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Synthwave drive into motion pictures

November 28, 2017 1 comment

Synthwave, also called outrun, retrowave and retro-electro is a genre influenced by 1980s film soundtracks and video games. Aesthetically, synthwave gives a retrofuturistic perspective, emulating 1980s science fiction, action, and horror media, sometimes compared to cyberpunk. It expresses nostalgia for 1980s culture, attempting to capture the era’s atmosphere and celebrate it. Perhaps the most famous movie to use or to kickstart the use of a full-on electro soundtrack was the movie Drive by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. Drive was praised by the legendary Robert Ebert and had a standing ovation at Cannes festival in 2011. Although Drive shares several characteristics with the similarly-named 1978 Walter Hill car-chase film, The Driver, it is actually adapted from the 2005 James Sallis novel of the same name.

The title track, entitled Nightcall by Kavinsky is produced by one of Daft punk and shares some of the magic of their early french touch work in the 90’s. Nightcall was produced by Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and features Brazilian lead singer of CSS, Lovefoxxx. The track was used in the title sequence for Drive.  Most of its ethereal electronic-pop score was composed by Cliff Martinez, who was a drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Refn was a particular fan of his ambient work on the Sex, Lies, and Videotape soundtrack. Many movies followed in the aftermath of Drive such as The neon demon (also by Refn), It follows, Maniac and Turbo kid.

Kavinsky ‎– Nightcall (Record Makers) – 2010


Electro has always been highly cinematic, just think of the synths used by Vangelis in Blade runner, although more ambient in its genre, the electronic scores bears an intensity difficult to obtain with traditional instruments. As polyphonic sounds are used on synthesizers like the Korg, rightfully so used on BR, it can enhances dramatically a scene and put the emphasis on certain emotions.

Recently, we have seen a plethora of TV shows using those lush sounds. A gimmick or a real trend ? Who knows? From the highly overrated Stranger things, to Utopia’s Cristobal Tapia de Veer (who also scored the British remake of Humans, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams and an upcoming episode of the masterful show Black mirror) to Mr Robot OST, made by Mac Quayle, it seems that electro is no longer played by DJ’s but has been finally find a niche while being embraced by movie directors and showrunners like Sam Esmail. For Drive, for example, Refn wanted electronic music for the film and to have the music occasionally be abstract so viewers can see things from The Driver’s perspective. He gave composer Martinez a sampling of songs he liked and asked Martinez to emulate the sound, resulting in “a kind of retro, 80ish synth-pop” result. Recently, a famous iconic TV show used The Chromatics Shadow in their premiere. Black mirror S03 episode San junipero was scored by another Clint, Mansell this time, famously known for the soundtrack of Moon. Although more ambient in its tone, it showed that electronic music had come full circle and was largely embraced by TV shows : the soundtrack for just one episode, not even a full season, was so much in demand it had to be released on cd and vinyl !


These filmmakers have pretty much in common one person: John Carpenter. Vangelis and Tangerine dream can also be cited as reference. John Carpenter’s mostly known for his brand of horror flicks that includes Halloween, The thing and The fog. But he is also a gifted soundtrack composer as he did the score for Assault on precint 13, released in 1976. One of the film’s distinctive features is its score, composed and recorded by Carpenter. The combination of synthesizer hooks, electronic drones and drum machines sets it apart from many other scores of the period and creates a distinct style of minimalist electronic soundtrack with which Carpenter, and his films, would become associated. Carpenter had several banks of synthesizers that would each have to be reset when another sound had to be created, taking a great deal of time.

More recently, French acts including David Grellier’s project College, Kavinsky, Lifelike and Anoraak are recognized as the pioneers contributing to the early synthwave sound. These early artists began creating music inspired by famous 1980s score composers; music which was, at the time, largely associated with French house. Anoraak later stated in a 2014 interview: “American pop culture is definitely my background as a kid. I was born in 1980, so I grew up in a world taken by American music and movies”. Com Truise, whose retro synthesizer-based music was first released in 2010, has also described his music as synthwave.

Miami vice show from the 80’s also often serve as an aesthetic on many YouTube videos of Synthwave bands such as Miami nights 1984, VHS dreams and Timecop1983. Electric youth, featured on my mix ‘’Strange things & synths’’, an homage to Carpenter and an ode to S U R V I V E, are also a well-known respected band in the genre. From Toronto to France (College), to NYC (Com truise), to Australia (Jordan F), Copenhagen (Dynatron) and Gunship in London, those outfits underline dream like sequenced movies and soundtracks which contains tracks with vintage keyboards and bluntly descriptive titles as well.

When the 1980’s aesthetics of Terminator (1984) meets electro, Kavinsky’s Odd look is one heck of video to watch on YouTube !

Here is a fascinating video from the website called ‘’The rise of synths’’ below which can be streamed on Vimeo. Subtitles are in French!

P.-S. : Driver: If I drive for you, you get your money. You tell me where we start, where we’re going, where we’re going afterwards. I give you five minutes when we get there. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything a minute on either side of that and you’re on your own. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down. I don’t carry a gun. I drive.

