This article originally appeared in NARC. Magazine
Six years before Star Wars became a global phenomenon in 1977, George Lucas’ first feature was the stylish sci-fi THX 1138. Starring Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasance, the film has gained cult status in recent years and it’s been sampled by numerous artists including Nine Inch Nails, The Shamen, UNKLE and Orbital. Electronic fusion maestros Asian Dub Foundation are the latest group to be inspired by the movie, but they’ve gone one step further by creating a unique live soundtrack for Lucas’ debut.
It’s the band’s third live soundtrack, following on from the success of their scores for both Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 realist French drama La Haine and Gillo Pontecorvo’s classic Battle Of Algiers. But since THX already contains a semi-experimental and dissonant soundtrack, the group didn’t give themselves an easy task. “A lot of groups tend to do silent films, which to me is a cop out,” Steve Chandra Savale, aka Chandrasonic, laughs. “But there’s obviously some good ones.” He admits that choosing a movie for a live soundtrack isn’t a straightforward task. “You have to be very careful about what you pick if you’re going to work with the film, then you’ve got to find a film that’s got enough space for you to be there. Even that’s ambiguous.”
Unlike the hip-hop soundtrack of La Haine and Ennio Morricone’s typically luscious and iconic score to Battle Of Algiers, THX’s sound design doesn’t appear to lend itself well to the mix of rap, dub, dancehall and ragga that Asian Dub Foundation have become known for. “There’s a lot of classical, avant-garde dissonance, strings, a little bit of flute… And there’s some very interesting soundscapes done by Walter Murch.” Regardless of all this, Savale claims that “there was actually a lot of space for us” and the band worked by adding layers of sound to what was already present in the film. “Because we had these dissonant strings to work with we had to think sideways,” he explains. Unlike any ADF record, he also points out that “there’s no beats or breaks and no bassline” so something had to change. “The first thing that ADF mash into a film is a bassline and that, in a way, is the sonic underbelly of it. It’s the journey, this human machine, a machine society, that’s cold and rumbling.” On top of that they added sounds that they felt fitted with the themes of the film in general. “The guitar is actually quite chaotic, sort of abstract and is tuned into the horrible, digital chaos of that society. That’s one of the ways that [the film is] prophetic, all this kind of spinning, irritating digital noise.”
In order for the audience to take in what the film has to offer, and unlike most live performances, the group will be taking a back seat during the performance at Sage Gateshead (on Sunday 18th October) itself. Walter Murch himself will be providing the support on the night, appearing in a short interview before THX plays (which, as Savale says, is “much better than having a support band”). THX will then become the star of the show at the event. “The film isn’t in the background,” Savale explains. “In way, visually, we’re in the background. So, we’re backing the film. The film dictates to us. Occasionally we jump in and get our own but generally, we love the film and we’re trying to enhance your viewing and interpret the film.” Does this mean that they hope the audience will turn up looking to watch the film rather than experience an ADF gig? “Well that’s up to them. That can be affected by the environment. I never, ever say ‘this is how you’re supposed to enjoy it’, I never say that about anything I’ve ever done.” Savale does concede that unlike the other two films they’ve worked on – and particularly La Haine – THX will be a more thoughtful experience. “I think with THX it’s very cerebral, it doesn’t really lend itself to jumping up and doing spontaneous dance,” he comments.
Although the project surrounding THX is far from being over, it was still intriguing to know whether ADF would be challenging themselves with any more live soundtracks in the future. Savale reflected on what the band have already achieved in that realm: “We’ve done three soundtracks and they’re kind of like the past, present and future. So I kind of feel like our mission in that realm is kind of complete now!” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect more soundtracks from the group though. “I have got a couple of ideas, I wouldn’t really want to say, but I do have ideas. Trying to find new ways to perform loud, live and exciting music. That’s the challenge of now for music I think,” Savale says. “I want to pursue that in different areas. I think that there’s a lot you can do with a live performance which doesn’t sacrifice any of the power or the volume of an ADF show but mutually enhances it. So that’s what I’m looking into.”