Cults Video Director Finds Muse In Jonestown Massacre

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By: Noah J Nelson

The new video for "Go Outside," the breakout hit for indie-turned-major label band Cults, is a technical and narrative marvel. Band members Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion are seamlessly inserted into archival footage of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple and its ill-fated commune in Guyana, known as Jonestown. It's a striking video, whose power derives in part from the narrative tension between the innocuous imagery -- happy church-goers dancing and singing -- and the knowledge that Jonestown ended in a deadly massacre.

The video was helmed by Isaiah Seret, an up-and-coming music video director with a knack for creating beautifully realized narratives at pop song length.  Before meeting with Seret in Los Angeles neighborhood Echo Park on the patio of a coffee bar, I wasn't sure who I was going to find. The video for "Go Outside" had set off warning bells. While his body of work hints at a passionate humanism, the subject of Jonestown is so charged that the use of camera wizardry to insert a pop band -- even a very good pop band -- into the historical record felt like director and band were playing with fire.

The song itself has always had the specter of Jim Jones haunting the track. The opening sample of Jones, drawn from his infamous "death tapes," forms a sinisterly ironic counterpoint to the bright pop tones of the music. That sample raises the question: Does the track reflect a sincere interest in the history here, or is it just a pose? The video raises the stakes even further: