By Matt Jones
October 14, 2013
For a series which was both stylish and shocking, Channel 4’s Utopia did not attract the widespread attention it deserved when it debuted earlier this year. A conspiracy thriller which brilliantly offered DIY torture and school shootings as appetisers, it is odd that Utopia did not create the torrent of controversy which is often the breeding ground for high viewing figures. The series bespoke composer, Cristobal Tapia de Veer is all too aware of this, and thus has created an OST which functions on two levels – one, as an album which satiates the demands of the series’ relatively small following with the series’ original music; and two, as a more open-plan playground for exercising Utopia’s and his own strengths.
To say that Tapia de Veer puts the ‘Original’ into Original Soundtrack is a cumbersome but necessary description of his work. As much as the phrase ‘unclassifiable’ is bandied about in the music industry, Tapia de Veer’s soundtrack is just that – which is the very reason his Youtube channel has been inundated with demands for its release in the months since Utopia’s airing.
The opening track and main theme for the series ‘Utopia Overture’ does more than satisfy these demands. Teasing fans with a huge build-up, Tapia de Veer cleverly employs this electronic music convention in a unique way in order to build angst amongst expectant listeners before cutting in with the most recognisable, thumping beat of the series. Like most of the tracks on the album, the track samples original dialogue from the series in order to get its mood across. On the face of it, this seems like an obvious thing for a composer to do, yet whilst many OSTs are broken up with dialogue from their corresponding series or film, few manage to use dialogue as a musical instrument in the way that Tapia de Veer does, weaving series and soundtrack together through sampling. Indeed, it is this unique ability to imagine fantastical, utopian soundscapes out of otherwise unpleasant or unremarkable noises that elevates Tapia de Veer’s composition to an art form. Tapia de Veer has admitted to experimenting with rhino dung, bones and drunken sing-a-longs in creating Utopia: OST. Such guerilla instrumentation alongside the album’s superb mastering (which chillingly makes certain sounds feel like they are actually in the room with you, thanks to the award-winning engineering of Stephen Marsh), becomes integral to creating the cryptic world of Utopia which teeters on the brink of mystery and realism.
Yet to call this album merely an Original Soundtrack is to do it an injustice, for it is clearly much more. The 28 tracks of Utopia: OST might seem excessive until you realise that Tapia de Veer has not only included the series’ main themes, but has also used the album to give a much-needed center stage to tracks which more subtlely supported the drama’s unfolding. And unsurprisingly for a composer of his calibre, such tracks are far from just fillers. Whilst immediately recognisable tracks like ‘Dislocated Thumbs’ and ‘Utopia Finale’ are certainly highlights, others like ‘Mr. Rabbit It Is’ and ‘Lovechild’ slot in easily among them. The former is a somewhat dancehall version of one of the original songs which shows off (alongside other tracks) Tapia de Veer’s ability to flip between the more upbeat elements of the score and the sombre parts without resorting to boring cliché. The latter is a short but surprising favourite on the album which takes the warped upbringing of one of the series central characters as the basis for an unnervingly upbeat lullaby which sounds like something from a kids TV show created in a utopian society. Making listeners laugh at something when they really shouldn’t be, Tapia de Veer creates the perfect complement to Utopia’s black-comic take on impending societal meltdown.
Utopia: OST has been a long time coming since the series ended in February, but the time and effort that has gone into creating, recreating and mastering this highly ambitious score is more than evident. Fans patience has allowed Tapia de Veer the time to create an OST which is also an album of fantastic electronic music in itself and indeed, it would not be surprising to hear tracks from Utopia: OST making their way onto dancefloors in the near future. That said, the music is intimately connected with the storytelling of Utopia and re-watching the original ‘Coming Soon’ advert which drew me toward Utopia in the first place, Portishead’s ‘Chase Of The Tear’ now seems like the soundtrack equivalent of an aged and ill-fitting cardigan in comparison. Tapia de Veer is clearly a key creative force in Utopia’s genius, and as Series 2 approaches and looks to attract a wider audience, Channel 4 should look to harness this to their advantage.