Cinematic Synths: Slasher Film Festival Strategy’s Christopher Ashley

A great number of micro labels have popped up parallel to the soundtrack resurgence. While Death Waltz, One Way Static, and Giallo Disco do a lot of soundtrack reissues and releases, they’ve also been at work to present new artists working in the the ‘genre.’ Acts – like Videogram, Antoni Maiovvi, Metavari, and Espectrostatic – all inspired, in one way or another, by synth-laden horror and thriller scores. These labels and artists are the next step for those who’ve gotten into soundtracks, but want something that works more as a musical experience, rather than one tied directly to a film.

In order to understand how one takes those retro sounds and turn them into something new (and whether they feel that there’s the possibility of moving beyond those basic ideas), I’ve been speaking with prominent musicians in the field for a series of interviews about the reinvigorated genre.

For our fourth outing, we spoke with, we spoke with musician Christopher Ashley, of Slasher Film Festival Strategy, and head of the label Foreign Sounds.

For the past 20 years one man dark electronic outfit Slasher Film Festival Strategy has produced horror/sci-fi electronic compositions.Long before these sounds were considered nostalgic or there was a genre for SFFS to produce within, C.Ashley continue to create dark, synth based soundscapes channeling the sounds of film and television. SFFS has participated in over 20 releases, mostly self-released and worked with various labels such as Liquid Death, Foreign Sounds, Children of the Night, Death Waltz/Mondo, Disco Cinematic and Mirror Universe.

What was your initial attraction to movie scores?

Initially, I was not truly aware of film music even though I was unknowingly a fan of it. When I began Slasher Film Festival Strategy in 1997, I was using it as an outlet to break away from the hardcore/punk bands I was playing in at the time. Something I could work on in my own time with my 4-track. The initial influences were mainly east coast hip hop beats, industrial music and horror films in a visual sense. I wasn’t influenced by film scores at the time.

After I began recording material and sharing it with a friends, that’s when I became aware that those hearing the music thought it reminded them of horror film music. This led me to refocus my energy with the project and truly focus on imagined film music.

How have you branched out from there?

20 years of recording under the Slasher Film Festival Strategy moniker has carried me through many iterations of the project. The late ’90s was a very beat-driven, horror-focused sound that allowed me to fuse my interest of east coast hip hop, industrial and experimental/noise into dark compositions. The early ’00s lead SFFS down a more dark ambient path where my focused was to create tension and terror through minimalist soundscapes. This was also the era where the first space-themed recordings were created.

2003’s Dead Bodies returned to the more horror-beat driven sounds and then I sporadically composed and recorded between playing hardcore/metal/noise-rock bands. It was around 2010 when I really renewed my focus on the project working through probably over 100 demos that I had been recording over the years and polished my sound through better recording techniques and more streamlined methods to capture the sounds of my 1980s synthesizers.

Are there particular artists which bridged the gap between film scores and more traditional electronic music – Vangelis or Tangerine Dream, for instance?

Actually, not really. Later on I was aware of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, etc. With the exception of John Carpenter’s Halloween, it was probably the 2000s before I really started to listen to scores as standalone music. Mainly, orchestral sounds and not electronic ones initially. Obviously, now Tangerine Dream and the like are staples, but they had little to no influence on my sound.

I was much more influenced by Japanese and West Coast Power Electronics, DJ Premier, RZA, Mobb Deep, Kraftwerk, early NIN, early Ministry, Throbbing Gristle, Cold Meat Industry and Relapse’s Release Entertainment label. Later, I would obviously become more aware and more immersed in all types of film music.

 

How does one take those influences from horror and genre films, and move beyond them? Is there a point at which they need to be set aside?

There is very little I do musically that is directly influenced by modern scores or even classic scores. I’ve tried to work those influences our of my system, but I think the music I make fits very well within that little world. Each record I make is usually based on concept that would work as a film and I am scoring that non-existent film in my mind.

What’s your opinion on “imaginary soundtracks” – scores for films which don’t exist?

I think there are some very cool artists working in that genre and then there are a lot “Bandcamp laser grid” artists. They are all good at what they do, but SFFS doesn’t work in that scene. The imaginary soundtrack one, sure but not so much the “synthwave” one. I mean, all of my releases are generally “imagined soundtracks.”

Was there a particular artist whom you admired most when you first started making music?

Probably RZA’s earliest Wu-tang releases. I was really drawn to how dirty and gritty it was. Then there was COLD MEAT INDUSTRY and the Vinyl Communications label. Philip Glass was always an inspiration. To narrow it down to a single artist would be impossible, but if you are looking for film composers, Brad Fiedel, Christopher Young, Carpenter, Charles Bernstein, Morricone were all very impactful.

Do you have any professional training?

No professional training. I am self-taught on all instruments I fumble around on. I started playing bass guitar at age 15.

 

Where does making stand-alone music differ from a soundtrack proper?

That’s a great question. I’ve only had minimal opportunity to compose for film. In most cases, my songs are used after they are created. When I compose and record, I consider the listener a bit. The listener being me ( I generally compose music that I myself would like to listen to) and it keeps my material a little more structured versus the open ended ambient work I was doing in the early 2000s. I’ve never been a musician that makes a record and never listens to it. I am always composing what I would like to hear and in some cases that finished product resonates with some people.

Slasher Film Festival Strategy’s most recent release is Crimson Cavern, which is available from Foreign Sounds.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek

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