Soda Jerk tackle Trump, lockdowns and anti-hope in the audacious Hello Dankness

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Soda Jerk explore our stoned new reality, sampling over 550 sources in Hello Dankness. Stephen A Russell hears all about the duo’s audacious festival film.

While the 2016 election of President Trump, “the first meme to hold office in The White House,” was the “definitive psychic break into a new baked reality,” that prompted art punk filmmaking siblings Soda Jerk—aka Dan and Dominique Angeloro—to forge Hello Dankness, their latest equal parts hilarious/harrowing movie mash-up, there was a lot going on that year, and since.

“For us, 2016 was simply a tipping point, a threshold over which we all tumbled into a stoned new world,” say the duo who brought us the terrifying sight of right-wing Australian politician Pauline Hanson inserted into the Ozploitation dystopia of the Mad Max movies in their previous wig-out, Terror Nullius.

“Waking up to unhinged news headlines each morning felt like we had accidentally taken the exit ramp into some kind of psychotropic parallel reality,” they say. “There were Democrats eating babies, paedophiles communicating in pizza codes, presidential pee-pee tapes and child trafficking inside Wayfair furniture.”

Niftily stitching archival news footage from these helltimes into goofy stoner comedies like Wayne’s World and its more apocalyptic, Seth Rogen-led cousin This is the End via clips from American Beauty and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the movie mainlines over 550 sources, with thousands more on the cutting room floor. The title references Simon & Garfunkel track The Sound of Silence, meme culture and particularly potent weed.

Zipping from Hilary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 through the pandemic and up to Biden’s inauguration via an insurrection, it’s a delirious funny commentary that will send shivers up your spine. “We never consciously set out to create gags, it just seems to emerge from the unexpectedness of things coming together,” Soda Jerk says. “Jolts in tonality are our jam. But while Hello Dankness leans into the LOLs, it was important for us that this muckraking was knotted together with moments of discomfort, sombreness and sincerity.”

Hello darkness

Hello Dankness is the first time Soda Jerk have worked on a film addressing events as they unfurl. “It was a scramble to keep up, but we were managing ok until 2020 came along and whooped our ass.” They were about to lock the film in 2020, “But once we grasped the magnitude of the pandemic, we made the decision to cut over half of the edit to make room for this plot twist.”

There was no way they could ignore the global tumult. “For all the profound grief and misery of the pandemic, it revealed that it really was possible for the hulking mechanics of conventional society to change quickly and dramatically,” Soda Jerk say. “For a second, it felt like a potentially revolutionary moment… But the fact that everything has coalesced back into the same old contours of malignant neoliberalism is gutting.”

Hope’s a cop out, these days. “It’s a little suspect. You don’t need to be a climate scientist to know which way the wind blows. In a time of real and urgent and irreversible catastrophe, perhaps hope is not the radical thing. Perhaps it is only by truly confronting the devastating gravity of our situation that we’ll be able to grasp the kind of profound and seismic changes that desperately need to be made.”

But they don’t see their far-out filmmaking as activism, per se. “We’re somewhat weary of collapsing the two, because each has its own way of acting on the world. But we do understand our work within the lineage of political filmmaking, both in terms of the concerns of the films themselves and the way they’re constituted. We never license the material we work with and consider our sample-based practice to operate within the tradition of civil disobedience.”

Get ripped

As for how they can get away with using (and arguably abusing) so many clips, let’s just say their movies are unlikely to get a cinematic release, beyond film festivals and art gallery screenings—it first popped up at South Australia’s Samstag gallery as a co-pro with the Adelaide Film Festival before enjoying its international debut at Berlinale. “We might play loose with the law, but we are big believers in the ethics of sampling,” Soda Jerk say.

Their debts are many, crediting the likes of Jean Genet, William Burroughs, Genesis Bryer P.Orridge, Kathy Acker, Craig Baldwin and Fred Morton. “In one sense we rose from the grave of Napster and started collaborating on our first film Hollywood Burn in the early 2000s as a kind of vigilante mission to avenge the torrent takedowns of that era.”

This was way before YouTube, supercuts, deep fakes and AI image manipulation. “We’re legit fossils. When we started out, there wasn’t even a film torrent culture. We were rucking a suitcase to Blockbuster and filling it with VHS and DVD rentals. They considered us such valued customers that they sent us a Christmas card. They had no idea we were systematically plundering huge chunks of their store.”

Pulling a film like Hello Dankness together is an intensive process. “There’s a heinous amount of special effects in our films,” Soda Jerk say. “The rotoscoping alone takes six-to-eight months and needs to be intensive, otherwise we’d never put a dent in it. We often get a temporary sublet and cover all the windows with garbage bags so we can rotoscope around the clock like wannabe hackers. Definite meth lab vibes.”

It’s an addiction that has fans hooked worldwide. “Part of what draws us to sampling is that it complicates the demarcation of tidy demographics. The way that you experience Hello Dankness will not only depend on the country you are from, but also your past viewing experiences, your age, political orientation and how deeply you live in the internet. While you are watching the film, the film is also watching you.”