Self Discovery for Social Survival: A Voyage into Sight, Sound and Surf

Connan Mockasin recording for SDFSS

Connan Mockasin recording for SDFSS

In the early 1950s there was a birth of a new film genre. One that would expand over the coming years, and pave the way for not only the sport, but the culture and music behind it. This is the surf film, which became paramount to creating the surf sound, mastered by the likes of Dick Dale to the Beach Boys. Surf and music have always gone hand in hand, but typically music is put to the visuals of a slick swell afterwards. Now, some sixty years after the birth of the scene, indie label Mexican Summer and surf brand Pilgrim have flipped that on its head. This is Self Discovery for Social Survival.

The film, a first for both Mexican Summer and Pilgrim, is an exploration into surfing and nature’s parallel with music. Travelling to three different locations, Mexico, the Maldives and Iceland, Self Discovery for Social Survival showcases the skills of renown surfers Ryan Burch, Richard Kenvin, Devon Howard, CJ Nelson, Karina Rozunko, Corey Colapinto and Ellis Ericson as they surf sun soaked waves to Stephanie Gilmore, Beau Foster, Andrew Kidman, Kassia Meador, Lee-Ann Curren and Heidar Logi covering themselves in thick wetsuits to protect themselves from the ice cold breaks. This was then paired with Mexican Summer artists including Allah Las, Connan Mockasin, MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden, Dungen, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Peaking Lights to create live recordings response to the surfing, the soundtrack to the film.

In the first of two interviews, we talk to Keith Abrahamsson who was the Music Supervisor on the film.

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Hey Keith. Tell us a bit about the film - where did the idea originate from and when was that?

The idea of making this film originally came to light several years ago. There was an inaugural trip to Nicaragua where we all ended up like Tom Hanks talking to a volley ball.  None of the footage was ever used or seen.  However, there’s one legendary excerpt of Connan ripping on an overhead set… It’s just unreal.  We’re gonna post that up at some point.

You said you wanted the film to be respectful and a nod to the past. That, and the film’s cinematography and font, displays influence from early and ground breaking surf films such as The Endless Summer and Morning of the Earth. There’s even subtle hints of the style of Bruce Brown in the film making. Did the 1960s and early 1970s days of surf film making have a big impact on the overall project?

Yeah, I think all of those movies, and more, that you mention had a pretty heavy impact on both Chris and myself. Probably for different reasons, since Chris is a far more of an accomplished surfer than I am.  I dug watching the surfing, but the music in those films was always what got me.  Or the combination of both of em, I suppose.  The symbiosis of surf, or skateboarding, or skiing, films and their soundtrack has been pretty well documented.  I guess we wanted to take try and push that relationship a little further and try to give it a fresh spin.

You guys sent the musicians out with the surfers on the trips. Do you think that this time to bond was necessary in order for this film to work?

Definitely. Those experiences served as the creative fodder for the soundtrack.

The sound track is pretty diverse genre-wise. The film also covers three diverse locations. How did you work out what artists went where?

Every vignette in the film has a pretty distinct feel – the environment, color palette, shot perspective, the music and the surfing. This was all by design. Working out which artists went where came pretty easy based on that. 

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Despite the diversity of sound, when the record is played without the film it fits together as a coherent album. Was this also a goal for you?

For sure, that was always a goal, but it’s kind of you to say so!

Did the artists have any guidelines to follow or was it totally free reign?

It was very free, although they did have rough edits to watch as guides, if they wanted to, once they were back in the studio.  We mostly just wanted the trip itself to inform what they ended up tracking.

It’s interesting to note that when the location changes in the film, the music also changes. Was this totally natural and down to the artists?

This was a big part of the narrative for us, bringing three separate groups of people, surfers and musicians, on each trip.  Having the sounds and sights change with each section was crucial.

Talk to us a little bit about the graphics too. They were done by Bailey Elder, right? How important were this graphics to the film?

Yeah, Bailey and another fella named Robert Beatty did all the illustrating and animation. They were instrumental in helping lock a visual identity for the film.  I guess you could say that having a strong visual element is also somewhat of a nod to the past, if you look at films like Pacific Vibrations, 5 Summer Stories, Litmus, etc, they all had sections like this.   

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With such a big project what do you think was the hardest obstacle to overcome, and how did you do that?

This was the first film that either Mexican Summer or Pilgrim ever made, so I’d definitely say there were some steep learning curves across the board. Any time you’re making something that depends on nature’s cooperation, it requires a ton of patience and malleability. Every one of the trips in our film was around 10 to 12 days long, so we had to plan and pray that we would be able to capture usable footage in those windows. We lucked out for the most part.  

If you took one lesson away from the making of Self Discovery for Social Survival, what would it be?

No ice in your drink when in Central America!

To know more about Self Discovery for Social Survival check out their website here. The film and soundtrack is available for pre order now. The soundtrack is released on 14th June and the film shortly after on 18th June.