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Surf cinema is alive and well – especially if you belong to a company called Poor Specimen. For proof, all you need to do is spend a day or week with Kai Neville – Taylor Steele's commander-in-waiting and bossman of the upcoming Modern Collective. With his new venture, Kai grabbed the torch from Taylor and spit vodka into the flame. Over the course of a Wednesday evening in Coolangatta's Neverland club, on the northern edge of town, it was made clear that a new standard for surf films is in effect and that the man holding all the cards is a trim, shag-locked Australian in girl's denim.
The party was a premiere for Days of the Strange, a Poor Specimen title stringing Stranger Than Fiction seconds with "new bangers" from the past few months, and so wasn't actually the Kai Neville debutante ball that will come to pass in September when Kai's maiden effort, The Modern Collective, finally goes public. Still, Kai's is a groundswell of social media noise and popular interest for the marketing history books – a present day version of the "pass out copies to your bros" pitch from Kelly Slater Black and White, and Wednesday brought together the tribe of which he is chief.
Kai is untouchable because his two key inputs to production – 1) himself and 2) the surfers he works with – are highly limited resources. With enough coffee and measuring tape, one could map the genome of Jordy's JS boards – but couldn't recreate the style with which he rides them, or the outsized presence he brings to a crowded dance floor (one hand in the air, one hand on a glass, one girl in the crosshairs). Kai has his hands in a treasure chest of surf commodities for which there is no ready substitute. In fact, all the more powerful, Kai is a character in his own developing empire, and his unique form of documentation is itself a part of the story. Modern Collective bills six names: Dane, Jordy, Yadin, Mitch, Dusty and Dion – but a shadow star is behind the lens, behind the software and behind the soundtrack. He's behind the party and the clothes and the ideal of a modern, creative vagabond. There is that all-engrossing notion, a lifestyle, associated with Kai's crew – from the music to the fashion to the attitude – as evidenced by the throngs in attendance at Neverland last night. The doors opened at 8, and by 9 o'clock the club was an ant's nest of Dion Agius clones, aged exclusively under 25 and averaging 30" at the waist. We all want to be one of the six, but the six are the six, and we are not. Kai makes for a thrilling example of how far one can go as number seven – as part of the junior varsity.
This sprawling whatever – scene, movement, fad – is, nonetheless, rooted in the obscene talents of the surfers themselves. Kai wields the vision and the laptop, constructing a surf film that's Tyler Durden meets Disney/Pixar – artsy shots and cinematic laissez-faire underscored by pulsing techno, and surfing that simply wasn't around just one year ago. But it's the surfing that stopped conversations in Neverland and turned all eyes to the southern wall, where projected aloft was, quite frankly, the best collection of megabytes ever assembled in this modest little category. When Modern Collective becomes available, other DVD's will retire to a life of protecting varnished tabletops from cold beverages. It's very exciting. The new footage is airtight, even the check turns will be imitated, as no doubt will Kai's tastes and steez. But still it comes down to the surfing, and therefore to access, which Kai has and which is the moat around his creative castle. While we can all drop a pant size and reshape our hairdos, strand by strand, until they're perfectly haphazard, it's Kai who'll be in the right place at the right time to capture tomorrow's surfing today.
At Neverland, with everyone not embarrassed by their comparative inadequacy on a surfboard in attendance (again, nobody over 25 wanted to be in that place), things turned raucous. Beers and rum-and-cokes and vodka tonics and more beers and Jager shots chased with beers saw the night devolve (or ascend, depending on your disposition) into a deafening rave. The girls were without exception runway quality, if outnumbered. The superstars and their look-alikes got hazy while Kai ran around sequestering the night into his miniature digi-cam. It's what he does, and he's celebrated for it – purveying the new aesthetic, with a little help from his friends, a la Warhol and Co. in the Village. Days of the Strange was grand; Modern Collective will be better, and Kai Neville will rule.
For more, be sure to check the MC blog at www.ModernCollective.tv