Still from Promo for Summer Camp’s single Better Off Without You
From Instagram to Music Promos to car ads, there’s a visual styling expressing a deeply felt nostalgia for a past we only ever experienced through pictures. There’s a group of people who are busily inventing a rich backstory for themselves through imagery. Welcome to the age of Primal Dreamers
From Samsung’s road movie campaign for their wi-fi enabled SH100 featuring for friends in a camper van travelling across America, to UK artist Tacita Dean’s celebration of analog film, to DDB’s ad for the VW Golf Cabriolet in the UK mixing what looks like ‘found footage’ with the 1970s fashion for tank tops there’s a wave of interesting explorations of past looks. And of course the whole Instagram phenomenon of instant, digitized Polaroid cool. It’s more than simple nostalgia.
Then there’s the 1950s exotic pop of Lana Del Rey (birth name Elizabeth Grant) who’s name is a combination of Lana Turner and the Ford Del Rey, a car produced by Ford in Brazil in the 1980s. The promo for her single Video Games features what looks like a mix of archive and found footage of starlets stumbling home after a night out and skateboarders and kids just hanging out.
While previous generations have had to listen to their parents reminisce about the past, their ‘golden age’, this is the first generation who have had a whole archive via the internet to access that past. Young UK Band Summer Camp who featured at this year’s SXSW give a clue to what lies at the heart of this trend, as this English duo’s music and image lionizes a 1970s and 80s American culture they could only dream of being a part of. The split-screen promo for their new single Better Off Without You features 70s vintage American suburbia (circa Happy Days) with an electro-pop sound and flat vocals (a kind of female version of British pop icon Morrissey) that sits happily in the early 80s. Their new album, Welcome to Condale, is set in the fictional Los Angeles suburb of Condale.
In an interview early on in 2010 with The Guardian in London, when the band revelled in their anonymity they explained their love for John Cusack and how they imagined writing music for a 1980s John Hughes teen movie. Their music is steeped in imagery. They told the newspaper, “we don’t like how you can know everything about a band these days – we’re nostalgic for mystery.”
That’s the key to the trend of Primal Dreamers. Soft-focus or lens flare, archive or recreated fictions, Primal Dreamers are nostalgic for mystery, for discovery, and all the richer and creatively multi-layered if you have to borrow stylings from the past to invent your own backstory. The Primal Dreamer trend is an important one to watch. Discovery through pictures.