“For the new video there were a few themes Moby wanted to cover – animal slaughter, consumerism, greed, political corruption,” Steve Cutts explains. Some creatives would be overwhelmed with such a brief, both because of the subject matter and the collaborator. But Steve, a UK-based animator and illustrator, took the commission in his stride.
“The video went through a few stages of concepts and ultimately ended up as an eclectic mash-up of the horrors of today, presented through the equally diverse styles of Saturday morning cartoons from the 1980s and 90s. It seemed an apt way of depicting the circus of modern society,” he adds.
In this Cold Place, the latest track from Moby and The Pacific Voice Choir, is a song that tries to make sense of the state of the world. It’s the second time Steve has collaborated with Moby (previously they worked on the award-winning video for Are You Lost In The World Like Me?), and his style is perfectly suited for translating big themes into compelling and accessible visuals.
“This video laments the way children’s cartoons sugar-coat things. I really wanted to juxtapose the super happy, hyper frenetic colourful styles of the cartoons with the much darker reality.”
The central character of the video is a young boy, whose optimism – perhaps naivety – is symbolized by his super-hero cape. As the boy becomes a man and the world fails to live up to his youthful expectations, the cape remains as a cruel reminder of what he once believed in.
The ending is drenched in ambiguity. We seem to glimpse something brighter on the horizon, only for it to be seemingly snatched away. It’s a game Steve clearly enjoys playing with us.
“It kind of has two endings,” he says. “The first being the revolution where the characters revolt against their leaders, and the hope that comes with that, and the second less optimistic scene with the old man in the husk of the building in the destroyed city at the end, a kind of warning.
“Reality doesn’t always have happy endings, and the film doesn’t attempt to resolve the problems we face. It’s really more a foreshadowing of what may come if we don’t change the course we’re on.
“But at the end of the day it’s not cut and dry – it’s really just a thought for the audience to take away.”
In fact the film requires repeated viewing. The level of detail means there is almost always something you’ve previously missed, and he admits that it was tough at times to keep all the plates spinning. “The pigs singing in the slaughterhouse was a pretty complex scene to create as there was a lot going on,” he says.
It was also hard to create pastiches of pop culture figures that worked in this particular set-up, “which evoked the look and feel of the 80s and 90s without being too tied to anything pre-existing.”
But pop culture is a material Steve very adept at working with. His work often references recognisable figures and scenarios and he clearly enjoys manipulating these into his creations.
“Whether we like it or not, it’s been a massive part of the development of our culture,” Steve explains. “It seems that it will only continue to dominate our lives. Part of its power is that pop culture references come pre-loaded with their own set of connotations which inevitably become ironically subverted in new works, creating a new meaning.
“We can only work with what we have, we’re still just rearranging stones at the end of the day.”