Do yourself and me a huge favor and watch the new HARD Summer trailer if you haven’t already – it’s important you understand the magnitude of the thing itself. The unfathomable depths of creator/director Agata Alexander’s imagination have been slowly revealed since she took over all creative direction for HARD’s trailers and recap videos in 2013, beginning with the legendary dog-star studded trailer for HARD Summer. If you don’t know her work, she’s basically the David Lynch of music, promo, and dance music comedy videos. This year she’s using the trailer as a platform to address one of the biggest elephants in the underground music culture collective mind’s room by, in her words, “putting tits on it and subjecting it to sexist shit.” Fuck. Yes.
In the immortal words of Anna Lunoe, who plays Agata in the trailer, “Talking about being a woman in the electronic space in any capacity is tricky, multifaceted, tiresome and after so many years I just prefer to avoid the topic and get on with the job! I have known Agata for a few years now and she has a way of portraying things with the right amount of comedy, creativity and I trusted that she would get it right – if anyone understands the plight of being a minority in their industry it’s her. I’m a big believer in referencing to the absurdity of society in comedy and that itself being a great catalyst for cultural awareness & change – also, her script was just very funny even on paper!”
Normally I hate hearing my own voice on an interview recording, but our conversation following my first view of the trailer was pretty illuminating. Here’s Agata and NEST HQ’s breakdown of the HARD Summer 2017 trailer and all the intricacies of her and Gary’s secret plot to trick bros into thinking feminism is cool.
NHQ: No lie, when Jonah told me about the concept of this year’s trailer I was extremely skeptical but also obviously very intrigued. (In case this is your first introduction to Agata, below is the image you’ll find on the About section of her website.)
Agata: I’m ready for people to be politically correct and find faults in it, but it came from a woman and if I saw it as a woman and a fan I’d be like, “Fuck ya!”
NHQ: And you touch on so many subtleties of how sexism manifests in the most comical way. Have you seen Get Out?
Agata: No! I haven’t seen it yet, I heard it’s amazing.
NHQ: That movie and this video both use humor to deconstruct some of the more nuanced ways discriminatory behavior plays out, by exaggerating it and making it funny people don’t get paralyzed by the weight of the message.
Agata: I didn’t want to make a political statement that just shits on something, I also wanted to push a solution forward and make a positive impact hopefully. We talked about doing a Trump thing, and Harvey [the greasy manager] is a lot like him, but Trump doesn’t necessarily affect the music business that much. The lack of women does though, and women are not given the chance – they’re not, at least not properly.
NHQ: Surely you had a lot of people telling you this idea might not work, but even with the dog pitch five years ago it didn’t land initially, you had to push it.
Agata: Yep, you’re absolutely right. But when I came up with this idea, I knew – and when I know I got it I know it. It’s like the nail being hit on the head in my gut and I knew: we’re gonna put some tits on some dudes and subject them to some sexist shit, that’s it. Even when I know I’m right, sure – I get insecure, because when other people get insecure I start to think maybe I’m the crazy one. I live in an apartment filled with embalming tools and tons of other weird shit.
NHQ: Infant embalming tools. (It’s true – Agata got a really good deal she couldn’t bring herself to pass up on a set of early 20th century infant embalming tools she proudly displays in her kitchen, no wonder Marilyn Manson likes her so much and she’s been doing all his new videos.)
Agata: Exactly! I could be the one out of my mind. But deep down I know when it’s right, so for me it’s been really important this entire time to trust myself to be the one who knows for sure that this is right and if I have that confidence everyone will just follow and that’s what happened. But it’s been hard, people have definitely asked me again and again, “Are you sure?” Yes, I’m fucking sure – we’re doing this.
Those dudes [Party Favor, DJ Snake, Kayzo, What So Not, and Claude Vonstroke] put on tits and didn’t even blink, when we sent this treatment out there’s never been a more positive response to anything I’ve ever done, ever! No one ever pushed back even a little, they put on boobs no problem. That was my biggest shock but it made me so happy because how powerful is it that these dudes just put on tits and didn’t even care? Over the years with all the trailers I’ve done people can see the quality we’ve produced so they’ve come to trust me, this is the first time I was ever like, “Ok – I’m going to abuse this trust. I’m going to abuse the shit out of this trust people have for me and see how far I can push it.” I think I peaked.
NHQ: I’ve always wanted to live in a time where something like this could exist, what’s changed culturally that’s created space for this?
Agata: I felt very strongly about this and it’s just that kind of year, I couldn’t fucking go into this and just make a trailer about something silly like a mustache or vacuum. I scroll through my timeline and I’m so bored, the world is ending or people are sharing their food and I’m like, “We’re all going to die.” I gotta stir the pot a little while I can, for once. And I have this tool, this platform which is HARD so this is what I can offer to the community for females – this is my contribution.
