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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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Mr Robot show overview

September 6, 2016 Leave a comment

Even though what you did was wrong, you’re still a good kid, and that guy was a prick. Sometimes that matters more.

In Mr Robot, the critically acclaimed new tv show created by Sam Esmail, we meet Elliot Alderson, a mixture of Dexter Morgan, and hacking vigilante at night, who also speaks to his dead daddy, and Tyler Durden in Fight Club, as he has a split personality. Rarely, have I watched something and thought it was addressing accurately current social, moral and health issues such as Mr Robot. Depression, social anxiety, work stress, corporations, capitalism, hacking culture, loneliness, OCD, this show has it all. With a righteous tone, it would be an understatement to call it clever. And not a tad pretentious. Just the right tone in my opinion. The tone of helpless people, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the 1 %, us…vs them.

Them are the villains, in the story and in the real world : the corporations. It’s no wonder why Tyrell Wellick, the psychopath nemesis character opposite Elliott is named Tyrell. Tyrell corporation ? In Blade runner. A coincidence, I think not. It’s just one of the many Easter eggs found in this show…

Mr Robot directs strong criticism toward corporation and the world of suits. I found that often, the show attempts to address these subjects :

  1. Greed (Corporations are like Sarlac (the living mouth in the desert in Return of the Jedi) : their greed for the green is endless and will go through any lengths ; Evil corp has a sociopath mentality that echoes that of American psycho
  2. Paranoia (One of the greatest leverage our employers have toward us is the threat to fire us : characters in the show live in constant fear of losing their jobs and climbing up the corporate ladder, furthermore, the CEO’s exploit that vulnerability in their employees, fully aware of their own personal financial cupidity)
  3. Oppression of small people / workers (We learn that Elliott’s father, played by Christian Slater, was killed due to toxic waste. Those companies use people as pawns : they are nothing more to them than usable and disposable commodities, but they also don’t hold on grudges : it’s bad for business so we learn! Anything can and will be solved with money for them, echoing the sentiment delved in the documentary The corporation, that these entities are sociopaths)
  4. Reality vs dream world (The world of hacking embodies the dream world, the world of freedom, what Edward Snowden has called the Golden age of the Internet, before social media became the guardian state police for the states because it was spinning out of control. Hackers are outcasts, drug addicts but those drugs they take are just merely different than those used by the corporate drones (alcohol, cigarettes, coke)
  5. Violence vs peace : Evil corp uses threats, murders and any violent deeds in order to threaten or impose their will. Often, the gentle characters embodies us – the powerless citizen – although that trend has become far less present and rather the opposite in season II.

Mental illness 2.0

Another pool of subjects in which Mr Robot delves deeply is mental illness and I personally related heavily on the show as I have had 2 major depressions, social anxiety, and the latest : avoidant personality disorder. Even though Sam Esmail, the creator of the show hasn’t said anything about Elliott having such disorder, I strongly suspect this could be added to his paranoïa and split personality. Often, people who are plagued by this disorder tend to be very meticulous but also quite reclusive, by choice. They choose to remain aside of society’s bourgeoisie, often struggling to maintain relationships with the opposite sex and display awkwardness with others : family, co-workers, friends, bosses.

‘’Things are awkward between us. I’m ok with things being awkward between us’’. Caption here!

Elliot Alderson also struggles with clinical depression and extreme bouts of loneliness. He wishes he could grasp a taste of happiness, but for some reason, he cannot. That’s why he sees the world as an outcast but his outlook is also, mostly, spot on most of the times : he reads people and deciphers them through hacking but with a stunning and uncanny accuracy. The scene where he analyses his shrink, Krista, is quite simply an outstanding outburst of awareness : could Elliot act as a mirror of what’s wrong with society ? A mirror that acts like a boomerang toward us as he tell us his story, or, our story.

