Hailing from New York, Morricone Youth are a dynamic music group that creates new scores for the moving image, especially for silent or cult classic films, which they perform live in front of a large screen projecting the movie in question. Their robust retro-electronic rock sound has inflections of synth, as well as occasional passages reminiscent of their (presumable) namesake, legendary spaghetti-western film composer Ennio Morricone.
Creating a new score for a popular film is a bold endeavour, as it inevitably invites comparisons to the music originally presented. It is thus perhaps intentional that while the movies they choose are themselves sometimes much-beloved pieces of cinema, the original scores are not necessarily iconic in and of themselves. Certainly not in the same way that the major themes and leitmotifs of a film scored by John Williams, Danny Elfman or Ennio Morricone himself would be. A new score for Star Wars, Jaws, Batman or The Good The Bad and the Ugly would seem sacrilegious to some – much less so for Morricone Youth’s previous projects such as Night of the Living Dead, Magnum Force or Foxy Brown, or older silent films by Murnau and Eisenstein.
Selecting the original Mad Max to play in Sydney on Australia Day is an inspired idea, especially as it is the entry in George Miller’s progressively more dystopian tetralogy which most prominently wears its Australiana on its sleeve, due to budget shortcomings if nothing else. Nevertheless it seems a surprising choice for a New York music group, given that the first Mad Max film was not an especially major success in the United States, infamously having the supposedly unintelligible Australian accents dubbed over with American voices in its initial Stateside release.
The more overtly post-apocalyptic Mad Max 2 was a much bigger hit with far greater cultural impact, becoming a truly iconic international film, with imagery that continues to influence an entire genre to this day. Although this follow-up escaped dubbing, Mad Max 2 was released in America under the title The Road Warrior, so as to intentionally distance itself from being marketed as a sequel to a film which had a comparatively small cult following. Indeed it is more widely known by this title outside of its native land even today,
Yet it would seem that Morricone Youth are nothing if not “old school” in their tastes of chosen material, with their crackly retro sound and analogue sensibilities blending well with the Aussie road-carnage revenge classic. Their tunes are catchy and propulsive, especially in the dynamic car chase and crash scenes, which still remain sequences of extended white-knuckle viewing in a movie which, it has to be said, has a rather lagging pace in its middle portion.
Fortunately, their intense soundscape buoys the 1979 film along in these quieter moments, evoking an uneasy mood which keeps one’s pulse up more than the narrative itself might. It also helps that their format of live performance involves projecting the film silently with subtitles behind the band, rather than re-engineering the soundtrack to eliminate the original music tracks but retain the dialogue and sound effects.
Indeed, if any real criticism could be levelled at their music for the movie it would be that, while it works very well when performed live along to a silent film, their composition is generally very “busy” and loud, such that it is hard to imagine it being theoretically remixed into a version of the film itself, as an actual conventional score that plays behind the dialogue. While it would work marvelously in Miller’s famous chase sequences with their notable sparseness of dialogue, it might well seem intrusive in the quieter moments and conversations, despite being the saving grace of those scenes when performed live over subtitles. Granted though, this would not seem to be their intent, and the live performance of their material to a silent-running movie projection makes for a dynamic and captivating show.
All in all though, this proved to be an extremely entertaining night of sights and sounds, a fantastic concert showcasing some very cool new music that enhanced the experience of revisiting an Aussie classic. While this was a one-night only event, it is worth noting that the album version of their score is available as a playlist on YouTube. If you wanted to try approximating the experience by synching up the tracks yourself to the relevant scenes while watching Mad Max on Netflix, it would be a fun experiment, although nothing will beat seeing this exciting group perform live.
2018 Sydney Festival
Mad Max with Live Score by Morricone Youth
Venue: Carriageworks Bay 17 | 245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh NSW
Dates: 26 January 2018
Tickets: $59 – $44