Heaven of Horror spoke with Matthew James about his latest score for IFC Midnight’s THE DJINN, the horror/thriller is out now on VOD. Matthew’s THE DJINN score is also available on all major digital sites including iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and Apple Music.
-Before getting the job, you pitched the directors, Justin Powell and David Charbonier, a few tracks of what you thought the score should sound like. How different were those few tracks to what ended up in the film?
Thanks for having me. Yes, this is accurate, the tracks “Trapped” and especially “Artifacts Required’ – the original demo version became the cornerstone of the sonic landscape of the film. Honestly, the end credit title is literally the demo I pitched back in 2019. They loved it so much, that’s what they wanted for the end. I’m honored.
-For people that have not seen the film yet, how would you describe your score for The Djinn?
The score ranges from very delicate and emotional to driving and explosively terrifying. It’s a blend of synths and orchestral instruments that take us on the journey. Dylan’s main themes adhere to the 1980s soundscape mainly with synths and a bit of support from orchestral instruments. The Djinn has a unique blend of synth, orchestra, and vocals that support its theme.
-You not only composed the film, but you also lent your voice to a few of the tracks. Can you talk about this? At what points in the film would we be able to hear your vocals?
Yes! My vocals are on the score cues mostly on the Djinn’s main incantational theme, you can hear bits and pieces throughout the film. There’s an initial “one-man-choir” that acts as a bit of a siren song that draws you in, “The Book of Shadows -Spirit of Fire” highlights this on the OST (available now on Apple Music & Amazon). We were originally trying sample libraries and they just didn’t work. Years as a singer/songwriter and some opera lessons (who would’ve guessed?) helped in this instance.
-Did you give the Djinn a theme? If so, how would you describe it?
Yes! The Djinn has a few elements – vocals, aleatoric string clusters, sul pont & glissandi for tension, and last but not least, an old vintage synth octave effect the filmmakers and I dubbed “The Djinn Drop.”
-What was your favorite scene to score?
Too many favorite moments to mention! If I had to not to one without spoiling it, I’d say the sequence when Dylan is walking through the location by candlelight was great fun. That and anything where I was able to do some rad 80s 8-bit beats.
-There is a track in the film by Timecop1983 feat. Dana Jean Phoenix. Why did the filmmakers decide to use this track instead of having you compose something? Was that a distributor decision?
To my recollection, David stumbled upon the tracks on YouTube which ended up suiting the film quite nicely. I was originally going to do some songs, (See “On the Radio B Side “on the OST Album) but given there was a prolific amount of original music that needed to be scored, it was a collective choice to choose some source tracks.
–The Djinn has a similar sounding score to Stranger Things, probably because they are both set in the 80s. Did you get any inspiration from that show?
Nope! Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I feel this to be a common comparison with synth scores these days. Historically, Vangelis and John Carpenter probably were the pioneers of this style and Hans Zimmer built upon it to where we are today.
To be quite honest, I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of Stranger Things the first season. I think because the film utilizes classic vintage 80s synth arpeggios, it’s very easy to draw the comparison. I’m a child of the 80s, so I grew up during the John Carpenter era playing cheap Casio keyboards, I’d say if anything there’s probably some of those proclivities wired into my mainframe. Also, we use what’s called arpeggiation that creates these pulsing ostinato figures that are sort of iconic to the machines, that’s where the familiar 80s sounds usually come from.
-Tell us about the end credit song. What message were you hoping to convey with this? Is it supposed to be a wrap-up of the entire film?
The end credit track (Artifacts Required OG) actually was one of my demos that landed me the gig. The guys love it so much, they wanted it to be showcased at the end, to which I’m honored, really.
-What did you learn from scoring The Djinn?
I learned that no matter how many films you score and no matter how many filmmakers you work with, there’s always something new, challenging and exciting that is asked of you when you’re hired to be a composer. It’s what’s so thrilling about the job. Justin & David are very astute filmmakers, with a very distinct vision. I look forward to working with them again in the future, they’re fantastic people.
-Is there another type of horror subgenre you would like to score?
Yes, I love dystopian/sci-fi horror. Fortunately, I’m likely hopping on one next month in June, looking extra forward to it!