roy Kafri two years ago, the clip blends stock footage together in mind-bending ways that manage to be humorous, poignant and stunning all at the same time. Visual effects have a power to do inspire awe and make the unreal seem tangible and no video showcases that more than this one.
Winner: Coldplay ‘Up&Up’ Dir. Vania Heymann and Gal Muggia
Then came Best Editing - often one of the most contentious of categories. When it comes to narrative filmmaking, editing at its best is supposed to be invisible, as the old saying goes. But when it comes to music videos it tends to be the videos with the most obvious cuts that seem to take centre stage. Encouragingly, Eoin Glaister’s clip for Glass Animals, takes a much more subtle editing approach to let a narrative over two stories of the same house unfold takes second place here. But the ratio of clever edits to simply quick edits in this category leaves a lot to be desired.
Having said that, Jodeb’s winning clip for Skrillex & Wiwek is a head-spinning, dizzying assault that uses erratic cuts to compliment the complex electronic arrangement of the song perfectly.
Winner: Skrillex & Wiwek ‘Killa Ft. Elliphant (Still In The Cage)’ Dir. & Editor Jodeb
Perhaps not surprisingly, Best Art Direction turns out is a real visual feast of a category. Pedro Martín-Calero’s gorgeous video for Hinds throws down a visual gauntlet with its blend of colourful costume and architecture (and the fact that it doesn’t even come in the top 3 is kind of a shock!)
This is without a doubt a tough category though – the crowd goes wild for Russian artist AQUAAEROBIKA’s incredible brightly-coloured PVC bodysuits in the impossibly shiny video for ‘Icecream’ and cheer wildly for Ninian Doff’s promo for Miike Snow.
The winner, a video from Spain for Oliver and directed by Alan Masferrer was a smouldering, sexy and dark dreamlike video that reveled in retro touches and subtle flourishes that came together to create an incredible and bizarre world greater than the sum of its parts. A world away from the mega-saturated colour coordinated work of some of its fellow nominees.
Best Art Director
Winner: Oliver ‘Electrify’ Dir. Alan Masferrer
The last award for the second night of the awards focussed not on the video at all, but just the song itself. It was won by Firefox AK for ‘Heart Of Mine’ - the video directed by Mats Udd.
Winner: Firefox AK 'Heart Of Mine' Dir: Mats Udd
After that, with day two of this music video jamboree over, your man from Promonews staggered out into the hot Berlin night – having already watched so many videos, but with no idea that some of the most extraordinary work of all was still to come.
• More on this year's Berlin Music Video Awards coming soon