Deadly Avenger would like to take you to the movies. Damon Baxter’s debut album “Deep Red” is the culmination of a lifelong passion for films and the music that brings them to life. It boasts blockbuster action, noirish suspense, romance, sex, violence, a club scene and a bit with a spaceship. The supporting cast includes legendary former Special Terry Hall, production genius Howie B, Mercury-nominated troubadour Tom McRae and a 47-piece Hungarian orchestra. Like David Arnold, David Holmes and Craig Armstrong, Deadly Avenger thinks in widescreen. And his adventures to date, as label boss, DJ, remixer and dance producer, are only half the story. Cue flashback
Damon Baxter was born a Scot in Fauldhouse, West Lothian, where a childhood accident cost him his sense of taste and smell. His eyes and ears, however, worked overtime. He remembers being transfixed by John Carpenters hypnotically primitive synth score for Assault On Precinct 13, Mike Oldfields eerie chimes in The Exorcist and John Williamss orchestral pyrotechnics in Star Wars. “As a kid everythings visual,” he says. “You just consume everything.”
When he was 10 he moved to Leyland in the Midlands, and from there to Hinckley, near Leicester. “Having a Scottish accent in and English school didnt go down too well so I lost it pretty quickly,” he says ruefully. When hip hop reached Hinckley, Damon was as thrilled by the outlandish imagery as by the sounds. Intoxicated by the otherworldliness of it all, he built up a fearsome reputation on the turntables.
When it was time to make records for himself in the mid 90s, soundtracks were never far from his mind. His first outings for J Saul Kanes Electron Industries under the name of Sem were electro by way of John Carpenter. Then he took the Deadly Avenger alias from a deeply dubious martial arts film. “Its rotten,” he warns. “Theres a woman on the front with a gun and all these helicopters. Of course its got nothing to do with the film. Theres no helicopters or guns or boat chases or anything. It opens with this crap disco tune called Lovely And Deadly. Its not so bad its good. Its just bad bad.”
Somehow resisting the temptation to cover Lovely And Deadly, Damon released a string of cult hits: Milos Theme (1995), Coney Island Baby (1996), and Where Fools Lay Dead (1997). While one side would usually be a blaxploitation-fuelled breakbeat riot, the flip would showcase a darker, more dramatic side to his talents. “When I was first making records and living up in Leicester and meeting new people in London, I felt like Kane from Kung Fu,” he says. “I just wanted to walk around and get into adventures.”
In 1998, Damon and his manager established their own label, Illicit, and released the spectacular Illicit EP, two tracks from which (We Took Pelham and Lopez) have been retooled for his forthcoming album. Then came the equally well-received disco mania of the King Titos Gloves EP and the rampaging Evil Knievel, a collaboration with Derek Dahlarges Ceasefire on Wall Of Sound.
Major labels werent slow to enlist his talents and he remixed three of Britains biggest bands in quick succession: Manic Street Preachers (The Everlasting), Travis (Writing To Reach You) and the Stereophonics (the unreleased Just Looking). He has since worked his magic on the Charlatans, the Divine Comedy, Howie B, Shea Seger and Nigo. Meanwhile, Illicit brought together a number of like minds (Jadell, Bronx Dogs, Pepe Deluxe, Andy Smiths Dynamo Productions, Organic Audio) on two acclaimed Battlecreek EPs.
Damon was all set to release his debut album but as the months went by he came to realise that it said more about where hed been then where he was going. “I binned it,” he says. “Back then I was into all the breaks and the party stuff. But on the singles there was a sign as to what I wanted to do because the B-sides were stringy, downbeat and more musical.”
Unable to find a sufficiently sympathetic major label, Damon decided to keep Illicit independent. The label is now home to Jadell, Richard Sen and Dynamo Productions. Damon plans to feature them (plus the likes of Howie B and Jacknife Lee) on a compilation called Straight To Video. The brief: “make a piece of music for a film but it has to be a shit film. Howie Bs doing Lassie.”
First, though, comes his debut album. His inspiration isnt drawn from dancefloor fads but the elaborate arrangements of great soundtrack composers from John Carpenter and Dario Argento to Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. “Ive never been a clubber. For me its about sitting watching a film and knowing that if I turn the sound off the scene wont be half as good. Its like Star Wars. George Lucas would say that 50% of the storys the music. When Im making something, a film or a scene from a film pops into my head and I think, Thats what this is meant to be. I never think about 3000 people in a club going mad.”
While making Deep Red, no corners were cut. We Took Pelham, originally built around a sample of Bill Contis Going The Distance from the Rocky soundtrack, was remade and replayed by a full orchestra in Budapest. Most of the string parts you hear were written, scored and performed rather than sampled. Tom McRae lends his forlorn tones to the lowlit drama of On The Water and Terry Hall stars on the lush, lilting Circles. “Terrys from Coventry which is 10 miles away,” Damon reports. “We just hooked up, started hanging around, dropped the track and had a laugh. Hes got this really dry sense of humour. The energy around him when youre working is just amazing.” Howie B, a long-time friend and fan, takes additional production duties.
Damon may soon get the opportunity to score a film himself. Having licensed tracks to Human Traffic (King Titos Gloves) and Scary Movie 2 (Evil Knievel), he is in negotiations to compose the soundtrack for Halloween 8. The franchises first instalment, of course, was directed and scored by John Carpenter. What goes around comes around.
As for the album, “If I had to pin it down Id say youre going to see a film like Seven – dark, grainy, enjoyable but not exactly happy. Music should take you somewhere else.” Turn off the lights and let the opening credits roll. The new adventures of Deadly Avenger start here.