Geoff Barrow is a founding member of Portishead and producer/label owner of INVADA records UK. Ben Salisbury is a soundtrack composer with over 200 film and TV credits to his name, including David Attenborough s Life of Mammals , Life in the Undergrowth and Life in Cold Blood . Barrow and Salisbury met over 10 years ago when they both joined a Bristol football team for old men. After many disastrous games they decided they might be more productive working on a music project together. Other work commitments kept them apart until late 2010, when the pair met up with a screenwriter to discuss some possible work on a feature film project. Although their involvement with this particular film didn t continue, a collaborative writing relationship had begun... When Barrow and Salisbury revisited and started expanding upon this early material they decided to continue writing what was essentially soundtrack music. Barrow, along with album designer and long term friend, Marc Bessant, were both avid 2000AD readers from a young age, and the sprawling metropolis and classic stories of Mega-City One seemed the ideal inspiration for this soundtrack . Although Mega City One has been brought to life in great detail over many years by the acclaimed work of writers and artists alike, there is still huge scope for readers to have their own vision/soundtrack of the city. Rather than intending to be the definitive sound of Mega City One (could there be a definitive sound of a city so vast, changeable and varied?), DROKK is Barrow and Salisbury s personal, outsider s interpretation. DROKK was written in a 6 month period between Barrow s Portishead world tour and Salisbury s composing jobs for the BBC. Even though it is a soundtrack of sorts, Barrow and Salisbury instinctively felt that music for MC1 should steer clear of the rich orchestration common to many contemporary film scores. Even for electronica the music is often purposefully stark and spare, with the majority of tracks created exclusively on the Oberhiem 2 Voice Synthesizer (a 1975 classic keyboard), and its onboard sequencer used to create rhythm and drums sounds . The only exceptions are a handful of tracks which combine the synth with digitally manipulated and time- stretched performances of acoustic instruments (such as piano, violin, mandolin, ukelele, voice and hammered dulcimer). There is also a brief cameo from Barrow s other band BEAK>.
Step inside your nearest CD stockist and chances are you won’t find a section for imaginary soundtracks. Yet it’s here that one should rack Drokk, a collaborative set from Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Life of Mammals composer Ben Salisbury. It’s inspired by the near-future urban sprawl that is the fictional Mega-City One, home (and office) to 2000 AD’s most famous law enforcer, Judge Dredd.
With Dredd returning to cinemas in September, the pair’s timing is excellent. And Dredd composer proper Paul Leonard-Morgan would do well to listen to this collection should his creative mojo stall, as its various cues accompany a mind’s-eye tour of the megalopolis magnificently well.
A minimalist motorik pulse carries many a piece, the first impression being that this is more Barrow’s baby than Salisbury’s. On Inhale, Barrow’s touch is identifiable indeed, the track a close cousin of The Horrors’ Sea Within a Sea (produced by Barrow for the band’s Primary Colours LP). Throughout, the measured menace that pervades his Portishead productions is a constant constituent.
But Salisbury’s more organic than industrial presence comes to the fore at suitable intervals. Exhale is gorgeous, a heavenly echo from a Gregorian-style sect ensconced within the envisioned future world. Elsewhere, 2T[fru]T is a sublime little number, all analogue warmth beneath a veil of crackling static – this music is almost exclusively made using the Oberheim 2 Voice Synthesizer, from 1975 and therefore predating 2000 AD’s publication. Titan Bound’s repeated six-note motif is a ringer for Jon Hopkins’ Light Through the Veins, albeit one that casts a deeper, darker shadow.
Despite Hopkins’ cinematic experience – he scored 2010’s Monsters – it’s two other composers who are called to mind immediately: Brad Fiedel and Cliff Martinez. Fiedel’s work on Terminator 2 took synthesizers into new territories, turning the Fairlight CMI sampler into an iconic piece of kit. These sounds have since become synonymous with a particular breed of sci-fi movie – the dirty, gritty, ‘real’ kind – and they’re referenced throughout Drokk. Martinez, meanwhile, delivered one of 2011’s best soundtracks with Drive, and his appropriation of stripped-bare 80s electro is effectively transposed by Barrow and Salisbury to complement their own cluttered vistas.
It’s perhaps a bit long, and there may be too much repetition for some – but persist and Drokk is quite the engrossing, and sporadically discomforting, listen. Dredd would certainly approve… before introducing less-impressed critics to his trusty Lawgiver.
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