Turning the key in the ignition may seem like an everyday occurrence but in the hands of this ingenious noir suspense is the critical starting point. Unlike most cinema the horizon closes in, rather than opens out, as night proceeds to provide cover for illicit activities following the twists and turns of Belfast tarmac revealing as much of the characters as they do about the intrinsic history driven into collective consciousness. Written by Ben Conway and Directed by Stephen Fingleton.
Like all modern moving pictures the accompanying soundtrack can make or break the tension which in Phil Kieran’s case isn’t even in question. Feeling suitable edgy throughout an underlying unanswered question fuels the nervous storyline with tales of explosive electronic energy never finding time to capture breath. There are standalone tracks such as Last Train To Drums, powerful enough to drive any dancefloor in one direction, while more reflective moments like It’s All Gone Wrong and the opening Nightride Theme capture your attention in more introspective ways. Completing the picture is Le Carousel – It’s All About The Balance, Phil’s live act, who feature a contrasting uplift to the soundtrack while ending on a white line high.
Welcome to Magazine Sixty, Phil. Let’s start with the soundtrack you have created for the Netflix film Nightride (due out on PKR). How would you describe the film? How did you create the accompanying score: to go with individual scenes, or to match the overall atmosphere? Was there a particular synthesizer which lent itself to the feel of the film?
It’s a thriller all shot in one take around the streets of Belfast, quite tense and grimy, it has a hyper real feel to it. The music was inspired by thinking about what would Budge (the main character), a drug dealer in Belfast, maybe be listening to.
As a one-shot, mostly one character movie, there is less visual imagery than most films. We knew it would rely heavily on music to tell the story and set the tone. There was a long period of trial and error. Originally, we thought all the music should sound like it was coming from the car’s stereo system or from background nightlife but a strictly diagetic approach wasn’t working out. I took a break, listened to a lot of Tangerine Dream, watched a lot of 80s films especially anything with an electronicfeel to the score. An early Michael Mann picture called Thief is even referenced in Nightride’s script. I decided to start afresh and at that point things fell into place quite quickly. At that point I was really starting to enjoy myself, along with all the other classic 80’s influences I tried for a motif or a recurring “theme” influenced from the music of John Carpenter films but I tried to do it in a contemporary techno sounding way.
To my delight everyone went for it, the “Nightride Theme” that’ appears first on the album is taken from the actual opening scene in the movie and the “original” version later in my album is the version I first made in the studio. I took a less is more approach to synchronisation, putting in just what’s needed to serve the atmosphere and give impact, but I also wanted to create a coherent body of music, not just a series of musical accompaniments to a cue sheet. I want listeners to be able to listen to it with their eyes closed, almost imagine the story and climb inside the emotions involved. Apparently, the script writer Ben Conway had me in mind when he was writing the script, so it made sense to use a few tracks that I’d already released but the rest were created to go with particular scenes.
Your studio is currently housed at The Strand Arts Centre which originally opened in 1935. How did thatcome about? Does making music in such a historic building add any qualities to your music? And what are feelings about Art Deco architecture as opposed to the more modern buildings currently being built in Belfast?
I wrote the music for a play called “East Belfast Boy” that was shown in the MAC Belfast about 5 years ago, written by Fintan Brady, produced by Prime Cut and directed by my friend Emma Jordan. After the play finished in the MAC there was an opportunity for it to be shown in The Strand Arts Centre about six months later when we were looking around the building to find a rehearsal space I noticed a disused room that was originally a studio which wasn’t being used.
To cut a long story short I was asked to be the artist in residence there for one year and now I have been there nearly four years. It’s been the best time of my life creatively and I’ve been the most prolific I’ve ever been while I’ve been there. During the pandemic, the studio was the one place I had any sense of control over the world around me. I was being told to DJ on live-streams and podcasts but for me, this was the perfect time to follow a passion that has been bubbling for a really long time, to make music for film and visual media. I guess being in a cinema everyday helps me stay focused on that dream.During lockdown I was practically the only person in the building but now it’s open to the public again, I love hearing the bass booming from screen one as I walk up the stairs and it just fills me with excitement every time.
