Before his meeting with HBO, Nathan Micay was in an airport gift shop buying socks. In 2019, the producer/composer flew to London for a meeting about a “new Lena Dunham show,” as the show was pitched to him by his label, LuckyMe. It turns out neither party had the full picture.
The show he would be tasked with composing for was actually Industry, a dramatic look at the ruthless world of high finance, featuring a group of work hard/party harder-type twentysomethings. It’s kind of like a crossover of Skins and Succession. The show, now at the end of its second season, has become something of a critical darling, with praise for the acting and direction, and yes, Micay’s compositions, which make watching an incremental stock ticker feel as tense and tightly-wound as any Christopher Nolan film.
It turns out the director’s of Industry, Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, were familiar with Micay’s work during his initial interview, using his songs as stand-ins while shooting the first season. “They had gotten ahold of my album, Blue Spring … and asked if I ever wanted to get into this. I guess they wanted to see that I wasn’t a crazy DJ or something.” No one even noticed his socks.
RANGE caught up with Micay ahead of the finale of Industry’s stellar second season to discuss his influences for the soundtrack, fitting in as an outsider in London, and the benefits of composing over DJing.
I read that this is your first composition work. Is that correct?
It’s my first on this scale. In 2015 I did a few indie Canadian movies for a friend of mine named Alex Danis, who now does big stuff. But that was like my first real composition work, I guess. But it was on such a smaller scale, a few people in the production. This is like…I’ve got 20 people I’m trying to please at once.
Of course. HBO is a huge jump. How did you get involved with Industry in the first place?
A year prior to this even coming on my radar, I had sent my label, LuckyMe, a reel of all this indie, Canadian stuff that no one ever saw. I was like, ‘if Warp is ever pitching for TV stuff, here’s all this stuff I’ve done.’ They knew I wanted to do more of this stuff. I guess my own music speaks to a certain cinematic quality. I try to not do it, but it just happens. I can’t help it.
Then I got this email in the evening sometime in February of 2020. ‘Hey, can you fly to London tomorrow to talk about this new Lena Dunham show, Industry?’ I guess LuckyMe didn’t really get the full idea of what it was either. I was picturing Girls, but with finance. I booked a ticket and flew in there. It turns out she was just directing the first episode, and it was actually written by these two guys Mickey [Down] and Konrad [Kay]. They had sent me a couple episodes to watch beforehand. But I had no context of who had done it, or what was going on.
The music supervisor, Ollie [White], had gotten a hold of my album Blue Spring, which had come out the year before, and that they’ve been using a lot as stand-ins. The title track from that album, Blue Spring, was being used as like the title of music anyways. They asked if I ever want to get into this, and we had this big meeting, and I guess they wanted to see that I wasn’t like a crazy DJ or something.
I think they were looking for young, new-ish sounds, I guess. I was really grateful they took the chance. I don’t know if HBO takes a chance like this that often. I’d already done this before and I came off okay in the meeting.
Besides using your album as temp music, did the creators have any specific directions for your music on the show?
During the meeting, I think this is one of the things that solidified it, was, they asked after me having watched [the pilot], was there any sort of scores or soundtracks that came to mind? I was like, ‘Yeah, Risky Business.’ Immediately they were like, ‘yes, that’s exactly what we want!’
If you like scores, it’s by Tangerine Dream, and it’s unbelievable. The movie’s OK, but the score is incredible. It’s got this cool electronic score and all these arpeggios and it really captures this mood of idyllic youth, but also a darkness and naivety. So that was one thing they really wanted, but they also wanted propulsion and big synths. I was like, ‘okay, I can give you that.’
My first drafts were really club focused, and drummy. Then we started to get away from that idea and decided, wouldn’t it be cool if we just had this propulsive synth score with no drum, or at least very minimal drums? That became a real guiding force in all of this. I think that’s what, in the end, made it more unique than other scores. Early drafts kind of just sounded like an ‘80s, Stranger Things-type score, which had already been done. Then another big reference we had was Uncut Gems.
I can hear the Oneohtrix Point Never quality in some tracks!
In that, they kind of went a bit more with like, an Akira influence. It’s Oneohtrix Point Never so still the same sort of tension and propulsion.
