Music Inspired By Mega City One
, May 1st, 2012 10:52
Geoff Barrow has been a busy man of late. Last month saw the release of his Quakers hip hop project, he's been busy working on new Beak> material and has told The Quietus that it might not be too long before Portishead material begins to ferment... so long as he can keep out of the garden shed. The loveable curmudgeon's excellent purple patch spreads wider here.
It would be unfair, though, to give all the credit to Barrow. Drokk is a collaborative project with composer Ben Salisbury, a fellow Bristolian who has scored several Hollywood films and BBC series, and their Music Inspired by Mega-City One is an imaginary film score for the goriest, most subversive and thought-provoking sci-fi flick never to see the light of day.
For the uninitiated, Mega-City One is the dystopian hometown of 2000AD's Judge Dredd. It's a post-apocalyptic 800 million strong urban hell hole that sprawls from Miami to Toronto, and about the only thing holding it together is the relentless Dredd, an individual who's judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one incredibly chiselled package. It's razor sharp fun with one eye placed firmly on trenchant social satire, and the other on gaudy exploitative thrills. In other words, it makes for brilliant source material for a synth-heavy, atmospheric, and at times absurdly heavy concept album.
Much of the record was made with vintage 1970's Oberheim 2 Voice synthesizers, and the prominent musical touchstones exhibited throughout are equally retro. It's a pleasantly muscular concoction of classic Giorgio Morodor, John Carpenter film scores (in particular the Escape From New York soundtrack) and a dash of Vangelis thrown in for good measure.
The Blade Runner soundtrack was for the most part solidly dialled into a mood of glassy otherworldliness, with the exception of the ferocious end title track. Music Inspired By Mega City One echoes that aggressive and badass mode of arpeggiated retro-futurism, at least for a substantial portion of its runtime. It occasionally reaches a state of high camp, but that's half the point to begin with, and it remains stupidly entertaining throughout.
It's also a lovingly accomplished and slick restoration job. The aforementioned artists never sounded quite so crisp and visceral, but this isn't entirely surprising when you consider that Drokk is the work of a professional film composer and the man behind Portishead. It demonstrates that in the right hands vintage synths can be a precise tool used to achieve very particular sounds, rather than being just another affected gimmick to be pursued half-arsed in the name of cloying indie fuckwittery.
Yet the album isn't entirely a nostalgia fest, and some of its most sublime moments occur when it transcends its specific template. 'Exhale' for example is a cosmically dense ambient interlude that's underpinned by a stern mechanical pulse, and it strongly recalls the oppressively weighty and glacial work of Wolfgang Voigt's GAS.
'Inhale' is a motorik stomper with a stop/start structure of the sort that Barrow has proven so wonderfully skilled at in recent years. Moments like these are jaw dropping interludes among the more conventionally cinematic tracks, and it all lends itself to being one of the heaviest and most intensely atmospheric records of the year, but fun with it.
In that sense it's fittingly a kindred spirit with the riotous and whip-sharp sci-fi from which it takes its inspiration. The album is a lovingly crafted ode to Judge Dredd, urban alienation, the cinematic sci-fi masterpieces of the late 70s and early 80s, electronic music of both the past and present, and it all hits with the weight of a cadmium steak tenderizer. What more could you want?