In Conversation
Maya Jane Coles Introduces Her Visual Creative Partners, The Fashtons

It might seem like an obvious point, but it’s easy to forget how closely linked the worlds of music and art are. The best electronic producers have a distinct voice running through all of their music, but adding a visual element can always make their work more recognisable. For Maya Jane Coles, this is truer than most. For a big part of her career, the representation of her sleek deep house sound has been shaped by Ben Ashton and Fiona Garden, the creative visual artists known as The Fashtons.

Maya recently released the video for her new single Darkside, an intense trip into her subconscious produced by the creative duo. Ahead of her appearance in Room One next Saturday, Maya introduced us to Ben and Fiona to talk more about their work, before writing to us to explain her close relationship with them.

“Collaborating with the Fashtons really has been a creative dream. We were friends already before working together but collaborating definitely brought us closer. I've never really been a fan of being in front of the camera on set where there are like 20 people lingering around that you don't really know. Working with Ben and Fiona is the polar opposite of that.

The intimacy really allows the creativity to flow and we're always on the same page anyway when it comes to aesthetics and finer details. It gives us extra freedom to mess around with crazy ideas without feeling like it might go to waste or one won't understand it. As with anything, after working together on multiple projects, you start to find a flow and pattern of ways for getting things done.

It strengthens everything and lets you focus more on the creative side by expanding on the world of ideas that can be explored. I love how they utilise very minimal set-ups and spaces and pretty much create everything from scratch, it's kind of the angle I take when working on my music. Ben and Fiona are both so insanely talented in their own right, so collaborating with them as the Fashtons really is something special.” – Maya Jane Coles

How did you start working together?

Fiona: We both had established careers when we met – I was mostly shooting fashion and becoming increasingly dissatisfied with its superficial, ephemeral world. It was through unplanned osmosis that Ben’s work came to influence mine. I was already interested in adulterating imagery by bringing intimacy to the viewer’s relationship with the subject, but at the same time fucking it up somehow. Ben’s classical work and research into optics and mirror devices inspired me, and this came at a time when I was starting to focus more on music-related photography. I found so much more freedom to both experiment on exciting and meaningful projects, and to develop ongoing collaborative relationships with artists like Maya. Eventually Ben came on board for some music-related gigs. The Fashtons wasn’t something we planned, it was just born.

Having worked in both art and music, do you see a lot of crossover in those worlds and the way they’re creatively presented?

Fashtons: Something we both respond to in music and art is the sense of permanence and legacy – an image can end up being irrevocably linked to music that will exist forever, just as a painting can last for a thousand years, just as once the shutter is pressed, that moment is captured forever. Music, like art, can be a commodity. Artists may have albums to sell, but music is ultimately an intensely personal expression on behalf of the artist, especially with someone whose work is as intimate and confessional as Maya’s. We feel that the imagery should be an integral part of that expression.

How does your style change between working with someone like Kanye West and Alt-J?

Fashtons: We love the immediacy of working with new artists – sometimes we’ll only have a couple of hours, as we did with Alt-J. In those instances, we will have a loose plan of attack going in, and a few ideas of different elements to introduce, then it’s all down to instinct and our rapport with the artist. We love it when things happen that we weren’t planning for; those are some of the most exciting moments.

How did you and Maya first cross paths?

Ben: I met Maya through a friend called Natalia Latyszonek, who actually worked with me on building the polyhedric structure in the video. I’ve known Nat since I was a kid, she and Maya also go way back and are a part of this fantastic friend-family that exists in Maya’s world. I painted a portrait of Maya back in 2012, and it was from then that our collaboration began.

Fiona: Right from the beginning, Maya has been such an amazing creative partner. She is always up for whatever weird thing we want to try, and our work with her has really allowed us to push the limits of portraiture. We’ve bounced her reflection off of water, we’ve distorted her and fed it back into the image – we’ve done so many experiments with alternative light sources that it’s become a running joke that we always seem to be shooting in the damn dark!

How much do you have to listen to the music first before coming up with the concept for a video?

Fiona: Oh, we’ve had a link to the album for some time – it’s been part of the soundtrack to our lives. This project has been a long collaboration in the making, and it was such a joy to have the opportunity to envelop ourselves in the album as a whole in order to allow the concept to build organically. In fact, when I first made the playlist of the record, I called it ‘Make A World’; I already had an instinct that we wanted to create a wholly realised internal world around the music.

What’s your creative process between hearing the music and then starting to put the idea into practice?

Fashtons: We will spend a long time talking things over and often projects that come our way will fit well into things we are already interested in or working on – particularly with video projects, we really only take on things that inspire us and that allow us to push things. This is part of why we often work with the same people over and over again – they are part of our creative world as much as we are a part of theirs. When there is such a natural empathy with the music, the ideas just kind of make themselves.

A lot of your videos seem to focus on one main subject or protagonist, what’s the reason for this?

We strive for a sense of intimacy in both of our individual practises, and so it naturally comes through in the work we do together. Often the protagonists in our videos will represent a concept, or an aspect of a person, or personification of a lyric, but often with room for the viewer to impart their own meaning, in the same way that a song can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people. We will often incorporate personal references that almost nobody would ever pick up on, or hidden elements that aren’t immediately obvious.

Can you explain more about the concept behind the Darkside video? To us it almost seems as if Maya is looking into her future (or past?) through a crystal ball.

Fashtons: Interesting that you think she’s looking into her future or past, it’s more of a journey into Maya’s subconscious. The figure in the polyhedron represents the malleable subconscious trying on different creative guises using the masks as representation. Parts of the masks relate to different people in Maya’s life but they are all altered in various fantastical ways so they are not too literal, after all, anything can happen in the subconcious. The dreaminess of the video should reflect ambiguity of space and time where anything can happen.

Where can we find more of your work?

Fashtons: A lot of our work is on our joint website, and we both have our own sites too.

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