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Modern Morricone: Osymyso

By Miles Watts | 16th March 2017

Osymyso (real name Mark Nicholson) is a musician and DJ from London (originally a Yorkshire lad) who specialises in the genres of mashup/bastard pop and breakbeat. He has been making music since 1994 and released his first album ‘Welcome to the Pailindrome’ in 1999. In the past decade he has worked with director Edgar Wright on remixes and music for the DVD of Spaced as well as appearing on the soundtracks for Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End (a trio also known as The Cornetto Trilogy) and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.

Songs Osymyso has created include ‘Pat n Peg’, which turns an argument between EastEnders characters into an insanely catchy track and ‘Intro-Inspection’ from which the New York Times called Osymyso "one of the most popular bootleg artists."

Mark’s story tells the tale of many electronic artists who grew up in the Eighties collecting vinyl and tinkering on crude computer software, all of which has now evolved for better and worse, perhaps nostalgically speaking. We chatted to Mark about his recent music, his past and his tips for music makers of the 21st century…

Osymoso

One&Other: You’ve just completed work on Edgar Wright’s new movie Baby Driver. Can you tell us about that?

Osymoso/Mark Nicholson: Edgar originally contacted me about Baby Driver in 2007. He wanted me to make some soundscapes over some tracks which he could then use to help him write the script, the idea being that he’d write certain scenes to fit the tracks and my job was to add the sounds of cars, guns, shouting, smashing and everything else over the top. So once I’d made eight or so of these and we’d tweaked them, he went away and pieced together the script.

Now, having seen the finished film, it’s amazing to see how many of those original elements from those first test soundscapes have made it into the final edit. I was told that the audio files I’d made were played during the shoot to help the actors time various bits of the scene: opening doors, footsteps, gun shots, picking up and putting down props etc. So the whole Baby Driver thing began before Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and over the years, I kept getting asked to do some new bits here and there and it looked like it was going to be made and then it didn’t and then it did and then it didn’t… and then it did! That’s the film business.

After they did the shoot, I added a few little bits here and there: tiny bits of sound design that are very insignificant but I know that they’re there and I’ll no doubt annoy people in the future by pointing out which car horn noises I was responsible for.

Edgar Wright is great to be around: incredibly hard working and always buzzing with ideas, so working on one of his films helps me on my other projects as you see what that level of dedication can achieve.

O&O: You’ve worked with Edgar Wright a few times, from Spaced to the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’. Tell us about this long-standing collaboration.

MN: I kinda got lucky meeting Edgar. I met him through Peter Serafinowicz, who I’d met through Simon Pegg, who I’d met because I asked a friend of a friend to ask him if he’d drum on a track of mine. I never expected him to actually get back to me about it but he did and that led to me being at a party where Edgar was at. I started banging on about how great Spaced was and from there I did a remix of the show for the DVD, along with the menu music.

Since, then Edgar’s always been in touch so when he does a film I always get to do a little something on it. I’m lucky that Edgar is very loyal to the people he works with using a lot of the same people from film to film and always loves what he does, so if he wants me to do something then I’m more than happy to. He’s great to be around: incredibly hard working and always buzzing with ideas, so working on one of his films helps me on my other projects as you see what that level of dedication can achieve.

O&O: How did you begin with electronic music and mixing in the 80s? What kit did you use and who were your influences?

MN: I started making electronic music in 1989 with an Amiga computer with its 500kB of memory. I had no idea what I was doing: it was just me messing around with noises. Over time, I managed figure out how to make something that vaguely resembled music. I got into sampling a bit later when the hardware was affordable and gradually my studio grew and grew and my sound evolved.

My influences ranged from electronic pop music like Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Yello and Depeche Mode and a lot of soundtracks, especially Ennio Morricone, Goblin, Vangelis, Henry Mancini, Michael Nyman, Philip Glass, John Barry, Danny Elfman and loads of others. I’d buy the really weird stuff on import as well as the mainstream soundtracks of the day. I remember loving the City Slickers 2 soundtrack of all things. I used to listen to music like that over and over as I couldn’t figure out how on earth it was written or made: it was like magic to me and still is to some degree.

