• Behind the scenes of 'House of Air', directed by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston (Chris Parkes / Brendan Maclean)Source: Chris Parkes / Brendan Maclean
Brendan Maclean took us behind the scenes of the viral, hardcore, sexually explicit video that 700,000 people watched on YouTube before it was banned.
By
Ben Winsor

20 Feb 2017 - 1:51 PM  UPDATED 20 Feb 2017 - 1:51 PM

Warning: This article discusses sexually explicit content

Last week Australian musician Brendan Maclean was fielding phone calls from around the world. 

Vice. The Hollywood Reporter. Rolling Stone - everybody wanted to talk about his sensational, and sensationally explicit film clip.

Recorded on 16mm film with an 80s style, the clip explores an anthropological study of gay sex signaling before the days of Grindr, set to Maclean's delightfully accessible and pop song, 'House of Air'.

After racking up 700,000 views on YouTube over 10 days, Google yanked the video for violating its terms and conditions.

Maclean was surprised it didn't happen sooner - the video features graphic, hardcore gay sex, including fetishes such as BDSM, urination and defecation.

The final moments sees a detached, unflinching Maclean staring into the camera as a man squats over his face for an act best not described by a public broadcaster.

Why make a video like this? There are a lot of reasons, says Maclean.

“It made us laugh – I think that gets lost on a lot of people,” he says.

Extremely intimate acts being analysed in an academic style, the disinterested faces of the porn stars involved, the juxtaposition of an accessible pop song with such a brazenly explicit, edgy piece of film - Maclean finds it hilarious. 

“It’s an intelligent black comedy," he says. 

But Maclean also sees it as a big "f**k you" to everyone who's ever hated on queer people and queer culture. 

That's what was going through his mind as porn star Ashley Ryder squatted over his face.

“I’m doing this moment against every politician, every right-wing prick, everyone from the Christian lobby,” he says.

“I am going to get this on my face, and stare down the camera, and be defiant, and say ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ – and that, I suppose, is the best answer to why we made it.”

That particular shot came at the end of a long day, during which Maclean had seen the whole cast and crew working with professionalism, trying their best to waste as little of the 16mm film reels as possible. 

“When I stepped up to do that final scene, I just knew that I had to get it done - my direction was to look straight down the barrel of the camera and not react,” he says.

The take they used was the third time they shot the scene - making it also only the third time Maclean had done anything like that.

“You’ll be the first person I’ve told this - but no I’m not actually interested in scat. I’ve never even tried watersports, I haven’t been fisted," he says.

Brendan says he also didn't expect the "easter egg" in the final few seconds. 

“I saw a camera man basically fall backwards, and I knew something was going to happen," he says. "We didn't expect that."

For Brendan Maclean, an independent Australian artist who's been trying to break through for almost a decade, the interest in the film clip has been the highest boost to his profile so far.

“I’ve never had a reaction like this to anything,” he says.

People have praised the clip as an edgy, counter-cultural work of art, with some commenters interested in writing academic analyses of the piece.

But it's also come with criticism and negative responses - including death threats - which have taken their toll on the 29-year-old singer-songwriter.

“I'm not stupid – I realise what we did was extreme,” he tells me.

“We absolutely expected a negative reaction, I thought it would just be people saying 'oh God, that’s gross!' and people finding the scat scene disgusting.”

“What I didn’t expect was 10,000 comments to go and kill ourselves, that Hitler was right, that we should go and get shot and have AIDS – and this insane antisemitism.”

The antisemitic comments were particularly bizarre for Maclean - he doesn't know of any members of the cast or crew who were Jewish.

“It was so extreme it got to the point where we were considering just turning off the comments,” he says.

But it wasn't the antisemitism or homophobic comments that had Maclean in tears, it was the reaction of some people in the LGBT+ community. 

"You’ve let yourself down and you’ve let the whole community down," one fellow queer Australian artist said.

That comment left Maclean bawling his eyes out two weeks ago.

"It still hits me in the heart, that maybe I have misrepresented myself for the rest of my life," he says. 

But Maclean insists that the piece was never meant to represent gay men or gay sex, but only to explore a subset of men who were into hardcore kink. 

“It was never designed to be saying ‘well this is how gay people have sex all the time’,” he says.

And reading through the negative comments, Maclean sees much of the hatred as bigotry, rather than people merely taking offence to the explicit nature of the acts.

“The lead reason people are angry about 'House of Air' is that it’s something they are uncomfortable with, it is queer men having a hell of a lot of fun, and they are not apologizing for it,” he says.

“Nobody’s apologising for being queer anymore, and that makes people very very angry."

But while the shocking nature of the clip has made headlines around the world, Maclean says he honestly didn't plan it to come out that way - at first.

He had the idea for the clip after discovering Hal Fisher's 1977 study of 'Gay Semiotics', a way of signaling sexual desire and interests through clothing and accessories in a time before hook-up apps. 

He found it a fascinating look into queer history, and a cutting, witty essay. 

The photos were particularly hilarious. 

“It seemed like Hal had got his friends to pose for him,” he says. 

“It looked like a family photo – they had that sense of uncomfortableness to them.”

Maclean wanted to recreate the somewhat awkward visual language of the original (Chris Parkes).

Maclean immediately wrote down 'gay semiotic music video' so he would remember the inspiration - he was high at the time - and later got in touch with previous collaborators Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston.

It was those two film-makers who pushed for the sex to be real, and to be graphic.

“It was a surprise – I genuinely had gone in with the idea that it would be innuendo, camera smoke and mirrors," Maclean says. 

“Why? What would you achieve by doing that?” the pair responded, noting that it wouldn't be that much different to what was already on offer.

"What wasn’t there was real sex, real homosexual sex, and going all the way with kink and fetish," Maclean says.

Behind the scenes of 'House of Air', directed by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston (Chris Parkes / Brendan Maclean)

But the decision to go the graphic route put added pressure on the team, they didn't want it to look tacky. The result is a faithful recreation of the visual style in Fisher's original work - campy, academic and kitch. 

“We really took everything to the nth degree to not just get lost in shock,” Maclean says.  

For him, it's a work of art.

“If I had just done it on an iPhone, people would have just said it was too easy. So we did everything in our power to get you to watch, and focus, and consider why we did it – otherwise I don’t think any of this video would have gone as far as it did.”

But while almost a million people have watched the video - his parents have only seen the first 30 seconds.

Brendan has warned them not to watch any further.

“Just as I wouldn’t want to watch a video of them having sex, I don’t think they’ll be watching it anytime soon.”

RECOMMENDED
Meet Australian gay pop artist, Brendan Maclean
Maclean has been making headlines around the world with his hardcore, graphic film clip to 'House of Air'.

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