Here About The Reaping: Teeth Of The Sea’s Brutal Alchemy

Teeth Of The Sea's live performance Reaper - a reimagining of Neil Marshall's trashy epic Doomsday - must be seen to be believed. David Moats talks to the band about cult films, 2000 AD and sensory overload

Jimmy’s make up was designed and applied by the fabulous Natalie Sharp of Mask Off

All band photographs were taken by the hellacious Mr Al Overdrive at Murder Mile Studios

It was quite an audacious move – showing up at a well respected festival with a truly awful film. When the Branchage in Jersey asked Teeth Of The Sea to choose a movie to compose a live soundtrack for, no one expected Neal Marshall’s forgotten third feature Doomsday, a film so ill-thought-of it doesn’t even garner the label “cult”. But from this trainwreck of a movie Teeth Of The Sea have created something truly exciting: a montage of speed, cruelty and gore with a monstrous soundtrack.

Many soundtrack artists are happy to let the film do the work while they merely provide the ambiance. But Jimmy Martin, Sam Barton, Mat Colgate and Mike Bourne have pushed both the music and the visuals to the limits of imagination and taste – re-editing and remixing sections of the film into something far funnier, scarier and edgier than the original.

After this first performance at The Jersey Arts Centre, the number one question from the dazed audience was “how many films did they have to put together to make that?” We see a massacre in a dystopian police state, a gladiator battle and a car chase that resembles a Bentley commercial – yet they’re all from the same film. Doomsday famously rips off imagery (and plot points) from cult favourites like Escape from New York, Mad Max and 28 Days Later, lumbering along like a re-animated monster sewn out of the remains of better films.

But as these genres become separate “movements” within the Reaper performance, no longer burdened with any kind of story, they become pure images and can be appreciated as such. What we see is bizarre but somehow familiar, made as they are from the primordial ooze of trash culture. Formed from images so trite that they become archetypal.

These fragments of film are also mangled with effects and filters and senselessly repeated into lysergic chaos. At one point each of the film’s many gory head shots are looped and then fractured into a kaleidoscope. You quickly become desensitized to what you are seeing, but it leaves you with a lingering sense of unease. It’s confrontational and challenging and not for the faint of heart, but TOTS’s very cinematic sound carries you through what is a brutal experience. Their score is, at points, over the top and bombastic but also restrained and nuanced, mixing doom and dance and ambient with tribal beats and deafening noise.

Doomsday may well be one of those films that makes for a better trailer than an actual film and Reaper capitalizes on the natural momentum and dynamism of the movie teaser – no filler, just explosions.

In advance of their second (and possibly final) performance of Reaper this Sunday at the Lexington, London, The Quietus sat down with ¾ of Teeth Of The Sea in the incongruous confines of a gastro pub in which the smell of shellfish was as loud as the Fleetwood Mac on the Jukebox.

Can you tell us a little about how the project came about initially?

Jimmy Martin: We got approached by Branchage, kind of introduced through The Quietus. They were talking about who they wanted to play this year and they came to see us once and really liked it. We had no idea what Branchage was at this point.

Mat Colegate: I think I did read about the [British Sea Power] Man of Aran soundtrack and the projection on the castle.

Mike Bourne: …and Zombie Zombie

MC: So we kind of had a rough idea of what was involved when we were offered it and we went back and forth with a load of ideas like surrealist art films and European silent stuff and it’s… it’s kind of what’s expected of you in this situation. Then Mike and I got incredibly drunk one night and he said, “It’s gotta be Doomsday.”[shaking his head in solemn resignation] It was like a light bulb going off – we can do that and still be really true to our aesthetic.

We talked a little in the past about how certain films that have the “cult” label can end up being a bit tame…

JM: Yeah, well there’s a sort of cannon of clichéd films as far as soundtracking goes, particularly for psychedelic bands: like Scorpio Rising and Holy Mountain

MC: We’ve probably played in front of Holy Mountain more than any other band!

JM: …so there was a canon we were trying to avoid.

Do you think that Doomsday will at some point be a cult film?

MC: Probably not. The thing is that I think it so self-consciously is a cult film that the very idea of being canonised would kind of defeat the point.

MB: It’s too obvious… It’s going out of its way to be a cult film – it’s made out of several other cult films![laughs]

I thought it was interesting that when you did the soundtrack, it was almost split into the separate film-types. What was the thinking behind that?

MC:We had different ideas when we started, I mean there were going to be some of the sections that were an awful lot more abstract. And when we sat down to edit it we realised it wasn’t quite going to work, there just wasn’t enough footage.

JM: There just wasn’t enough variation in the film itself, it’s just senseless violence.[all laugh]

Which kind of became the fourth “movement”.

JM: Yeah, the second to last thing was all the exploding heads.

I was thinking about how music by itself can be sort of threatening and create certain moods but usually there needs to be lyrics or actual visual images to make it truly disturbing. So, as a mostly instrumental band how do you deal with images?

