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Nathan Micay reveals how he scored HBO’s Industry
Photography Karina Galindo

Nathan Micay on how he scored HBO’s Industry during a pandemic

The Berlin-based producer talks workflow, influences, and how you piece together a score amid a global health crisis

HBO’s Industry has emerged as one of the most engrossing TV dramas of the year, compelling audiences with its intense portrayal of life as a graduate trainee at one of the world’s biggest banks. It follows several young hopefuls on placement at the fictional company, Pierpoint & Co, as they navigate the pitfalls of earning too much too young in the capital city. Across eight episodes, the wannabe traders indulge in prodigious amounts of cocaine, sex, pills, and various other performance-enhancing substances as they compete for the ultimate prize: a full-time job.

Tasked with providing a soundscape to the manic lifestyle of these twentysomethings was Canadian producer and DJ, Nathan Micay. The Berlin-based artist is a relative newbie to scoring, however his credentials as an electronic producer speak for themselves. His debut EP on the renowned London label AD 93 became one of the biggest dance hits of 2018, while his 2019 debut album, Blue Spring (released on the Warp-affiliated LuckyMe) was met with broad critical acclaim, and was used by the Industry producers as inspiration for the show.

We caught up with Micay, who contributed a Dazed Mix last year, to discuss how his music bolstered the tension and high-stakes drama in one of 2020s seminal TV shows. 

Great to connect with you, how were you first approached to produce the soundtrack for Industry?

Nathan Micay: A lot of my albums for LuckyMe have been pretty cinematic, and they would constantly ask me if I was into scoring. We have a few contacts, so we reached out to some people. I got a call in February this year, I think, saying can you come to London to meet with HBO about a show called Industry? I got on a plane like two days later. I met with the writers, the producers and the music supervisor, and we had a lot of the same influences and ideas. Apparently they’d been using my album Blue Spring for a lot of the score, especially the title track, which eventually became the title music for the show itself. I was in Australia shortly after doing my last ever DJ set, and they asked me to do some demos while I was down there. So I was literally writing stuff in the kitchen where I was staying.

Did you get any inspiration from London, where the show is set, while you were there?

Nathan Micay: I’ve been to London many times over the years for work, so I’m familiar with it. And speaking to Mickey and Conrad, the two writers, I got a sense of what they wanted. They mentioned Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack for Risky Business and its sense of glamour, and we also spoke about the scale of the show more generally. They were telling me how they built huge sets that were meant to look like a trading floor. And when I saw the episode draught they sent me I was like, ‘wow’, I couldn’t believe it’s actually a hangar in the middle of Wales.

It must have been strange spending so much time looking at people in offices.

Nathan Micay: Yeah, absolutely. The other thing too was that there was a sound effects team whose job it was to emulate the feel of a modern day office. They had planned to go to the Bank of Canada in London to record sound, but they weren’t able to do so because of the pandemic. They had to find a way to research what a busy bank sounds like. I’ve read a lot of reviews of the show, including in the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal and other places where actual bankers leave comments, and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, like the tone of the telephones are so spot on,’ or just, you know, so many little details. They obviously did a great job.

So talk me through a day in the life on the project.

Nathan Micay: Once I got hired to actually do it, we would do these things called spotting sessions, which is pretty much when you sit down with the writers and the directors, and maybe a producer, and everyone involved in the music team. We would go through an episode picking spots where we think music would go and how that music should sound and then trying to find if my score should go there, or if there should be a commercial track instead. I have all these notes to work with that might say something like, ‘light and airy’, ‘not too dark’, ‘capture that sadness’, things like this. And then you have to spend the rest of the day putting something into that bit.

Were you mostly working from home on this? 

Nathan Micay: Yeah I mean the only thing that changed was I upgraded my computer at the beginning of lockdown, because I knew that my laptop that I’ve been using for all these years was not gonna be able to handle these giant video files. And I’ve only ever had one plugin on my computer, just one, really. I’ve made all my music with it. But I do have a classical background and I can play cello a little bit, so when you can hear strings they’re actually these leftover recordings of me playing for my album The World I’m Going To Hell For. I’d sometimes get feedback asking for very specific articulations of strings, and I was like, ‘Er... I don’t have these instruments with me, they’re in Toronto’. So from there I discovered string sampling libraries like the Spitfire Audio one and things like that.

Have you always made music without hardware synthesisers?

