Looking at the cast list for the Twin Peaks reboot hitting screens this evening (May 21st), you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the eclectic line-up of some new festival. Eddie Vedder, Trent Reznor (plus NIN guitarist Robin Finck, plus Reznor’s wife and How To Destroy Angels collaborator Mariqueen), Sky Ferriera, Ruth Radalet of Chromatics, and everyone in electro-pop band Au Revoir Simone are all involved, a roll-call that makes us excited and trepidacious in equal measure.
Whether we'll be getting scenes in the vein of the deeply weird band practice between love-triangle-teens James Hurley, Donna Hayward and Maddy Ferguson in the original show’s second season, or any of the just deeply awful bits in David Lynch’s Dune when Sting tries his hand at acting, only time will tell.
But it's perhaps unsurprising that so many musicians have elected to step into Lynch's nightmare soap opera, given the huge influence the show has had on pop music of all kinds. The cultural shockwaves it produced run incalculably deep; just look at the dozens of songs - by everyone from Surfer Blood to Flying Lotus - called ‘Twin Peaks’, and the countless more that reference it.
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Whether it's Stars Of The Lid creating music for an imagined third season of the show before it even came out of cancellation, or Sky Ferreira's album ‘Night Time, My Time’, (named after a quote from murdered teen Laura Palmer) musicians are perpetually nodding to the series in a manner that shows no signs of stopping. But, while you could be forgiven for thinking that Twin Peak’s gradual canonisation as a cult classic after a rocky second season and ratings-plunge meant that its influence on music was not immediate, the reverse was true.
During the first season’s original run on television in 1990, an unknown New York DJ and Twin Peaks fan called Moby watched a VCR-ed episode of this bizarre new programme while taking a break from remixing one of his B-sides. Inspired by the portentous strings of Angelo Badalamenti’s ‘Laura Palmer’s Theme’, he added them to the remix by replaying them on his synth. Moby hoped this new single, named ‘Go:Woodtick Mix’ after a woodtick that causes special agent Dale Cooper trouble in Episode Eight, would sell a few thousand copies. It went on to sell half a million, broke Moby in the UK, and kick-started his ascent to global stardom.
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Which is perhaps surprising, given the sombre, reflective sample. Indeed with its orchestral-cum-smooth-jazz score, the music of Twin Peaks didn’t seem like the most natural fit for the dance - but like Dr Who in the UK, whose famous theme has been remixed dozens of times and crops up again and again on mixes from the nineties, Badalamenti’s music reflected the quirky nature of the show it scored.
Being euphoric, slightly goofy but with a sinister edge, it perfectly complemented the nineties clubbing experience of dark warehouses and ecstasy. And besides, it makes sense that ravers would warm to Twin Peaks - they're always up for weird stuff going down in forests.
Four years later in San Francisco’s Glue Factory studio, Josh Davis was pulling together his entirely-sample-based debut album as DJ Shadow when he too saw fit to combine Twin Peaks with big beats. His seminal ‘Endtroducing…’ was to be a sample symphony, so well-crafted that you could find yourself forgetting that its component parts had ever existed elsewhere; as the artist about whom the term trip-hop was coined in 1994, Davis’ music was all about taking you on a journey.
And his decision to end his opus with the voice of Twin Peaks’ mysterious giant warning Dale Cooper in a vision that “it is happening again” put the final trippy cherry on the cake. Like Portishead's sampling of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons on ‘Dummy’, additions like these made nods to leftfield television and film a feature of the genre's 90s iteration.
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For other artists the show’s influence was more subtly felt, more in tone than in oblique reference. On the first day of the new millennium, Phil Elverum of the Microphones began recording ‘The Glow Pt. 2’, the album that would come to be considered his definitive work under that moniker.
At the time he was re-watching Twin Peaks, and noticed that scenes set near the water featured the sounds of foghorns in the distance. He claimed in an interview during the album’s creation: “It was so subtle, so low key, and set the mood so perfectly. And maybe because where I grew up there was that sound going…it really struck a chord with me. I wanted to make the whole album exist in that same world as in that scene.”
