Swedish musician, Johan Bengtsson has been making sweet '80s synth jams under the Mitch Murder moniker for half a decade now, going back to before his 2010 release, Burning Chrome. He recently came to wider notice for his work scoring the massively-popular sci-fi action homage, Kung Fury, which also marks Bengtsson's first new music since last year's Interceptor release on Mad Decent. We spoke with the musician about how he came to work on the music for Kung Fury, as well as pressing him for details on that sweet David Hasselhoff track…
STARBURST: First of all, how'd you come to be involved with the Kung Fury film?
Johan Bengtsson: Well, apparently David Sandberg had listened to some of my music around the time he spawned the idea for Kung Fury, so he got in touch and I ended up doing the theme track for the initial Kickstarter trailer, and it sort of snowballed from there. I spent the next year and a half coming up with tracks and ideas for tracks for different scenes, etc.
The sound on this score is similar to your previous music, but is has this distressed sound, like a VHS tape going out of whack. Was that an aesthetic choice that you or the filmmakers made?
Even though I make '80s music, I usually tend to try and keep it "fresh" sounding, like it was mixed and recorded last week, and not rely on effects and filters etc. to deliberately try and make it sound old and worn out (with a few exceptions). With Kung Fury it was different, since the entire style of the film is sort of ‘lost VHS tape from 1984’, which is why a couple of the tracks has those wonky old worn out tape-effects here and there.
What was the process of producing that Hasselhoff cut like?
Originally, I made that track as an instrumental for the film (Enter the Fury on the soundtrack), but then me and David started talking about how we should try and get someone to sing like a proper end-credits track for the movie, so he got in touch with Jörgen Elofsson (a well-known Swedish producer) and we all met up in Jörgen's studio and proceeded to go through some of the tracks I'd already made.
As soon as Enter the Fury came on, something sparked and Jörgen pretty much started improv-singing the ‘action’ chorus right then and there. I instantly felt like, "Yeah ... Hell yeah!" So, he got to work on the lyrics and vocal melody, and I re-arranged the track to make everything fit.
Months later, David got in touch with Hasselhoff (who apparently loved the Kung Fury trailer) via Universal and he flew over to Stockholm for a couple of days to record, and that was basically it. It's definitely something I still have trouble believing actually happened, and I'll be forever grateful to David and Kung Fury for making it a reality.
It seems pretty natural that you'd end up working with someone like Hasselhoff at some point. The music of Mitch Murder is definitely inspired by music from the '80s, but it seems like it exists outside a particular timeframe. When did you figure out that it was the style in which you wanted to work?
Back in the late '90s, I listened to a lot of '80s electro and Italo disco, as well as '80s-inspired contemporary electro by acts like DMX Krew and others on his Breakin' Records label and at first, I pretty much tried to replicate that style. A couple of years later, I discovered Paul Hardcastle's self-titled LP from 1985, and couldn't stop listening to it. Tracks like Rain Forest, Fly by Night, and King Tut had a huge impact on my music back then as well as the early Mitch Murder stuff (which didn't come about until around 2008). So, if I had to pick a defining moment for what type of music I would end up making, it has to be when I bought that first Hardcastle album. I've hopped quite a bit between styles since then, but that's definitely what got me started.
Does it have anything to do with the fact that this electronic style seems to have held on far longer in Europe than in other parts of the Western world?
Has it? I don't know about that. According to statistics (on Soundcloud, Youtube and so on), my biggest fan base has always been (by a pretty overwhelming majority) from different parts of the US. Also, back when I started putting '80s cheese on the Internet, the ones wondering ‘WTF’ I was doing and why, were mainly fellow Europeans. That was a while ago though - I don't really see much of that anymore. People seem to have gotten around to the fact that the '80s were pretty bad ass, after all. For now, at least.
Your work has gone from imaginary soundtracks, such as SPRAWL, into actual scoring work with Kung Fury and Impact Winter. Was this the plan all along, to eventually start scoring real projects?
It was never something I planned, but I've always been a huge gamer and ever since I started making music I've thought it'd be cool to make music for games someday, so I'm glad I've gotten the opportunity a couple of times now. Scoring in general also gives you the chance to work around a set theme, which is something I find inspiring, and love doing.
Will Impact Winter's music ever see release, given that the game failed to make its Kickstarter goal?
Mojo Bones (the developer) are still working on the game. It'll just take a bit longer, I suppose. The game got greenlit on Steam in just a couple of days after it went up, so there's clearly a demand for it.