Outside of music what provides your main motivation?
My family are my main focus outside music, I have a very patient wife and two lovely children. I’m motivated by everything in life and constantly trying to work out why we exist and what meaning music and art has within that. I believe the two things that make you happy are love and creativity.
Talk us through where your love of cars came from and their restoration? Has there been a favourite todate?
I’m obsessed with old VWs, in particular pre-79 VW Beetles. I’m not sure where it all started but I know that from very early childhood I was just obsessed; aged 10 or 11 I was buying any magazines I could get my hands on reading every single page again and again. I bought a really cool one when I was about 15 and started to restore it. I almost got it finished but then I discovered techno music and the Beetle was neglected for years until my early 30’s. Nowadays I have a green one and a turquoise one. Neither of them are on the road at present but will hopefully be driving again very soon.
As time goes by would you say your tastes in music have changed at all? Have you discovered anything that has surprised you liking?
A lot of the time I’m digging into the past to find things I’ve never heard. I love trying to go back as far as possible and hear where ideas first started and where they started to influence other music. I like music that gives me escapism, I don’t want reminded of what’s going on around me now, I want to be transported to another world or parallel universe. I tend to get obsessed with one band or one artist for a while as well and try to listen to everything they’ve ever done until I move on to the next discovery. I try not to repeat listening to things, I can’t see how you can learn anything by listening to the same album all the time. I do have my faves that I revisit like KLF’s Chill Out or Brian Eno/ David ByrnesMy Life in the Bush of Ghosts, but they are few and far between.
What are your thoughts on Techno, how its history has been perceived and where its future lies?
I’ve watched techno go in and out of fashion so many times, currently it seems to be in fashion and a popular term to label yourself with. It’s hard to figure out what’s real or fake. Tech advances have made it easier for people to have a go at making music but they’re not all in it for pure reasons. I think we have to learn how to drown out the noise around us and just find the interesting stuff, which is maybe a little harder to find but has an honest passionate sound to it. I hope the future will see more people focussed on being an artist and less about trying to be popular.
Are DJ’s still as important as they once were given the easy access to music online?
I think most of what being a good DJ is about is just having good music taste and instinctively knowing how to curate a night, give it a thread and bring the crowd on a journey with you. It’s not exactly very difficult to mix two tracks on CDJ’s these days. The tune selection is everything.
You are creating an archive of the rise of club culture in Belfast and NI at the minute. Did you discover anything that surprised you about that history?Can you tell us about any further plans for the project?
I began interviewing friends who’d been involved in music since the late 1980s just as a way to record memories and put them on record for future generations to use. It snowballed and I’ve been surprised by just how many want to share their stories. I now hope to work with Queens University in creating a fuller archive over the coming years. My friend Sara Gunn’s film production company is interested in creating a feature film using the archive. It’s all very early stages but everyone’s getting older and there are people whose memories I’d love to have captured who are sadly no longer with us. What’s surprised me is just how early the first signs of what we’d call dance music were creeping into nightclubs in NI, often being played side by side with punk or rock music.
Belfast is thought of as a very conservative city, but I’m finding that young people and music lovers will always find a way to create their own scenes and tribes, express themselves and have fun. One thing that might surprise people is how risqué the aesthetic and outfits were. I’ve got photos from Jules Nightclub in 1980s Belfast that’d make Berghain clientele look demure.
What was your pivotal moment in a club or a life altering record that you heard?
Hearing Dave Clarke’s Red one for the first time, David Holmes playing House Nation in the Art College, hearing Nitzer Ebb for the first time, Richie Hawtin playing in the Rotterdam Bar in Belfast. All in the 90’s.
And finally. What advice would you give to someone starting out in music or as a DJ?