In German rapper Kontra K’s interactive video for “Next to You,” off the new album Labyrinth, a fisherman discovers a crime scene at a quiet lake house: there’s an empty, blood-covered canoe, a corpse on a dock next to a rifle, and a funeral pyre next to a pickup truck. It’s up to the viewer to solve the mystery.
Here’s how it works: by pressing the spacebar or tapping your phone screen, you flip back and forth between parallel videos set in the past and present. The effect recalls the recent trend of splicing historical photographs with contemporary images of a given location. Icons pop up on screen — little cartoon trees, houses, boats — to signify clues. Depending on the clues you uncover, the story can have three different endings. (Alternately, you can watch the video in a non-interactive video format.)
Director Maximilian Niemann, of production studio Unit9, collaborated with producer Gerrit Klein, Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, and Berlin record label Four Music to create the ambitious video, which they describe as “an addictive mystery-solving experience.” The moody cinematography is reminiscent of horror dramas like The Witch, and the sound and video design of the interactive microsite are technically impressive. (The song in the “past” video is muffled and overdubbed with the sounds of violence.)
The narrative, however, is melodramatically violent, self-serious, and, unless you watch it several times, totally baffling. It opens on a bloodied woman on a pyre, screaming. An angry mob storms the lake house, wielding shovels, pitchforks, flaming torches, and axes. A guy smears yellow goop on a wounded child’s forehead in a pickup truck. The “present” video follows the bearded fisherman through the deserted crime scene as he gathers clues.
Virtually time-traveling with a German rapper through a lakeside murder scene is much more engaging than watching the usual, formulaic videos of bands playing their instruments. But despite all the fancy effects, the narrative doesn’t achieve the impact it seeks because there’s too much going on. I did not, I admit, solve the mystery. I was too distracted by the interface, Kontra K’s faux-hawk (he plays the main character), and the weirdness of German rap to piece together clues.
It’s not the first choose-your-own-adventure music video — a recent video for Jeff Buckley’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” can play out in 1 sexdecillion ways. Perhaps one of those ways holds the key to this Bavarian lakeside thriller.
Play around with the interactive video here.