Cinematic Synths: Videogram’s Magnus Sellergren

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 first outing, we spoke with Swedish musician and producer, Magnus Sellergren, the man behind Videogram:

Often imitated, never duplicated, Videogram is the original 1980s VHS-inspired horror synth project and brainchild of Swedish composer/producer Magnus Sellergren. Since its inception in early 2014, Videogram’s been in the front lines of the horror synth movement, reinventing the genre, and pushing it forward with expert musicianship, exquisite arrangements, and high-quality production. Always innovative, over the years Videogram’s unique brand of VHS-flavored horror synth has received worldwide recognition from the international horror community, pop culture media, film industry professionals as well as the music industry.

What was your initial attraction to movie scores?

My first memory of actually noticing the soundtrack in a movie was as a kid, watching Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on VHS. Such a beautiful, stylish effort and Morricone’s soundtrack is just epic.

When it comes to my reasons to create this myself, I’d say nostalgia. It was such a trip trying to recreate the sounds I grew up with, and even more so hearing people picking up on it. That’s probably my fave reviews of those I’ve gotten; where the reviewer not only get where I’m coming from, but is transported back to their own memories of the golden era of VHS. How awesome is that?

How have you branched out from there?

The horror soundtrack influences has melded with all the other stuff I’m into, which I think is good. You wanna keep evolving and make it more of your own thing. There’s even more genres I wanna implement into Videogram’s sound with my coming records.

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

Well, I do like Tangerine Dreams’ soundtracks – The Park is Mine is a good one. I also enjoy some of Jean Michelle Jarre’s work, but I’m not too sure they’ve inspired me when it comes to branching out. Wanting to evolve came from within. It’s pretty organic and doesn’t have anything to do with any outside influences.

So many folks in the soundtrack scene seem to come from a punk or metal background, given how intertwined those worlds are with horror. Was that the case?

Not really. My main reason for getting into this was actually to create music on my own. By 2012, I was pretty burned out on the whole band thing. But yes, I come from a punk rock background. Started out in a Dis-clone band as a teen, playing the drums. Or ‘thrashing about’ is probably a more fitting description.

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?

Not set aside, but I think you do need to evolve and, again, take all that stuff and make it more of your own thing. Some people are probably fine with putting out album after album rehashing John Carpenter but a) as the Maestro’s music’s readily available there’s really no point, and b) you can’t really call yourself an artist if you keep doing that, right? But each to their own. I’ve got my own trip to focus on.

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

Well, I made one with my previous outfit back in 2013. They’re fun, but I’m not interested in repeating myself. I’ll make sure that what I’ve put out there will be readily available, so those that want to hear that stuff can check it out, but I can’t say I’m that interested in doing a ‘Part 2’ of anything. I’ve got plenty of ideas in the tank. No worries.

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

Well, like I already said, I started out with punk rock. And for me it was The Ramones that had me picking up drums and, later on, guitar and bass. When it comes to horror synth it was Giallos Flame. I’m such a big fan of Ron’s project. Great music, great melodies and some pretty cool arrangements!

Do you have any professional training?

Yes, I do. But, before that, playing in bands since the late 1980s. But it was such a long time ago I must’ve forgotten about half of it! Spending that much time playing punk rock just ain’t healthy, ha ha ha.

Anyway, arranging the strings for the intro and outro of the Test Subject 011 EP was really fun and enjoyable, but it took me a while to refresh my memory. It was a blast to work on, though. I think it turned out great and I am planning to add more orchestral arrangements to my music from now on. It really opens things up and adds another dimension to it.

How has your music changed – is there a stylistic shift to which you can point?

I really don’t listen to my stuff once I’m finished with everything, bar a quickie run-through to make sure the master and pressing is satisfactory. It’s just too masturbatory to sit and listen to your own records. And by the time it’s been put out there I’m so fed up with it on account of nitpicking every damn detail while creating it I usually need a six-month break from it before I can listen to it objectively.


But, as I recently remixed and remastered Videogram’s first album – now available as Videogram Redux! – the progress of this project became real apparent to me, and I think it’s changed a lot. Funny how you have to look back to even notice stuff like that. Not too sure there’s been a stylistic shift, though. To me, after revisiting my debut effort, I’d say things have tightened up and moved forward, but there’s certainly no mistaking where it’s coming from.

Videogram’s latest, Test Subject 011, is out now on Sellergren’s own Selectavision label, and available in the US via Two Headed Dog.

 

Keep an eye out for Part Two of the continuing Cinematic Synths series…

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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