80s Music: The Other Character in Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’

8 Aug

With the soundtrack to his film Drive, Nicoals Winding Refn has pulled off a neat trick. With the intention of creating the perfect accompaniment to a neo-noir LA heist movie, he has simultaneously created a 80s soaked soundtrack that will keep audience members heads bobbing at bars and parties long after the credits roll.

I was lucky enough to watch the Australian premiere of Refn’s Drive at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Refn is one of the most exciting figures in film today. His visual aesthetic started off with the gritty Danish mean-street realism of the Pusher trilogy. That style, however, has since graduated to something entirely different—something that is both visceral and at once meticulously, almost conspicuously, executed. From the Kubrick-ian (verging on Vaudevillian) Bronson, to the dreamlike Valhalla Rising, Refn’s films are less about escapism, and are more a form of entertainment where artistic sensibility takes centre stage. In a Refn film, nothing seems left to chance. Each shot and each editorial flourish is calculated.

Drive is one a hell of a movie. A lot has already been written about it’s style and violence. Andrew O’Hehir probably summed it up best in Salon, when he said Drive “recalls both Roger Corman’s B-movie aesthetic and the glossy Hollywood spectacles of Michael Mann”.

While the visual aesthetic is stunning, it’s the soundtrack that will dominate a lot of the post-movie conversation. The music in Drive is so prominent and so good that it becomes its own character. Drive is arguably the motion picture soundtrack of 2011.

Refn is one of those rare directors who have a true knack for marrying music to the moving image. His musical choices, while sometimes jarring, always seem appropriate to the point you can’t think of a song you’d rather hear in a particular scene than what he has chosen.

Before we continue, there is something you ought to know: Refn has a love for 80s synth-pop (as a primer, witness Tom Hardy in Bronson brawling in a barn set to the crisp electro-pop of Glass Candy’s Digital Versicolor).

From the opening title credits, Drive hits you with its 80s gloss (even though the film is set firmly in the present). Hot-pink neon font work drips across the screen as Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx’s Nightcall belts out thick distorted disco.

Cliff Martinez’s electronic ambient score later complements this perfectly with analogue synthesizers providing a rhythm you just can’t shake. As Martinez told The Playlist, “I felt compelled to be influenced by the sounds of the 80s because [the film] had a bunch of songs by contemporary artists who are doing songs that are homage’s to the 80s. And, I thought, ‘That’s interesting, I might try to weave that into the score'”.

In Drive, Refn’s Los Angeles is a cold, lonely place. The analogue beats and synthesized rhythms serve to reflect the impersonal metropolis that is Los Angeles at night. The soundtrack highlights the driver’s (Ryan Gosling) sense of disconnect from his surrounds, until he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan). It’s when Irene enters the picture that the soundtrack starts to melt with sweet synth pop vocals courtesy of College and Electric Youth’s collaboration, A Real Hero.

Other notable artists that pay homage to the 80s in Drive include Desire and Chromatics.

They may be inspired by the 80s, but the songs and music in Drive are so now.

Full Soundtack Tracklisting:

01. Nightcall – Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx
02. Under Your Spell – Desire
03. A Real Hero – College feat. Electric Youth
04. Oh My Love – Riz Ortolani feat. Katyna Ranieri
05. Tick of the Clock – The Chromatics
06. Rubber Head—Cliff Martinez
07. I Drive—Cliff Martinez
08. He Had a Good Time—Cliff Martinez
09. They Broke His Pelvis—Cliff Martinez
10. Kick Your Teeth—Cliff Martinez
11. Where’s The Deluxe Version?—Cliff Martinez
12. See You in Four—Cliff Martinez
13. After The Chase—Cliff Martinez
14. Hammer—Cliff Martinez
15. Wrong Floor—Cliff Martinez
16. Skull Crushing—Cliff Martinez
17. My Name on a Car—Cliff Martinez
18. On The Beach—Cliff Martinez
19. Bride of Deluxe—Cliff Martinez

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One Response to “80s Music: The Other Character in Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’”

  1. Hollie August 9, 2011 at 12:27 am #

    Captured perfectly. Most definitely motion picture soundtrack of 2011!

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