 

Influences

Sam Esmail has acknowledged several major influences on the show, such as American Psycho, Taxi Driver, and The Matrix. In particular, Esmail credited Fight Club as the inspiration for a main character who suffers from dissociative identity disorder creating a new manifestation of his deceased father in the form of a hacker, as well as for the anti-consumerist and anti-establishment spirit of its characters. Commentators have also noted the parallel in its plot on the erasing of consumer debt records to the film. In an interview, Esmail explains how playing the song that David Fincher used to underscore the climax of Fight Club (“Where Is My Mind?”) when Elliot initiates the hack in episode nine is intended as a message to the audience that he is aware of the inspiration they took from the film. The narration by the protagonist was influenced by Taxi Driver, and other influences mentioned included Risky Business in its music score, Blade Runner for the character development, and the television series Breaking Bad for the story arc.

Media & voyeurism culture (everyone watches everyone)

Conclusion

In short, there is absolutely 0% filler stuff in Mr Robot. Every scene, every line, every character is relevant to future episodes / future seasons. I have a feeling that when all is said and done after the planned 4 or 5 season run, this will go down in history as one of the greatest stories ever told on TV. Mr Robot captures the existential crisis of the millennial generation. The world that has been passed off to us is morally decayed and wrong on many levels.  How is it that we are more connected and yet further apart than ever before?

And the soundtrack by Mac Quayle, drifting between electro and ambient is top notch, just two more reasons to watch this incredible, essential and more than ever relevant show!

‘’Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank. Give him a bank and he can rob the world’’…TW.

Breaking bad mix tape – best tracks of the seminal tv show

August 4, 2016 Leave a comment

sound_systemHaving binged watched Breaking bad for the 4 th time, this time in 3 weeks, I have compiled a simple mix of some of  the best tracks. Needless to say, if you haven’t watched this show yet, do yourself a favor and lock yourself in your basement and binge watch the best show ever on the small screen cuz unlike what Walter White said, ”masturbating, watching Breaking bad and eating cheetos all day does constitute plans”!

 

 

 

Top 5 Breaking bad tracks :

1) Tommy James And The Shondells : Crystal Blue Persuasion : Wanna cook ? (1968)

Crystal Blue Persuasion is a 1968 song originally recorded by Tommy James and the Shondells and composed by Eddie Gray, Tommy James and Mike Vale. A gentle-tempoed groove, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” was built around a prominent organ part with an understated arrangement, more akin to The Rascals’ sound at the time than to James’s contemporary efforts with psychedelic rock. In 2012, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” was used in the eighth episode of the fifth season of Breaking Bad, “Gliding Over All”, during a montage depicting the process involved to bring main character Walter White’s methamphetamine operation and its signature blue crystal meth to an international level.

2) The Peddlers : On A Clear Day : 1968

The Peddlers were a British jazz/soul trio of the 1960s and 1970s.In 2012, The Peddlers’ 1968 jazz cover was used in season 5 episode 3 (“Hazard Pay”) of AMC-TV’s Breaking Bad over a montage of Walt and Jesse’s meth manufacturing.

 

3) EL-P & Trent Reznor : Flyentology (Cassettes Won’t Listen Remix) 

EL-P aka El Producto, is an American hip hop recording artist, record producer and record executive from Brooklyn, New York City. Originally a member of Company Flow, El-P has been a major driving force in alternative hip hop for more than two decades, producing for several notable underground rappers. Here he collaborates with Trent Reznor of Nine inch nails fame.

4) Flavor Flav : Unga Bunga Bunga 

Plays in the background of the big party bash of Jesse Pinkman’s flat.  From Flavor Flav of Public Enemy fame. It is his first solo album and the only non-Public Enemy album made by him

5) Thee Oh Sees : Tidal Wave 

If or when I’ll throw a party, I ll be sure to put this on. A killer surf tune! In 2011, the band’s single “Tidal Wave” was featured in the Breaking Bad episode “Salud“, where it plays over Gus Fring’s poisoning of Don Eladio and his capos.”Fill your pockets and leave in peace, or fight me, and die!”

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