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Chronicles of Retroland: An Interview with Turbo Kid’s Le Matos

“… The 80s are in us.”

Those who grew up in the 1980s will remember fondly those great coming-of-age films where young friends band together to learn about life, while embarking on a treacherous journey to defeat some foe or solve a problem plaguing them or their families.

The Goonies and Stand By Me were among the most popular, but they were far from the only ones. There was this aura of fantasy, especially in The Goonies, that made dangerous treasure hunts or treks in search of dead bodies oddly safer for trying to figure out life than the halls of school or the mall.

I got that feeling watching Turbo Kid, an 80s retro, post-apocalyptic tale about a kid fighting a violent and evil one-eyed warlord. But all the 80s kitsch and nostalgia would only have been half-effective without a suitably complementary retro soundtrack. Enter Le Matos, the Montreal-based retrosynth duo who put together Turbo Kid’s stunningly compelling and emotional, and just-cheesy-enough, score.

That score — which was released recently along with companion album Chronicles of the Wasteland — expertly ensures the kitschy gore and stylized violence of the film rests firmly on the heart-felt whimsy of an 80s coming-of-age piece.

“The coming-of-age [theme] is the best part of it,” Jean-Philippe Bernier, a member of Le Matos with Jean-Nicolas Leupi, said in a Skype interview with Vehlinggo recently. “It’s not cheap at all.”

The Turbo Kid score and Chronicles are available now in various formats, including a 50-track bundle on Bandcamp in conjunction with Simone Records, and a vinyl release for Chronicles on Death Waltz Records.

The soundtrack is the entire score from the film, and for the most part the pieces adhere to the film’s sequence, according to Bernier, who also was the film’s cinematographer.

Chronicles, on the other hand, takes the themes from the film and fleshes them out. Some of the results are instrumental, retro-laced bangers based on short snippets or cues from the film.

“We chose tracks from the film and created a new melody or new parts for them,” Bernier said.

Included in the rework is “No Tomorrow,” a supremely catchy pop song, written with London-based Pawws, that really stands out on the album. This is another area where Le Matos tapped into the Goonies vibe — remember “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough,” the themed Top Ten song for Cyndi Lauper?

“For promoting a film, Eighties movies always had a pop track with lyrics about the film [and] with the cheesiest vibe,” Bernier said. “We wanted to do a pop track like that.”

So they started with “Scavenging,” the theme from the score centering on main character, The Kid, and his friend and love interest, Apple. They gave the film and music to Pawws, who then wrote lyrics based on those two characters’ story, according to Bernier.

Meeting Over Popcorn

Photo Credit: François Simard.

That Le Matos is a natural pick to score a film isn’t terribly surprising when you consider the band’s start.

Québécois Bernier and Leupi met in Montreal after they finished film school. They worked together in a movie theatre — selling popcorn — and ended up being roommates, which was a natural incubator for them to collaborate and create music.

Back then — when Le Matos was a trio with former member Maxime Dumesnil — they gained a following with a string of 80s-tinged releases; although in their early form they were primarily a club-oriented band, Bernier said. To boot, Leupi had a 90s techno background that still infuses their work.

Over time, as they became more popular, they recorded their debut LP, Join Us. The record, released in 2013, featured “Light Again,” a collaboration with fellow Canadians and synth-pop stars Electric Youth (Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin). 

In some ways, it recalled the 80s-coated club collaboration, “Turn It Up,” that Garrick and Griffin did with Grum in 2010 for his Heartbeats album.

After Join Us, Let Matos became a duo and have developed a dynamic that works out well.

“Jean-Nicolas is the mastermind behind the mix and mastering — and more of the actual theory — and I’m more everything about intuition and emotion,” Bernier said.

