Spliff, wobble, splice! Now dance DJs are doing film music

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The Independent Culture
Walk into any club and you can see screens silently spooling out films to a techno soundtrack. Citizen Kane or Spacevixens; it doesn't matter, they're all just eye candy, another sensory ingredient in the club mix.

It's tempting to see this subjugation of film as a kind of clubbers' revenge. After all, most modern movies use music in much the same way, slapping songs on to stories simply to lend atmosphere or provide some easy period wallpaper.

A new project put together by Sight and Sound seeks to go beyond this mutual referencing and recycling. Earlier this year, the magazine commissioned musicians from today's musical avant-garde to score films from cinema's avant-garde. The result is "Score", an intriguing portmanteau of alternative, electronic soundtracks that will be screened around the country before arriving in London for a live performance on 21 November.

Of recent movies, Trainspotting is one of the few that has made any credible use of contemporary dance music. So it's not surprising that Andrew Weatherall (who mixed that film's title track) was one of the first artists to be signed up. Bio.com, Slab, Deli and Wishmountain were also plucked from a vast dance scene, added to the list and introduced to various dusty reels in the basement of the British Film Institute.

"As soon as I saw Bells of Atlantis I could hear what I wanted to do," says Weatherall. "My homeopathic doctor would probably give you all sorts of deep reasons why I chose a film about the sea. I'm having a treatment that means I drink five pints of water a day and I wear a lot of blue but, to be honest, it was sheer laziness - most of my music sounds like it's recorded underwater anyway." Photographed by Ian Hugo, the 1952 film originally had a soundtrack voiced by Anais Nin, taken from her prose poem The House of Incest. Weatherall did not bother unduly with unearthing any abstruse narrative. "I wanted an electronic, submarine sound," says the down-to-earth, hugely successful London DJ, "so I just got really stoned, put the film on a loop and made some wobbly noises." When pressed, he reveals that he prefers "a random approach to keep things loose and natural" and that he doesn't like his music to sound "too contrived". Even this brief analysis has Weatherall fretting about "sounding like Brian Eno" and emphasising how easy it was to "bang out" the track in an afternoon.

In contrast, Bio.com's Andy Sherriff knew Norman McLaren's Pas de Deux, "off by heart" before he approached the score. He believes his kind of electronic noodling suits film better - "I'm used to making music without a formal structure or vocals." Without the constraints of verse and chorus, he sees electronic (and particularly ambient) music as "more fluid", and therefore more filmic, than conventional pop.

Indeed, dance music with it's cut and splice samples, digital editing and lack of "liveness" has, in terms of production, moved popular music closer to cinema than ever before. Citing personal favourites such as John Barry and Ennio Morricone, Sherriff points out "the huge influence of early orchestral film scores" on dance musicians themselves. Like today's dance DJs, such film composers were usually faceless studio entities, people whose work enjoyed amazing success independent of their personalities.

Trading under the name of Wishmountain, Matthew Hammond is something of an anomaly: a techno performance artist who delights in getting up before astonished ravers and performing industrial tunes with egg whisks. For Svanjkmajer's 1969 curiosity A Quiet Week in the House, Hammond has plumped for an extraordinarily silent soundtrack. "There are repeated shots of drills and alarm clocks, but I wanted to avoid the obvious," says Hammond. Instead, samples mix the sound of his own breathing with that of found objects.

At the London performance, Hammond sees himself as "a bit like the old cinema organist". But rather than rise through the floor tootling away on the keyboards, Hammond plans to "take objects, eat them, destroy them and shake them around". On the night, he will be joined by Deli, who have crafted a synaesthetically sensuous score to the surreal Meshes of the Afternoon, and Slab, whose bouncy accompaniment to a Kenneth Anger flick should prove a comic highlight. Spooky are putting in a guest appearance and Damien Hirst's Hanging Around will be shown (Alex James's score intact) alongside videos by the late Derek Jarman. It promises to be an interesting evening, but Sherriff is already apprehensive: "At Reading this summer we played in front of 40,000 people, but it'll be more scary to perform in front of 2,000 people if they're all sitting there staring at the screen with their arms crossed"n

`Score', a night of avant-garde film and new music, 31 Oct, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle (0191-232 8289); 5 Nov, Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast (01232 244 857); 21 Nov, "live" at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1 (0171-960 4242); 23 Nov, Watershed, Bristol (0117-925 3845)