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Exclusive: Empire Meets Orbital
On soundtracking Pusher, Hollywood and Terry Gilliam

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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.

Exclusive: Empire Meets Orbital

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?

Well, only the movie you actually appeared in!
Paul: Oh yeah, xXx! Our brush with Hollywood! [laughs]

Phil : Yeah, via Prague!

And The Saint.
Paul: Yeah, The Saint. Course! I’m forgetting the big ones, aren’t I? And then of course Pusher. Did I leave anything out? What’s that? That’s seven. You said seven, didn’t you?

Yes, that’s seven. So you’ve had a connection to film for quite a long time. Why is that? Why do you feel your sound works well for film?
Paul: Well for a start it’s instrumental, which always helps. Although, there are lots of good people who get vocal stuff into films as well — Danny Boyle’s quite good at that. So is Quentin Tarantino. Compiling from music they obviously like...

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.

Exclusive: Empire Meets Orbital

So it’s in your blood.
Paul: I just love films. I love music and I love music in films, so it’s kind of a natural marriage. And especially doing instrumental music, I think in that kind of way anyway; I don’t think in song structure. I like putting music to films — I like that creative bondage that means your hands are tied to such a rigid set of rules. Someone says, “you’ve got 138 seconds, you can’t be too noisy here as there’s dialogue here and dialogue there. But you’ve got to go from happy to jolly to something underlying that kind of mood. The mood changes so you’ve go to speed up and get there for this really aggressive moment here and make everyone jump there.” It’s just ridiculous.

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.

If I had a penny for every time a director’s asked for score to sound like The Social Network and Drive…
If I had a penny for every time a director’s said, “Could you look at my script? I want the score to sound like The Social Network and Drive.” You bite your knuckle. You’re like [sounds strained], “Oh yeah, that’s a really good idea!”

Phil: And the movie’s nothing like Drive or The Social Network...

Well, there is a strong connection between Drive and Pusher, to be fair.
Paul: Oh yeah. I keep forgetting about that. A few steps removed.

It does make sense, commercially, that they’d want you to emulate Drive and The Social Network.
Paul: Though, to be fair, they didn’t say that to us on Pusher.

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.

Really?
Paul: Our brief was a lot more fun: they wanted to go down that ’80s sort of vibe which is kind of what Drive does but it was more, “Make it sound like a 21st Giorgio Moroder.” It’s not really saying, “Make it sound like the ’80s”. Could be the ’70s. It’s just Giorgio Moroder: driving, pumping, electronic disco. High energy… the mother of all dance music, really. That’s never a bad brief and it’s quite a challenge to score a film with what is essentially dance music.

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?

And they did The Football Factory, too...
Phil: Yeah, and [producer] Allan Niblo’s had us in two of his previous films before he started Vertigo as well. He had us for Human Traffic, and South West 9.

Oh yes, South West 9, for which you wrote Ska’d For Life. That makes eight!
Paul: Hackers as well? I thought Hackers was something to do with them...

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!

Pusher involves clubbing and, obviously, drug-dealing. Did you worry at all about being asked to do the music on that basis — that it might feel a bit like a cliché?
Paul: I would like to do a period drama with an orchestra...

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.

There are points on Pusher where you use a very characteristic Orbital sound — it appears on Wonky, on The Sinner, on Technologique Park: that kind of very imposing, chunky sound that always makes me jump up and down...
Paul: Yeah, I wanted to get that in; I said we’ve got to “put an Orbital stamp on it.” Which, you know, always seems to work for us [laughs]. It’s like my equivalent of a power chord. The velocity-to-filter synth sound is like [mimes big guitar riff] “YEAH!”

Much of the score has a very industrial feel, too.
Paul: There’s a lot of industrial in me, though. We come from a kind of industrial background: the whole kind of Cabaret Voltaire, Factory Record, Sheffield sound. Always been a fan of Nine Inch Nails.

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.”

Exclusive: Empire Meets Orbital

Finally, do you have a movie that particularly inspired you?
Paul:
Brazil is my all-time favourite movie. It made me change my life.
Well, Brazil is my all-time favourite movie. It made me change my life. I gave up work and pursued a career in music after seeing Brazil. I was 16 years old, working in a packing room, you know: “Here’s my receipt for your receipt...” And I saw Brazil and I just burst into tears. I thought: I don’t want to live my life like that. I was doing music as a hobby and I thought, I’ll give that job up and go to Art College, as that’s where musicians go. Not Music College, Art College! And I just changed my life. Two weeks after Brazil I changed my life ‘cos it just moved me so much. Not to live my life like Sam Lowry. And that’s also where I saw the torch glasses for the first time. They’re the ones we wear [on stage], exactly the same ones.

Phil: The ones Robert De Niro’s wearing.

That’s really where you got the idea from?
Paul: Well, that’s where I saw them. I thought, “They’re really good.” And then years later we got hold of the real things and went, “Haha! That’s from Brazil!”

Have you ever met Terry Gilliam?
Both: No, no.

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].

He doesn’t really do blockbusters anymore...
Phil: I don’t bloody care. He still makes bloody good films.

Paul: Or he could do our music video.

Phil: We need a video Terry! You do read Empire, don’t you...?

Listen an exclusive stream of Orbital's Pusher soundtrack right here on Empire.

Interview by Dan Jolin

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