Broadcast had a wide range of esoteric influences in many different mediums, but one that comes up over and over again in interviews is the 1970 Czech film Valerie and her Week of Wonders. It’s a surrealist fairy tale about a 13-year old named Valerie who is becoming a woman. She has magical earrings which lead to a bizarre and frightening story involving a creepy priest, her vampire grandma, a polecat, and a boy who loves her and may or may not be her brother. The film raises many interesting questions like “what is this,” “what am I watching” and “isn’t that guy dead.”
Regardless of the actual quality of the film, it’s easy to see why it inspired Trish Keenan. Broadcast’s music always had a fairy tale feeling with Keenan’s voice playing the Valerie role of innocence amid the strange electronic fantasies they created. A lot of the imagery in Valerie and her Week of Wonders is the type of uncanny beauty that was Broadcast’s trademark. Another direct influence is Lubos Fiser’s lush soundtrack, which at times feels like a precursor to Broadcast’s sound.
After the smooth elegance of The Noise Made By People, Broadcast leaned further into the Valerie inspiration on Haha Sound, marking a departure for the band which would be typical from record to record. The space of TNMBP is replaced with tons of texture in the form of diverse percussion sounds, buzzing electronics, and other clatter. It puts Keenan in the center of a musical fantasy that is reminiscent of the film’s surreal imagery. They don’t exactly hide this: one song is called “Valerie” and borrows the melody from Fiser’s soundtrack while Keenan sings about the magical earrings.
“Valerie” stands out as one of the prettiest songs in Broadcast’s discography with its gentle strumming and Keenan’s innocent performance of Fiser’s melody. It also is a testament to how good they were at repurposing art that inspired them into music that fit their own sound. I loved this song before I even knew what Valerie and her Week of Wonders was, and I never even watched the movie until a few days ago. Understanding where some of this band’s ideas came from adds a layer of appreciation to it, but isn’t necessary at all.
I suspect the band would quite enjoy that I ended up watching the movie because of their music. Part of Broadcast’s charm was that they came off as so enthusiastic about their influences, and they used their music to try to get listeners interested in art they felt was meaningful. What I’m still discovering in their music now are little reference points that I never recognized as someone who hasn’t ventured into a lot of the areas Keenan was obsessed with. They function almost as easter eggs that make the band into cool friends that turn you onto stuff you wouldn’t have found on your own.
The sincerity of their love for Valerie and her Week of Wonders is why the band borrowing the melody for “Valerie” feels like such a thoughtful homage when in other hands it could have been perceived as an act of theft. It’s the band resurrecting this old, forgotten piece of art and bringing it into conversation with the present and the future. The term “retro-futurism” kind of sounds like music writer babble, but “Valerie” is a direct example of it, where the past, present, and future all collide in one song. The rest of Haha Sound finds similar joy in linking different eras in a way that Broadcast did better than everyone else.