It was New Years of ’16/’17 that I first met Yoni. Posted up in the kitchen of the house party is where we spent – all things considered – an incredibly disproportionate amount of time discussing and dissecting a medley societal topics in great depth. While everyone else was turnin’ up to celebrate the birth of a new year, we were breaking down race relations and debating social constructs. I didn’t know who Yoni was at the time, but after our talks, I knew he was an interesting person. And upon connecting on the socials, I came to learn of his profession.
Promoter, Filmmaker and more specifically Music Video Director for the likes of A$AP Rocky, Mura Masa, Danny Brown and more. Yoni’s been in the mix, living between the realms of Music and Film for a number of years now. From working at Rinse FM to making it at Warner Bros, I caught up with him to discuss his early life, careers breaks, film and passion over profit.
T: As we established from our first conversation. You spent some time growing up between London and New York?
Y: Well, I was born in Israel. I moved to New York when I was 3, and then moved to London when I was 7. And I’ve lived in here sine then; since 1993…
T: So, where about’s did you grow up?
Y: Barnet. Between Whetstone and Southgate in North London. Since January last year I’ve lived in Homerton. I always wanted to live in Hackney and where I live now is like a 5 minute walk from where I shot the video for Love$ick (Mura Masa ft A$AP Rocky) – which is really coincidental.
T: I’m a bit of British Urban Music snob so I’m not even familiar with the video for Love$ick off the top…
Y: I think it’s the video that I’m probably most proud of so far because even though the concept is very simple, it really represents something I wanted to do for a long time in terms of its execution. The video’s based on my experience’s growing up in London. What it was like as a kid going to school coz I went to school in Camden and that was a real crazy journey…You Know…travelling from the sticks to get there via harringgay…Finsbury Park…Holloway…Kentish Town…Caledonian…In the late 90s and early 2000s. So every day was an adventure.
T: And how old are you??
T: Shiiit… So, you would’ve been going through there when it was rough still…
Y: I look back at it as a bit of a golden age for what London was like back then. I mean, you’d get people trying to jack each other everyday on the buses and in the street…Look at Islip street in Kentish Town for example…Nowadays that’s a really affluent street but back then that was a route to school that was always a major risk. I’d say 50% of the time you’d run into trouble walking down that street. But the trade off was; you had this amazing music and culture just bursting at the seams all over the city and it was so energising, with jungle and ragga, the peak of UK Garage days and the start of Grime…coming as a kid from New York, just being a 90s Hip Hop kid up until then, it was really amazing to me and I was soaking it all up like a sponge, I just really gravitated to it instantly…But I went to a Jewish School in heart of Camden, going through Holloway everyday; we were prime targets *laughs*. Lot of memories taking the 29 and 253 bus from Wood Green, Manor House and Finsbury Park too.
T: Oh yeah, the “back of the bus” culture. As annoying as it would be as an adult, that was a hub…
Y: It was like the Wild West, nothing was really patrolled back then, it was a different time…
T: You mentioned ‘Love$sick’, so let’s lets get into how you got into film. What area of film are you obsessed with at this early point in your life? Music Videos, Documentaries, Feature films??
Y: Ever since I was a kid I knew it was like, one of the options I’d say to myself I could be. I never took it that seriously though, but it was one of the things I’d think about becoming. It took a long long time to take it seriously and bring it to the surface.
T: And when you say “a long long time”, are we saying you’re in High School thinking about making Music Videos, or Short Films maybe?
Y: I mean, like a lot of young men get into film through gangster films. Your Scorsese’s, Godfather, Goodfella’s, Reservoir Dogs, those films. And think the realism of those films – the grittiness and the violence, mixed with the beauty of how their shot and tender moments – as a child it leaves an impression on you. It did on me anyway. I was always an observer of people and I think on a subconscious level I always knew that what I wanted to do was find a way of observing people for a living.
– Goodfellas (1990)
T: I know cinematography is a big factor in what you do. At that age, was it a factor then?
Y: It was always about how it was shot (along with everything else) that was important to me. I remember picking up on that very early on. It was everything. The tone, the acting. It was real, but at the same time it was very artistic and surreal at the same time. Then I remember seeing some of Stanley Kubrick’s films like 2001… It was always a language that connected with me. I felt I understood it and was fascinated by it…So it was there, but I went through a decade of being obsessed with Music and not really taking film seriously as a career. It seemed out of reach to me I guess…I definitely tried to get into music first.
