Stacey Anderson NY Times 09/03/12
Once marginalized as a novel European import, electronic dance music, or E.D.M., has become the dominant trend in American pop these days. Its lively synthetic beats and booming bass lines are inescapable, and its top D.J.’s draw sold-out crowds to outdoor raves like Electric Daisy Carnival and even rock bastions like Lollapalooza and Coachella, earning them thousands, if not millions, of dollars for a single set.
Now several of its stars are turning their attention to what could become their biggest payday yet: Hollywood.
Skrillex, the dubstep D.J. who won three Grammys in February, and who Forbes magazine estimated earned $15 million last year, has composed an original score for the director Harmony Korine’s film “Spring Breakers,” a vacation romp that stars James Franco as a cornrowed drug dealer, which does not yet have a release date. Skrillex, 24, also recorded material for one scene of the Disney animated film “Wreck-It Ralph,” featuring John C. Reilly as the voice of a repentant video game villain, which is scheduled to be released on Nov. 2.
Similarly, Anthony Gonzalez, the mastermind of the gentler, more orchestral French electronic-pop band M83 and creator of its breakout 2011 album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” is working on the score for “Oblivion.” The film, the director Joseph Kosinski’s sci-fi adventure starring Tom Cruise, is slated for release next year.
Another of electronic dance’s leaders, Kaskade, met with film producers during his summer headlining tour but has yet to finalize a deal. Without denying the potential financial rewards Kaskade (whose real name is Ryan Raddon) said part of his motivation for venturing into film scores is artistic credibility.
“For me it’s about longevity and doing something that’s new, different, challenging,” he said. “I think there still are some people who doubt the musicality about electronic music, like: ‘What is it? What are they doing?’ But after you score a film, nobody can really say anything more about that.”
For a movie industry eager to tap into E.D.M.’s largely young fan base, the incentive seems obvious. Yet John Houlihan, a film supervisor who has worked on more than 60 soundtracks, including those for the three “Austin Powers” movies, “Training Day” and the forthcoming Bruce Willis thriller “Looper,” sees an underlying creative connection.
“I think it’s their day in the sun, and Hollywood is very trendy,” he said. “An E.D.M. artist like Skrillex is pushing frequencies and using new instrumentation that is so intense, his music has the potential to drive a modern action scene more effectively than a traditional Hollywood orchestra.”
Electronic musicians have scored movies for years. Recent examples include the Chemical Brothers for “Hanna” in 2011, Daft Punk for “Tron: Legacy” in 2010 (also directed by Mr. Kosinski) and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for “The Social Network,” for which they won an Academy Award. However, artists like Skrillex, Kaskade and M83 have more trendy momentum than their predecessors did during their projects. By including them, the movies get a quick infusion of youthful relevance, while the musicians court a broader mainstream audience and receive a significant salary.
Skrillex, whose real name is Sonny Moore, composed his score for “Spring Breakers” while on tour, using his laptop, much as he does for his albums. He said he watched early cuts of scenes from the movie before creating the score; his initial reaction to the film was that “it has a lot of tension, so there’s a lot of that mixed with the melody,” he said. He used live guitars and vocals performed by his girlfriend, the British pop singer Ellie Goulding, and he described the score — which he declined to play because he had not finished it — as a distilled version of his dance music, which took out all the upbeat parts, emphasizing melody, “leaving the pretty parts, leaving the sad parts.”
With “Wreck-It Ralph” he’s in more familiar territory. “That project is a lot more typically Skrillex sounding,” he said. “I hate to say that, but it’s definitely more dance floor.”
Skrillex, a halting interview subject who worried aloud about whether he was being inarticulate, said that composing for film was humbling. He repeated several times his belief that the music was there to support the action on screen, not to detract from it. “The music and the picture work together like a narrative piece,” he said.
Mr. Houlihan noted that film and television studios are already paying top dollar for electronic tracks. He said prominent E.D.M. artists can receive $40,000 to $50,000 for licensing a song for single use in a network television show and $150,000 to $250,000 for one song in a film. “Skrillex right now can get as high a fee as Rihanna because he is so unique at what he does,” Mr. Houlihan said.
However, scoring a film presents new challenges to electronic artists, who typically write and perform alone with their computers and sound systems. “You not only have to have the musical chops and the compositional skills, you also have to have the skills of a filmmaker and understand what is happening in the films and the emotions and intention of the action,” Mr. Houlihan said. “That is a pretty steep wall to get over, and a lot of artists just don’t have the experience to do that.”
Mr. Houlihan added a deeper concern, suggesting that E.D.M. could be little more than a fad. “I don’t think it will go on forever,” he said. “Film music trends tend to follow music trends, and the fickle taste of the public is going to get off dubstep at some point in the next year or so.”
Skrillex’s expectations seem tempered. “Harmony let me do what I wanted to do,” he said. “He wanted my services as an artist. I wouldn’t just make films for the sake of making films. But if it made sense, absolutely I’d do it again.”
He cited the scores for “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the 1997 action film “Spawn” as influences on his work. “I think a successful film soundtrack is when everything feels like it’s an alliance. You notice the soundtrack, but you feel like it is one thing.”
Mr. Korine said of Skrillex and “Spring Breakers”: “He is of the generation, and it is in him. The culture and that idea, the violence and the emotion and the aggression and the beauty — it is all in him and in the music. It was pretty natural and pretty awesome to watch him tap into that with the characters and the story, the kind of culture that it represents.”