When you think about Stranger Things, chances are that the show’s moody, synth score isn’t too far behind.
Initially, the show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, considered an orchestral score akin to something John Williams might have created. However, budget restrictions soon sent them in a different direction: synthesizers.
The brother’s reached out to Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the band Survive, an Austin-based quartet whose synth compositions frequently incorporate vintage sounds and genre vibes. It’s their score that Matt Duffer attributes with amplifying the show’s atmosphere. “The reason I know it’s huge is because I see these cuts without it,” he said in Worlds Turned Upside Down, “It’s maybe 30, 40 percent of what it is at the end of the day. Kyle and Michael elevate it in a major way. I can’t overstate their impact on the show.”
Need more synth to sink your sonic teeth into? Here are a few scores to check out.
The Neverending Story
Electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder arguably created the quintessential 80s fantasy score when he penned the sonic landscape for The Neverending Story. With bubbly sequencers and a theme song sung by Limahl, this score combines the very best of danceable disco beats with sweeping fantasy themes.
Blade Runner’s score balances mythical, airy descants with tense, minor melodies that complement the film’s futuristic noir style. In addition to his large discography, Greek composer Vangelis is also known for creating the score for Chariots of Fire, whose “Titles” theme was used at the 2012 Olympic medals ceremonies.
When Matt and Ross Duffer talk about the influences that inspired Stranger Things, John Carpenter is one of the first on the list. The filmmaker and composer is known for his affective minimalist scores that rachet up the tension in his most terrifying scenes. With Christine, Carpenter added a healthy dose of rock guitar, giving the theme an edgy virtuosity.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, It Follows composter Disasterpiece (a.k.a. Rich Vreeland) shared his feelings on synth-based music. “I think because synths can create sounds that are not always analogous to real life sounds, they do a good job of being strange and harder to pinpoint. I think that tendency can ignite the imagination. It’s perfect fodder for writing scary music.”
Heavier in nature, this score leans into the tension created by dissonant chords, driving rhythms, and loud, stabbing repetitions.
Composer Rob (Robin Coudert) took an interesting approach to his score for this remake of this 80s exploitation film. “. . . what was important to me was to sound very emotional, in order to embrace the feelings of the murderer instead of the victims.”
Citing Giorgio Moroder and specifically The Neverending Story, Rob’s Maniac score takes a decidedly darker, melancholic turn with delicate pianos grounding the measured, quivery synths.
Released in 2015, Turbo Kid was at the forefront of the modern synth explosion. French Canadian band Le Matos capture the joy of retro futuristic adventure through four-on-the-floor dance beats, catchy melodies, and triumphant arrangements that keep the film light even as it deals with themes of oppression and dystopia.