If music were a religion, which it is to some, its holy temples would be the iconic studios and concert venues of the world. There is no question that one of the preeminent of these in the world is Abbey Road Studios in the city of Westminster, London, England. The innovative recordings created there for the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Hollies, and too many others artists too mention have solidified this studio as one of the most coveted locations for musicians to record. They speak of it with awe. As the director of Global Production’s “Future Sounds”, (seen on UK’s Channel 4) James Barnes gave a number of artists the opportunity of a lifetime to perform and record on the hallowed grounds of Abbey Road Studios. For five weeks, two artists per episode were introduced with the endorsement of a global artist and presented as being on the precipice of achieving major notoriety in 2016. James has made much of his career as a director who is involved with the music world (including a long and successful stint with MTV UK) and was an obvious choice as director for the show’s executive producer Iain Funnell. Iain remarks, “Although the series was about discovery, each artist was introduced by an established musician or singer who would express their love for them and explain why we should be paying attention to their sound. James and I worked closely on all key areas of the series from the formatting of the show to the talent we booked. Most importantly, he largely set the tone and style for us visually. He worked hard to give each artist their own creative look and feel which worked fantastically in the final edit. Anyone who works with artists will confirm that one needs to set a tone that allows them to be relaxed to perform their best, James is a master when it comes to this.”
A location as important and historical as Abbey Road Studio doesn’t make major concession for any production coming into film. With multiple rooms which contain some of the biggest musical names in the world recording from day to day, Barnes and his production were required to make things work within the parameters set by management. In particular, the wooden floors at Abbey Road are believed to be a major player in the famed acoustics of the rooms and require great care. A full camera crew and a band were a tight fit but well worth it as James recalls, “I had been in Abbey Road before but what was interesting was watching the new artists have the exact same reaction that I and any music fan has when they enter the hallowed building for the first time. The feeling that all those Beatles tracks which mean so much to so many people were conceived under that roof is spine tingling. It’s amazing to see other people with that look on their face as they see all the pictures of stars on the walls and original instruments such as John Lennon’s piano. Although millions of people travel there to cross the road crossing and sign the wall, you have to remind yourself that you’re not just allowed in. This makes it feel like a privilege every time you go in there to work/shoot.” The empathy this director shared with the artist he worked with on “Future Sounds” is palpable in his description as well as the images of the episodes.
The five artists/bands featured on “Future Sounds” give evidence to the eclectic sentiment of the British music scene. There has always been something to the country’s ability to synthesize different influences and fashion some unique “accent” that is a new creation. James was equally adamant about creating a tone that matched each different artist to complement their audio identity with a visual one. Canadian singer/songwriter Alessia Cara is visibly struck by the gravitas of recording at Abbey Road during her episode. Perhaps the most well-known of all the artist in this series, Barnes remembers her being as moved by listening to the playback as she was during the actual performance. Cara understood the musical history within the walls and reveled in the experience. Izzy Bizu was receiving massive attention at the time and epitomized the determined hard working artist as she almost lost her voice during the process (avoiding this with hot honey and lemon). Singer/songwriter/musician Barns Courtney debuted a new song during his episode; revealing a new creation at Abbey Road is a momentous occasion for any musician. Pretty Vicious is a band whose attitude is inseparable from the rock credo. An aggressive sound and a band who had not been preened to conduct themselves as Social Media darlings, the group presented a raw and sincere performance during the filming. The show’s DOP Benedict Spence states, “James was very specific about his post production needs, in order to give each artist their own look. We used both primes lenses and zooms. James was keen to use primes as much as possible as they give the highest quality image. This meant having a clarity of vision from James as the primes are not as flexible in-the-moment as zooms. This is in fact one of the bravest choices made regarding camera work on ‘Future Sounds’ and I think one of the things that made the show unique looking and well received. One of the best things about working with James is that he is so adamant about giving his best and respecting the artist, whether it’s an actor a musician or someone else. He’s very sincere.”
As with many of the most successful professionals, Barnes continually makes note of the things he learns from each project he has done rather than focus on the mastery of his own abilities creating them. While discussing preproduction lighting, post production edits, and other facets of his work on “Future Sounds” he takes a pause to distinguish a comment and states, “When I think about the most valuable thing I learned from directing ‘Future Sounds’ it wasn’t one specific thing that I can point to…one experience or frame. What affected me deeply was that I learned how taking big chances, pushing the envelope in terms of visuals…this most often ends positively. The artists whom I worked with on this series were allowing us to capture a very special moment in their lives and I wanted to present it to the audience and the artists themselves with all of the creativity and integrity that it deserved; Abbey Road Studios commands nothing less.”