What drives some of the best moments in Code Orange's music is the constant sonic battle between aggressive hardcore, hook-filled grunge and mechanical industrial. 2017's Forever embodied the entire spectrum, earning praise from diehards and critics alike, and boosting the young Pittsburgh band's profile enough to earn them a Grammy nomination.
At the heart of this musical tension is the band's guitarist and electronic wunderkind Shade Balderose. Since they formed in 2008, his creative role has continued to expand — with the biggest jump taking place on 2014's I Am King. On that album he began injecting power electronics into the band's DNA — a move that breathed new life into straight-up guitar-chug hardcore song structures with heavy bouts of noise and fuzz. Fast forward to now, and their most recent single "Only One Way," which lives and dies by these unpredictable electronic fits, distorted even further on Shade's Nine Inch Nails–inspired remix "only1(the hard way)."
Shade's creative ambitions extend well past mere genre-splicing and remixes, as evidenced by his Code Orange T-shirt designs that harken to the sci-fi anime of The Animatrix, and his behind-the-camera work co-directing their surreal video for "The Mud." He also finds serious inspiration in films, and how emotional tension is created between the visual and musical elements.
"When people are watching images on the screen, they're going to feel a certain way," says Shade. "What you're putting in their ears is going to greatly impact how long they're going to feel that way, or whether or not they're comfortable feeling that way."
Below, Shade reveals the top five movies that most influenced him, and discusses why they were crucial to his creative development.
The general tension of The Thing is what captured my interest. I had never seen effects ... like the actual monster in The Thing. Seeing something that looks real like that on TV was crazy to me. All the special effects were real and so visceral to me. I think that's what I really liked about the movie. Nothing is fake and it's all real, nothing takes you out of that experience, it brings you deeper into the story.
I wasn't into horror movies when I was a kid — I was more into playing PlayStation one and stuff. But I have three older brothers and they were constantly watching movies. There's a bunch of movies that I just have horrible childhood connotations with ... I would walk in and see, like, Jacob's Ladder or Event Horizon — that was just ... the dude gets pushed out of the airlock and his whole body starts bleeding! That was traumatizing. As I've gotten older, I've realized I like horror movies, but as a kid, it was too much. I have scarred memories from that.
John Carpenter is definitely the biggest influence in my electronic music aside from Nine Inch Nails. I just love all the electronics on his albums, these eerie synth odysseys he can make. I'm a huge Metal Gear Solid fan, which is why I wanted to watch the movie. [Editor's note: Metal Gear Solid's lead character Solid Snake is based on Kurt Russell's character Snake Plissken in Escape From New York.] The themes from the movie were just amazing. It was the first thing I learned on piano. John Carpenter's The Lost Themes and everything he puts out in a soundtrack or outside of one ... I think he's a genius when it comes to that kind of stuff.
I'm always trying to take notes from him and his movies and thinking how to utilize a simple synth sound to be taken out of context and used in something else. It could be some dream-pop band or literally any kind of electronic music. But you put it in the right context, it becomes a dark, mysterious thing. Especially when it comes to soundtracks when people take a genre you don't expect and use it to be a horror soundtrack. John Carpenter is ubiquitous enough [that now] you know what is, but at face value, it's such a weird thing. He was really one of the first to push that combination.
I collect the magazine Heavy Metal. I love that animation style: the adult erotic fantasy kind of stuff I just think is very weird and cool. And it's all very beautiful. Let me tell you: my room is literally plastered in Heavy Metal covers. There's like titties everywhere. [Laughs] But that's not really what I like about it, it's the art style. The fantasy of it all: Why is this topless chick riding a metal shark? Why is that? I just love the creativity of it. Not so much the soundtrack, but, more so I like the animation and all the weird stuff going on. It's like an anthology movie, green orbs causing people to be evil across the universe. The animation is just so interesting, and all the stories, none of them are super unique but each one of them in contrast to the previous one is a wholly original thing.
I'm really big into bio-mechanical kind of art, H.R. Giger and Alien and all that stuff. I think that connection got me collecting the magazine, like I saw one and the cover was just this guy in a gas mask standing over some dead bodies, this broken technology everywhere. As I got deeper into it, I noticed all these artists I would never see otherwise were creating their own beautiful art so I just kept buying them just to see and get inspiration. Before I knew I had like a hundred of them.
If I'm feeling stuck on a T-shirt or a creative project, I'll just bust out some magazines and try to get some inspiration from the stories and the images. You never know what you're going to get opening up one of those magazines. It could be an animated porn star going from planet to planet tricking men then killing them, or it can be about the uprising of an alien nation to defeat the coming invaders. It can be anything, and you never know what could be in each copy.
