Liquid Underground, the latest video from the man described as “beyond awesome” by no less than Derren Brown, sees juggler Matt Hennem practice his own brand of physical magic on the London Underground.

Juggler Matt Hennem has been dazzling audiences on the London cabaret circuit for over a decade with his isolation style of contact juggling. His latest video Liquid Underground is a fantastic showcase for his unique talents.

The video is the successor to 2001’s exciting Liquid Crystal. We spoke to him about how the new video came about and the background to both pieces of visual brilliance.

The original plan was to create a promo video showcasing all of my performance skills (classic juggling, clown/comedy, closeup magic) in an interesting way. After much thought, and due to spending half of my working day in the tube system, travelling to and from gigs, I had the idea (whilst on a tube) of adverts “glitching” into video.

This would allow for some narrative for the video, whilst giving a perfect canvas for showing video footage. At the time of conception, video adverts were in fact unheard of – even in the big stations. I also love the idea that music can take you into other worlds when travelling on the public transport system, so a natural extension of this was to take it into pure fantasy, drifting in and out of advert boards through the journey.

At the time that I was planning the video, the isolation style of contact juggling was in its infancy. This made the video a great way to get the art out to the juggling community and inspire others. I myself had taken inspiration from, and practiced with a juggler called Nik Robson, who I believe pioneered the art of working with a single ball and isolating it i.e.manipulating it so that even though the hands or body move, the ball remains in one place.

Nik had the vision to realise that isolating a ball created the illusion that the ball was floating, a mesmeric effect. So I took inspiration from Nik, whilst living in a shared house with him, and we spent most evenings sat with a few beers, with music playing, rolling crystal balls around.

Since the success of the Liquid Crystal video, we both had urges before long to create another video. The original plan was to create a promo video showcasing all of my performance skills (classic juggling, clown/comedy, closeup magic) in an interesting way.

The Liquid Underground video took years to complete. We hired a studio to film everything I could do, filmed a few days there, got out into London and filmed/photographed as many situations involving adverts as we could find and began to work on the video. At that time, my creative vision was slightly out of range of our combined technical video knowledge (Adobe’s “After Effects” software at the time was cutting edge, but also in its infancy as was our knowledge of it) so we struggled somewhat with the “advanced” effects we needed and the project slowed down to a halt. Our work got in the way of “video time” and days turned to weeks, to months, to years with the project on hold.

By the time myself and (producer) Howie came back to the video, my direction of performance had gone more to the crystal ball, we decided to make another Liquid Crystal video, showing only contact juggling again.So Howie came down to London for a couple of days and we set about refilming the underground system with a much fancier HD camera (times move quickly).

After much guerilla filming, avoidance of security cameras and not staying in one place very long, we had plenty of footage. For the “studio” footage, I decided that I wanted an “industrial interior” look. We spoke at length about our options, and were considering a trip to Sheffield to take a look at disused steelworks. At the same time, Howie (who lives in Marshfield, a farming village outside of Bristol) had heard from a local farmer that he had a brand new barn built (about 100 metres by 40 – huge!) and hadn’t ye† filled it with mud, tractors etc. He gave us permission (for the price of a nice bottle of Scotch) to use the barn for an evening (we needed darkness) for our filming.

We jumped on the idea, and when the time came, setup our studio in the huge, dusty, concrete floored space. Hours of sweeping, planning and rigging later we had our studio. Filming went through the night into the early hours, and by the end I could hardly stand, with sore toes from the dance and sore arms, hands, fingers from the juggling! Finally, we had our footage!

The filming was not without incident. Sometime in the early hours, in this barn in the middle of Shitsville, we heard noises outside. Worried for the stealable equipment inside, we took a sheepish look outside to see what the noise was. As I peeked out of the door of the barn, it became apparent that the car park of the barn was a popular venue for car-based entertainments. I believe the common name for it is dogging! I guess there’s not much else to do here in the middle of nowhere! Suffice to say, we didn’t join in, but locked the door and carried on with our filming until dawn.

Many, many trips from London to Marshfield allowed us to go through the footage, splitting it into useful clips, then a selection process through which I chose the best examples of my skills. During this process, we listened to a lot of music, and decided on the final piece (a favourite of mine at the time) and then set about planning the narrative. Howie did a lot of work towards this, in terms of the rhythm of the story, matching it to the flow of the music. In fact, he edited the music somewhat to give us a more useful timeframe. Whilst Howie edited, I used my Photoshop skills (another slight obsession since getting into photography) to create manipulable adverts to use in the final video. I liked the idea of unbranding the adverts that we had filmed as much as possible.

Long hours of late nights and lots and lots of coffee later, we had a nice raw version of the video. Howie then put more time into polishing the look of the whole thing, and a last trip for me to Marshfield led to the final piece. So it’s taken about ten years from concept to fruition but I like to think that it has been worth it!

I’m so excited to finally have this video finished, and already getting great feedback. It was definitely worth all the effort! In fact, we are looking forward to our next project! (well that is to say that I am looking forward to our next project, although I haven’t mentioned that to Howie just yet!)

Read more about Matt Hennem as a performer and photographer and his video producer Howie.