The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB! – Tyler Durden
We are going to talk about Fight Club _ the score, that is. Since the film was first released in theaters almost 20 years ago, it has managed to stay afloat in the pop culture atmosphere thanks to a strong cult following. The subject matter and performances were and still are a big part of the movie's appeal, but the film's standout score, created by legendary writer-producer duo The Dust Brothers, has a lot to do with it, too. This Saturday night, for the first time ever, both Brothers (who aren't actually related) will present the score live at the Wiltern.
The Dust Brothers are made up of E.Z. Mike, aka Michael Simpson, and King Gizmo, aka John King. They met in the early '80s at the radio station at Pomona College, where Simpson had started Southern California's first hip-hop radio show. It was there that they got their big break. “Since it was noncommercial radio, we had to read public service announcements every 20 minutes, so we started creating instrumental music to read the [PSAs] over,” Simpson says. “We used to feature local rappers on our show and one day this guy Tone Loc came down to the radio station and heard some of the instrumentals.”
Pretty soon, Simpson and Gizmo were in front of the “Wild Thing” rapper's label, Delicious Vinyl, playing music for them. “They hired us to start working on Tone Loc's record, then Young MC's record and [on] the entire Delicious Vinyl roster,” Simpson remembers.
As the Dust Brothers' songs became hits, they expanded outside of Delicious Vinyl, working for the Beastie Boys on their classic album, Paul's Boutique, along with DV's Matt Dike (who recently died), and with Beck on his groundbreaking records Odelay and Guero. It was the Beasties' release that got the attention of Fight Club director David Fincher, who met with the duo about scoring the film before he even started shooting. “He thought our music would be perfect for the vibe that he was going for,” says Simpson. “Fincher said: 'Have you ever seen The Graduate? Do you know how perfect the music was for that film? That's what I want you guys to do.' So those were our marching orders.”
While that may have been too much pressure for some, Simpson welcomed the high bar. “It was quite refreshing because the music for The Graduate was amazing and so appropriate, and the fact that Fincher had the confidence in us to pull that off was really empowering and exciting,” he says.
After a year's worth of work, the score, which Simpson described as his “proudest work,” was finally complete. “It was really just me making it. I wasn’t relying on an artist to come up with vocals and Fincher gave us so little input. The picture authors the work but it was still channeled through me and I just have a personal attachment because it was unedited basically by anyone else,” the producer reflects.
No doubt the film's enduring legacy has made Simpson even more proud. “I think [Fight Club is] sort of a timeless film. The issues that it deals with and the social commentary still ring true: commercialism and the Starbucks-ing of society,” Simpson said of the film's lasting cultural impact. “The themes in the movie are just so powerful that people can still relate.”
With the film still so fresh in the cultural zeitgeist so long after its release, director/visual effects guru Jacob Maymudes approached Simpson two years ago about a live performance of the score. “My initial instinct was that's a logistical nightmare. It seemed like it would be almost impossible to do justice to the music,” Simpson says of his hesitation. “I kind of gave Jacob a list of things to happen just as a starting [point] and one of those things was getting the film with all the audio tracks separated out, [which] proved to be impossible.”
Simpson backed out and gave Maymudes permission to proceed without him, and the event took place at the Wiltern last year. He was so impressed with how the show turned out that he decided to be involved if it happened again, even offering some new ideas to incorporate. Now, the event will finally take place with the involvement of both Dust Brothers.
“It's an event akin to Rocky Horror Picture Show, where there's audience participation and incredible live performance,” Simpson said on what to expect of Saturday's performance, which will include a full live band. “There's all sorts of other fun stuff we have planned that I don’t want to give away but it's more than just the music in the film, it's an actual event, sort of like a circus. Maybe like Cirque du Soleil meets Fight Club.”
Simpson also had high praise for the musicians performing at the event. “They must have listened to the score a thousand times because they figured out every nuance and figured out how to re-create it. I'm super impressed with their work and I think the show's going to be fantastic.”
Live scoring film events are trendy right now (Danny Elfman may have started it with his live-score shows of Nightmare Before Christmas at the Hollywood Bowl; the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax used to do it all the time, and there's even another one happening this weekend at the Montalban Theatre: Killer Klowns From Outter Space with the Hollywood Chamber Orchestra and The Dickies). But Simpson and Maymudes promise theirs will be as unique as their sound concoctions themselves.
So what's next for the Dust Brothers? While Simpson is retired from music and is focusing on being a “ski bum” (he loves the snow but remains a SoCal resident, living in Pasadena), there seem to be more Fight Club live events in his future. “We have another one booked in Riverside and we have some interest overseas,” he says. “Even when we first started producing, since we never wrote lyrics, just instrumental tracks, we always felt that our music would lend itself well to film soundtracks and scores.”
It seems that their first instinct was proven true and the Dust Brothers now get to celebrate E.Z. Mike's proudest work on a regular basis, cementing the legacy of the groundbreaking film and score, and allowing music and movie fans to talk — and talk emphatically — about Fight Club for years to come.
The Dust Brothers Present: Fight Club with live score, Sat., May 19, 7 p.m., at the Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets here.