On the night London-born, LA-based musician DWY first met LA filmmaker Quran Squire, the pair spoke for hours about the idea of Black fantasy; how the only time magical aspects are attributed to Black characters is through aggressive or evil traits. As this initial conversation shifted into a close friendship, the topic of their meeting soon developed into 8-Bit Memories, a new short film that accompanies DWY’s debut mixtape of the same name.
Placing Black fantasy at the forefront of their narrative, the duo used this as an imaginative vehicle to dig into notions of masculinity, police brutality and companionship – all told within a nostalgic, dreamlike filter. Shot on film, there’s a powerful authenticity at the heart of the piece that facilitates those surreal elements, including a Del Toro-esque Cat Lady offering pearls of wisdom, with childlike wonder. Memories dilute reality and dreams seep into consciousness; as a holistic translation of DWY’s sonic voice, 8-Bit Memories is a cinematic reminder that you write your own narrative.
Here, DWY and Quran catch up during lockdown to reflect on their time making 8-Bit Memories.
DWY: This film began with Love. I wanted to make a movie for a while but was struggling to find a director. Then Love [Mansuy] was like, “Yo, my cousin, my homeboy makes films.” Then we were both at his house all the time just like talking about movies.
Quran Squire: Love mentioned it, he was like, “Yo, my friend’s making a movie,” and I was like, “What does that mean? Do they really know how to make a movie?” So yeah, that night we sat down and chopped it up about the idea. More so about who we were and what sort of things we were looking to say and make. Wow, that was like two years ago.
DWY: Damn, it was. Time has flown. That whole process of finding a director was super tough for me because like, trying to find someone you don’t know but who oddly speaks the same language that you do and wants to express the same stuff is tough. The day we wrapped, I remember feeling really sad, like, “I could’ve done this for two more months.” [laughs]
QS: It’s kinda crazy, that’s how it is. Once you break that third or fourth day, you’re just ready to continue. Something happens where the fuel gets activated and you’re like, “OK, we got something special, let’s keep going.” Then that last wrap day was one of the heaviest scenes in the piece, so just to pull that off… there was a great build-up of anticipation, of us working towards that moment. You could feel it in rehearsals. That’s one of the biggest things, we took the time to rehearse so we could just get on set and play from there. We had some good moments figuring out where we were gonna do with that scene, the emotional arc, to have fun with it. The willingness and openness of everyone in that moment made it work.
DWY: The tension was already kind of there because we were just tired.
QS: I wanted to ask, maybe we did talk about it but, what was the inspiration around writing that piece?
“We were the era of kids who went to the cinema and were like, “Wow!” There wasn’t DVDs or on-demand or anything like that, we actually went to theatres, saw it, lived it.”
DWY: I’ve always been a big movie fan. Before I wanted to make music I remember being in love with movies and always wanted to explore that medium – before I wrote songs I was already writing short stories. When the mixtape was finishing we needed to make a video, but I didn’t know if I wanted to be the dude who just walks around singing my songs in the video, it doesn’t feel like the best way to express myself. I remember going back to London, to Forest Hill, and just sitting down like, “What is it I want to say?” I knew I wanted to explore my place in the world as a Black man, that was something I particularly wanted to express. I kind of looked at the songs and considered the best way to tell the stories. I think by the time you saw the script it’d gone through some iterations, but the origin was always there. The first version I wrote in November 2018. When was the first time you knew you wanted to make movies?
QS: I mean, in some ways it was always there as a kid. I was very fortunate and blessed to grow up with a community and family who pushed the Arts. You look at it now and I’m the first generation in my family who can make a living from my art, that’s a big deal. Our parents, they come from that working-class idea of, you know, it’s about providing and how you do that. They were thinking about that more than we probably do now. Like, let’s just make what we wanna make and do what we want not for money but because we love it. I was fortunate enough to have a family who let me stand on their shoulders to see further, they gave me my first camcorder at like age ten or eleven, they gave me a bunch of film books, I still have the first two they gave me. We were the era of kids who went to the cinema and were like, “Wow!” There wasn’t DVDs or on-demand or anything like that, we actually went to theatres, saw it, lived it. I remember those feelings of going to the movie theatre, the smell of popcorn, sitting in the seats, watching the previews. It’s something I also wanted to do, something I saw myself doing. I didn’t know it’d be as possible as it is, I just started following it. I think it started with writing, that was the first step. I loved writing as a kid, I did poetry, I wrote for the newspaper in high school. It was ways of telling stories, the facts behind the truths, who are these people, how do we all connect? Film just kept presenting itself as the most viable option to do that and have fun.
DWY: Cinema is the thing I miss most in lockdown. Going to the movies is such a big part of my life, I used to love going by myself, there’s something about it that’s just very fun, it’s relaxing, therapeutic.
QS: Oh yeah, man. There aren’t many art forms where you can be in a space with people you don’t know and share something in common, whether that’s a laugh or a reaction to something. I think that’s very important for humans to coexist, those moments of being together and connected. There’s something to say about the streaming service, the innovation of that. We have so many options now, you can watch whatever at your own convenience, but at the end of the day, there’s something that reigns supreme about being in that theatre seat experiencing something together. I definitely feel you on that. I got to a point with streaming services where I’m like, “I can see anything I want,” but sometimes options are tough and I can be an indecisive person. Sometimes I just wanna go see whatever’s in the theatre, there’s a special kind of trust in that.
