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Building a BMX soundtrack

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Justin Schwanke loves two things: music and BMX bikes. The Edmonton filmmaker has just spent the past few months combining both of those passions, putting in long hours editing a music-heavy feature-length BMX film that was shot in the city

“Vagabond Squad” centres on his bike riding and that of his BMX crew, Weird & Revered. The film’s eclectic soundtrack features music from both Alberta artists and musicians around the world

Justin sat down with Grant Stovel this week to talk about his love of music and the journey of selecting the right songs for his soundtrack. Listen as he goes through a bit of the film’s soundtrack and why he chose each track.

Jessica Jalbert – Whatever Whoever

“I picked this song for its change in tempo. The intro to it is kind of quirky,” Justin says.

He felt the song’s rock feel fit well with his crew’s most “eclectic” rider, Thomas.

“His riding has a lot of speed to it. It’s very fast … it has a lot of big gaps.”

“That kind of style fits well with the music and the tempo of it, and that’s why I picked it. Jessica is local, so it was a blessing to put some local music in there. “

Painted Fruit – Resignation

Two of the Weird and Revered riders, Joe and Mark, excel at the more traditional, trick-based BMXing. Justin needed a song that matched their high-flying style.

[Painted Fruit] are very Talking Heads-inspired. Kind of eclectic, weird. Very metallic sound to the instruments, especially the  guitars,” he tells Grant.

“This song has a lot of different changes of pace to it. It’s really, really quick and snappy and then it calms down for a second. It comes in and out. Editing to something like that can be challenging but at the same time a lot of fun to work with.”

Mitchmatic – One Word

When matching music to rides, hip-hop is one of Justin’s go-to genres.

“A lot of distinctive beats, a lot of flow to it. So if you match the flow of riding to the flow of the music, there’s a lot of synchronicity to it.”

He first came across Mitchmatic’s work by hearing it on CKUA. While he enjoyed it, he says it didn’t grab his attention right away. It wasn’t until he was talking over his film with a friend who suggested One Word. When he listened to it, it seemed to instantly click.

“It had a very distinctive beat to it, and the lyrics are pretty clean.”

Good Posture – Italy

When it came to scoring his own riding, Justin looked for music that could pull double duty. His own style has two sides to it: he works best at a slower speed, with a sort of creative and quirky riding style. That is, until he decides to get risky.

“I like to scare myself every once and a while and do a big gap or a big jump or something.”

It took a while to find something that fit his unpredictable style. Eventually, he found it in the form of Parisian Good Posture.

“[It’s] very indie focused, a lot of synth to the music, a lot of a metallic sound to the guitar,” he told Grant.

Nomadic Homes – Mono Sense

As an independent filmmaker, Justin had a tight budget. Which meant a lot of time spent reaching out to unsigned artists personally for permission to use their music.

So when he came across the psych pop sound of Halifax’s Nomadic Homes, he asked if he could use their song Mono Sense, the band asked him not to — the version he found was a demo they weren’t happy with.

So, they re-recorded a different version for him. With a different tempo that no longer fit Justin’s footage.

“I felt pretty bad about that, because he did all the work to rerecord it for me. So I reached out to him.

He said not to worry about it, I could use the demo version of it.”

Sunbeam Sound Machine – Life on Earth

The one song Justin knew he had to have in the film was also one of the ones he had the hardest time securing. Life on Earth is a loitering, mostly instrumental piece — an unusual choice to open the film.

But the song’s repeated refrain of “What should I do with the life I’m living” perfectly captured the pure frustration of failing to land a trick a hundred times, as well as the elation of finally nailing it.

“It’s the celebration, it’s the happiness, it’s the joy. It’s the high fives, it’s the hug when you land a trick.“