Interview: Shazzula Nebula
Belgian musician and film maker talks about her apocalyptic 'Black Mass Rising' project
Words Jessica Crowe
Belgium-based artist, musician and filmmaker Shazzula Nebula’s work to date includes traversing the niches of dark psych rock bands (most notably as White Hills’ former synth player) and ritualistic imagery in her artwork and music videos. Her first feature-length film creation, Black Mass Rising, is a doughty two-hour non-narrative psychedelic journey that channels the ideas of Kenneth Anger’s seminal avant garde film Lucifer Rising. Fans of Anger will also be acquainted with Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Chilean filmmaker whose non-linear epic The Holy Mountain is a favourite amongst metal fans and those of psychedelia due to its psychotropic makeup. Both Anger and Jodorowsky used the “mirror image” as a reference point in their work, and this is a device Nebula leans heavily on throughout her film. A neat little progeny to those two monoliths of cult cinema, Black Mass Rising was also influenced by Occultist rituals and imagery (runes, blood letting, altars and hooded figures forming a Mass in the woods) and possibly the French symbolists, for whom words weren’t luminous enough to convey atmospheres, so instead ventured towards symbolism, imagery, and sound in structured poetic formats.
Limited to 666 copies and filmed in various wooded locations as well as local mausoleums in Brussels, Nebula filmed the entire 122-minute, dream-like vision on her phone and lent heavily on post production for the dislocated, kaleidoscopic effects.
The soundtrack, meanwhile, is a unique proposition. Twenty two bands, including Master Musicians of Bukkake, Mater Suspiria Vision, Mourning Ring and Burial Hex were asked to either contribute an existing work or create a piece that suited the film’s apocalyptic feel throughout its 22 sections.
We decided to speak with Nebula about the doom-laden project…
How did you become interested in the Occult and Mysticism? Was it through music?
Since age eight, I was attracted by the legends of the Gods, Egyptology, Art Nouveau, Dark Romanticism, the Pre Raphaelites, Symbolism, and my sister was often reading my Tarot. I’m also interested in artists [like] Jerome Bosch, William Blake, Cranach, Dante Poe, Baudelaire and Kenneth Anger.
People probably know you best from bands like White Hills, what made you take the leap over to filmmaking?
It wasn’t to do with any of the bands I was in, it was just an instinctive action. I study art, I am doing a masters at the moment at Le Cambre in Brussels. It’s mainly in drawing but I’ve made films, mostly in 8mm, without cutting or editing, it was just a way to film everything. At first I was making movies with my phone, you know, I’m not a cinematographer, I didn’t go to film school, it’s all very DIY. With Black Mass Rising, at the beginning I hadn’t planned to release it. It was just for me. I never thought it was going to be this big.
The soundtrack is such an insidious constituent in the film, it sends you into a hallucinogenic lull! How was it conceived?
Some of the bands or musicians had written their tracks before, and others created work especially for the film. I asked them what their idea of the apocalypse would sound like. Also, Bobby Beausoleil (musician and one of Charles Manson’s murderous cohorts) gave me an outtake (of his music) from Lucifer Rising. I wrote to him and asked him, told him I wanted to his work involved, I thought it would fit, I really respect his work.
Have you had bands come along and play live for screenings at all?
Today [at Supersonic Festival] it’s just going to be screened. When I went on tour with the film in Europe, America and the Middle East, I played with a local band. I can modulate it when I want — it can just be a screening with me solo (analogue synths), or with other bands, or me on the mixing machine. Or I go to someone in the town, you know like a local guy and he’ll come along and play. When we stayed in Lebanon, we met someone who plays Moor music. In the USA, I played with local guys — some who had seen the film, others not — but there is always a connection with the music and the film, whether it’s a state of mind… I can’t remember… I’m stoned… I have a bad memory!
So the film is a transient thing in that sense? Because the music changes with each screening?
Totally, every day different! It’s not a closed thing. We can meet people, it’s a visual thing and it’s a music thing. Flexible! Voilà!
Would you prefer people saw it live rather than on the DVD?
I prefer to play it.
And what’s next on the agenda?
I’m working now on a SCION video (‘The Secret’) for Southern Lord. Then in July next year I’ll start filming the next project — I’m learning to fly a drone over Mongolia, and Master Musicians Of Bukkake will make the whole soundtrack.