NHQ: Well thank you cause it’s incredible.
Agata: I’m so glad you like it! Really, cause it’s scary for females to voice their opinions about stuff like this, and it’s the reason I put mostly men in the trailer, because as soon as a woman opens her mouth about discrimination she’s a crazy feminist who just needs some dick – how many times have you read comments like that? I didn’t want to put any other women through that, I’ll take it gladly cause I don’t fucking care but I don’t want to put anyone else through it. And I think it’s so important for men to open up their fucking mouths and loudly say, “It’s really important we support women and give them a fair shot.”
NHQ: Do you think it’s worth it to try to reason with bros who maybe attend HARD events but also think feminism is whack? What do we say to them?
Agata: This is my attempt to trick them into thinking feminism is cool. I’m trying to mind-fuck them, they see their bro DJ Snake put on boobs and they’re laughing but not realizing what it is they’re liking. Maybe someday later down the line they’ll get that their idol is telling them to support women – it’s inception. I know that’s wishful thinking but I have to think in these ways in marketing: I have to think, “What do these bros think?”
NHQ: You just brought it back to a word I wasn’t expecting to hear – marketing. We forget that’s what this is because the art form has become so elevated it transcended its original purpose. What do we say to creative women who are in a professional or even a personal situation where they’re not being heard?
Agata: I don’t really know cause I feel like I’m in the same boat where I’m not heard a lot of the time and I feel hopeless. That’s why I’m making this, to scrape back the layers of it a little bit. But I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s going to change in our lifetime. It might change a little, but it’s not going to be perfect and that sucks. It makes me want to cry, but you have to continue doing what you’re passionate about and believe in the art – that’s all you have. It’s cheesey but don’t give up.
NHQ: What about your upbringing was unique and had the most impact on your life’s trajectory?
Agata: I was born in Poland and grew up in Sweden so I’m immediately weird. Polish people are kind of dark and funny which is, hello? And Swedish people are more subtle and calm and never too much, so I’ve always been weird but I couldn’t show it. I’m not a flashy person necessarily or loud, except when I get to do what I do. My dad brought me up to make sure I always had shit handled for myself because no one will be there for you straight up, so that’s what shaped me. It’s both good and bad, great in artistic ways but horrible in personal life. Sometimes I wish I had a little bit of the wounded bird syndrome where I could lure the boys in a little bit but it’s more like I whip my dick out and it’s bigger than yours, sorry.
NHQ: This conversation is making me so hopeful!
Agata: So often when I’m just saying what I’m thinking I’m told, “Don’t be emotional,” which is another thing in the trailer. How many times have you been called emotional? You’d never say that to a man, maybe he’s being an asshole but emotional is somehow worse. And by the way I’m not emotional, I’m actually dead inside at this point.
NHQ: Not entirely, obviously! I can tell from the trailer.
Agata: I’m kidding, thank God I have some emotion, that I give a fuck.
NHQ: Who’s this guy that plays Harvey the manager?
Agata: That’s my friend Jason and Rob is the photographer, they were the mustache in 2014 and they’re two of my closest friends. We started writing together after the mustache, we’ve written a movie and two TV shows together, they’re basically my best friends so I couldn’t not have them in there. We know each other so well I can shit on them and they know my levels, and we have the same sense of humor so it works.
NHQ: At one point Harvey says he can’t bring Gary more female talent because it’ll make him feel weird, he won’t be able to bro out, and his wife won’t like it – those are really truthful and nuanced mechanics of how women wind up being excluded.
Agata: I love that you noticed that, it’s a hugely important point in the trailer. When I told Gary let’s get more girls on the lineup he started calling managers and agents, no one had any! Everyone was like, “You want this dude? We’ve got this dude right here and if you take this dude, you can also have this other dude.” I had to ask what the fuck is going on? Why are there no girls? It starts at the bottom, there’s no girls being managed or booked, they don’t have the opportunity.
Then I started thinking how have I been treated? Why do I feel like I don’t get the chance sometimes? And it’s because I don’t get invited to events or parties or lunches or whatever where guys are just hanging out. When you’re a guy you call your homie, your dude, your bro – and you just bro out. Girls don’t get that opportunity to bro out and because we don’t get the opportunity to bond with the right people they don’t think of me for the next job. Guys find it easier to hang out with their dude friends and I get that, but it hurts us.
NHQ: Is it because we’re inherently sexualized dudes can’t relax around us?