MC: Well we’re incredibly influenced by visual culture anyway and I always say that if we’re not talking about music in rehearsals, we’re talking about films. And obviously we’re big fans of soundtrack bands like Goblin and Vangelis, which are a big influence.

MB: I think an important thing is – you said about us being an instrumental band – lyrics are normally the thing that kind of, produce emotions in the listener because they’re so overt and they tell you which way to think and what images to come up with… that’s why I listen primarily to a lot of instrumental music and even drone music, stuff like that, because it’s up to you entirely how you… what mood it evokes in you. We sort of did that with Reaper as well – with the exploding heads bit, that you mentioned. It would’ve been easy to have this really grotesque music over the top of it, really hammering the point home that it’s horrible, but instead we decided to do this rave, disco and prog thing.

MC: I mean we were all quite explicit about this fact that a lot of working on the film involved in the process of recontextualising the images and taking an image that you associate with a big loud noise and putting a quiet one just to see what happens and the more we played with that the more it seemed to work – it was a really good trick.

JM: It made us all really appreciate what a good filmmaker Neil Marshall is anyway because the actual shots themselves are actually really beautifully composed and technically it’s fantastic… it’s more the fact that if you wanted to criticize the film you’d say that the plot is absolutely ludicrous and it sort of lurches from one genre cliché to another.

MB: It’s almost like a terrible prog rock album in the sense that there are moments of real beauty and fantastic invention in there but just mixed up with loads of shit. [all laugh]

So another film I thought of while watching this was Enter The Void, which has been described as one of those haunted house roller-coaster-type-things where disturbing images keep jumping out. And I like that idea of you being trapped in your seat and being bombarded.

MC: It’s that idea of complete overload, and for us it’s not just films but music – like we’re all big fans of Hawkwind and that’s what Hawkwind were doing in the early 70s. They weren’t “nice” hippies, they kept bombarding you with stuff until you had an epileptic fit. Y’know, I was really upset that we didn’t get a strobe notice [outside the venue]. I’m pleased we got an 18 though.

Normally when you think of psychedelic visuals and the repetition of them you think of happy colours and flowers and it’s interesting to see some horrible images kaleidoscopically projected…

MC: I think the whole concept of putting on a psychedelic show can lead itself to a quite clichéd way of thinking and does for a lot of bands. It leads towards this sombre kind of 19th century fantasia feel to it and we would cross rivers of fire to avoid doing that. [shouts triumphantly] We’re trying to squeeze lemon juice into your third eye!

MB: You were just waiting to fit that in. [all laugh]

So, you’ve spent a long time looking at these images while you were editing it and are there any, y’know, inside jokes or little details in the images you noticed?

MB:Yeah there are quite a few actually there’s this really good shot [in the car chase] where someone dives into one window with their legs hanging out while someone comes out of the other window with their head first.

MC: Obviously [Neil Marshall]’s put in things to amuse himself and if anyone spots them, it’s a bonus. There’s this brilliant bit where they’re at the castle and this guy’s got a little plaque pointing to the gift shop!

JM: One of things about Doomsday that we have to mention is about the soundtrack that is actually on the original which is in many ways diabolically chosen…

MC: But it’s shockingly appropriate.

JM: Well, certain rock songs crop up in different parts and there’s two particular ones that come to mind – we felt that the car chase deserved a better soundtrack than it originally had which was… [pausing for effect] ‘Two Tribes’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood! But the worst was in the ‘ceremony’ bit?

MC: Just prior to roasting Sean Pertwee alive.

MB: Just before the shot of the guy who leaps into the crowd that we looped over and over again.

JM: It takes place on this massive stage and it’s this apocalyptic rock show and it’s got ‘Good Thing’ by Fine Young Cannibals playing!

Wow. I’ve not seen it but Doomsday sounds to me a bit like Southland Tales [all nod in agreement] where this really good director [Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko] is given loads of money and it kind of falls under the weight of its own hubris.

MC: Yes, but it’s not coming from a place I understand so much – there’s a lot of Busby Berkeley music in it. But Doomsday is coming from something that all of us have in common which is 2000 AD. It has so much Judge Dredd and Nemesis the Warlock and Strontium Dog and the experience of reading those comics… all the stories are 4 pages long and [mimes fliping pages] oh, now you’ve got knights on horseback and oh, now it’s a post apocalyptic road movie and one reason that film resounds with us so much is that trashy 2000 AD vibe.

What is it like playing with your back to the audience [facing the screen]?

MC: I was pretty certain at some points during it that if I turned around I would have to stop playing because I was so nervous. You go into these kind of things thinking “Yeah. We’ll show these people. They can like or lump it, doesn’t matter. I don’t give a fuck.” and then you get to playing in front of them and then you think, “Oh I hope they really like it.”

JM: But you have to be bullish to a certain degree to attempt something like this in the first place and I think you have to carry that though and if you show the slightest trace of fear about what we’re actually doing then the entire thing would crumble.

MC: Like if you’re being attacked by a bear.[all laugh]

Teeth Of The Sea will perform Reaper this Sunday January 15th at The Lexington as part of the London Short Film Festival. Click

here for more information.

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