How producer Nathan Micay composed the widescreen score for Industry
You might be familiar with the Canadian, Berlin-based DJ and producer Nathan Micay.
Through releases for imprints like LuckyMe, ESP Institute and AD 93, he’s long been celebrated for a vivid, off-centre club sound which positioned him alongside other world-building producers like Hudson Mohawke and Rustie.
Micay’s knack for creating atmosphere is now being brought to a significantly bigger audience via Industry, HBO and BBC’s new drama chronicling the dog-eat-dog world of graduate investment bankers. The show is exec-produced by Lena Dunham and has been met with rave reviews, many of which highlight Micay’s hazy synths and anxious melodies which underpin almost every scene.
As we’ll be waiting another week for episode three to drop, we got in touch with Nathan to talk through his journey into scoring and how to smuggle UKG into a story about investment shares.
How did you get involved with Industry in the first place?
I’ve been working on a few score projects since 2016. So, I built up a little reel of score work and credits very, very quietly. I never talked about it publicly, because I just… I don’t know why, I just didn’t.
Dominic, one of the guys who runs LuckyMe, knew that my ultimate goal out of everything was scoring and so I put together a reel for him about a year and a half ago and he said, ‘maybe me and Warp can start shopping this around for you’, because Warp has its film division. I got a call in February and he said, ‘can you be in London on Wednesday to meet with HBO for this new show called Industry?’. I flew over to London and had this crazy meeting.
Did they have a specific brief for the music?
When we started off, it was a very new thing for me to discover with scoring. I think a lot of people watch things and assume that the composer will just get a finished product and then put music over it. We started on episode one, they sent me version 65 of the cut. By the time we finished on episode one it was like version 83! As we went along doing that, HBO eventually came forward with a note saying like, ‘we want wall to wall music, from start to finish’. So from there, I was like, ‘okay, we really got to write more music’.
They wanted certain themes…I love the idea of themes for characters and once that started to happen, they let me go with that, which was great. And then once HBO sent in that note, we had a theme for everything. If you watch the show, it’s pretty much non-stop music.
The first episodes are out. Did you watch them when it came out at home? How did that feel?
Yeah, it was great. It was funny, it was actually my birthday when the first episode came out so I had a little birthday party. I had my roommate, my partner and one other friend and we just got a lot of chicken and watched. It felt amazing. I mean, it was also kind of interesting to watch because I hadn’t seen the final cut with the final sound edit as I wasn’t able to fly to London and be in the room for the mixing.
What else have you been working on over the last few years in terms of compositions or scores?
Almost all of it has been involved with a friend of mine from Toronto named Alex Ordanis. He runs his own production studio called Stellar Citizens and he was part of a documentary short that got nominated for an Oscar, I think in 2015. From that, I think his company began to do quite well and they hired me for what I believe was their first feature film called The Definites. And that was kind of my baptism of fire. I went straight into that. It was a full 90-minute movie, and I’d written the entire score somehow on a terrible laptop. It was good for me because, I think if I’d gone into the HBO project with no experience, it would have been a lot.
So the team didn’t necessarily choose you because you had this wealth of scoring experience, they genuinely engaged with you music. Must have been quite a compliment?
It was insane to me, I sent all these reels off not really expecting much. So for them to come back like that was pretty amazing. I think the only thing that really helped was my album Blue Spring is quite cinematic. I also had the album I released this year, The World I’m Going To Hell For. That was my first time using live string instruments. So when they reached out asking if I had any more music to hear, it’s like well, here’s this full album of strings.
Can you hear a connection between your album and the Industry score?
With Industry, the two showrunners loved the track Blue Spring. If you watch from episodes two to eight, it’s actually the title sequence, so they wanted a palette in that same vein. As we went along, and I started to introduce new ideas, especially with the introduction of more strings from episode four onwards, the score really takes on a life of its own.
Did you look anywhere in particular for inspiration, reference points or influences?
I had a bunch of influences. It’s funny, I’ve been getting a lot of messages from people saying ‘this sounds like Blade Runner‘, but actually, Vangelis was an influence but not Blade Runner at all. It was very much Chariots of Fire. That whole score is a huge influence, and then ‘Less Than Zero’ by I think Thomas Newman. That was also a massive influence. And then the Tangerine Dream’s Risky Business. What all three of those have in common is this really nice synergy between organic instruments and electronics. But a very light touch of organic instruments, like ‘Less Than Zero’, it’s a lot of synths and a lot of piano, but then like these strings that’ll just come in every so often, just to sort of give it a push, but not necessarily be an orchestral score.
In episode one, there’s quite a bit of…in the big sequence where they discover one of their classmates has befallen to a tragic fate. Without saying spoilers, but there’s a huge orchestral section in that. And then I think from episodes five and six, it’s like a lot. And then every so often, you’ll just hear strings, but they’re not in your face. They’re like a flutter here and there that might throw you off guard while everything just goes back to like heavy electronics. I thought that was kind of cool. So those are huge reference points to me. And then as always in my life Akira was there. One of the goals with this score was I wanted to challenge myself to have zero percussion, pretty much.
How easy or difficult was that to kind of achieve?
It was difficult. When I did use percussion, I only bring it up because it sounds very Akira-eque.
The show is set in London. How did that influence the score?
I play in London multiple times a year as a DJ and I used to live in Leeds and travel down all the time. So, I know the city decently well. I’m not an expert on it, but I have my finger on the pulse in terms of youth culture there pretty well. So anytime I have rhythms and stuff like that, I try to be in touch with what I know is there, a lot of syncopation. Even though there aren’t UK garage drums, I tried to capture that sort of pattern with the synths. There’s one major scene in episode four where there are drums and they’re very light, but that’s one of the few times I really get that rhythm going. Every time they go into a pub or something more intimate, I tried to capture that sort of romanticised regalness of London. There’s one scene in episode five when they go to a tailor and it’s just a string quartet. But then once that scene goes back to the debauchery of their day to day lives, I bring back that sort of undercurrent of youth culture and nightlife that’s made London so famous. I tried to capture that dichotomy.
Final question for you, what’s been like achieving this dream of scoring something so big?
I’ve enjoyed the collaborative effort of working with a director and watching all these pieces come together. We had a wrap party on Zoom! It’s just like, all these people I didn’t even like meet during the entire process who did like their specific jobs. Writers, directors, people who mix it all. It’s crazy. So, watching all that and just seeing all these masters of their craft – not calling myself a master of craft – but people who are far more experienced than me.
I think a big thing too, that influenced me during all this is watching people like Mica Levi. She has a foot in dance music culture, and underground music, and then also creates pretty high level scores. That’s always been my dream, to sort of have both universes and worlds. And so I just want to keep building on that.