It was a vampire weekend of a different sort down at the Irish Film Institute. All things fanged and blood-sucking are being celebrated in Dublin at the moment under the banner of the One City, One Book festival. The book in question is, of course, Bram Stoker’s evergreen epic of literature’s great enduring gothic icon – Count Dracula.
The first ever filmed depiction of the ubiquitous Count is Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, which was released in 1922. F.W. Murnau’s seminal saga tells of Count Orlok (the rights to Stoker’s novel couldn’t be obtained so a few changes had to be made) and his reign of terror on the fictional German city of Wisborg. Even if you haven’t seen the film or read Dracula, Max Schrek’s bald, hook-nosed and claw-fingered Count is rolling around somewhere in the grey pulp encased in your skull.
The night in question was a particular highlight in the schedule of events for the festival. Dublin group 3epkano had been approached by the IFI to create a soundtrack to this silent film, something the septet specialises in. Guitarist Cameron Doyle tells me the whole thing had to be put together quickly, and not as you’d expect either. He and bandmate Matthew Nolan first mapped out ideas and time cues over repeated viewings of the film. The rest of the band were then rehearsed with. Things were fleshed out while the film was watched, but no one was allowed to get too familiar with the movie. Much of what 3epkano played on this night relied on instinct, improvisation and the receipt of knowing glances to each other.
Tucked under the screen, with only the odd bald head or little desk light to distract from the picture, 3epkano began to emit a deep sonic tremble before the film began, an ambient murmur that meant chatter was killed and silence was infected by whatever it is that crescendos begin life as. It’s very hard to describe, but for such a feather-light sound to mesmerise as it did was one of the most fascinating concert experiences I’ve had. It set the tone for the next 95 or so minutes.
As our hero Thomas Hutter gets ever closer to the menacing Castle Orlok, melancholic sweeps of Eastern European violin and brush sticks are gently becoming more assertive. When we – Hutter representing us – first lay eyes on the Count in his full form, a jagged guitar sounds alongside a roaring crash; a sharp shock that doesn’t beat around the bush in its intent. Not long after, Hutter, now the guest of the Count, accidentally cuts himself with a bread knife. Orlok is suddenly on his feet, slowly zooming in towards the spilt claret with claws outstretched. The moment is rendered gruesomely macabre by 3epkano, who are also suddenly switched on by the event, chugging up a storm of guitar riffs and cymbal crashes. You can practically see the band growing fangs at this point.
Unusually for the group, no recording was made of the evening. People picked up their coats and shuffled out of the auditorium after a prolonged applause. The band themselves admit they could not reproduce that performance again. It was a moment in time, a phantom, and would sound different if ever done again.
– Friday April 17