The making of a Chemical Brothers movie

Adam Smith may not be a name that elicits instant recognition, but the project he’s been a part of for the last eighteen years certainly does. Running around behind the scenes of The Chemical Brothers, Smith has singlehandedly masterminded the dazzling effects of the duo’s live shows since the early ‘90s. Smith’s latest directing venture is his first full-length feature, Don’t Think: a cinematic exploration of a Chemical Brothers show, set amongst the idyllic backdrop of Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival. Before the live film was released, we had a chat to Adam Smith about the making of Don’t Think and why he believes a gig should be an immersive, albeit crazy, experience.

You’re about to release your first full-length feature after almost two decades working with the Chemical Brothers. Why now?

Well it’s about bloomin’ time, some would say [laughs]! We’ve never done it and it just felt like the right time. We’d reached a point where it’s better than it’s ever been, which it should be for how long we’ve been doing it. Also, the set this time wasn’t promoting a particular album as there isn’t one, so Tom and Ed were able to just make the best possible set out of their whole catalogue of music. There’s some old stuff in there. There’s also an amazing new song called Superflash.

How have you seen the Chemical Brothers live show develop over the years, particularly with how they’ve incorporated new technologies?

It started off in the early 90s, in Leeds I think or Liverpool, the set was 20 minutes long. It used to all be analogue; we used to do all the visuals with film and slides. Back then we didn’t have much equipment on stage, there were two old Kodak carousel slide projectors and we had these reels we made ourselves which sat at the front of the projectors, they spun round to give this strobing effect to the visuals. We controlled those with a voltage controller from a Hornby railway set! You could adjust the speed to go with the beat of the music. It was all a very home-made job.

All the equipment for that first gig we could fit in one van. I remember we were waiting for a guy to take us to the gig and we were all expecting to be picked up in a transit van or something – and the guy turned up in an old ice cream van! These days there’s a ridiculous amount of lights, a huge LED stealth screen, three trucks worth of stuff and a brilliant crew that help put the show on every night. It’s amazing really.

Do you have a lot of creative control?

Yeah, I mean that’s the amazing thing. Generally with all the stuff I’ve done, because we’ve been working for so long together, I just use the music as a script and I’m allowed to interpret that however I like and get on with it. Somehow, people seem to like it. If I hadn’t been in the business as long as I have none of what I think up would get commissioned. If I just rocked up today and said I wanted clowns and bugs and robots in the show, people would think I was nuts.

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