Here’s a homework assignment: Go to Alt-J’s YouTube channel and watch “Taro.” Now, watch “Fitzpleasure.” Maybe even “Tesselate.” You’ll see (and probably already know) that the Brit band has done a pretty incredible job of putting out beautifully experimental music videos we can’t help but watch over and over. Their newest (extremely violent) release for “Left Hand Free,” however, touches on some pretty dark themes that were not only unexpected, but difficult to interpret any deeper than their surface value.
Alt-J isn’t new to violent music videos. If you remember, their first video for “Breezeblocks”—a truly gorgeous song with incomprehensible lyrics—followed a crazed man and a tied up female hostage; it felt like an experimental, confusing commentary on what appears to be domestic violence against women. It was difficult to watch at best, but at least there was some sort of narrative.
When we geared up to watch Alt-J’s second video for “Left Hand Free”—after the first was hugely popular—we were prepared for a second installation that would complement the Sofia Coppola-approach to their last video: a montage of clips paying homage to the frivolity of being a kid. Drinking, jumping around, lighting things on fire for no reason—typical adolescent behavior. And you could say, for the first two minutes of the second video, we get that; after all, at that point, all you get is a bunch of 20-somethings poolside shotgunning beers and bikini-clad girls jumping up and down in slow-mo, like a liquor commercial. It’s all very light-hearted and basic, to be quite honest...until you notice the presence of security personnel with guns. Is the president’s daughter at the party? What’s with the artillery? Is this all a political commentary on the privilege of so-called “Millennials” and their disconnect from the outside world? Or is Alt-J just going for shock value amidst their sweet song?
If there is a more meaningful message to this video, it becomes a bit confusing once the pool party is attacked and shots are fired. We graphically see a guard get shot in the head (by who?!) and the young people screaming, fleeing in total hysteria; a scene that actually does feel charged with fear, despite their lax world of pool parties and playtime. Perhaps, that is the band’s point: Contrasting these airbrushed and stylized images of privelege with the real world and very real violence. But, why? Is Alt-J wanting us to feel a sense of schadenfreude by watching these rich kids get punished in an extreme fashion? That seems a bit problematic. With there being almost 40 school shootings in the U.S. this year alone (and the much-needed media coverage of institutionalized violence against unarmed youth), cashing in on this kind of aggression against young people—despite their assumed privilege—may be insensitive. The ending has the ability to be incredibly triggering.
It all like felt more of a stunt to shock viewers than any kind of statement or attestant to the privilege that Alt-J, as part of the demographic that benefits from it, is actually a part of.
Watch Alt-J’s “Left Hand Free” below and let us know what you took away from the video.