DWY: That reminds me of going to a record store, the kind where they really love records and they’ll be like, “You like this stuff? Then you’ll like this.” It’s the same with scrolling on Netflix or whatever, there’s so much you don’t know where to start. That record store you put me onto…
QS: Shhh! [both laugh]
DWY: I’ve been in there a couple of times and the guy kind of knows what I like so he’s like, “Oh you should check this out.” Stuff I’d never usually try if nobody told me about it, I like that feeling in the movie theatre. When I saw Parasite, me and Jesse [Rose] were super hungover [laughs] he wanted to go see a movie and the only one playing was Parasite. I didn’t know a single thing about it. I remember going in and realising it wasn’t in English, and those initial five minutes trying to understand what’s happening. If I was on a streaming service I probably wouldn’t have picked that movie because they’d have told me all the things that, in my mind, I would’ve been like, “Ah, I’m not in the mood for this.” Having that narrow option is helpful in that way. Even when we were making this, it was all about having that shared experience, because the more specific it is to you, oddly the more universal it is to other people. I’ve been stopped and searched and harassed way too many times in my life – hearing about how these things have affected other people is super interesting.
QS: The shared experience is what connects us all. But going back to records, there’s this collective nostalgia that exists that I think is really unique. Records are one of the original forms of experiencing something full-on, and each one passes down its history almost. When you hear the record scratching, you put the needle down, those vibrations are like, you feel they’re emitting from the time the record was made. In a way we chose to shoot in film because there’s a very nostalgic, poetic image that comes from that. You talk about it being 8-bit in memories and all these things are oscillating between past and present but what is past and what is present? We look at time so linear, sometimes that kicks us out of the reality that time is time, we’re happening in the present but we’re happening always, right? The same things we were speaking about in the film are the same things people were marching for six, seven months ago. All of that is happening at the same time. We try to make sense of it because that’s human nature, we put things in sequential order. Without saying there can’t be growth, things that ultimately happen in human nature are very circular. I think it’s on us to sometimes find trends and new outlets in those patterns because there’s also a very beautiful aspect of humanity that coexists in that space, it’s just what we choose to lean into.
There are the things happening and there’s the response – there’s been a response to this since the 60s, since before that. Injustices, anything, human relations, how we choose to love and protect each other. I think Memories does a very interesting job of bringing those things into play. It’s something I’ve been thinking about, listening to records, shooting on film, I’ve brought out this typewriter, and I’m like wow, the sentiment and energy behind these things is all the same, it’s just how we choose to tap into it. It’s the same as our memories, past, present and future, it’s what you lean into.
I’ve been reading this book that’s been really great for me, two books actually, one I’ve been fascinated by because the author talks about love as a noun instead of a verb. We look at love as a feeling, but what if we looked at it as an approach of action and doing. How do you show that? Putting out these crazy concepts in my mind, but they aren’t crazy, we just aren’t used to hearing it that way. In reality love is a universal language, we can all speak it.
“…the more specific it is to you, oddly the more universal it is to other people.”
DWY: I’ve been reading a lot since lockdown too, trying to take my brain to as many different places and keep it active. You reminded me of the night we first met, I remember we went off on a tangent for hours talking about Black fantasy. How in movies, if it’s a fantasy or magical film, it’s rarely told from a Black perspective unless it’s something aggressive or evil, like black magic. As a kid, my brain was always in fantasy and now I’m a big fan of things like Thundercats and Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. So to take a bit of that essence and put it in the movie was really fun. To take that angle on it. That was one of the early things we clicked on, that idea of Black fantasy.
QS: Yeah man, that was exciting to go into – like creature design with the Cat Lady. I grew up watching The Lord of the Rings and Guillermo del Toro is one of my favourite directors because of his world-building. He makes creatures that are the polar opposite of a human in aesthetic but carry the same traits. I remember us talking about that with the Cat Lady and just trying to pull it off, right? We didn’t have any crazy budget to do it, but we had the right people around to make it happen. It’s about that belief. Everyone involved helped create that world. We spoke about it, it’s risky and we’ve seen areas where it does not translate. That whole world between present, past and fantasy, what does that look like? I definitely remember vibing on that. This project tapped into that perfect place, and it doesn’t need to be explained, you don’t need to be hit it over the head, just focus on the interaction and the sequence of events. And Katherine [Pegova], who played Cat Lady, she totally bought into that.
DWY: I remember looking through the audition tapes and being like, “Ok, this is going to work.” Just the way she could move her body…
QS: Oh my god, yeah. We had some tough options too, but I think once it came down to her movement… and she’d played creatures before, she’d played this fantastical beast before so she very much knew what we wanted. It was one of those things that just came together. You had a broken ankle, man [laughs], you did this film on a broken ankle. Your acting in that, that shit was authentic because you were actually going through what that film was saying. You could feel it. You were really just being yourself, everything that character was going through, you were too. Most people wouldn’t know that.
DWY: Looking back on that, I didn’t realise how much my life was mirroring what we were filming, it was a crazy time.
QS: I think that’s how we get over our trials and tribulations, you put it in the art and you express it. Once you became that and shared it with the world, it no longer had ownership over you. I’d say 8-Bit saved my life too, I was straight out of film school and had that project not went down, it’d be a very different situation for me today. We had everything to lose, and we just wanted to go ahead and get a win.