Formed in 2005, Animat are a Sheffield electronic duo made up of Mark Daly and Michael Harding.

‘Made up’ is an apt choice of words, as the pair are best known for a series of projects in which they invent new soundtracks to weird and wonderful films from the annals of arthouse cinema history. These ‘rescores’ are no cheap bolt-ons or marketing gimmicks. Animat examine the film, take it apart to see what makes it tick, and then construct new music weaving in music and dialogue from the original soundtrack.

Four full-length albums later and with countless live dates under their belt, the pair are well-known fixtures of the local experimental scene. I caught up with Michael to find out how reel music is made.

What’s the starting point for a new idea? Tell us a little about your working methods in the studio.

Since Mark emigrated to Chesterfield a couple of years ago, we don’t have as much chance to meet up in person as we’d like. But the basic way we work is still the same. We’ll start improvising together, either with or without video to spark the ideas off, and record absolutely everything. We’ll then spend a lot of time trawling through the recordings, picking out the bits that work best and developing them. We’ll do that individually to start with and then get together when we can to refine it.

Do you work together on all aspects of your music or do you have separate roles in the studio?

Mark generally comes up with the melodies and some basic chords or grooves. I’ll then take those starting points and work on harmonic ideas and additional rhythms. I play all the guitar and most of the bass on recordings, although Mark often comes up with the original bassline on synth. We still bounce ideas around between us though, right up to the mixing stage.

We’ve had two writing ‘getaways’ recently where we disappeared off to the countryside for a weekend, courtesy of Airbnb (maybe we could get a sponsorship deal?), set up the gear and wrote and recorded solidly for two days – the odd pub break excluded. Those sessions have generated enough raw material for our last album and three EPs, so we find that really productive.

I hear similarities in your music to some of the ambient techno of the 90s, maybe some Eno in there as well. Are there any particular groups or musicians you would cite as influences on the Animat sound?

Yes, both Enos (Roger as well as Brian) are in there somewhere, and all the classic chillout bands, from Air to Zero 7. I suppose they are at one end of the spectrum of influences. At the other is the electronic dub sound – Pitch Black, Jah Wobble, some of Massive Attack’s stuff. But we’re both also into more vocal-led styles too and I think that comes out in our sound, even when we’re doing purely instrumental stuff. Mark is a massive Björk fan and I love singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and John Martyn.

Since you started in 2005, there’s been a flurry of groups and musicians creating new soundtracks to existing films – one thinks of Jeff Mills doing ‘Metropolis’ and British Sea Power scoring ‘Man of Aran’. What do you make of this trend?

Yes, there’s definitely a lot of it about. It’s great that musicians are reinventing cinema and bringing something new to it, although a lot of the silent classics – like Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, etc – have been pretty much done to death, and some of the more recent rescores I’ve seen or heard about seem to use the film more as a visual background than as an integral part of the performance.

Without blowing our own trumpet too much, I think we’re the only people tackling a range of films and working with the dialogue and existing soundtrack to really create a new multi-layered audio-visual experience for the audience. But then I suppose I would say that!

The films you choose to rescore are very diverse, from the 1964 Vincent Price flick The Last Man on Earth to contemporary French animation Belleville Rendezvous. How do you decide what films you could bring something new to?

It’s a combination of things. Obviously we have to really like the films, as we end up watching them literally hundreds of times to familiarise ourselves with all the scenes, visual cues etc. We look for a really strong visual identity and style that we can lock into, and it helps if the original score is either fairly minimal or at least not too intrusive in terms of interfering with the dialogue. There’s also the thorny issue of getting rights and permissions that we have to take into account.  There’s no point in spending months of work on something we love only to find that we’re not allowed to perform it.

What films have you wanted to work on but not got the rights for?

The only one we’ve had a direct refusal on is [1991 French comedy] Delicatessen. The directors were very polite but quite clear that they didn’t want us messing with it. After a couple of times getting our fingers burned dealing with studios and production companies, we make sure now that we approach the directors first to get them on our side, and we’ve had positive responses from most of them, including John Carpenter and David Lynch.

You recently rescored Un Homme Qui Dort (‘The Man Who Sleeps’), a philosophical French film about alienation. Do you ever worry about changing the intended meaning of the films that you rescore?

Not really. I think that goes with the territory. But I also think that if we treat the source material with the right mixture of respect and imagination, then we can bring new meaning to it without damaging the intentions of the original.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

I was asked to compile a playlist of acoustic folk and Americana for one of the Tramlines venues last weekend, so spent a couple of days engrossed in alt.country and bluegrass. But I’ve also been immersing myself in the new releases on Disco Gecko (the label who released our How To Be A Shadow album earlier this year), in particular a great ambient EP, Triptych in Blue by Roedelius, Chaplin and Heath.

What’s been your favourite film to rescore so far and why?

For enjoying the performances it would probably be Belleville Rendezvous, just because it drew the biggest and most varied and enthusiastic audiences. But for creative satisfaction, I’d vote for Un Homme Qui Dort, as it’s the first time we’ve composed a whole score ourselves, rather than combining our own music with existing tunes and tracks.

Tell us about your show at Yellow Arch on 11 August.

We’re releasing a new EP, The Kings of Fenny Bentley, in August and playing a couple of weekend festivals, Together and Whirl-y-Fayre, so we thought it would be good to bring that live set to Sheffield as a one-off show.

We’ll be using visuals which will include clips from some of the soundtrack projects and we’ll be doing a mixture of new tracks and old favourites. Yellow Arch is a great venue and we’ve got two other fantastic live acts, Spyband and Avital Raz, playing with us too.

What’s the idea behind the new EP?

It’s a bit of a stop-gap to keep things going between the How To Be Shadow album and the remixes EP that we’re doing in the autumn. The lead track, ‘The Kings of Fenny Bentley’, originally came out on one of the (brilliant) Nightflight compilations that Klassik Lounge put out in Germany, but we wanted to revisit it because it’s a great tune and deserves some more attention.

The other tracks, ‘Subhuman’ and ‘Chicken & Egg’, are also alternative versions of things we’ve released on previous EPs. Animat trainspotter fact: Fenny Bentley is a village in Derbyshire where we went on our first writing retreat.

animat.co.uk

Sam Gregory