[photo credit: Cody Rasmussen]
Party people may know him as Manster’s house photographer Saturday nights at the Monster, but this Russian-born innovator is so much more than that. Having collaborated with well-known performers in New York nightlife, and even major stars like Crystal Waters, this man is a top-notch music video director and producer. One of his videos is even nominated for a GLAM Award this Sunday, but he might just be too busy running all the video art projection at the ceremony to enjoy it! Get into the mad genius of Mikhail Torich.
Thotyssey: Hi Mikhail, how’s it going today? Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? (I haven’t even come close to starting.)
Mikhail Torich: Hello! It’s truly a whirlwind of USPS spectacular extravaganza this year, I tell you that much. “Leave if no response” is my catchphrase of the season!
Thank God for the Internet, I hate shopping! So, where are you right now?
Chained to my desk here in NYC – two computers blowing out fire – multi-editing in full effect. December has never been this busy before!
Wow you do look busy! So, if I were to ask you to define your profession exactly, what would you say?
I’m a full-time music video director, which I’ve been professionally doing since 2000 back in St. Petersburg, Moscow (Russia), Germany and starting in 2009 – in the United States.
Photography is still my passion. I worked for years as head of the photo department at TimeOut Russia, yet I do it only for close friends now.
I’m running an independent business here in NYC, and as you might guess it’s challenging. Creative sector is always changing, energy, creativity and money are not always ending in one bin. But you hear me complaining? Nope, not a second!
So, were you born in Russia?
You’re right. Very cold there most of the year. Hard to film talent, go-go’s and strippers outdoors!
I bet! Do you miss being there at all?
I’d say there’s way more paths for creativity and acceptance here in New York City.
So, what is it about nightlife that drew you to document that world?
“Nightlife” – it’s just a tip of the iceberg for me. Upon moving to NYC, I’ve been working hard to bring full-blown, high-end studio production quality even to the smallest projects.
Utilizing my background in mainstream music videos (I directed music videos for house music veteran Crystal Waters, double-Grammy-winner Rob Fusari,… I worked on a music video for Swedish superstar Bosson, and many more. That’s when I learned everything about professional workflow).
I manage to bring extreme visual boost to any artist, big or small. And everyone I work with here in NYC is very, very talented:. six Music videos for YouTube sensation AB Soto, dozens of projects for Wigstock founder Lady Bunny, Manila Luzon and Cazwell, Shangela, Sharon Needles, Peppermint, Honey Davenport to name a few more.
That’s a pretty amazing list of people! What’s Crystal Waters like, by the way? She’s been an ally of the queer scene for decades.
Dance music and LGBT community go hand-in hand. She’s a great advocate for tolerance and understanding. Spiritual, and a very kind person. We will see each other tonight at the Launch streetwear line launch party by Gladys Pizarro, a prominent NYC AR agent.
When someone hires you for a project, do you find that they usually have very specific ideas about what they want, or do they want your help in creating ideas?
There’s always a thought and a process. I start every project from storyboard artwork, and we listen to the track and exchange ideas.
Here’s a storyboard for Rob Fusari’s “Don’t Let Love Down” music video:
And here is one for Jasmine Rice’s “Tongue First” video:
And some final production stills from Rob’s video:
There are strong elements of sexuality in a lot of your videos… Do you think you have a reputation for representing “sexy” well in your work?
I’ve always been an ambassador for nudity and sexual expression in music video language, indeed. And I make everyone look great. And slim, too!
I’m glad you’ve got you’re priorities in order! I’m a fan of your “Lick My Boots” video for T-Boy. That fetish aesthetic works great with him. Don’t you think the world would be a better place if there was more boot-licking?
I’m glad you liked it! I studied and worked in Germany and Netherlands; fetish is a common thing there. Dominatrix, leather, nudity is literally displayed in the street windows. And I have to say, people look way less stressed!
“Lick My Boots” also featured a whole slue of talent – Rick Londono and Dan Jimenez host bear underwear parties, Timmy Thok is an Andrew Christian underwear model (and GLAM Awards Trophy Boy), and Aric Wolff is a very popular go-go.