A Lot of Retro for Everyone

Jean-Philippe Bernier (left) and Jean-Nicolas Leupi (right) of Le Matos did a show called "Montreal Vice" recently with Michael Glover, AKA Miami Nights 1984 (center). Photo Credit: Le Matos.
Jean-Philippe Bernier (left) and Jean-Nicolas Leupi (right) of Le Matos did a show called “Montreal Vice” recently with Michael Glover, AKA Miami Nights 1984 (center). Photo Credit: Le Matos.

Pairing Le Matos with Turbo Kid is as natural as Mitch Murder writing most of the music for Kung Fury, the other 80s nostalgia film released in 2015. Like Mr. Murder, Bernier and Leupi are among the most respected of retrosynth musicians.

They were the right choice for this coming-of-age film because Le Matos represents a certain group of retrosynthers who use 80s elements to write expert, and modern, dance and pop songs. Like their collaborators Electric Youth or friend and tour mate College, they pay homage to the decade of their childhood by taking the synthesizers and slight coating of cheese and turning it into something artful, heart-centric, and distinctly contemporary.

This is in many ways the heir to Drive, which both Electric Youth and College helped to define with Johnny Jewel, Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx, and Cliff Martinez. While supremely violent and utterly serious, the film was driven by the romantic and friendly love between Ryan Gosling’s character and Shannon (Bryan Cranston), Irene (Carey Mulligan), and Benicio (Kaden Leos).

College and his Valerie Collective, a cadre of French artists, had a significant influence on Le Matos in one particular way, according to Bernier.

“Valerie was a revelation to us,” he said. “They opened the door for the 80s vibe.”

Contrast that with the trajectory of Mitch Murder, Lost Years, or Miami Nights 1984, or those who have followed in their footsteps. They create their own brilliant brand of retrosynth with a foundation that is more overtly 80s.

You’ll hear it on “True Survivor,” Murder’s Kung Fury collaboration with David Hasselhoff; or on the fun and colorful tracks of MN84 and Lost Years, another Kung Fury alum. This also shows up on Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City and the score Night Club wrote for it. It’s campy, gag-filled, and absurdist, tapping into the likes of 80s cop shows and movies that featured over-the-top, coke-fueled misanthropes.

In essence, Kung Fury is “more 80s than the actual 80s,” while Turbo Kid and its school of thought are “a love letter to the 80s,” Bernier said.

“I really liked Kung Fury,” he said. “One isn’t better than the other. They’re two separate things. It’s a way to see what’s going on in the scene right now.”

I’ll add that somewhere in the middle is The Final Girls, a delightfully campy satire of 80s slasher films that nevertheless finds its own foundations in coming-of-age themes, as well as meditations on loss. Its soundtrack reflects that.

Although not everyone slinging 80s nostalgia actually lived in that decade, there’s a strong contingent of souls for whom an NES was at the top of their childhood wishlists. That bleeds through in the work they do, regardless of which path they take to express it.

“We are 80s kids, so the 80s are in us,” Bernier said. “We didn’t force that style.”

In Films and On the Road

Le Matos is already working on more scores, and going forward has big ambitions.

Currently they’re working on music for sci-fi project Exode, for which Bernier again did cinematography, but they’re also open to doing another feature score, Bernier said. Turbo Kid, with its worldwide distribution in cinemas and through streaming channels, was their first big score and they don’t want it to be their last.

“We really wanna do much more of that, for sure,” he said.

Le Matos also plans to tour Chronicles — at least around Canada — bringing out a battalion of synthesizers to match their reputation for putting on outstanding live shows.

“We really do like synth-oriented live shows,” Bernier said. In the past they’ve used live drums as well, a possibility he left open this time around.

Bernier says the band wants to tour the U.S., but aside from playing SXSW before the release of Join Us they haven’t had a chance to yet.

“If possible, we’d play shows in the States,” he said. “I feel there’s a huge following there.”

You can buy the entire 50-song Turbo Kid/Chronicles of the Wasteland set on Le Matos’ Bandcamp page.

(Feature Photo Credit: Simon Duhamel.)

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