The Skinny have tracked down Geoff Barrow and demanded answers about his Dredd-inspired album Drokk:
perhaps the most fascinating project he’s been involved in of late is DROKK, a collaboration with score composer Ben Salisbury, conceived as a concept album about that most celebrated of British comics characters, Judge Dredd.
With a big-budget film adaptation of Judge Dredd being released this year, the project is well-timed, but as Barrow tells us, it all grew out of his lifelong passion for British sci-fi comic book institution 2000AD. The Skinny caught up with Barrow to find out about the surprising origins of DROKK, the genesis of the epic Quakers album, and what the future holds for Portishead.
Ben and I had agreed that we had to work together, and then we were approached with the opportunity to do a film score as a project, with the idea of it being synth-based. We began working with some traditional elements too, like strings and stuff like that, but really messing around with them, time-stretching them really far, to create a different kind of vibe. So, the project for the film didn’t really work out, but we just kind of kept on going! Because of the type of music that it was, and because I’ve always been a 2000AD fan, it just made sense to connect it with 2000AD and Mega-City One. So, we went to see the guys at 2000AD, and they were up for the concept and supported it.
So, just to be clear, there’s no connection between DROKK and the forthcoming movie Dredd, with Karl Urban?
No, there’s no connection now, no.
That was the first thing that struck us, listening to DROKK – how powerful the music you and Ben created would be, if twinned with the right visual, artistic interpretation of the Judge Dredd universe. Was there any point at which you were tempted to try and get in touch with the filmmakers, and see if anything could be done to join the two projects?
Well, basically, that was the film we were working on. It didn’t work out, for lots of different reasons. Because the film’s still in production, and there’s massive secrecy around the project, I’d rather not go into it. One thing I can say is that it was an absolutely brilliant experience: I became good friends with [Dredd script writer] Alex Garland. The film is going to be fucking brilliant. Categorically, there is absolutely no bad feeling between us and any of the filmmakers. It was just a project which didn’t work out, but Ben and I decided to carry on with the project in a different form. But the relationship with the film-makers and with Alex is so good, that there’s no way I would want people to think there was any kind of problem between us.
I was always inspired by 2000AD musically anyway: once we linked up the synths, it just seemed like the perfect thing to do with them, like a continuation of 2000AD in music. It all fit into place. It fit like Cinderella’s bloody slipper [laughs].
Did you find yourself going back to the 2000AD comics you had read when you were growing up when writing the album?
Yeah, I did. It’s such a strong memory for me: it’s ingrained in my brain. It’s really, really important – part of my formative years. 2000AD is as important to me as Public Enemy, and Eric B & Rakim. 2000AD is kind of weird, because when I was growing up, you were either into hip-hop or you were into Iron Maiden, and you were a metaller. There were two sides. If you think about what 2000AD was talking about, and when it came out, it was a really brilliant, fascinating social commentary. It’s like what Star Trek was in the sixties in America. It was that, to Thatcher’s Britain, and in a weekly comic, which is really weird. Brilliant writing and art. And Judge Dredd, he’s an asshole, isn’t he, really?
Did you ever read the storyline ‘Demo Crazy?’ Dredd framed the leading democratic figure in Mega-City One; they set up all this shit to frame him and send him down. I mean, as a kid you might think the Judges are the good guys, but… Yeah, it’s an important thing for me. I was dyslexic, so it was the one kind of thing I could read that was fairly grown-up. I mean for me, from sixteen, music took over. I just stopped reading everything. But 2000AD has always been part of the music I make. Always.