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Simon Stålenhag’s retro-futuristic art comes to life in his directorial debut

Simon Stålenhag’s retro-futuristic art comes to life in his directorial debut


The song Geronimo is off of Duvchi’s new album This Kind of Ocean

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Simon Stålenhag has been on a roll recently. Earlier this year, Amazon adapted his book Tales from the Loop into a series. Last month, he kickstarted a new book called The Labyrinth. Now, he’s making his directorial debut with the music video for “Geronimo,” a single off of Duvchi’s forthcoming album, This Kind of Ocean, for which he also made the cover art.

The video stars a robotic penguin-man (named Hector) playing an antique piano covered in artistic graffiti curiously sitting alone in a scenic quarry. Over the next few minutes, we are treated to a wonderful mix of the evocative visuals Stålenhag is known for and the melodies from Duvchi and singer Nadia Nair, who is featured on the track.

The video feels like a natural extension of Stålenhag’s style. Like his paintings, it offers a snapshot of a bigger world — taking a frame and expanding on it without ever losing the spark of imagination a still image can provide. One of the reasons Stålenhag’s works are so popular is that they let you fill in the blank. Yes, lots of his paintings are accompanied by stories written by Stålenhag himself, but they don’t need that. On their own, they’re so evocative that it’s easy to invent your own story. And “Geronimo” successfully takes that approach and adds to it. It’s more a painting in motion than an episode of Tales from the Loop.

“I’m thinking a lot [about] how to extend the timeframe of something. How can I keep it painterly, as static as possible, without making it boring?” Stålenhag told The Verge over Zoom. “It’s like a deal you’re making with the audience: if they believe they are going to get some explanation and they don’t get it, then they’re bored. But if you can negotiate this, why [the viewer is] spending time with this, I think you can do anything.”

“You could interpret it as being postapocalyptic or an ancient or timeless place”

Music videos, as it turns out, are the perfect medium for that kind of open-ended approach. “People don’t expect an explanation. It’s a nice arena to dip your toes into the water,” he said.

It’s easy to find yourself imagining a world in which “Geronimo” takes place. There’s something about the interaction of old machinery mysteriously built to interact with its surroundings that comes across as comforting and familiar. For me, it immediately recalled the worlds of Myst and Riven.

“You could interpret it as being postapocalyptic or an ancient or timeless place,” Stålenhag said. “Or, as the way I thought about it, this is actually the quarry in this little community. He could just walk out of the quarry and go down to the local pizza place.”

A piece of artwork from the album.
A piece of artwork from the album.
Photo by Simon Stålenhag

The combination of live action and CG helps sell the mix of nature and machine. Duvchi was the stand-in for Hector and actually played the piano to get a nuanced performance. As with so many of Stålenhag’s works, everything was made to feel aged. The piano, an actual antique discovered in a warehouse, was spray-painted by Stålenhag and Duvchi with tags meant to be from the late ’90s.

“There’s a lot of Easter eggs,” Stålenhag said. “There’s like the Nirvana logo on the top. I think the Sega logo is also on the lid.”

You can watch the video here and see more of the art made by Stålenhag for Duvchi’s This Kind of Ocean here.