Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse is nothing if not ambitious. Where its predecessor Into The Spider-Verse took place in one universe, the sequel ventures into six. The first movie had a total of six Spider-People. This one packs the frame with a literally countless number. And so on, and so forth.
Such an undertaking demanded a score which was equally aspirational, and nimble enough to cater to and augment all the wild swings the story and its characters take. Thankfully, Daniel Pemberton was up to the task. Building on the exciting foundation he laid with 2018’s Into The Spider-Verse, it’s a wonderfully entertaining smorgasbord of styles and sounds that easily ranks as one of the best scores of the year so far.
When we sit down with the composer for a chat over Zoom, we talk about how his musical experiences in the ’90s influenced the project, bringing the Spider-Verse live experience to the UK and much more.
He started at the start (and also the end)
Across The Spider-Verse is teeming with new characters and new worlds to explore. To prepare the score for the sequel, Pemberton initially spent weeks in “research and development”, where he created a unique palette of noises and built tools for the score. And it paid off in a big way.
“Very early on, I threw a lot of ideas together very quickly. We threw most of those pieces in the bin,” he says. “But then weirdly, we were working on the end of the movie, and we didn’t know how to score it. Then our music editor, Katie Greathouse, just pulled the very first piece I did out of the bin and put it on the scene. And we’re like… ‘Shit, that’s really exciting!’ And then I went and massively rescored those moments. But it’s kind of fascinating that the opening and the ending of the film really was the very first thing I wrote, by mistake.”
The score is steeped in ’90s club culture
Part of the reason why Across The Spider-Verse’s score is so impressive is the bevy of musical styles it not only includes, but synergises. The musical diversity can be traced back to Pemberton’s experiences growing up amid London’s club culture.
“The electronic elements of this score were heavily influenced by my teenage years going to raves in Brixton [in south London]. Things like Telepathic Fish [a collective who hosted ambient club nights]. And The Fox used to play Detroit techno. As a kid, the experimental electronic music scene in the mid ’90s really had a huge impact on me. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten to explore it properly, until this movie.”
Whereas the electronic elements of the score are mostly wedded to the futuristic Spider-Man 2099, other elements like the record scratching and hip-hop are primarily used for Miles Morales.
“It was really from going to nights at The Blue Note, which was a club in east London,” says Pemberton, on the inspiration behind its usage in the world of Spider-Verse. “I used to go to ‘Ninja Tune Stealth Night’ [named Club of the Year by NME in 1996]. And that was kind of where I saw record scratching being used as an artistic device for the first time. People like DJ Shadow, DJ Crushed, and Psychonauts would have these amazing sets with very elaborate scratching. I always remember thinking this is something really interesting, and we’d be able to use it one day. And it took about 25 years!”
UK fans are in for a treat…
Pemberton’s lack of musical discrimination is part of what makes Spider-Verse such a fun and unique soundscape. And UK fans will get to experience that freshness in a new way in October, when the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Live in Concert tour arrives.
“There’ll be people in this audience who’ve probably never seen a scratch DJ before. And then there’ll be some other people who’ve probably never seen an orchestra before. And what’s exciting for me is people experiencing these really interesting musical approaches together on one stage with a film – and for them to see how scratch DJing is just as valid musically as 10 violins. I think it’s the first time it’s been done.”
Pemberton has done the show once before in Brooklyn – incidentally, the place Miles Morales calls home – so he has some idea of what to expect. A quick perusal of social media videos reveals very passionate reactions to the iconic ‘What’s Up Danger’ sequence, among others. “It’s a different experience watching it with a live band and an audience that gets very into it and is very vocal. It’s halfway between going to a cinema, and going to a gig. I’m kind of excited about seeing whether that translates into the UK as well.”
Indeed, bringing Spider-Verse to the UK will be a special moment for Pemberton. “Miles is obviously such an iconic American character. But you know, the score was made by me in London, with London musicians in London studios. And to bring that score back to where it started… It’s kind of cool.”
‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Live in Concert’ will tour the UK from October; ‘Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse’ and ‘Across The Spider-Verse’ are available digitally now, alongside their soundtrack score