Agata: Yea I think so. It makes them feel weird, maybe their girlfriend or wife doesn’t like you hanging out. So it goes to girls too, we need to be supportive. If I had a boyfriend and he wanted to hang out with a girl I shouldn’t be weird about that. Let that happen, it’s important. I know guys like to be relaxed around each other so they can say stuff they don’t feel right saying around girls because it would make them uncomfortable. It’s a comfort thing – sometimes you want to hang out with the girls, sometimes you don’t, and that makes for a lot of lost opportunities for females. I’ve lost opportunities because I haven’t been able to bond with the right people, if we hang out and become tight you’ll think of me for your project but we don’t get the chance.
It’s something we have to be conscious of and I don’t think it’s happening because men don’t want to give women opportunities, it’s totally subconscious, invisible sexism as a result of apathy. It’s just easier to hang out with your dude homies, I’m guilty of it too. Sometimes when I’m looking for people to hire I’ll find myself being drawn to male’s resumes for roles that are traditionally held by males. I have to check myself and say why did I just do that? Now I have to look at her reel fifteen times as hard. I don’t even want names, I just want to see the work. This is something we need to be conscious of, we need to try fucking harder. And I know it gets weird, there’s a sexual dynamic and it’s exhausting especially when you’re not completely fucking ugly. Dudes are way fucking weirder about sexual shit I’ve learned, they get weird so fast.
NHQ: What do you do when you’re not being heard?
Agata: I started an experiment awhile back where I started throwing tons of emojis and exclamations points into professional emails and found I was much better received. So I’m like ok, if I talk like a giant fucking baby in emails sometimes it’s just easier, like I’m petting someone’s hair while tell them what but that’s kind of how it is. And sometimes when I sense I’m not going to be heard in a situation I let my producer who’s a man send the emails and just tell him what to say. It’s awful but so true. I get cold emails all the time where people assume I’m a man, do you have Google? You obviously know how to use a computer. And the tonal difference in how people address me when they figure out I’m not a dude is night and day. Don’t you feel hopeless? How is this going to change?
NHQ: You can’t confront people with this reality if they’re paralyzed by shame or contempt and laughing makes them loosen up enough to be able to maybe understand. Deconstructed societal programming can be hilarious! Boys with boobs and dominatrix collars on leashes.
Agata: It feels like female artists always have to be so sexualized so I thought yea, both of you on dog leashes eating bananas.
NHQ: Another nuance I noticed was when Harvey says What So Not doesn’t look like the “music making” type and suggests they use a ghost producer instead.
Agata: I think that’ll go over a lot of guy’s heads but as a girl that hits you, I hope. For me it was an important one to get in there because a lot of times when people find out I do the trailers, that I also write them, edit them, color correct them, do sound design – they don’t believe it. I don’t even have a fucking assistant, it’s all me. I blurred all these male nipples – goddammit. (She notices an un-blurred nipple on What So Not as we talk and fixes it immediately.)
NHQ: When you get mistaken for the make-up lady in the trailer…
Agata: That’s happened, it’s a personal joke.
NHQ: And I love when Harvey tells Claude he has to fuck you get to the top. Has anyone ever told you anything like that for real?
Agata: Not directly but it’s been heavily implied. I’ve gotten excited about projects then when I follow up it’s like wellll I thought that was gonna happen after that other thing happens, and then I have to cut it off. It’s out there. So is the assumption that I’m fucking whoever I’m working with or I got a job because I fucked somebody. You’ve never assume that about a man but that’s a real thing and it also sucks.
NHQ: God forbid you should actually wanna fuck someone you met at work, or maybe you should just fuck everyone? If it’s going to be assumed anyway.
Agata: Yea! I’m a person, I can fuck whoever I want. If a guy does it he’s a hero, I’m a whore, it’s such cliché, never-ending bullshit. Aren’t we tired of this?
NHQ: Do you think there will be backlash for lack of diversity in the trailer’s cast?
Agata: Scheduling a shoot with this many constantly traveling artists is a three-week royal nightmare. You’re literally forcing stars to align, we eventually have to pick a date and whomever is available that day ends up in the trailer. The issue here is women, this line-up is stacked with artists of different ethnicities, and there are women of color playing the festival [DJ Heather, Qrion, Tinashe, Nancy Whang, UNIIQU3, Madam X, and of course KITTENS to name a few], but unfortunately they weren’t available to be in the trailer.
NHQ: You put up and coming female DJs in at the end as the solution to the problem presented right? Gary couldn’t find enough big name female talent so the move is to break new female artist by booking them?
Agata: When we decided to do this, everyone was like, “We should get big headliner girls” and we talked about having all these huge women come in and that didn’t seem right. It’s more important to give the up and coming girls a chance because they don’t get their foot through the door – we need more women in here, there are so many trying to get in who can’t so that became the mission. When Gary couldn’t find women to book he started digging deep listening to stuff and called me to say he’d say he’d found all these female producers he’d never heard of who were fucking killing it. I got teary on that call, it means so much more than to get one big female act and make a point with that. We need to make an effort to build people up.