Nathan Micay: Yeah, I mean, my whole career really. A magazine I spoke to once said about one of my tracks: ‘Great hardware sounds’. And I was just chuckling like, ‘nope, none at all’. I do put a lot of effort into the way I process my sound and make it sound as analogue as I can, and as warm as I can. But I don’t even have a midi keyboard, I’m using my typing keyboard. By the end of this score I was kind of laughing. I was like, ‘I just did like a whole season of an HBO show on this’.

“The most famous reference was probably the Chariots of Fire score by Vangelis. He makes such a niche topic sound so epic, and I wanted to do the same with London banking” – Nathan Micay 

Is there a particular track from this that you’re proud of? 

Nathan Micay: I’m really happy with one called “Wins/Losses”. It’s the third track and it’s just like, unbelievably dynamic. It’s from a scene in Episode Four where Harper, the main character, is trying to recover a trade that she’s fucked up. It’s about a five-minute sequence and I think I ended up with like three time changes in it. And then also the main theme, that took months to get right. We tried version after version. And one day I ended up with an arrangement and we were like, ‘okay, that’s the one’. It ended up being a lot more ambitious and grandiose than it was originally. At one point it was kind of a breakbeat, but I eventually decided that it would be cool to do a full score that has like no drums. So that was a huge thing.

Percussion is central to a lot of your music. How did you find making a score largely without any drums?

Nathan Micay: I’ve just made a remix for someone and I wasn’t able to bring myself to put a kick drum on it. It just felt so weird to me. At the beginning when I was asked to make things big and epic or whatever I was like, ‘well, you need drums for that’. But then eventually we found it was cool to find a way to layer simple melodies and harmonies to fill that void. That was actually really satisfying once that came together. For the very last episode, finally, the producers said, ‘do it, give us the drums!’ I was like, ‘alright let me in the game coach!’ and went and got all the drums and just smashed them out. It was very cathartic. 

I also tried to take references from UK sounds too as it’s set in London, which was a challenge because a lot of UK music is very drum focused. I come from a club background with a deep respect for UK club music, so it was a bit of a challenge to emulate that. But it was just a matter of once I started putting arps on top of arps on top of arps, it really started to come together with an energy that I think was necessary.

What were you listening to during the production, and were you drawing upon any other soundtracks in particular?

Nathan Micay: Definitely the music in Succession, and a lot of regal horn type stuff. In a way I was looking to mix that with like, modern catchy M83 style synth music. I’ve already mentioned Tangerine Dream from Risky Business of course, but the most famous reference was probably the Chariots of Fire score by Vangelis. He makes such a niche topic sound so epic, and I wanted to do the same with London banking, to find a way to make it memorable through the music. I was also watching a period drama called The Great and I think the music for that was by Nathan Barr. It’s like this really cool mix of orchestral string arrangements with synth over them. That was a huge influence on me as well. 

Jeff Russo too, who I think is kind of like the best TV scorer going right now, he does Fargo and Star Trek and a few other really cool shows. He’s really good at capturing big themes and stuff, but the way he’s able to the mood underneath as well. Amazing. I became obsessed with every podcast and interview I could find with him in.

There are quite a lot of scenes in Industry where characters are on their own, reflecting on a hard day’s trading, or travelling home on the nightbus, and that’s when the score really moves into the foreground. Did you relish those moments?

Nathan Micay: For a lot of people, they’ll be watching this and be like, why would anyone want a life of trading? And like, why would this be exciting to anybody? But we had to convey that for these kids, for these young graduates, the chance to be on this trading floor and work in this bank is like the equivalent of my first time going to Berghain – it’s the pinnacle of excitement for them even though it sucks in many respects. It’s this cold grey environment, but like, they fucking love it. I wanted the music to sort of be this big, exciting thing, even though their life might seem kind of mundane and stressful from the outside.

Do you have any similar projects in the pipeline?

Nathan Micay: I’ve had a lot of meetings with producers about shows that aren’t finished yet but might happen next year. I think there’s a huge backlog because shows haven’t been able to film anything of course. And I’ve been working on some remixes, but honestly I was pretty burnt out by the time this was finished, it was such an intense process. like, seven straight months of schedule. But I’ve been getting inspiration for a new album recently, so I’m gonna start one for LuckyMe soon.

Stream and buy Industry OST by Nathan Micay here. All episodes of Industry are now available to watch on HBO and BBC iPlayer