The ever-growing link between electronic music producers and the moving picture is a fascinating development within the industry. Of course, it’s not a new phenomenon – people like Jean Michel-Jarre, Vangelis, Daft Punk and Laurent Garnier have been involved in soundtracking films and TV shows over the years, as have numerous other exponents of the club world. But now the music is so ingrained into modern society we’re seeing artists getting the call up to work with film directors who are not only avid house and techno fans, but also have experience in the club domain themselves.
Last year Emmerdale actor and independent film director Dominic Brunt released his second feature-length movie ‘Bait’, with music produced exclusively by Thomas Ragsdale. Tom is also known as Winter Son, and is a member of Ghosting Season and Worriedaboutsatan. His penchant for ambient, melancholy electronica was perfectly suited to Brunt’s horror thriller. Set in a sleepy market town, ‘Bait’ is a typically dark and occasionally humorous British horror flick. “I like Ghosting Season, and a lot of ambient electronica. I’ve also still got all my old 88/89 house stuff on vinyl. We always have music on in the house, we don’t have a telly in the front room, just a record player,” Dom tells DLTM.
Dominic’s appreciation of music has led to a partnership with Thomas that is now four movies deep, two shorts, plus ‘Before Dawn’ and ‘Bait’. Thomas worked at ITV, where Dom was also based, a link which provided some common ground between the two men when they finally began working together. After exchanging a few emails back and forth, they met up and had an instant bond. Once Thomas had the script in his hands, the process of creating a soundtrack began. Tom explains, “Dom brought me a copy of the script to have a look at. I’m by no means an expert in script reading so I kinda got the gist of the story but I wanted to see the film. I watched it a couple of times and had some ideas about where it should go and what you can achieve with the music; tricks you can play to shape the story.
“He was really open to that side of it, so we swapped influences and I gave him some stuff by other artists, which I thought represented some of my ideas and he did the same. Then he just told me to do what I wanted, take the lead and he’d guide me with feedback.”
As a fan of horror soundtracks, the task of scoring ‘Bait’ was a challenge Tom relished. His previous work and experience as an avid viewer of films came into play as he worked to compose music that was both emotive and chilling, taking every scene and amplifying the mood or simply setting the tone. Speaking about the basis for his work on the film, he told DLTM, “It was simply watching films and having a conscious interest in film scors and how music can be utilised with the moving picture. I’ve really paid attention to it and analysed why certain music has the effect it does during a particular scene. I’m still learning about that now, there’s no real training for it and, if there is, I don’t think it’s very good anyway because every film is different.”
Tom’s affinity with ‘Bait’ went beyond his love of doom and gloom, inspired to rediscover folk music and merge it with his electronic output. “I really like folk music and that’s what I started playing when I first got into making music so I thought it was a good opportunity to rediscover that side of me, too. I kept it acoustic and warm and organic, though there’s still a terror element to it. With that, I got the synths out and made it all crackly and horrible as well, so it was a nice balance and a good challenge for me all round.”
Both men were keen to make sure there was a natural relationship between the music and what was going on on screen, Dom said, “I like the music to be very much part of what’s going on, I don’t like to hide it away. Tom won’t use any beats at all unless they’re absolutely necessary. He’ll build a drone on top of a smart bassline and if it needs a tune or a motif, or a harmony or melody he’ll use that but he’s not ruled by that or trying to show off tunes he’s already made.”
Thomas echoes Dom’s comments, telling DLTM, “I wanted to make sure that, when there is music, it really makes a point not just a bed that fills a hole. I don’t like it when they just bang music in gratuitously. So it was either have some music, or don’t have any at all and bide your time with it and make the music interesting when the time is right.”
Talk of soundtracks takes us on to other films that have inspired our collaborators. Thomas is notably excited when he’s asked about the films and composers that have given him most inspiration over the years, “My favourite, and I think a lot of peoples’ favourite, is John Carpenter. He’s an absolute beast!,” he says. “The music for Halloween is awesome, that’s really scary music and The Thing, terrifying. Shit scary!”
Besides Carpenter though, he admits to being more of a fan of scores that are written by artists not typically associated with the film industry. “I liked the new score for Ex Machina by Geoff Barrows from Portishead,” he says. “I like scores that are written by guys from bands rather than ‘normal’ film composers – like Lord Of The Rings for instance, that just doesn’t inspire me. The Haxan Cloak, I want to hear his film scores, Jeff Mills or Ben Frost, I want to hear their film scores.”
Dom also prefers music that isn’t necessarily what one might expect from a movie soundtrack. “I’m not really into soundtracks, I prefer tunes and albums. The Daft Punk stuff with Tron, I wasn’t really into that. Though I have to say ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.. that was beautiful, and Clint Mantell’s stuff seems to be working out pretty well, his Pi soundtrack was ace.”
As the film industry opens up more and more to musicians from the electronic music world we’re seeing some interesting connections. British trio Snow Ghosts, who are signed to fabric’s label Houndstooth, had one of their tracks ‘The Hunted’ used on the trailer for ‘X-Men Apocalypse’ and Nils Frahm scored ‘Victoria’, negotiating with the director to be able to utilise his usual method of improvising with an orchestra to create the music while they watched the film. But what was it about Thomas Ragsdale that has led to an ongoing relationship with Dominic? The actor explains, “He gave the film an identity all of its own. I trust him, there were only two occasions where I’ve had to ask to change something minor. He’s intelligent and empathetic to what’s happening on screen, he allows what’s happening on screen to inform what he’s doing musically, which is exactly how it should be. His just working honestly to make things better.”
Emotional intelligence and empathy are skills typically associated with a DJ or live performer, just like Tom. Strengths that many of those who work in the electronic music industry as performers have in abundance, so it makes sense that movie execs are becoming more aware of their skillset.
Though he makes gloomy music and tells DLTM he’s not a “happy-go-lucky guy”, Tom is buoyant when asked which classic films he’d like to re-score. “I think I’d go back to ‘The Thing’ actually, or maybe ‘Escape From New York’. Anything futuristic. Or ‘Clockwork Orange’, that would be interesting. If it’s futuristic there’s not really any way to pinpoint what the musical style would be, so you can really use your imagination to create something that fits,” he says. “If it’s a sixties movie, then you have to align your score with that, but in the future it’s all open to your own interpretation.”
Tom’s hard work on the project led to him extending all the clips he’d made for the film, which he scored minute by minute during an intense week-long burst of composing, into an album. “My method was to break the film down into one-minute segments and I gave myself 10 minutes of the film per day over six days, so one minute per hour. I blasted it out in six days, I kept working hour by hour, minute by minute and combed through really slowly,” he says. “I’m a big fan of the album format and gigging albums, too. I spoke to Gav, who I do the band Ghosting Season with, and he thought it was a great idea, so I went through all the tracks, wrote down what I liked about each of them and started jamming in the studio, pieced it all together quite slowly and it all worked out.” The result is an immensely satisfying collection of moody ambience, which you can really immerse yourself in.
The next step is taking a live show based around the album ‘Bait’ on the road, Tom’s first time on stage alone as a live performer, and another movie project with Dom, which they hope to get started on in 2017.
Check out Thomas Ragsdale’s ‘Bait’ album below…