‘Dark Side of the Ring’ Uses Music to Tell Pro Wrestling’s Most Sinister Stories

Professional wrestling docuseries Dark Side of the Ring showcases the twisted stories behind its most infamous characters like New Jack and Jimmy Snuka. It’s also the most viewed series to ever air on VICE TV, bringing out wrestling superfans from all eras. One of the most memorable details of the show is its original soundtrack, scored by Wade MacNeil and Andrew Gordon Macpherson. We spoke with the production duo about the central role of music in wrestling’s history, and how musical approach can create a balance of perspective between wrestling’s gimmicks and its brutal physical reality.

The full soundtrack is out this week via VICE Music Publishing and Waxwork Records.

Noisey: Music has been so central to wrestling, particularly when thinking about wrestler’s entrance music. How did the history of music and wrestling inform your approach, and were you guys big wrestling fans before this project?
Andrew Gordon Macpherson: I was a big WWF fan, pre-Attitude Era. It was definitely an early education in the power of having a strong theme for a character. One of the big things that [director] Jason Eisiner wanted to bring up with the show was that you knew whether it was Ultimate Warrior or Undertaker coming to the ring because of an audio cue before anything else. We tried to play on some of the sounds of those themes when composing for the show.

Wade MacNeil: I really wasn’t that into wrestling as a kid, because I didn’t have an older brother or cousin that got me into it at a young age. But the real-life version of all this is so compelling that it can deeply draw people into the world of wrestling. It can take someone who doesn’t know anything about wrestling, and turn them into a super fan. As composers, there’s so much for us to work with: so many different characters and the people behind the characters, the families and the tragedies. We were dealing with the whole range, from big, ominous entrance music and super synthy huge arena rock, to telling tragic and heartbreaking stories.

Can you talk about the different approaches that you each brought to the project to create the show’s unique sound?
WM: Even though I toured and made records in a classic band sense, while Andrew made a lot of music in a solo way, we were both skateboarding and listening to the Dead Kennedys when you were 14. There’s always a point where we meet in the middle on everything and I think when we’re able to collaborate it turns into some of our best work.

AGM: Usually before they’re even shooting, we have a creative discussion with Jason and ask, “What are you trying to make out of this episode?” In the first season, it was clear, he’d say, “The Macho Man and Elizabeth story is like a fairy tale romance that goes bad.” So we played with those ideas. Or with the Montreal Screwjob, we wanted it to feel like a heist film. We would get to the point of inspiration where we felt like we could create something cool and new. That would be the sonic imprint of that episode.

Wade and I basically made a music library for every episode. The show got greenlit very late and there was some concern as to whether there would be time to shoot everything and turn it over to us to properly score. So the solution that we came up with was the idea to give us the roughest version of that episode so that we could create a music library for every episode based on creative discussions. And then we said, “You guys handle the final music edits in the cutting room.”

I noticed there are lots of sounds that are sort of winking or nodding to the history of wrestling and its 1980s heritage. Like kitschy 80s horns hits, or epic timpanis.
AGM: One hundred percent. After we scored the initial pilot and established the template for the series and all of the music got approved, we basically saved presets of either instruments or mix chains or guitar sounds, and those became the template for writing subsequent music cues. That said, every episode had different story demands. We would introduce new instruments for new characters, like The Fabulous Moolah was the dulcimer and Kevin Von Erich was all these different glass instruments like cristal baschet or glass harmonica.

WM: There are those super nods to classic era 80s wrestling, like what Andrew and I always call “the Baywatch guitar.” It’s a guitar solo that has no business in any other scenario, but for that one moment, it’s just like, “How absurd can we make this? How deep into the 80s can we go?”

How do you guys hope this album is experienced? Is this soundtrack strictly for DSOTR and wrestling fans or do you feel like there is something in there for everyone?
AGM: If you enjoyed the show, hopefully the music takes you back to the feeling that you were getting watching the show. And if you haven’t watched the show, hopefully it evokes certain images, emotions, and creativity. It’s great for us to be able to revisit every episode as a miniature symphony and see how it all works together.

WM: Soundtracks have a way of transforming your world into something else. If I walk the thirty minutes from my place to Andrew’s studio and listen to the soundtrack from Nightmare on Elm Street 3, it all of a sudden turns into a very eerie walk through the park.

I definitely got some horror movie vibes from some of the soundtrack. Definitely a bit of John Carpenter in there. Do you guys have favorite soundtracks that served as inspirations?
AGM: We love John Carpenter: The Fog, Halloween 3, and Escape from New York. We love the Goblin and Argento stuff. I love David Axelrod, who was one of those Capitol Records producer/composers and was heavily sampled throughout the 90s and early 2000s.

WM: There are moments, where we’re thinking, “Suspiria would be a cool starting place for this” or maybe the atonal, classical moments from The Shining that are so horrifying. But then we bring our own musical experience to it. So if we start with a Kubrick reference, I’ll ask “How can I try to combine this with a beat from a Crass song?” And then Andrew interprets that idea through his drum machines.

AGM: A lot of people think that DSOTR is just “the darkest wrestling stories,” but the show is actually about kayfabe and how the gimmicks affect reality, and reality effects the gimmick of wrestling. Similarly, we used both real and artificial guitars on there, and real strings interacting with fake strings. There’s a constant attempt to deceive you as to what’s real and what’s fake which ties in with the theme of the show.

Purchase the ‘Dark Side of the Ring’ soundtrack on vinyl through VICE Music Publishing and Waxwork Records.

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