An amusing side effect of rapid technological change is nostalgia for dying and dead formats. It’s not a universal phenomenon—nobody’s misting up over DAT tapes—but it’s certainly prevalent. For my part, I abidingly LOVE vinyl records. But it ain’t 1997 anymore, and lossless digital boasts a demonstrably better frequency range and less harmonic distortion than vinyl, period—that those distortions may sound pleasing doesn’t make them not distortions. For every delusional LP junkie who holds vinyl to be a superior sound reproduction format, there’s also an even MORE delusional record-head who insists that the scratches, pops, and hiss of a beat-ass record actually sound good. That’s freakin’ NUTS—that’s just a consequence of the media’s physicality, if musicians wanted hiss and pops they’d have recorded them and baked them into the mix, and that to me is the end of the discussion unless you want to bring up Christian Marclay. But those flaws that obscure the message the medium is intended to deliver are exactly the things we seem to miss when progress obsoletes a familiar media format.
VHS tape is an apt case in point. For folks like me who are of let’s just say “a certain age,” nth-generation VHS dubs were the lingua franca of video sharing. The distortions that came with multiply dubbing that format were amazing. Colors would sometimes fade, sometimes drastically oversaturate, sound would unpredictably wobble and drop, the tape itself could stretch in spots causing playback to weirdly slow down for just a second, pausing for a long time could cause the play heads in the tape decks to rub the magnetic oxides off the mylar tape… It was kind of a shit medium, optical video media was MILES better and high def digital better still, but since those distinctive distortions were the haze through which I first saw weirdo touchstones like mondo documentaries and the oeuvre of John Waters, I kind of love them. I don’t love them to the point where a transparently exploitative contrivance like “Videotape Store Day” could ever make off with an assload of my money for movies I’ve already seen, but still, I love them.
A recent example of VHS love gone wonderfully right is videographer Zev Deans’ new ‘80s inspired infomercial for hip hop/electro pioneer The Egyptian Lover, who’s releasing a box set with the self-explanatory title 1983-1988 next month on Stone’s Throw. The video is a dead-on accurate throwback/homage to the era when ads for albums ran on TV with tremendous frequency. Typically these would be thrown-together compilations of whatever could be licensed—classics of the form include “Hey Love” and “Freedom Rock,” or best-ofs for fading fogey country singers like Boxcar Willie and Slim Whitman. The Egyptian Lover video nods to all the foregoing with lashings of degraded VHS distortion, and to boot it throws in a period-appropriate satire of psychic hotlines that features L.A. synth musician/spectacle purveyor Geneva Jacuzzi, herself no stranger to throwback video. There are other bonuses for trainspotters as well, and videographer Deans offered this:
Egyptian Lover is a legend, and for this project, I wanted it to feel like we were digging up a relic from Los Angeles in 1984. Most of this was shot in the back of Good Fred’s LaRutan Barber Shop, and legend has it that Jheri Curl was first bottled and sold at this location. Back in the day, Egyptian Lover’s Egyptian Empire Records office was on the second floor, with the entire 1st floor warehouse used as a dance floor for parties and record storage. You can still see the Giant mural of Egyptian Lover from the street on W54th street!