Looking back 10 years later

Released in theaters 10 years ago today, the film by Nicolas Winding Refn Drive was adapted from the 2005 James Sallis novel. In the hands of Refn, Drive became an action movie that took place in its own world – a meditation on action movies in general, with the pilot becoming something of a dark and violent superhero. It was also a movie set in Los Angeles and to some extent reveled in it, but nonetheless felt like it was in a spooky dream world adjacent to ours. The Driver is a mysterious character left unexplained, a figure who travels alone across the world until circumstances lead him to the carnage of the second half of the film. Refn considered it all like a fairy tale, infusing the film with purity and romance from the start as all that was sinister threatened to spill over.

As a result, he had notions of what music should be like to help create that otherworldly atmosphere. Rock music wouldn’t do. “[The Driver] is half man, half machine, ”Refn said. TOURNAMENT in 2011. “But the machinery, his car, is an antique. Bands from the late 1970s like Kraftwerk inspired me with the idea of ​​making a film where the score was electronic, but at an infantile stage – raw in its technology, but extremely poetic. Initially, he found his man in Chromatics / Italians Do It Better, mastermind Johnny Jewel.

The pairing seemed to be inspired. All of Jewel’s aesthetic dovetails perfectly with the movie we know now – a mix of seedy, neo-noir LA nights and fiery synth music. Even the way Jewel’s work references old films aligned with Drive. Some of his music found its way into the finished film, with songs from Chromatics and Desire playing crucial roles. But in the end his score was not used; the studio replaced him with Cliff Martinez, the former drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers who became a prolific sheet music composer. Jewel reworked her unused sheet music in Themes for an imaginary film, and that’s a glimpse of the difference Drive could have felt. Stretching from his usual handwriting, his aspirant Drive the score leaned on gloopy synthwave sounds and shimmering neon pinks and blues. That is to say always partly how we remember the music in Drive, but that’s not what Martinez’s score looks like.

Revisiting Drive all these years later I was struck by the difference between Martinez’s score and the way I remembered it. Most often it is sparse and ghostly; Refn had apparently been a fan of Martinez’s limited work on Sex, lies and video, and Martinez himself once noted he was taken aback by the ascent of the Drive soundtrack because he saw it as an extension of the “minimal, ambient” work he was already doing. This is what he offers in Drive, cold backgrounds that reflect the creeping terror of the film.

The score starts to pick up a bit as the Driver and Standard approach their unfortunate pawnshop heist. But most of the time, he stays back, helping to increase the tension of the film until it all boils over. Even in its climax there is actually a shocking shock lack music during key clashes, like the silent horror of the driver stalking the beach to kill Nino. Then, in the final showdown with Bernie in the parking lot, the synths almost sound like funeral church music. “We wanted to put a tone of horror in a film that is not horror,” Martinez said in the same TOURNAMENT maintenance. And, really, that’s what its Drive score done. These are less lush pastels by John Hughes and more icy by John Carpenter.

In a way, it almost doesn’t matter that I saw it for the first time Drive with the wrong score. No disrespect for Cliff Martinez’s work, which is perfect for the movie, but it’s those pop songs at the start of the movie that people talk about when they imagine the movie. Drive atmosphere. Here, Jewel’s contributions were indeed crucial. Drive opens with the underground foreboding of Chromatics’ “Tick Of The Clock” for the initial scene of the heist. It’s a flawless streak that I can always imagine vividly every time I think about it. That lean synth musculature hiccupping, Gosling’s gloved hand clutching the steering wheel before the flight. For a tense and voluntary film, you are immediately transported to its strange world.

Then there’s the pilot, the movie’s hot pink logo, and a photo of LA glittering in the night, all to the opening theme of Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx’s “Nightcall”. Co-written by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk, this is a dark then pretty Europop track, fully introducing the weird tonal balance Drive strikes. At the start of the film, other crucial moments are devoted to pop songs. The romantic driving scene with Irene and Benicio takes place on College and Electric Youth’s “A Real Hero”, which became the film’s spiritual theme – a real hero and a real human, the supposed division of the driver. Then, finally, there was Desire’s “Under Your Spell,” which echoed through the walls at Standard’s welcome party, with Irene and the Driver missing each other.

A title like “Under Your Spell” sums up the effectiveness of these songs’ appearances earlier in the film. It’s here that Drive turns his fairy tale, as he enchants you. In “Tick Of The Clock” and Kavinsky’s robotic dragging worms in “Nightcall,” you get the weird undercurrents. But in the chorus of “Nightcall”, and in “A Real Hero” and “Under Your Spell”, you get the romance of the movie. In interviews at the time, Refn loved to talk about the importance of music – how he and Gosling concocted elements of the film as they roamed LA sharing songs, how the conductor could be such a deeply lonely character that he spends his nights driving relentlessly with whatever the soundtrack. While Drive can be patiently paced, it’s also a film with a heightened emotional timbre, not quite human. There is something fantastic about using these songs. And if DriveThe world of was recognizable but not quite ours, as were those songs signifying distant and received memories while simultaneously playing as mutated echoes.

It’s here that Drive cast its long shadow of influence. It seems like ’80s nostalgia has been all over the place, or at least reappearing in constant cycles, for something like 20 years now. But over the past 10 years, there was certainly one particular and important strain that Drive play in. The synthwave was already a genre by the time it had its big moment on the Drive soundtrack, but it gained greater notoriety from here, helping to pave the way for other ’80s tributes like Strange things. But the synthwave isn’t much of a straightforward retro pastiche, it’s more of a textural memory of people who were either young children in that decade or who weren’t even alive yet. Like much nostalgia, it is refracted. Over the years, the Drive the soundtrack has become a constant point of reference, a sort of abbreviated descriptor of a reflection of a reflection.

This shortcut means that Drive not only brought synthwave to a wider audience, but also infiltrated indie music time and time again. Chromatics, and Johnny Jewel in general, are essentially artists who tampered with modified and filtered versions of the past; they too took on greater importance in the years that followed Drive. This peculiar kind of dismal, nodding late-night ’80s music pops up over and over again. In the last few years alone, you’ve had the Weeknd scoring one of the greatest hits in pop music history tapping into that philosophy, and you’ve had Annie’s long-awaited return. Black hearts similarly exploring that sound – the 80s, but not literally something that might have existed in the 80s. When Natasha Khan released her latest album Bat For Lashes, the 2019s Lost girls, she explicitly referred to watching Drive and feel an ’80s resurgence bubbling up at the start of the decade.

In hindsight, it all seems unlikely: an action meta-movie featuring the guy from Notebook stomping on the face of a man en route to a new era of cutting-edge internet / indie acclaim, and a handful of obscure synthwave artists. When you consider the internet’s role in synthwave as a genre, or in how we collapse eras and constantly sift through nostalgia, Drive is almost less timeless and instead very 2010s. It could have been a strange cult movie adopted by movie nerds. Instead, it became a broad and ubiquitous cultural touchstone – for a decade when, yes, many of us millennials were deeply under the spell of the unsung ’80s. But also during a decade where we sank ever deeper into a digital life, where time and place could be represented vividly or completely blurry, where reality and fiction could merge together. You could still see Drive like a fairy tale today; you can still imagine its soundtrack as a gooey romance. But the world evoked by the film and its music no longer necessarily resembles a distant dream. Drive is just another 21st century job stemming from how we can move in tangible and online worlds today – eliminating eras, boundaries and realities.

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