T: You were trying out different creative mediums kind of?
Y: Yeah, I saved up for 6 months for all this equipment to make music and I quickly realised that I wasn’t very talented at making music *laughs*, but it was an obsession of mine I knew I could do something else with music even if it wasn’t making it.
T: How old were you when you realised that “my riddims don’t bang” *laughs*?
Y: 23 *laughs* But, it got me into working for a radio station (Rinse FM) and then a record label (Warner Bros.). After Uni I really didn’t know what to do, I was at this crossroads that I think a lot of people go through and was torn. I put Law on hold coz at one point I considered being a Lawyer and my Dad was trying to get me to carry on with academia and get an MA as well. Those were the obvious two choices at one point, because they were clearer, more tangible career paths, but that was never where my heart ultimately was and I knew that deep down. Really I knew I wanted to do something in Music or Film; that was sitting in my stomach and it never truly went away…
T: So, what was the catalyst?
Y: Well, I dropped out of a Philosophy MA in London because I just wasn’t feeling being in a classroom anymore. I wanted to get out and do something, be a part of something happening in the city that excited me. So, I applied to this film ad for a ‘Rotoscoping’ job for this guy who looked like he was doing interesting stuff, it was a total stab in the dark and it came out of a sort of desperation I was feeling at the time to go another way where my life was currently. I dunno if people still do it, but it’s when someone goes in front of a green or in this case, blue screen and they cut them out etc etc to make them appear in front of any other back drop they want. It’s a lofi VFX trick. They needed someone to help out with that and I pretended I knew what I was doing…In reality I didn’t have a fuckin’ clue what I was doing!
T: So you finessed your way in *laughs*
Y: Yeah because it sounded cool and I wanted to be a part of something like that. This was around 2009…Anyway, I was assisting this guy who was an assistant to a really great music video director called Saam Farahmand – in my opinion he’s one of the best music video directors of all time and that was a complete fluke that I ended up there and a brilliant way for me to get a taste of that world and a fresh way of thinking. It was just really creative.
T: Just to cut in it. How you ratin’ Hype Williams, baring in mind he has his own cold style?
Y: In the 90s he was a complete trend setter, one of the pioneers for sure, took music videos to new levels no one had seen before and made hip hop music videos a true art form…
– Busta Rhymes – Gimme Some More (Directed by Hype Williams – 1998)
T; What’s your favourite Hype video?
Y: The early stuff he did with Wu Tang like ‘Can It Be All So Simple’, even though it was him just starting out as a director, I actually like as much as the stuff he did later with Busta that was so out there and iconic. Because the earlier stuff was so raw and defiant in it’s honesty of the music is portrayed. You just immediately felt the person behind those early videos like that for Wu for example, just understood the essence of the music in a deeper way, and that was inspirational to me because that’s how I felt about the music too. The Busta and Missy videos etc. also capture the essence of the music and hip hop culture in a much more flamboyant way, which was equally inspiring I guess…The budgets for music videos back then was crazy. You could build a set and go all out and really experiment. I envy that time in that respect, but then again every-time has it’s advantages and I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now without the limitations I have to work under either. Limitations force a different type of creativity out of you too which can be equally valuable. You have to find the advantages of the times you live in and craft using that I think.
T; But, yeah let’s get back to the story of your journey into film. Got a bit side tracked…
Y; So, I did this experience with this Director and it was a cool time. As soon as I got a taste of that world I was hooked. It felt right and I felt alive.
T: What was the first thing you made knowing that you were showing it to people and were somewhat taking it seriously? Even if it was shit…
Y: Around that time I was working for that Director they asked me to bring something in that I’d made. And I was just fuckin’ around that month and trying to experiment with film, and made a mashup of Gucci Mane & MF Doom. It was a song at first. I found an acapella of Gucci and it had the same tempo as this KMD MF Doom beat.. Then I mixed in this really old black and white film footage of tap dancing and shit; the director found it really funny and said cool, you can work for awhile…But I don’t think they took it very seriously. I think they just thought the effort was cute.
T: Joker! *laughs* Pure creativity.
Y: It awoke me. I was quite depressed at the time from the MA, and moving back home after 3 years of freedom at university. It’s winter time in London, i’m having to take Night Buses to and from Barnet juggling internships and going out in East London etc… But, that immediately awoke me. I felt alive, and I thought, okay, I know I need to leave the MA program now and get into this world. Whether it was music or film, I knew that was the right direction I needed to go in to find fulfilment… I was making something and I was involved in something and that’s all I needed to keep going…
T: I hear that. And that experience gave you the validation you needed to pursue it seriously. So, what kinda stuff were you working with the director at first and what videos from the early days, that you still like?
