If you recognize the word ‘DROKK‘, then you’re already halfway to understanding what this post might be about. For those that don’t, it’s a made up, sci-fi expletive along the lines of BSG’s ‘Frak’ or Red Dwarf’s ‘Smeg’. It’s found in the Earth’s future Mega-Cities, often spoken by perps when they’re apprehended by the mighty Judge Dredd from the 2000AD comic book universe.
In this instance it’s the name of the soundtrack collaboration between Geoff Barrow (of Portishead fame) and composer Ben Salisbury. Except that it’s not actually a soundtrack. If, like me, you’re a fan of Joe Dredd, you’ll know that there’s a movie coming out later this year starring Karl ‘Bones McCoy’ Urban as the be-chinned anti-hero of Mega City One, and back in the early stages of the production Barrow and Salisbury were approached to score the film. They started work on a heavily synthesizer-based score, drawing on Barrow’s love of the comics and Salisbury’s knowledge of putting music to film. Then, for reasons that Barrow doesn’t want to go in to at the moment as the movie is still in production, their score was dropped from the film. (He goes to great lengths in this interview with The Skinny to be clear that there are no hard feelings about it, and is still very excited about the film). Undeterred by this, the pair got the blessing of 2000AD to continue their work and have now released “DROKK: Music Inspired By Mega-City One“, a 19-track, dark, moody and electronic tribute to the future dystopia.
And what a tribute it is. If you’re a fan of the synth-based soundtracks to’80s movies such as Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire by Vangelis or Tangerine Dream’s work on Risky Business or Near Dark, then this is right up your alley. It was created almost entirely using vintage analogue synthesisers – two voices, four oscillators and sequences of eight notes at a time – all looped, tweaked, twiddled, arpeggiated and layered to create immense soundscapes that you can drift away into. You can easily visualise Dredd speeding through the city on his Lawmaster during the opener “Lawmaster / Pursuit,” even without knowing that was the title of the track. The thundering baseline builds ominously until the soaring synth lines come in, punctuated by a minimal beat as the synths wind up and detune into the finale. The arpeggiators get a thorough workout across the whole album, adding a dark, brooding rhythm to the drone of the synths. Percussion, where used, is very minimal and industrial – most of it seems to be made from the synths too, as opposed to actual drums sounds.
As it’s not technically a soundtrack to an actual film, it manages to (partially) avoid one of major problems of the genre – track length. When Daft Punk’s soundtrack to Tron came out, I was desperate for them to release ‘extended’ versions of some of the tracks. All too often they’re just getting going, building up nicely and about to turn into full on techno jams, only to have them fade out and the next mini-tune start up. In addition to the obligatory “End Theme,” Drokk features several tracks that break the three minute mark and one of them, “Inhale,” even manages to clock in at over six. It’s the most song-like track on the whole album, with real drums and even hints of guitars, and wouldn’t be out of place on an early David Holmes album or alongside synth-and-drumkit duo RocketNumberNine. It also reminds me in places of one of my other all time favorite soundtracks – Clint Mansell’s score to the indie hit Moon – which gets around the whole ‘short song’ thing by almost sounding like one continuous piece of music with different elements drifting in and out.
“Miami Lawgiver” and “Helmet Theme” both bring an’ 80s stabbing synth sound very similar to Tangerine Dream or even some of Giorgio Moroder’s work, with undulating loops warping away underneath. Other tracks such as “2t(Fru)T “go heavy on the detuned experimental weirdness and some of the shorter ones drift away into ethereal soundscapes, but still keep the dark, brooding rhythms bubbling along. You can also hear echoes of Brad Fidel’s excellent Terminator score and John Carpenter’s music for his own films. (If you want to hear some more awesome synth soundtracks, Pulse Radio has a great list).
If you’re lucky enough to be in London tonight (16th May), Barrow and Salisbury with be performing excerpts from the album live at Orbital Comics on Great Newport Street from 6.30pm. I’ve been listening to it on repeat for days now and can already feel a twinge of disappointment that when the new film does come out it won’t be accompanied by this wonderful collection of electronic sounds. I guess I’ll have to wait for some enthusiastic like-minded individual to produce a fan edit that will bring the two together.
Drokk is available now on Barrow’s own Invada Records (with some collector bundles available), and via all your favourite online retailers [Amazon, iTunes, Bleep.com] and you can also preview/buy it via Bandcamp.