The Reflektor Tapes Review

A band that has taken music to further places and remained innovative and interesting despite their mainstream success deserves a film that won’t be your average run of the mill rockumentary. The Reflektor Tapes, directed by Kahlil Joseph in his debut feature, manages- just about -to be like the band interesting and creative in it’s storytelling. Eschewing the normal on- the –road/trappings -of -success narrative it instead takes a non-linear montage/mash-up approach, dropping us in on moments of live performance during the Reflektor tour in arenas, clubs and in Haiti to more intimate moments recording and wandering the streets of Haiti, scenes of which look like old VHS tape.

Haiti features centrally in the film, being one of the key influencers on the album’s rhythmic sound as Régine relates, herself
born to Haitian parents (a fact I was unaware of previously), and Haitian percussionists are also shown recording with the band whilst Régine dances charmingly in thrall to the rhythms. The band are intremittently seen posing in black and white with snakes and local people, part of boisterous, bustling  street scenes looking like something out of an ID or Dazed and Confused shoot, verging on the ultra hipster but still looking visually pleasing. We also see them do a gig in Haiti and it is interesting to see the nonplussed faces on the Haitian audience (one woman looks rather bored in fact), compared to the energetic buzz of the western audiences.

The film borrows surrealistic flourishes too, one scene where the band plays synths and assorted wired instruments with abandon in the middle of what looks like a large grand marbled banqueting hall, looks like it could be a scene from a Buñuel film. Whilst the film also opens on that great Surrealist subject dreams, re-enacting a dream of Elvis’ where he has a nightmare of performing and giving his all and that not being enough for the demanding, hungry crowd still wanting more. A poignant reminder of the perils of fame that Arcade Fire have now reached.

The concert footage itself shows a band at the top of their game and makes you want to return to their music with renewed enthusiasm. It captures the captivating energy (particularly of William Butler who bashes a drum so hard during a show he breaks the skin) and powerfully hypnotising nature of an Arcade Fire show. It also plays with the sound stripping the music to single instruments so you can appreciate the varied elements of the music, and presents stripped back live versions of their songs, which showcase the power of their songs at a fundamental level of words, melody and/or rhythm, Win himself commenting on the importance of creating worlds and narratives in their albums.

Whilst the insight into the process of the music is limited by the format, which drifts in and out of snatches of audio conversations, mostly with Régine and Win. We do learn a little bit about how they’ve developed as a band, Régine comparing their different sounds on each album to complementary layers like “a diamond with a million different cuts in it”, and detailing the rigours of their practice notching up 37 hours a week of practice, alongside their approach of absorbing non-western rhythms and influences and being open to whatever calls them.

Aside from that don’t expect in depth insight or anything very revealing or surprising, and so newcomers to the band may be tad disappointed. Nonetheless it’s an invigorating rush of images and techniques- layering images on top of each other, transitioning from colour to black and white, isolating sound, the roving close-ups etc etc,- that could come across as an overblown music video or student art film but which just about pulls it off, capturing something of the band’s pioneering spirit. No mean feat.




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