The Beyond was one of the more recent movies I've seen. I probably saw it for the first time when I was 20. I found it on a random-ass DVD, it was called Seven Doors of Death, which I honestly still don't know how that connects. So I just found it, like, "What is this ... I guess I'll watch it." I was so blown away by the soundtrack in the movie, it became instantly one of my favorites. One of the first themes in the movie, this little girl and her mother walk into a morgue and the mother walks into the room with a dead body, and she sees her husband and screams. The whole time it's eerily quiet, like dead silent and she screams and runs in. This fucking vat of acid falls from the top shelf onto her face. And for some reason, jazz starts playing. It's absolutely crazy but it fits so well.
The combination of that music — I don't even know what genre that would be — and horror is such a perfect connection to me, which is why I love the movie. I feel like you have to look at that movie as a whole, you can't just watch it and expect the story to wow you. You have to take it all in together. What I really love about the movie is the contrast of dead silence, and this weird, weird jazz music just makes for such a weird composition that's so inspiring. I would love to just make a full album that was like the music in that movie, but I don't know how and probably never will. [Laughs]
The music in [director Mamoru Oshii's 1995 anime classic] Ghost in the Shell is all organic — it's all choirs and tribal drums. It's not electronic like one would expect. And the organic music is such a great contrast between the technology of the movie. That's part of the Code Orange mindset. We're not trying to make music that's predictable, old or stale. We want to take elements of everything that we love and combine it to create a whole vision, like a Ghost in the Shell or something ... in that it has dynamics. Even if you were to listen to just the music of Ghost in the Shell, you could tell there's some kind of struggle — between these organic songs that are realistic sounds, and the fast-beat cyberpunk stuff.
That movie has the most impact on me visually. There's such a moral quandary throughout the film, and then all these scan-line drawings of this woman getting designed, her brains being scanned, all this technology being formed. I'd never seen anything [animated] that was as technologically dark.
I think I was probably in my late teens when I watched it, didn't see it earlier because of nudity and all that stuff. The entire movie as a whole is very beautiful, from a moral and auditory level it's a cult classic, an anime classic if you will. All the technology in that movie is what I want for [Code Orange] visuals, any scene you see in that movie I want to be a kind of reference for any artwork in the band. We did a music video for "The Mud," and one of my references was the animation in that. Didn't really come through like that movie at all, but it captured the vibe enough.
My visuals directly come from Ghost in the Shell and The Animatrix, and all of those technologically great movies. I don't really have an interest making something visual that tells a story with dialogue, I just want to make quick images that put out a vibe. I have CRT TVs set up in my room, three Sony PVMs in a rack and a VCR on that, which all run into my computer. So I'll take samples from VHS film clips and mess with them to come up with cool art. That's what I just started to do when I was bored a little while ago. But now it's become a big part of my workflow. I'll be working and have a movie on, and if I hear something in that movie, like a sound effect or dialogue, a scream or anything, I'll take it and sample it, store it in my computer and just come back to it for later.
As far as creating actual video goes, I really just do it for the band. I wish I could make like a whole movie out of that stuff, but I just don't know how and don't have the time. For those Alt-J remixes, I used this video synthesizer and sent it through to my TV, and photographed it through the TV so you could see all the scan lines.
Our visuals have been a constant evolution, we're definitely trying to get crazier and crazier, more creative with our designs. Originally I didn't do our merch, I only started a few years ago, I think maybe mid-2014. When I started, I wasn't good at Photoshop at all. So it was just working with the skillset that I have. Being constantly on Photoshop, I can do anything I want now. I feel like we've finally reached a point where musically, visually, aesthetically, this band can really be whatever we want it to be. You can't just drop this weird-ass shit on people immediately, you have to ease them into it.
I think now that people are seeing the big picture of the band, people are starting to notice the individuality of it. Maybe they speculate what influences we have, and maybe they do think that video looks like Ghost in the Shell and they're right. Or maybe they think it looks like something totally out of left field. It's whatever, I'm still down with that too. I want people to wonder, "What is this?" We definitely take a lot of influences from a lot of different places, like the Broken movie from Nine Inch Nails was a huge influence on me when trying to come up with "The Mud" video. Originally it was going to be animated Broken movie meets Ghost in the Shell, which it kind of is but doesn't really come off that way, but it still has its own vibe.
We're going to try to do it and come up with something that's different, but just as good. We're not trying to emulate artists, but instead trying to take influence from them with what we think the mindset they were in.