I also listened to a lot of really strange electronic music that I’d have to order in from Japan and America but it didn’t seem strange at the time, I just listened to a lot of stuff and enjoyed digging in the record shops. Oh and a lot of easy listening which I bought to sample but ended up falling in love with. My music style emerged out of a desire to copy my influences and lacking the skill to do so and what I ended up with was something sounding half decent if nothing like what I’d set out to do.

I used to go all over the place to gather samples, buying up vinyl, VHS tapes and whatever I could find but now I can scour the web and it takes a fraction of the time.
Osymyso

O&O: How has the technology and the internet changed how you work?

MN: It’s changed it completely. I now have just a PC and a couple of bits of hardware instead of a stack of samplers, synths, FX racks and so on. Also I can access sounds and samples in a second. I used to go all over the place to gather samples, buying up vinyl, VHS tapes and whatever I could find but now I can scour the web and it takes a fraction of the time. Also when I’m collaborating we can throw ideas back and forth over the web so projects that used to take weeks can be done in an afternoon. I absolutely love it, there’s loads of possibilities available to us that weren’t there before but I do miss the adventure of making music the way I used to.

I’m assuming the same is true in filmmaking, it’s a billion times easier but the romance has gone a bit. Having said that, I’m all for the technology and it’s given cheap tools to millions of very talented people and the world is (mostly) a better place for it, so much great music and film out there.

O&O: How does your work-for-hire differ from your own personal projects?

MN: Well… a lot of the time I do some really boring work for money and it’s utterly uninspiring. I’m really glad I have the opportunity to work from home and to make money from music but it’s not always that sexy and glamorous. Having said that, there are times when I get paid to do a job and it’s a blast. Obviously working with Edgar is great and I’d love it if all my jobs were that exciting.

I like doing commission work as I enjoy being directed and being given a specific task to complete, it’s like solving a puzzle, how can you convey X in 48 seconds precisely. When I do my own music there’s no limits and that can be problematic so I have to impose them or I end up just playing around with noises ad infinitum. I’ll always want to have work-for-hire jobs coming in as they help me when it comes to making my own music: it’s interesting how good ideas can come out of the most boring jobs.

Obviously working with Edgar is great and I'd love it if all my jobs were that exciting.

O&O: What advice do you have for composers trying to break into both the music and soundtrack industries?

MN: With the way things are these days, I think it’s best to be incredible at one thing rather than being average at a lot of things. Make sure you’re clear what it is you’re passionate about and put all your time and energy into that and let everything else go. I gave up the idea of being a big film composer years ago: aint gonna happen, I don’t have the skills. It doesn’t mean I can’t be an hardcore enthusiast, but that’s a hobby and not a vocation. Be the best at something a few people are doing and you’ll get hired; be average at what loads of people do and you’ve got virtually no chance.

I used to worry that what I do is too niche but there such a vast amount of stuff being produced these days that it’s only a matter of time before someone needs what you have to offer: it’s the law of averages.

With the way things are these days, I think it's best to be incredible at one thing rather than being average at a lot of things.

O&O: What piece of work are you most proud of?

MN: I did a record a while back called ‘Intro-Inspection’ and I was happy with that: someone wrote a thesis on it and it was used by a music tutor in his class or something which was pretty satisfying. Other than that, I’m never really that happy with what I’ve done, I’m always convinced I can do better. I know that sounds a bit wanky but I believe a lot of people who make stuff feel that way: they’re driven to improve on what went before, so it’s not a negative thing.

I've got a couple of people who want me to work on their films but I'm waiting for them to be greenlit, a common scenario

O&O: Tell us about your next couple of projects: films, DJing, soundtracks?

MN: I’m currently working on a new batch of music that’ll just be a new Osymyso thing, mostly synth type stuff as I haven’t had a chance to do music like that for a while. I’ve got a couple of people who want me to work on their films but I’m waiting for them to be greenlit, a common scenario. And I don’t really DJ any more, I might get back into it in the future if I can play obscure soundtracks or something but the late night club type stuff is behind me. So I’m sort of in between things right now: another common scenario.

Osymoso on Soundcloud
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