Tomorrow on Vice’s Thump channel, Just Blaze and Baauer will officially release “Higher,” a collaboration that features Jay Z and was first heard back in January. It’s the follow-up to Baauer’s unlikely #1, “Harlem Shake.” Nabil, the director behind uncanny, highly polished videos for Kanye West, Frank Ocean and James Blake, travelled to Kerala, India, a state at the country’s southwestern tip, to shoot Kalaripayattu warriors and warriors-in-training for the single’s video. Watch a trailer for the video below, and check out exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from the shoot above. Below, read a brief email chat with Nabil about monsoon season, great mustaches and finding the Peter Pan he was looking for.
Was the concept for “Higher” a collaboration? It was a collaboration between my mind and my keyboard.
Without giving away too much, what’s the video’s basic premise? It’s a simple vignette/narrative of a kid who follows a warrior home, then spreads what he sees to the other kids and they take it upon themselves.
What made India a good fit for your narrative? I decided to shoot in Kerala, India because that’s where some of the oldest forms of martial arts came from. I had done some research after having the idea of shooting something with martial arts and wanting to go to India. The song had a feeling that resonated India to me, and people fighting? Can’t really explain—was just in my head when listening.
While shooting, did you run into any particularly good luck, or unforeseen obstacles? We shot for around three days. Monsoon season is particularly challenging, probably the biggest obstacle you can face when dealing with consistency and shooting outdoors, up there with shooting in the far northern hemisphere to get a night shoot when it’s like 22 hours of sunlight. We just embraced it and had a little help from the gods! Also, we had great luck with an amazing crew and group of warriors to work with. None were actors but they had such great personalities that it felt like the acting exuded naturally.
How is working with non-actors different than working with Willem Dafoe? I think if you can create and translate with other artists what you want then you can get a performance from the most untrained. You just need to respect what their limits are and work with them to build to a feeling you want to achieve. Basically spend a little time building a vibe and all things come together.
Who are the kids? The kids are also young warriors at the martial arts school. It was so great working with them. Such genuine, hard working, kind and FUNNY little kids. Then you see them training and you are like, Woah. Vishnu, my lead kid, was exactly what I had hoped for, a little Peter Pan. Each kid has there own little story, very touching.
How’d you chose the video’s adult star? I had a mental image of what I wanted, then when I saw the casting of the warriors and spent a little time talking about what I wanted from them it was pretty easy. It started with the mustache.