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Marc Jacobs SS15 Dazed Lea Colombo
Catherine McNeil (The Society) at Marc Jacobs SS15Photography Lea Colombo

The man behind Marc's music

Wondered where that Marc Jacobs soundtrack came from? Producer and Pulp bassist Steve Mackey reveals his influences, from avant-garde filmmaker John Smith to Kubrick's '2001'

As images of the fashion world’s upper echelons donning Beats by Dre headphones at Marc Jacobs’ show began dominating Instagram feeds on Thursday night, the internet lit up with curiosity. What sonic spectacle was about to unfold? The answer was utterly unpredictable – a robotic voice narrating instructions and musings (“send the gap toothed girl with three bags around back"), set against the tersely emotive music of violist Nadia Sirota. Whilst last season’s show featured the voice of Jessica Lange reciting “Happy Days Are Here Again” over Cliff Martinez’s Solaris score in an almost Beckettian take on the fashion show soundtrack, SS15 moved even further into the abstract. The man behind the music at Jacobs’ shows is none other than musician and producer Steve Mackey, Pulp bassist and husband of long-time Jacobs collaborator Katie Grand. We got his word on what inspired this season’s most mysterious soundtrack.

What was the concept behind the show soundtrack this season?

Steve Mackey: John Smith is a filmmaker I first met 25 years ago when I was at The Royal College of Art, whose work had a big effect on me at the time – his humour and ideas about reality and artifice, and using language to deceive were on my mind. Black Tower, Om and The Girl Chewing Gum by John are just brilliant films – I guess ‘appearances are not what they seem’ is the thread.

The spoken voiceover this season was so powerful and poetic – where did the text come from?

Steve Mackey: I adapted some of John’s ideas to the situation in front of me – just tried to describe what’s a very controlled situation in a very mundane way with simple words! And I tried to knit in some of what I’ve learned about Marc Jacobs’ personality over the last ten years to the narrator’s voice, and some stories I’d read in newspapers in New York. 

Why did you choose such a robotic-sounding voice to narrate it?

Steve Mackey: It created an interesting paradox between the clinical and the very personal words. It was easier than casting a great actor! Actually that’s kind of true as six months ago we recorded Jessica Lange for Marc Jacobs in a similar situation and she’s very difficult to follow. I always loved computer voices, maybe because I grew up in the 70s – they were all around me then, in cinema, video games, toys. I liked the hard contrast of that voice against the beautiful music and the whimsical words for Marc’s show. 

Why did you want that aspect of the show to be only experienced through headphones? 

Steve Mackey: I went to see Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey live with an orchestra and choir at the Barbican in London last year and was sat right next to a speaker – HAL’s voice in my ear was just amazing! Especially at the end of the movie.

What mood did both yourself and Marc want to convey this season?

Steve Mackey: It was really more a case of putting some elements together we liked out and letting people make out of it what they will. 

“I went to see Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey live with an orchestra and choir at the Barbican in London last year and was sat right next to a speaker – HAL’s voice in my ear was just amazing!”

How does the whole process of directing the music for one of Marc's shows start?

Steve Mackey: Well it’s pretty simple – always late in the day and very instinctual. We just sit and listen to music together and talk about it. He’s very open.

Did you use the collection as a prompt for the direction of the show music? 

Steve Mackey: I knew was there was some military clothing and a big empty house, so thoughts about being given orders and how we had an opportunity to use sound to be playful with what might be happening in that house.

If you could pick absolutely anyone to perform live at Marc's show, who would it be?

Steve Mackey: For this show it would have been Nadia Sirota whose music Marc and I had been listening to. We tried but our emails to each other got lost in the rush, a real shame! We hoped she would play viola inside the house.