There’s a politeness to the way David Terranova talks that belies the dark, trippy and tortured films he makes for Crosstown Rebels, the shorts he does for Minus, Ghostly Wonderland Magazine or anyone else. Wrongly apologising for his in fact eloquent English, the Italian born visual artist talks growing up between Rome and London and of being the nephew of the first Italian lawyer to seriously investigate the Mafia, and the financial operations of Cosa Nostra, before being shot in 1979. Though shooting comes up lots more in the conversation, it’s shooting of a different sort…
“I first came here to film a Wolf +Lamb episode of the Rebel Rave video series” remembers David. “It was the end of spring; I went to shoot the party at the Marcy and had such a great time. Zev and Gadi are such cool guys, the night was amazing, I loved the city and in fact even met my girlfriend at the party – she’s in the RebelRave videos a lot and I really used the camera to chat her up… in fact all the people in the video I made of that night are now all my friends. Anyway, when I returned to London I just thought “what am I doing?” so six months later I packed my bags and crossed the Atlantic to move in with my girl’.”
Though it’s New York which is now most influencing the man’s work, London is where his career started. Having gotten into web programming and animation in his teens, a then 19 year old David joined a city ad agency as junior developer. Working there for five years, he honed his trade working on everything from websites for PlayStation and MTV to viral games such as zombie shoot’em-ups or NSFW monkey fighting games for movies like Spun” all the while been lured ever deeper by the city’s nocturnal offerings…
“At 22 or 23 I discovered the party scene” says David. “I moved into a house in London with a friend and we started throwing loads of afterparties at our house. People used to pile back to ours and gradually I started to make friends with a few DJs and promoters…“
As such, this new found love of dance music and all its associated cultures seeped over into David’s working life. More and more he began mixing business and pleasure, designing flyers and viral flash videos for club promoting friends. Winning ever more praise for his work, it was only a matter of time before David had to decide between the day job he describes as “shitty” or the hobby he found much more rewarding. Helpfully for him, an introduction to Crosstown Rebels boss Damian Lazarus made it all the more clear cut…
“I’d become friends with Hannah Holland. She got a call from Damian asking if she knew anyone who made videos because he wanted to start making them to promote his label… thankfully she thought of me so we met up. I sent him some examples of my photos and films and he set me straight on with the first Rebel Rave video. ”
Watch any of the many episodes from around the world and you’ll see why. The Peru episode, for example, is an engagingly lo-fi journey through the country which melts Lazarus’ commentary with beach party scenes, chats with corner dwelling drug sellers and myriad other indigenous delights, all with a sympathetic aesthetic that conveys a real understanding of the heat, colour and vibe of his subject matter: if you can watch it without wanting to visit the place… you must’ve already been.
“The RebelRave series is a very clear definition of how I’ve developed my style over the years” explains David. “It’s funny, because people watch the episodes and don’t even know that they’re just witnessing the evolution of someone learning their trade over the years, right from the first steps. Damian didn’t hire a pro company to make a series. He hired someone whose vibe he liked, even though I actually didn’t really have much experience. I like that about him.”
But where do you start with such a project? “Neither of us knew what we wanted. Damian sent me a sample clip and said “I want something like this.” It was a documentary of a party with people talking over it so that was my starting point. Generally though, I don’t get much of a brief and am just given freedom to create what I want. Now though he’s the one who suggests which events we should cover. Given the recent success of the Crosstown DJs and the RebelRave parties, it’s becoming easier and easier to pick amazing events.”
At this point the well worn influences question raises its head. “It’s difficult to say. Since moving to New York I’ve been watching weirder, darker shit. I guess there are direct references to things I see, everything I make is definitely related to my life experiences but they’re changing all the time. There is a dark undertone to everything I do and it all relates to the new lifestyle I assumed during my party years” he says candidly.
“I like to explore the spiritual, acidy side of things – bending what is real, being affected by the thoughts you get walking home from an afterparty. Close your eyes and you just see loads of weird shit, that sort of thing.“ Citing the stomach churning weirdness of a film like Enter the Void, David sums-up “I just want to create real experiences, things that make people really feel something.”
Despite his accomplishments, David admits to not being that au fait with much other art – neither the history of it nor the contemporary scene – and that he grew up in something of a bubble “not really knowing what was going on in the art world until my mid twenties” in that regard. So, too, is he happy to say he’s still learning. “I was working with Will Calcutt, Matthew Dear’s art director, recently. He has a big art/graphic design background so it opened my eyes to new visions, new ideas I wasn’t aware of. It’s taken someone like him to show me new things.“
New things which David will surely put to good use on arguably his biggest commission to date (if you exclude the eight month project he’s just finishing up for Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman) namely an eleven minute documentary for the UK’s Channel 4 following round Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, due for broadcast late this summer. Whilst that project has been his most prescriptive yet – meaning lots of preparation work – most video shoots are wholly unplanned and done on the fly.
“You have to work with what’s there. Though now more often I’m thinking of the post production stage even before I film, usually you just make up the story after the shoot.” Like Afterlife, for example, a magazine commission which saw David craft an otherworldly film of people interacting with ghostly projections of themselves, explicitly making a link between life and death in a way which holds your attention even without the appropriately otherworldly music. That all this is done on a bedroom setup of laptop, “old school, proper Z1 camera” and borrowed kit from his two brothers is all the more impressive.
Glamorous as all this sounds, though, the reality is – as with any freelance employment – it’s a tough game. “I work 24 hours” he exclaims. “Right now I work through the night and generally work 3 days in a row. It’s hard to make money out of this stuff so I’m juggling lots of projects.” Underlying all these projects is a continued desire to find perfect harmony between ‘the seen’ and ‘the heard’… what that means is that David’s own music production skills continue to develop. Often hidden amongst the tracks he’s given to work with (but mixes down himself) are many of his own sonic sketches, informed by an ever evolving love of electronic music and designed to ease visual transitions.
“I used to be really into classical music and have some music theory knowledge so it’s something I’m more and more focused on. Music and sound design is often understated in videos and I find that audio is as important as the visuals… sometimes even more so.” Focussing on finding that perfect audio-visual harmony, David also intends to hone the artistic side of his video oeuvres be it for fashion, music, events, parties or whatever.
So, despite the fact the RebelRave videos, for example, are watched by thousands of people around the world, they are actually very personal to David; as he lives his art and we get to see some of the most intimate moments of his life (like the time he met his girlfriend back at the Marcy) even without knowing it. And as he puts it, “that’s pretty amazing, but also pretty weird.”
Kristan J Caryl for AUTOBRENNT