And of course, your video “Tongue First” (a parody of Bob the Drag Queen’s hit) starring Jasmine Rice is a big YouTube hit. It has the most gogo boy butt crack I’ve ever seen on YouTube. I did gag a little when Jasmine started licking Crisco off her fingers though, who’s idea was that?
It’s not the first time Crisco is featured in parody videos of mine. Lady Bunny’s “Going to the Chapel (of Kim Davis)” had a very, very similar scene!
You might as well shoot the next Crisco commercial! You’ve had a pretty prolific career so far, in film and production. I was curious, do you have a favorite movie?
You know, I really don’t believe in movies.
Many people I meet ask me “so what’s next!? a movie!? Are you going to DIRECT YOUR OWN MOVIE!?” And I’m like “no, thank you.” It’s a big world, and I’m sure that everyone has a unique spot. Keep on drilling one thing you do best.
Well, you’ve certainly found your spot! The “Tongue First” video earned you a GLAM nomination, congratulations! Is it your first nomination?
Manster at Monster, the Saturday night disco at Manhattan Monster Bar by Mitch Ferrino, which I photograph tirelessly for three years already, has been nominated a few times. And we won one a couple years ago. I was honored to receive it on behalf of the club.
[Photo credit: Davide Laffe]
Let’s talk a bit about Manster. Honey Davenport hosts that Saturday party, and so many great performers and DJs and sexy people come through each week to make that night special. It must be like crack for a photographer, right–all that visual stimulation and all those great moments to capture?
Honey has been a long-time friend of mine since the NoParking days (oh my!) and indeed, every weekend is a thrill of a ride! The Monster is iconic; so many other places opened and closed in the past decade.
It’s a true honor being a part of the team. In three years, I haven’t missed a Saturday (well, probably two or three most).
There’s been dozens of thousands of photos. Photo album of highlights from Manster at Monster by Mikhail Torich was published early this year and sold out quick! There’s still literally a few copies available at my website.
I filmed the GLAM Awards in the past, yet this is my first year doing Video Art projections. It’s a big part of the show; everyone is extremely visual these days.
It’s an exciting challenge to visually furnish the biggest event of NYC nightlife. I’ve been running an interactive video art experiment, SynthesisRGB, for the past year with gallery shows and performances in Williamsburg and Red Hook. Live-mix video is my passion. Buckle up and get ready for the show of the year!
So, is there somebody else out there, in any level of the biz, that you’re dying to work with?
Jessie Ware – I’m sure that could be a fruitful collaboration. Azealia Banks – we’ve met a few times, yet never worked together. There’s a lot of talented artists who create their music and songs without an army of songwriters with rhyming dictionaries and faceless back vocalists. [French music producer and DJ] Etienne de Crecy and [major recording artist] Laurie Anderson are two more.
Azealia is an amazing talent, but she’s seems a little askew these days. Is it easy for you to adapt to your collaborators’ personalities–even difficult ones–if it means creating great art in the end? Or are some people really just impossible to work with?
It’s tougher to work with seasoned artists who never made a debut. Perhaps highly-skilled in music, but never played a solo show. Or extremely talented backup vocalists who were never alone on stage. At some point, they get too smart and too careful to make a debut at all. Especially a video debut. What if people will judge? What would they comment? Clouds of fear are a big barrier on the way to Stardom.
So, what else is going on?
We are currently in pre-production for T-Boy’s new music video “You Tried It” – It’s gonna be da bomb. Can’t tell much yet, but we are aiming to drop the release over the holidays!
Looking forward to it! So, final question: what’s something really important about your profession that we really need to understand?
Hmmm. Perhaps that behind every music video project I direct and produce, there’s a Thought and a Process. Folks might think that producing a music video is all about having fun on set and throwing a couple glitter effects in Final Cut – but sometimes it takes weeks of thinking to nail the right concept for a project. Full-time, every day, weekend-inclusive analysis and brainstorm. Don’t get fooled by the glamorous showreel!
Very important to know! Okay Mikhail, thank you so much, and see you Sunday!
Mikhail Torich is the house photographer for Manster, Saturday nights at Monster (10pm). He is producing the video art for the GLAM Awards ceremony at Stage48 on Sunday, December 11th (9pm). Mikhail can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube, and has a website.