It clearly worked. Melancholic, idiosyncratic and spellbinding, ‘The Glow Pt. 2’ seems to exist in a world of its own - and yes, occasionally you can just about hear what sounds like foghorns in the distance. Elverum’s love of the series even led to his later borrowing of its famous ‘Love Theme’ for his song ‘Between The Mysteries’, released in 2009 under his new name Mount Eerie.
By that time, Twin Peaks’ reputation as a true television original was secure. No show since had been quite as weird in the almost twenty years that had elapsed; but this same uniqueness meant it was arguably in danger of having its legacy reduced to a pop culture reference. Case in point: at the same time Elverum was releasing ‘Between The Mysteries’, a Chicago indie band were settling on the name Twin Peaks for their new project, a decision that will always make me think of the film While We’re Young.
Why? Because in While We're Young, perennial skewerer of millennial foibles Noah Baumbach has a twenty-something documentarian and class-A hipster (played by Adam Driver, of course) name his band Cookie O’Puss. It's a reference to a seventies advert that his new old-guy-best-friend played by Ben Stiller remembers from his youth; and he doesn't get its appeal. After all, there's nothing smart or funny about the name - it's just a piece of bygone pop culture given a sort of ironic weight by how outdated it is.
One can’t help but feel the smack of this slightly glib re-appropriation of the past in the Chicagoan garage rockers’ decision to name themselves Twin Peaks; although they allegedly took their title from a Hooters-lite chain restaurant of the same name, it seems highly unlikely that the oft-discussed TV show wasn’t also an influence.
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It’s the same vaguely discomfiting feeling that every new song called ‘Twin Peaks’ can inspire in a fan of the series – the feeling that the title has entered into collective consciousness to such an extent that it’s effectively in the public domain, completely unmoored from the little town in backwoods America to which it once referred.
Which begs the question - how, so long after the show had aired and after so many allusions in music, could it be referenced in a way that was still fresh and celebrated the source material? Enter Nicolas Jaar and Jamie Stewart, with two very different forms of homage.
Nicolas Jaar’s 2012 BBC Essential Mix was an undisputed barnstormer, an exploratory and experimental two hours’ of music that encompassed Jonny Greenwood soundtracks, the jazz of Charles Mingus and even (successfully) *NSYNC. With its restless stylistic twists and turns, it music recalled the mixes of the nineties where definitions were loose, anything was possible, and you could find hip-hop rubbing shoulders with house and ambient over the course of a night.
Jaar introduces the piece with a sample of Angelo Badalamenti talking about composing ‘Laura Palmer’s Theme’ at the piano while taking direction from David Lynch, playing the theme as he does so. It’s just a lovely clip, shining a light on both Lynch’s working method with the composer and his childlike sense of wonder as Badalamenti mimics the director’s excitement at hearing, for the first time, the piece’s iconic melody.
The commentary is as fascinating as the accompanying music is beautiful, engaging the head and heart equally just like the mix as a whole. You can’t help but think it might also be an oblique comment by Jaar on what you’re about to hear – when Badalamenti, imitating Lynch, says “that’s it! That’s it!”, it’s hard not to agree with his sentiments.
As for Jamie Stewart - no missive on Twin Peaks and music could be complete without mentioning ‘Xiu Xiu Play the Music of Twin Peaks’, the superlative covers album by his noise pop trio. Originally commissioned by the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art to perform covers of the soundtrack at a Lynch exhibition, Xiu Xiu released an album of their versions in April last year. Badalamenti’s unforgettable compositions and the band’s exuberant strangeness make for a perfect combination, and as intriguing a listen as it is at any time, it’s a particularly good record to get you in the mood for the new season.
Which, incredibly, is coming out today – some people never thought they’d see the day. Can Lynch and co. reinvigorate the Twin Peaks myth and remind us all just how ground-breaking it was? Heck, are they about to break a whole lot of new ground that none of us are prepared for? And will we be seeing a deluge of new songs, albums and bands named after quotes from Eddie Vedder and Trent Reznor? We certainly hope so.
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Words: Tom Marsh