Jamie Macleod Bryden attends prolific composer Johnny Jewel’s first solo show at Meltdown Festival, the Southbank Centre – curated by Christine and the Queens.
Johnny Jewel is truly prolific! Even if you think you haven’t heard of him; you will have heard some of his work with Chromatics, Desire, Glass Candy…his synth duo Symmetry. All under his playfully named label; “Italians do it Better”. If you haven’t heard of these acts then you will still have heard him soundtracking Twin Peaks the Return, or movies like Bronson, Drive and Lost River. Its fitting that as we sit down for the show, my friend mentions that she’s not much of a movie person; As Jewel’s work is intertwined with movies. Even when it isn’t soundtracking something; it sounds like it should be. He enters the stage in a red velvet suit. As if curating his own Red Room from Twin Peaks. Like “the man from another place”.
He is our guide: We are in his movie.
“Digital Rain” eases the audience into a different world. Atari blips patter like rainfall and accompany washes of synth. Used in the film “Don’t Come Back from the Moon” to conjure huge skies and desert-scapes. It also wouldn’t be out of place in Bladerunner 2049.
It’s night. The synth becomes heavier and escalates with the “Witch” showing a saturated red scene of a girl driving a car in the dark. A lot of tonight’s set are unreleased or a taste of future releases. This is from a new movie called “Holly” in which a teenage girl becomes the saviour of her school in the aftermath of a fire. So far so mysterious.
We move into a horror movie soundtrack you can dance to – “Flesh”. Fittingly accompanied by glamorous and knowingly cheap Italo Horror movies behind him of beautiful women and extreme violence. Scenes like a woman with a candle holder atop an ominous staircase only to fall down them to her death. The tension ebbs for “Windswept” and its sax. It sounds sultry and late night. Like updated “Red Room” music – its languid beat matching that of the iconic piece. Fittingly the backdrop for this Is all Twin Peaks related too. Laura Palmer, Dale Cooper, The man from another place…Bob. Its both familiar and new at the same time.
All of these tracks from Jewel’s career gel into one new movie soundtrack. We go deeper into this world with the foreboding and steady synth of “Yes” the theme from Ryan Gosling’s Lost River which Jewel actually soundtracked. Images and sound always in symbiosis.
It then blossoms into choral release tinged with xylophone. Matching the freedom of Saoirse Ronan riding in an armchair on top of the back of a Cadillac at dawn. We stay in this world with “Shell Game” with its harder synth and more urgent beat.
“Lady” then slows it with its strutting and more glacial beat. One of Jewel’s instant classics that sounds like its always been around.
The night journey reaches its climax as the familiar beat to “Tick of the Clock” clicks into life. The opening music of Jewel’s used for “Drive”. His soundtrack was sadly not used for the whole thing, but this and his work with Desire still defined the film. It has a nocturnal thump that makes you feel like you’re in your own movie when it plays through headphones in a city late at night. Here, the drums sound hard and metallic. Its irresistible. Backed by scenes from the movie itself.
Digital versicolour then hits you , with a harder synth and takes us into the violent world of “Bronson”.
Johnny’s humility and warmth towards the audience is notable. We all get invited to come hang out after upstairs. The flickering piano, xylophone and emerging synth of “Tell me” brings the evening to a hypnotic close:
“Be mine for always, I’ll be yours forever”.
Saoirse Ronan’s hushed vocal sounds like Julee Cruise. It could be a closer in Twin Peak’s Roadhouse.
It winds down and we are back in reality. A nocturnal dreamscape that you’re not sure if it’s a flicker or an eternity. But you want to stay.