Why watch a film whose sole purpose is to scare you? As a child attending an international school in The Netherlands, I was the softer foil to my rebellious best friend, who got into guitar music, skating video games and scary movies before everyone else. I bought the Linkin Park albums I saw in his bedroom, played Xbox with him and listened awestruck as he described scenes from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to me.
As impressive as I found him, his perchance for thrillers left me confused. I liked the excitement of films which involved threat, such as the Lord of the Rings or The Incredibles (neither of which I will ever denounce as anything other than brilliant), but the notion of watching the majority of a film’s protagonists brutally murdered seemed masochistic. I remember once explaining to him that I liked films with overarching life lessons which punctuated the action and ultimately rang true for the heroes at crucial moments, such as The Incredibles’ lesson that your goals are best faced with the aid of your friends and family. He bluntly replied that Texas Chainsaw Massacre did in fact hold its own lesson; don’t go camping in the woods alone.
This mystery has remained unsolved for me, as the answer does not lie in my growing older and finding films less menacing. I have thoroughly enjoyed certain thriller-esque films such as The Cabin in the Woods and 28 Days/Weeks Later, but the pleasure was derived from both films’ intelligent plot-lines, believable characters and exciting cinematography. In the absence of these qualities, leaving a piece of art’s only qualities as its being scary and shocking, I would fail to see the appeal. I can imagine the adrenaline, the excitement of something as trivial as a film driving one to emotional extremes, but have never quite understood enjoyment in it.
Until I started listening to London Grammar. I’ve recently developed an obsession with the young band, who specialize in intimately arranged XX-esque pop. The most striking aspect of tracks like Wasting My Young Years and Strong, is their dark, haunting beauty.
Now, when music journalists describe music as ‘hauntingly beautiful’, the former word tends to be a synonym for ‘tinged with dark implications’, as opposed to referencing spectral qualities. This is not the case with London Grammar; when I refer to their music as ‘haunting’, I mean the word as a verb.
The intimacy of Hannah Reid’s lyrics in combination with the beauty of her voice would be powerful in any setting, but her band’s sparse production isolates them and accelerates their effect, meaning that stray lines linger in one’s mind long after listening, especially if one holds corresponding feelings of heartbreak, loneliness or despair (as we all do at some point). London Grammar’s abrasively unique music videos further this menacing inception; the black-and-white promo for Wasting… flicks between almost uncomfortably close shots of the singer (as shown to the right) and stop-motion depictions of floating bodies which wouldn’t look out of place in a psychological thriller (as shown at the beginning of the article).
My essential point is that listening to haunting bands such as London Grammar (if you like that sort of thing I would also recommend FKA Twigs and Daughter) is similar to watching horror films, in that its attraction comes from the art’s ability to haunt its consumers with emotions that might not seem obviously pleasant, the pinnacle of a listener-musician relationship I’ve talked about before. Whilst I won’t be renting Paranormal Activity any time soon, I think I finally see the attraction.