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Who sampled who ? Kid Loco : A Grand Love Story for downtempo lovers

October 8, 2009 Leave a comment

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This is the quentessential trip hop album. Marvelously chilled grooves with some outstanding cut and paste work. His loops work to perfection. Kid Loco had a real cinematic style to his early sound. A treat to this day : full of lush instrumentation, easygoing rhythms, and a playful sense of humor that’s much cherished. From the swelling strings of “A Grand Love Theme,” you know you’re in for a treat. It towers over most of the mid nineties trip hop releases and sounds just as amazing a decade later. A cinematic panorama of chilled beats & italian porno soundtracks. This 2 cd set has a bonus disc of tracks only available on his hard-to-find singles, and is well worth the extra money. “Love Me Sweet” features Katrina from The Pastels on vocals, and is the only vocalised track here. And two years ago, I was watching the movie Zodiac by David Fincher and I thought I heard Kid Loco’s A grand love theme but was rather surprised to hear the orginal song from which Loco aka Jean-Yves Prieur had sampled : Three dog night’s Easy to be hard…I thought, wow great job by Loco on this sample.  Still loving a grand love story even 11 years after its release!

Kid Loco : A Grand Love Theme [ Yellow : 1997 ]

Three dog night : Easy to be hard [ Suitable for Framing the band’s second album : 1969 ]

Future force with David Carradine : the worst movie of all time !

October 5, 2009 4 comments

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Future force with David Carradine from Kill Bill fame is quite possibly the worst movie I’ve ever seen but also the funniest. Here is a summary of this crappy b-movie. Well, first of all, it’s supposed to take place in the future, David Carradine is a tough guy on a tough beat, he’s the best of America’s bounty hunters. What sets him apart from all the others? First off, the man is indestructible, his enemies empty shotguns several times over at point blank range and nothing happens. Helicopters with snipers firing assault rifles, thugs wielding 2X4s, nothing can stop him. Just when you think he’s beat, the man pulls a flying, remote control, crotch smashing, robotic glove of death out of his ass. Complimenting all this brawn is Billy’s brain, a techno geek in wheelchair that informs Tucker with a computer that looks like a Commodore 64. Tucker’s a good C.O.P. (Civilian operated police) you must understand, he doesn’t care about payoffs, just getting the job done right. Problem is, Mr. Adams (The Mob dude who runs everything) doesn’t like straight cops.

Things to look out in the movie :

* Hiding out in your very recognizable SUV on a deserted street doesn’t work..
* The actors are so bad : DC Douglas who plays Billy even apologized for acting in this piece of crap on a b-movie board :
except for Carradine, no other actor in FF performed in movies beyond 1997.
* Mullets or coupes Longueuil : lots and lots of them in Future force 😉
* When shoot by Becker, crippled Billy suddenly regains uses of his legs..!
* An helicopter that explodes but looks like a fake model
* Terrible one liners : “You’ve committed a crime. You’re presumed guilty until proven innocent. You have the right to die”. (Did Ross Perot win an election or what ?)
* Tough guys all drive 4X4s
* Watch out for the remote control on the robotic glove : it’s deadly !
* Jeeps are bulletproof : no matter how often you shoot at them, Tucker dodges bullets like Jesus Christ !

94e551c88da0b9458d0b1210.L[1]I was really sad to see David died last june. I wanted to personnally thank him for that gem of a b-movie as he acted as one of the co-producers. Everything in this absolute classic cheesy movie is BEYOND bad : the acting, the special effects, the clothes, the music, and so on. Even the Jeeps are damn ugly. While they try to convice us the movie takes place in the future, this flick looks like a poor man version of Chips.  It looks like fucking 1968, except this was filmed in 1990. It’s one of those movies that goes straight to VHS. Now here is the story : back in 2003, I managed to get a copy of this “film” on VHS for like 2 $. Kill Bill was out and I was like hell yeah an underground movie from David ! Expecting kung-fu action movie, I’d laugh my ass off…The opening sequence has Carradine arresting bad guys with his crotch gloves. Then, as they try to run towards Carradine the car is approximately 20 feet from Tucker and 1 min later it’s even further as if the cameraman couldn’t film close up ! Pretty much sets the tone for the entire film…I’ve never laugh so hard in my life.  What’s worse, the bald guy named Becker, who used to be Mr Clean on TV add, the horrible jean jacket with a patch weared by David, the techno geek Billy in wheelchair, the other bad guy who looks like porn stud Tom Byron, Roxanne who looks like a mutant from Total recall, the robotic glove who “helps” Tucker (Carradine), Marion, the female reporter who, in her mid twenties, has suddenly a crush on Tucker, a 50 year old belly beer (who looks drunk in the movie) cold hearted policeman that upholds the law without mercy…..ouch !!! And it’s just a start. There’s also a priest gang lord who seem to thrive on breaking the law. By now you’ve got to wonder why bother ? Cause it’s got Carradine starring in the movie of course 🙂 But also because it’s one of the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. Plain and simple. Thanks David !

P.S. : There is also a sequel to Future Force : John Tucker’s son travels back in time 30 years to save his father from being killed by thugs he is currently pursuing back in 1990…

Categories: David Carradine, Movies
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