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Diva Phenom: Further Listening

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One of the questions I asked myself when starting work on these Diva Phenom sequels was: “What else sounds like Stranger Things?” And so, I thought I’d turn the answers to that question into a post on my website, to share my thoughts.

It’s fairly easy to find the bigger, darker, more epic synth sounds in film and TV soundtracks, especially in the world of sci-fi. But that warmer, more wistful, nostalgic vibe is a little harder to come by. I’m sure there are plenty of people who really enjoy Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s terrific work on the series and want more of that type of thing. If you’re one of them, then read on…

You can also hear some of these soundtracks (and others) in my Phenom Pulse and Phenom Chill Spotify playlist.

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An easy (if slightly egotistical!) place to start is with a series I worked on. Paul Haslinger is a composer who may be familiar to some of you as a former member of synth legends, Tangerine Dream. So he REALLY should know his retro synth onions and demonstrates this beautifully on his score to the US TV series Halt & Catch Fire. The series is set predominantly in the 80s (the story revolves around the innovation of Silicon Valley) and the score reflects this nostalgic element. It’s full of woozy pads, gentle and flickering arpeggios, and delicate melodic sounds. And whilst it has one foot firmly in a retro ambient vibe, there’s plenty of energy going on. Perfect chill music, that also comes with a lot of heart and narrative elements, keeping the brain entertained.

80s setting: check. Group of friends having an adventure: check. Mysterious local goings on: check. Joyous retro synth soundtrack: check. Stranger Things? No, my friends, I’m talking about Summer of ’84, a great little nostalgic film that combines all the fun elements of coming of age, looking out for your pals and a serial killer being on the loose. Le Matos is a serious name in the Synthwave scene and is a natural fit for this reverential ode to growing pains in the mid 80s. They bring a lot of those classic Synthwave sounds to the score: the driving basses, the lo-fi arpeggios, the sumptuous pads and the fluid leads. But, on top of that is a sense of fun and a sense of direction that makes this soundtrack a more cohesive listen than it could have been. Yes, sometimes it’s a little repetitive, but the peak moments are glorious and, even though there are horror themes to the film, the soundtrack never loses its warmth and wistfulness.

If your favourite period of history is the turn of the twentieth century but you STILL want those nostalgic 80s musical vibes, the rather eclectic and curious The Knick is the programme for you. The anachronistic soundtrack won’t appeal to all when watching the series, but certainly has its own merits when listening to it in isolation. Cliff Martinez is certainly a whizz with synth sound design and The Knick soundtrack showcases his skill adeptly. It’s not strictly a nostalgic 80s vibe, the synth techniques wander from 70s modular sequences all the way to modern atmospheres and textures. But it definitely has a lot of the pure synth appeal of Stranger Things et al. And the track titles are a hoot!

Another absolutely corking synth soundtrack is Rememory, by Greg Tripi, who happens to be a regular collaborator with Cliff Martinez. Greg is also a synth genius (if you have an Arturia MatrixBrute, I highy recommend looking out his signature soundset for it!) and the Rememory score attests to this. It has beautifully delicate arps and sequences, whirling an emotional synth kaleidoscope around your brain, plus some of the lushest synth pads imaginable. It’s perhaps a bit more cinematic and less retro than Stranger Things, but the synths have a wonderful purity to them and are definitely the focus of the music.

Finally, before there was Ex Machina, Annihilation and Devs, there was Drokk. If you’re a fan of the work Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow do together, you may still have missed this overlooked gem. It’s a very stripped-back and lo-fi synth score but, by crikey, it’s fun. Their first soundtrack collaboration, it is essentially a discarded score for the 2012 Dredd film but, for unknown reasons, their score was dropped during pre-production – fortunately for us, however, 2000AD gave them thier blessing to carry on working on the music and release it. It’s probably the darkest pick here, full of steady and solid basslines, lo-fi sequences and the occasional blast of atonality. The raw analogue energy of it all though is very appealing.

Let me know what your favourite warm, nostalgic and lo-fi synth soundtracks are in the comments section.

Comments(1)

  • Kav
    06/12/2020, 3:40 am  Reply

    Cliff Martinez’ score for ‘Drive’, of course, and Mac Quayle’s ‘Mr Robot’ soundtrack. I also quite like Steve Moore’s music for ‘The Guest’.

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