As Orbital, Kentish siblings Paul and Phil Hartnoll are one of the most influential and innovative British electronica acts, lauded for their soaring rave-era anthems (Chime, Halcyon), cutting-edge studio work (their second untitled LP, aka ‘The Brown Album’, was simply seminal) and deliriously exciting live sets, perhaps best loved for their spiraling improvisations and judicious use of Belinda Carlisle and Carpenters samples.
It’s fair to say that until now Orbital’s film-scoring work has been a sideline, resulting in such pleasing curios as their techno-tweak of the theme for The Saint (although B-side The Sinner is the superior track) and xXx’s magnificent ‘Technologique Park’ — which they performed in the film itself, while Vin Diesel locked tongues with Asia Argento. Their latest soundrack, for Vertigo Film’s Brit remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher, is easily their strongest yet — appropriate, as it was written in tandem with their best album in years, Wonky: a vibrant, ‘return to form’ reunion piece which followed the band’s supposed, and fortunately brief, retirement.
Empire sat down with the Hartnolls to discuss their lifelong love of cinema, scoring drug-fuelled thrillers, and the challenges of constructing a film soundtrack with electronic dance music.
By my count Pusher is the seventh movie you’ve written for. Is that right?
Paul Hartnoll: If I start counting now, I’m gonna see what happens. You’ve got Shopping, you’ve got Event Horizon, you’ve got...
Phil Hartnoll: The Beach.
Paul Hartnoll: The Beach, although that [Beached] tecnically didn’t appear in the feature film. Erm... what else? You’ve got Octane. You’ve got — I don’t think Football Factory counts because we didn’t write that [Tunnel Vision] for Football Factory. What else?
Phil : Yeah, via Prague!
Phil: Actually, that takes me back to when we use to wake up on Sunday morning and our dad would be blasting out tracks from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and Shaft...
Paul: Used to wake up to Shaft, Sunday morning: [tsch-es the opening percussion of Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft] was the start of the alarm.
Phil: Our dad loved film soundtracks, didn’t he?
Paul: Yeah, I used to play with little toy soldiers to great war movie themes. Listening to things like Colonel Bogey while playing with Second World War soldiers... That was great. And then you could put Western music on when you were playing with those cowboys or whatever.
Phil: He used to love Ennio Morricone; flows through the family.
Phil: “And can you make it sound like Drive?” [laughs]
Paul: Oh yeah, yeah... Throughout the years it’s been, “Can you make it sound like The Thin Red Line?” Everyone wanted you to make it sound like Hans Zimmer. Now you’re told to make it sound like Drive.
Phil: And The Social Network.
Phil: And the movie’s nothing like Drive or The Social Network...
Paul: Whatever movies they make, I have a lot of respect for them. They are one of the most, you know, young, British independent producers that are actually producing stuff still.
Phil: It’s interesting as well because with Vertigo, they’re obviously the production house, the producers are sort of like the directors: very active in the creative side of things. And they have a house style.
Paul: They’re very prolific aren’t they?
Phil: Hackers, no. We did write a track for Hackers, but it was rejected. It turned into 'The Girl With The Sun In Her Head' [opening track of the In Sides album]. And now it’s your job to watch the film and see where that song fits!
Phil: I thought you were gonna say with electronic music!
Paul: Well no, but you know… Plunkett & Macleane. Bit my knuckle again on that one… We did get asked to do something for that, actually. But we were on tour, we couldn’t. But, I mean, with this, you’re doing a film score, you’re work for hire. Your job is to listen to what they want and achieve that. Pusher isn’t an over-complex film. It’s a film about someone spiralling out of control in the drug-clubby world. They wanted to give it a clubby-world musical feel. It’s not rocket science in that sense. So that’s what we did. I know what you mean — I wouldn’t want people to think, “Oh, they did the score, they just make loads of dance music”. Its because it’s what you’ve been asked to do. If you gave me Parade’s End, I wouldn’t have done that kind of music for it, do you know what I mean! [laughs]
Phil: Well it’s an urban, current, up-to-date sort of druggy—
Paul: But it could have been all mellow. Couldn’t it? You could have done it like Drive, couldn’t you? And there are bits of it that are mellow, y’know. It’s not all full-on.
Phil: No, no.
Paul: But, it’s what they wanted. And that’s hopefully what we delivered.
Phil: There is a lot of that going on [in the score], actually. But they didn’t want us to get too industrial. And that was a good thing, because—
Paul: When you’re scoring you need your boundaries.
Phil: Because that’s where we were going to go with the overall thing.
Paul: That was one of our directions. But they were definitely: “Bit more clubby, bit less industrial.”
Phil: The ones Robert De Niro’s wearing.
Paul: I’ve seen him in an interview and he’s lovely.
Phil: I’d love to do the music for his next science-fiction blockbuster. Or his period drama [laughs].
Paul: Or he could do our music video.
Phil: We need a video Terry! You do read Empire, don’t you...?
Interview by Dan Jolin
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