Y: Well, while doing my terrible telesales job to fund my life…
T: A slave to the wage man…
Y: Yeah *laughs*. But, at the same time I was interning at Rinse Fm as a producer at the studio in Brick Lane. I was working at night, so I’d be getting a Brick Lane bagel around 4am after a shift and getting the Night bus home to Barnet. And the route was awful. 4/5am and it took about an hour and a half every night. But I got to observe people day in day out, and it kinda stuck with me. It really inspired some of the subject matter and what I do… It was horrible and beautiful at the same time, much like the experience of living here I guess…
T: Poetic and true…
Y: But after being at Rinse, I went to Vice for a short while – just working as a receptionist intern. This is back when Vice still felt a little rebellious so I was eager to get a taste of that world too I guess. And to cut a long story short after Vice, one of my friends Ashley from Uni hit me up and he was working at Warner Bros at the time, and he said they were looking for somebody on the PR side and I was working at Vice; doing my club night ‘Prang’ – and it couldn’t have been more perfect timing.
T: Another example of not who you know, and not necessarily what you know…
Y: Yeah, but when I had the interview with the boss at the time. He said, what do you want to do? I know it’s not PR… And I said, I wanna be a Director. I dunno why I said that! Maybe it was already brewing at the time; I’m almost surprised I was saying it that early but I did already know I guess… So he gave me Canon 7D and said go shoot something and I went down to Brick Lane – having been at Rinse and in the area all the time – and I shot something around Brick Lane bagels. I spent a whole night there with some mates capturing the life…It was a total experiment.
T: When he said “Shoot something”, what did he mean? Like a short film?
Y: Nah, it for a music video. A remix by Royal T. I spent a week editing it, this was literally my first time doing everything you needed to do t make a music video so it was my film school in real time. I just ran with it and that was the start of it for me really…Shortly after that, that same friend Ashley started a label and also started to manage an artist called ‘Ifan Dafydd’ and he said I could shoot the video for it (Treehouse).
T: At what point did you make a video that you still like today?
Y: Well I don’t know exactly how to answer that but I can say that I at least knew I could say to my parents this is what I’m going to do for a living after ‘What If I Go by Mura Masa’ came out. I could feel something happened after that, it just connected in a special way.
T: I recall you mentioning having some involvement in the ‘Desiigner X Mura Masa X 67 – All Around The World’ remix. How did that come about?
Y: Well I directed the original video without 67 and I can’t say that I was responsible for the remix lol, because that’s down to the artist, manager etc., I don’t get involved in any of that. But what I will say is i’m a huge 67 fan, and I discovered them through the boy Izzy who plays the main kid and his friend in ‘Love$ick’. I was hanging with him and his friends and they were all on that UK Drill shit by then and that was new and exciting to me and they showed me that! That’s why you hear one of them (Dimz) rapping his own drill verse he wrote in the intro of the video…I felt it represented London at that moment. And then I shared that excitement to Alex (Mura Masa). I remember just telling Mura Masa about 67 and the manager after a show one night. We were talking about UK music and I mentioned “It’s all about 67!” and really gassing it up lol. I think I may have mentioned “Getting 67 on this All Around The World remix!” After a few rums that night lol. Maybe…But I never really thought anything of it and then about a month later Alex sent me the remix and I was absolutely elated…But who knows, maybe that would’ve happened anyway. Alex stays up on everything too. He definitely doesn’t need anyone telling him. His knowledge of music is on another level.
T: Big that up! I rated that song for what it was.
Y: I love their video’s, especially the old ones. I’d really wanna do a 67 video.
T: That would be interesting and something I’d like to see… What you got going on right now? And any plans for the future you’d like to share?
Y: I have this Vogue doc coming out this week or next that I shot in New York and Paris. It’s about a few different models from South Sudan. They all have very interesting stories. I interviewed 4 or 5 – went to where they live. To me it was an identity story. Identity is a theme I keep coming back to at least on a subconscious level. Which I guess is because of my transient upbringing. Other than that…More music videos, photography projects, commercials, docs and eventually a FILM.
Catch Yoni bringing the guest selections on Narx’s show on NTS this Friday @ 1pm.
POSTED BY: @TIMI.WATSONROSE