We’ve all been wowed big-budget sci-fi flicks. Gatekeeper, the New York-based duo of Matthew Arkell and David Aaron Ross, manages to deliver the excitement of those vivid worlds in a intelligent way that not only reflects, but pushes forward our own digitally-enhanced experiences. In their upcoming debut LP Exo, they bring a lush hybrid of jungle and acid rhythms mixed with nature-inspired Hollywood FX sound design that sets a soundtrack for you to create your own adventure. Seriously: They’ve taken the idea of a music video to the next level, ditching it for an original first-person gaming environment to accompany the album, designed by Tabor Robak. With the album set to drop this July on Hippos In Tanks, we caught up with Arkell and Ross to talk The Fifth Element, 5-hour Energys, and inventing their own alphabet.
ELLE: I know you guys are really inspired by soundtracks. What movies were you inspired by for this album?
Matthew Arkell: No one specific movie. Though we definitely watched Avatar several times.
Aaron David Ross: It was kind of like inventing our own movies. But we did a lot of spot-checking the music with Chronos.
ELLE: Are there any directors you would love to work with?
MA: Lots. Spielberg, Ridley Scott. Maybe we could score the sequel to Prometheus? That would be my ultimate dream come true.
ELLE: Why did you decide to accompany your album with a first-person gaming environment?
MA: We’ve always been into the idea of creating a specific environment to this music instead of a music video.
ADR: We like this non-narrative aspect, this movie that is based on your own imagination, and we try to think of a way to implicate someone to create their own sort of narrative for the music, so it isn’t necessarily dictated the same way every time for us.
ELLE: What does living in a high-definition society mean to you?
ADR: My lifestyle as well as almost everyone I’m close with is totally dictated by digital rituals. All we do is touch and tap our existences. So I feel totally consumed by the interface of the touch screen in every way I relate to everyone I know and the way I experience culture in every capacity.
MA: For me it’s about a general loose appreciation for future forms and technology moving in this linear manner. Some of our other work we were fixated more on sort of, I don’t want to say retro or vintage.
ADR: Time capsules.
MA: More retro-fetishized sorts of works that were existing in specific periods of time, whereas for us we can tie the HD into this more forward-thinking, more exciting, imaginative future that we seem to be entering.
ADR: It’s a level of quality in production value in a simple and obvious way, and really actually high definition, flexing the frequency spectrum as far as it can go, giving so much clarity and space for everything, I mean at least musically. Trying to move away from gauzy, low-fi, fuzzy textures. It’s like a razor blade coming through it.
ELLE: How are you inspired by nature and different ecosystems?
ADR: A lot of it came from this kind of over-saturation with heavily quantized synthesizer and drum machine-based music, which is just really popular and prevalent everywhere. We have techno in our core, so it’s never going anywhere for us, but it was an attempt to maybe re-contextualize that without relying on those same systems that we had been using. It’s fun to focus on really organic sounds and listen to nature, and we got really inspired by field recordings and sound effects and these of libraries of incidental, garbage-y sounds that people use to create sound design on big budget Hollywood movies. Those are all really environmental and really vivid and not sounding synthesized at all, they’re very organic. We folded that heavily into the way we worked on this record. But also the filmic aspects: hearing something and having it generate a really vivid visual image.
ELLE: How did you move away from your last album with this album?
MA: We toned down the retro-fetishism.
ADR: It’s still time portal music, but instead of going back in time, we’re going forward in time. There’s only one track—the closing track—that really fits in our catalogue in a really clear obvious way: “Encarta.” The rest of it, you have to stretch it a little bit more to get it, which is an aspect about it that I like.
MA: We’re turning the page into the different genre or style and then the end of it still has this secret sort of ending with this guy ripping back open and the heavens pouring back on you and it’s like, “Yup! It’s Gatekeeper again!” I’m sure some fans of our previous work won’t be quite as into this but the idea is just as when they’re ready to totally dismiss it, the last track will fly off. We haven’t gone totally soft on you. We’re just playing a different set of references. We’re trying to merge styles and create this not actually futuristic sound but something newer.
ELLE: Were you inspired by any fashion in films or can you imagine what the characters in your game might wear?
MA: Maybe The Fifth Element territory meets Survivor.
ADR: It’s like non-human fashion.
MA: I wasn’t thinking too much about the clothing but we could definitely have some fun. Definitely waterproof.
ADR: S.W.A.T gear. All synthetic materials. Lots of pockets.
MA: A lot of 5-hour Energys.
ELLE: The names of your songs are short and intriguing—how did you come up with them?
MA: For us, we hate language and words, my thoughts always recoil in fear when I encounter a word…
ADR: It pollutes the music in a lot of ways. It gives people and entrance narrative that may or may not be relevant. But you have to do it.
MA: Most of the tracks reflect this sort of loose, science fiction-like feel. They weren’t meant to be too literally descriptive. A lot of the words we made up ourselves.
ADR: A lot are mutated and have a secret meaning. Another thing that we did was create a whole alphabet specific to Exo with Tabor Robak, released as a font that you’ll be able to download and install. On the album, all of the text is in this language.