British journalist BILLIE JD PORTER presents her latest project, ‘Sound and Vision’ – a four-part documentary series which investigates socially-conscious icons in contemporary music that are having a profound impact on the world around them. Created and fronted by Billie herself (who also served as producer and executive producer), the series profiles some of the most innovative artists and music scenes of the current climate, whilst telling wider stories about the power of music to inspire, and bring about change within society.
Sound and Vision is available for catch up on Channel 4.
Photography: Laura Allard- Fleischl
Styling: Sarah Maria Booth
MUA: Francesca Calaresu
Hair: Sharon Robinson
How did this project initially materialise?
I’ve been trying to get the series off the ground for years, and the ideas for different artists to feature and stories to follow have been changing and developing for that whole time.
Part of my motivation for trying to do something like this, was feeling like there’s a real gap in music based content that isn’t promotional or branded. I feel like we’re only used to seeing artists do interviews where the purpose is to sell something – their record or a product. We invest so much into the artists that we love, so I feel like the journalism should be going deeper, and painting a truer picture of them as people.
As both creator and host, which of your roles did you find to be the most challenging?
I actually also produced and exec produced the show… I worked with a very tiny team, and a very tiny budget, so it was all hands-on deck throughout pre-production, shooting and post.
It’s been extremely difficult to pull off, and I feel like I haven’t slept properly all year, but it’s also really fulfilling to find so much energy for a creative project because you care so much about it.
I spent a long time trying to get the right access to our contributors, and make everything happen logistically. Being on screen myself is nowhere near the hardest or most rewarding part of what I do, but I don’t think people necessarily consider or know all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make documentaries like this.
During the filmmaking process, did you experience anything in particular that you had to conquer, both personally or professionally, in order to keep going?
God, honestly at some points I was convinced that the whole thing was cursed. That sounds really over dramatic, but in short, YES. I’ve learnt so much from the whole process, specifically a very valuable lesson about choosing carefully who you want in a team, and making sure you’re credited and taking ownership over what’s yours.
You acknowledge that this project is quite different from your previous body of work; what attracted you to exploring a new sphere?
I started my career in music journalism, but I’ve never combined that with documentary, or really explored it editorially as an adult.
The main difference though is that I had so much more control over this than anything I have done in the past. There have been times where I’ve put my heart and soul into a film that someone else is directing, and then felt heart-broken when the edit hasn’t turned out how I think is best, or that someone’s decided to stick a David Guetta track under a really emotional scene.
The process of making this series was a lot more collaborative and less hierarchical than anything I’ve ever worked on, because the team was so small.
In the series, you meet with performance artist, poet and activist, Mykki Blanco, on the Bible Belt of his US tour – could you give us an insight into what that experience was like for the both of you?
Mykki is one of the best live performers I’ve ever seen, and it was a real privilege to be documenting some of the shows. He gave us deep access to tell his story, and I find him so genuinely interesting and inspiring that it didn’t feel like ‘work’. The shows we covered were particularly important because of the fact they were offering a safe space for queer people of colour in a largely conservative region of America.
You also speak with MOBO award winner Lady Leshurr to discuss additional critical issues such as the lack of female artists breaking through in the Grime genre; what, in your opinion, is the biggest obstacle these women face when seeking their well-deserved success?
Well I think there’s sexism across the music industry, regardless of genre, so it’s hard to pinpoint one singular challenge women face. In the film, we focus on the impact that government cuts to youth services is having on young people, and how it could affect the scene by limiting access to certain facilities and equipment. Lady Leshurr really honed her craft at a youth club, so it’s an issue very close to her heart.
Do you have any behind-the-scenes stories you can share with us?
I had a funny night at that famous strip club Magic City in ATL… I’m not sure I should say anything else.
The series explores a number of social issues that still exist in modern-day society – are there any other issues that you hope to explore in your future career?
I have an endless list of films I want to make, factual and scripted, it’s just a long process to get funding and teams together to do it how you want. I’m currently working on something about housing, and then I’m gonna take some time off to work on pitches and figure out what’s next.
What do you ultimately hope to achieve from this project?
In some ways, I’ve already achieved most of what I set out to, in just starting and finishing this thing myself, despite loads of shit getting in the way.
This project was hugely important to me on a very personal level, not only because it’s the first series I’ve created from scratch, but also because the content is telling important and necessary stories. I want to find Sound and Vision to get seen around the world, so the next step is working on global distribution and finding it the right home.