We have to talk about what’s been on everybody’s mind after binge-watching Netflix’s new show Stranger Things. No, I’m not talking about dream boat Hopper or even all the feels of the Goonies era in the present. No, what I’m talking about is synth and its counterpart synth pop. From television themes to entire soundtracks synth and pulsating techno beats are replacing grand orchestra ballads and all-consuming percussion anthems. Why are we not scoffing music that we would expect to be played in the 80s or in an underground club? What is it about synth/synth pop that sounds like honey to our ears and matches so perfectly to what’s being shown on our screens?
In David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, low tunes from Disasterpeace give the eerie teen horror more of an edgy dreamlike aesthetic. In a world where losing your virginity results in contracting a sexually transmitted monster, lyric heavy music is almost nonexistent and a certain urgency comes from the power of the synth. In Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, music comes from a purely electric score by Cliff Martinez and sweet synth pop by way of College, Desire, The Chromatics and Kavinsky. While the score electrifies silent and sometimes gruesome moments, the elements of pop echo the romance between the Driver and Irene. In Adam Wingard’s The Guest, danceable techno beats of Annie’s “Antonio” to the two synth heavy tracks “Hourglass” and “Omniverse” by S U R V I V E, everything about the soundtrack is perfect. I’m incredibly partial to this soundtrack. In the case of The Guest it gives the thriller a certain bite that is both equal parts terrifying and sexy. Certain moments including a tragic death of a notable character to the tune of Stevie B’s “Because I Love You” to a particular sexy shirtless scene of Dan Stevens overflowing with lust to “Emma” by The Sisters of Mercy, make it apparent that the horror genre no longer needs to rely on the crutch of dissonant chords and music box melodies. Where earlier films were marked by basic and straightforward music, characters and plots are becoming more complex and so the music reflects the change.
On TV synth is being utilized beyond the theme. Both Netflix’s Stranger Things and AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire embrace the influence of the 80s (as they are both set during the time period), but exist beyond the simple and generic sounds we’ve all become accustomed to expect of the decade. Synth makes their programs exist beyond their tropes and be iconic, because while we think we might think we’ve seen these stories before in Apple and The Goonies, we’ve never seen anything quite like this before.
Synth is filling our screens and adding to our experience of watching whatever is on our screen whether that be a laptop, TV or in a theater. There’s something more jarring about fun techno synth rather than seeing sweeping orchestra masterpieces. We aren’t necessarily being told how to feel as innocent instruments disguised as devil’s playthings and loud drums dictate to us. Synth lends a new kind of emotion to the genres we are all accustomed to, only now more sinister and inherently less predictable.
Long Live Synth and Synth Pop.