When you’re making music that’s meant to encapsulate a character’s essence, how do you go about that?
In the first season, we didn’t really have too many in the way. We had a few themes like whenever Harper got up to shenanigans, we had “sneaky Harper.” But that theme comes up a lot in the second season, but it’s now become more of a shenanigans theme. In the second season, we use this theme a lot for Yasmin when she’s getting up to some sort of creepy, behind the back sort of thing. And the main industry theme, like the big synth, epic thing… that was just supposed to be their youth theme, I guess. Grads not on the dance floor, but the banking floor. And then Eric’s theme was literally just sub-bass.
Another facet of the show—the amount of Americans or non-Brits in London. Did being across the pond influence the score in any way?
I used to live in England for a year for school. Although I wasn’t in London, I was in Leeds, there’s a lot of certain -isms in England, that you have to adjust to real fast, and I still don’t think I ever adjusted even after a year there. Berlin, I can’t really relate to because it’s just a giant circus of expats and people moved there for music. There’s a language barrier in Berlin, but I sometimes felt there was more of a language barrier living in Leeds. It took me five months to realize when people come up to me and say, ‘you all right,’ it’s how you say hello there. It’s not literally asking me how I am. They don’t care, so, yeah, I can definitely relate to Harper a bit. I definitely related to Harper in the sense of like being dropped into this HBO stuff, not having sort of been at this level of professionalism and like, learning as I go. But luckily, everyone was patient, and I caught on pretty fast.
What’s the most memorable piece you’ve worked on for the show? What’s been the most challenging?
The answer to that for both is the big Industry theme. That took a lot of different iterations till we finally got to that. That took a while to get into and then just based on the popularity of how it’s done since coming out on a soundtrack, people seem to resonate with that.
I’ve gotten a lot of messages from grad students at different types of schooling, and quite a few messages from just people in high-stress jobs saying ‘I listen to this on repeat and it gets me so pumped up and I do my work.’ I got a really, really long message from a staffer at CNN last year, just saying I’ve been up all night editing and I’ve just been listening to this over and over again.’ It seems to resonate with a certain level of people who have high stress jobs, which is kind of funny because it’s meant to be like the release from high-stress jobs. But that took quite a long time to come together, then once it did the rest of the soundtrack started to click. It was a good three weeks before we finally landed on that.
What is it like receiving praise from that managerial class who’re listening to the soundtrack?
I’m coming from a world of DJing professionally, it’s mostly younger people, and the occasional old raver, but also just very tailored, niche magazines and publications that are about electronic music, or just music in general. I never really think about a class of people who work in serious jobs. And it’s been fun! I get followed on Twitter now by a lot of people in finance because so many people in finance watch this show. I’ll check my followers and see ‘head of crypto at JP Morgan’ or something. A couple people follow me who seem to be pretty heavy hitters in finance. I don’t know what to do with that. It’s interesting to me that the music from a show they’ve watched just because they work in money management resonated enough that they want to follow me even though me tweeting about music probably won’t have anything to do with their daily lives or day jobs, but they’re interested perhaps in other music I’m working on but it sounds pretty cool to me.
So which do you prefer, DJing, personal work, or composing?
It’s composing now. Before the pandemic, DJing was my main thing, but I already had my first big DJ year in 2019, and had the most gigs I’ve ever had, and I was so exhausted by the end of it. I was in Australia when the pandemic hit. I don’t know how close I got to being stuck there, but I feel like it was pretty close. Then I came home, and I was just like, ‘yeah, enough of that for a while.’ I didn’t know how long the pandemic would last but, I definitely knew I wasn’t ready to get back out there for a while. Now I’m working on two or three other [composing] projects this fall, so I’m just loving it.
It’s such a change of pace to actually release music and there’s a tangible reason it’s there. It’s there for a project that you’re a part of and you’re collaborating with people. And you don’t have to put out an album and worry will anyone even listen or buy this. It’s nice to have a reason for the music to exist rather than your own ambitions or passion about your own music. It’s also been incredibly rewarding to work on something with a team and a collaborative effort to make a much bigger picture. I’m sure 300 or 400 people went into the making of Industry. It’s crazy to have been part of a team like that.