Debate: Music video by Spring Offensive featuring sign language – arty, offensive or just plain daft?

Posted on March 26, 2012

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Spring Offensive, a self-styled wimpy miserablist band from Oxfordshire, recently released their latest single, ‘Worry Fill My Heart’, with an accompanying music video.

The band perform synchronised signing in the video, and are later joined by a large cast of extras who sign to illustrate the chorus.

To take a look at their efforts, watch the video below. The signing kicks in after 1 minute:

So, where did the idea to include sign language come from?

Matt Cooper, co-songwriter and guitarist with the band, told us he hit upon the idea of including sign language in order to convey the feelings and emotions behind the lyrics in a visual way: “During previous video research, I’d worked with a couple of Deaf actors and was blown away by how much of a visual impact signing brings to the lyrics. Especially for people who have had very little exposure to sign as a language; it becomes this joy to watch even if you can’t understand every word.”

Lead singer Lucas Whitworth added: “When Matt suggested using sign language in the video, the only concern was whether the extras would be able to learn it in time. When you have no experience of signing, it can seem like a daunting task. But, particularly with these lyrics, the signs matched the emotions well and it just seemed to click.”

The band have been keen not to use sign language as a promotional tool. They openly admit that the signing used is not strictly correct BSL, nor is it meant to be. Instead, it is all about the visual impact.

So, without being fluent in sign language, how exactly did the band come up with the lyrics? Matt said: “We asked a good friend of ours, Ben Phillips [NOTE: we have been asked to make clear that this is not Benjamin Phillips, the NRCPD registered interpreter] to help us out. His knowledge of BSL and SSE allowed us to choose the right approach so that the end result would be the best mix possible. He also helped teach the extras, which was invaluable as we only had a very short time!”

Why didn’t the band use Deaf extras? “Lack of money. We didn’t want to ask people who don’t know us to come and help us for free, so we did what we usually do; asked friends and fans. But, importantly, we approached it as a challenge to those people; can you learn and engage with this language? Will you go on and do more having had this experience?”

Matt continued: “We didn’t subtitle the video, or try to translate it into BSL, because we aren’t making any kind of statement about Deaf language or culture. Why would we? It isn’t ours to make a statement about. Instead, we just wanted to use this visually beautiful medium to convey the lyrics, and celebrate the richness of sign.”

By Emily Howlett

Editor’s view, from Charlie Swinbourne

I have to admit that there is something strangely compelling and watchable about seeing the band sign in the video.

One reason for this is the simple fact that they’re not using facial expressions, which we’re so used to seeing signing accompanied by.

That makes the signing seem more robotic and mechanical than usual, almost as though the emotion has been sucked out of it – which is presumably the desired effect for a “miserablist” music band.

The problem is I can’t watch it without laughing. It’s unintentionally hilarious.

It’s a bit like the equivalent of being German and seeing a bunch of English people who don’t know German teaming up to have a crack at speaking German one day, yet with no experience, no emotion or tone, in tandem with one another.

You laugh because while they’re so clearly into it, every single sign isn’t quite right. You know what they’re trying to say, but many signs – or hand movements that are crucial to the sign – are signed  in the wrong place.

Such as the sign for “need,” which is supposed to be signed centrally, going down the chest, rather than to the side, as it’s shown here.

And because they look so serious, so earnest as they go… I couldn’t quite stifle my laughter.

Which was slightly embarrassing because I was watching it alone.

So, here’s the question: is this offensive, or art?

I’d defend to the hilt the band’s freedom to express themselves visually, and from what they’ve said, they had great intentions going into it. They also haven’t tried to market it as a ‘BSL video,’ and admit the BSL isn’t quite right. They seem like nice chaps who are genuinely interested in sign language.

My slight problem with it is that this video will play very differently to a deaf and a hearing audience.

Hearing people who don’t know sign language may well think the band are absurdly good at sign language and will probably just think it’s amazing, believing they’re watching a hand and arm based dance routine that has credibility, rather than being a just bunch of random movements.

Meanwhile, people who actually know sign language will be rolling around on the floor with laughter.

In my view, as long as the band are comfortable with making the funniest deaf film since Text Batteries and Earwax, I don’t have a problem.

But what do you think? Leave your comments below.

Spring Offensive start their latest tour on 29th March 2012. To find out more, including gig schedules, click here: http://springoffensive.co.uk/ or check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/springoffensive

Posted in: debate, emily howlett