Dark 80s Synth

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Image credit: Jeronimo Gomez

Whenever I work, I tend to have on some kind of noise – silence reminds me too much of an assembly hall during exam time. But I’ve found I keep drifting towards walkthroughs of old console games and soundtracks from familiar movies. For the most part I listen music and it’s usually the soundtracks that have come from the horror / sci-fi movies from my youth, so we’re talking John Carpenter and Brad Fiedel here.

Clearly this is some kind of association to the past that gives my creativity some kind of space to breathe but it also set me on a journey to explore what else was out there and in doing so I found out a lot of cool stuff that served to inspire me even further and what I found I’d like to share…

During a certain period, the horror genre stood out as the one that owned the best film score / music. I suppose if you appreciate brooding soundtracks featuring a dark synth, horror is the place to go. Being weaned on horror from a young age, I had plenty of go-to tracks but it wasn’t until I purposefully set out to find these scores that I realised how little I actually knew about them or their composers; it’s also thanks to sites like Youtube that I got to hear them in their entirety and fully appreciate them.

Starting with the earliest of the bunch, I came across and now love Goblin. I’d seen Dawn of the Dead before but never explored who they were or what their music was. They have some massive contributions to the horror genre. Definitely worth mentioning is their standout work created in their collaborations with Dario Argento, specifically Suspiria, Profundo Rosso and Tenebre – hearing Tenebre made me want to watch the film.

Creepshow is one of those movies I saw when I was a youngling then never saw again for a long, long time. I remembered Stephen King turning into moss, Leslie Nielsen drowning Ted Danson, thousands of cockroaches and the music.

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Horror-meisters Inc.

At times with tongue firmly in cheek while at others conjuring the exact right amount of macabre, the synth-heavy soundtrack was composed by John Harrison. Harrison isn’t what you’d call a prolific composer, he pretty much volunteered for the job on Creepshow while taking on assistant director as well. Apart from a few gigs on Tales From the Darkside the only other movie of note Harrison scored was when he collaborated with director Romero again Day of the Dead and managed to produce a dark classic.

I’ve always really enjoyed John Carpenter’s movies (even the 90’s ones but no, not Ghosts of Mars) and part of the DNA of those movies was the soundtrack. With the exception of a small few (including The Thing, but even at that Morricone’s score has Carpenter vibe to it), Carpenter has been the man behind the soundtracks of his movies. If you’ve watched Halloween you’ll know that this is no small thing – the music to those films is just as important to telling the story and creating the mood as the cinematographer or special effects were. On discovering the full soundtrack to The Fog, I can say that it’s a stone cold dark electro classic. And listening to the intro to Halloween III I can see how ahead of his time he was – the brooding electronic track that seems contemporary today. Although it seems clear that Carpenter’s music was the catalyst for plenty of themes for the Master System / Mega Drive / SNES (an 8-bit tribute to John Carpenter can be found here) it appears that as he closes in on his 70’s, John Carpenter is being more celebrated as a composer than ever before. He released his first album “Lost Themes” featuring the excellent “Night” and is taking it on the road this year – I’m lucky enough to be have a ticket for one of these shows. On Halloween night…

With artists like Justice and Kavinsky taking their cues from Carpenter and this awesome compilation of tracks by current artists inspired by him, it seems that his kind of music is answering a need in people. But what is that need?

80’s culture was bombastic, unapologetic, optimistic, strikingly vibrant. Did the 80’s spend much of its time re-hashing, re-working, re-booting, re-making, re-inventing or re-imagining movies? Hell. No. It was perhaps THE golden age for a certain kind of cinema. The fact that studios and producers have been and continue to plunder the 80’s back catalogue for their next big release should tell you all you need to know. Hollywood is trying to re-create the magic that a lot of 80’s movies had woven into them for a new audience and make a buck or two. Who can blame them really.

But where the likes of Retrowave artists such as Mega Drive, Timecop 1983, Power Glove and Droid Bishop differ from these Hollywood corporates is that they don’t want to re-hash something that’s already been done, they want to re-ignite the spirit of the 80’s through their passion for its music. Their belief that the 80’s was so culturally rich is what drives them to tap into that magic I was talking about; listening to the soundtracks of some recent movies like Drive, The Guest and Maniac you can see that they’re not the only ones.

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A healthy strain of 80’s in its DNA

So there’s lots of folk seeking solace in some dark 80’s synth apparently. Since the 80’s will never really have a true revival (no matter how many films of the era get remade) I suppose all that can be done is to build the best parts of it into your life. Doesn’t matter if you’re too young to be a “child of the 80’s”. The things that endure from that period are the best of it; the movies, the music, the video games, the zeitgeist that they captured – it all has enough vibrancy to inspire. In my own small way I guess that’s what I do when I listen to the music when I work. It engenders a sense of security, I can look to the past to build work that people might see in the future.

 

 

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