Florence and her Style Machine

Red-hot songstress Florence Welch bangs the drums of awe with some divine inspiration from director Dawn Shadforth and stylist Aldene Johnson

Text by Stephen Whelan

Launched in the wee small hours last night, the new promo for Florence and the Machine’s 'Drumming Song' sees the flame-haired Amazonian singer invade a church in London’s Spitalfield with a troupe of dancers dressed for sin. Drawing inspiration from Ken Russell’s film The Devils and the 1947 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger collaboration Black Narcissus, Shadforth and Johnson have created a stylised conflict of good versus evil set to the thumping beat and angelic harmonies provided by Florence’s soaring melodies.

With a previous list of credits that includes Peaches zombie-fest Kick It, the bells and black lunar landscape of Bjork’s Who Is It? and Kylie’s futuristic street racer Can’t Get You Out of My Head, Shadforth’s justly earned her reputation as the reigning British music video Queen. Johnson first hooked up with Florence back in February to style the album cover for her debut release Lungs, and has since developed the creative relationship working on the sun drenched last supper themed vid for 'Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)'.

Stephen Whelan communed with Shadforth and Johnson to chat disco gargoyles and devil claws.

The style of this latest video is a big departure from the sundrenched hippies-in-a-field vibe the band have gone with on their previous releases. What was the thinking behind giving Florence a more refined and glamorous look?
Dawn Shadforth: It wasn’t really a conscious decision to go for a more polished style. I suppose there was more backing from the label this time so the production value could be higher than before which meant we could shoot on film. I really wanted the budget to go on screen so we decided to find an awe inspiring location and spend money on that and the dancing and styling. Low budget videos tend not to have grandeur and scale, its not something you see much of these days. The track is so massive sounding I wanted to shoot in an epic, grand, place to match the scale of the track.

What were your main creative and artistic considerations on this project?
Dawn Shadforth: I’d seen YouTube clips of Florence performing live and noticed she has this amazing energy while at the same time being very elegant and expressive with those amazing long arms and legs. She can really move and dance and seems very unselfconscious as a performer. First and foremost I just wanted to show that in a video. I spoke to Florence and she said that she wanted to dance and love dance routines in videos so we went for it on that front. We also talked about playing on the lyrics which have a kind of gospel feel and I mentioned the video for Like a Prayer as a reference. We wanted to play with the sort of evangelical feel and mess around with the idea of demonic possession or people speaking in tongues in church. We also looked a Baroque paintings for movement ideas, dramatic posturing. In the treatment I wrote two characters who corresponded roughly with the two personalities in the song. The music seems to express a tension between fear and lust so I wanted to explore that through performance and dance rather than any narrative or drama. Aldene & Hannah Marshall, the designer, had the challenge of finding a look for these two characters while keeping a sort of pop-meets-fashion edge to it. I didn’t want it to feel like Florence was in costume. I loved it when we came up with the idea of the short habit with the gold spangly knickers underneath. In my treatment for the video I had this idea for a beautiful disco gargoyle, a description that Florence loved. She was supposed to look a bit like a demon or a gargoyle from a medieval church, but a very disco glam version who dances! She's kind of the brave fearsome wanton side, ferocious and animalistic. At the same time she’s also a kind of Lucifer figure, a fallen angel. It’s all supposed to be a very tongue in cheek of course. I really think Aldene & Hannah took that idea and made it into an amazing costume. I couldn't have been happier with what they came up with.

How did you get involved in the project Aldene?
Aldene Johnson: A mutual friend hooked Florence and I up back in February to work on her album cover and this is the second video we've worked on together. I just really get her style it's not like work at all. This was the first time I've worked with Dawn though. Everyone in this business knows who she is - working with her just seems to take everyone's work to another level.

What was your route into styling?
Aldene Johnson: I was working in advertising as a junior and my art director at the time said I had a good eye and recommended I start styling, back then I didn't even know that was a job! I've been styling videos for the last two years and I've shot for Mexican mags Baby Baby Baby, Celeste and I'm VICE's UK Fashion Editor.

DWhat was your brief on this one?
Aldene Johnson: The brief was good versus evil, which is always a lot fun. The words disco gargoyle were bandied around a lot too! My job has always been developing Florence's style so I took what she had already and showed her how much further she could take it with some killer Raphael Young and Charlotte Olympia heels, a great Hannah Marshall dress or seven and some Dominic Jones claws.

What attracted you to Hannah's designs?
Aldene Johnson: There's a lot of black which is always good for evil for a start. Hannah's designs combine strong sexy geometrical shapes and masses of fabric giving that movement that looks so dramatic on film.

What were the main challenges for you on this project?
Aldene Johnson: I was on my way back from Cape Town when I found out about the shoot and I knew I'd only have a week to turn it around. On top of that I knew I wanted all the outfits for Florence and the good and evil backing dancers to be designed by Hannah and myself and made to spec. Oh, and there was a face mask that that had to make it to London from Manish Arora's archive in Delhi on time. There was a lot of working right through the night involved.

Dawn Shadforth is represented in the UK and USA by Black Dog Films

Florence + The Machine - Drumming Song

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