Jay Taylor's notesback to listing index
Unpacking the '80s nostalgia of the 'Stranger Things' soundtrack[web search]
Unpacking the '80s nostalgia of the 'Stranger Things' soundtrack
Chances are, you've heard of Netflix's buzzy Stranger Things by now. Set in a small town in Indiana in 1983, Season 1 of the Duffer Brothers' eight-episode show comes off like a brilliantly nostalgic ode to the '80s, as it blends horror, sci-fi and supernatural elements and affectionately nods to movies like The Goonies, E.T. and The Thing.
But the show's soundtrack and score are equally '80s, as they woo fans with synth-tastic sounds, cheesy hooks, and creepy, atmospheric electronic effects.
Grab your Trapper Keeper and get ready to take notes — here's what you need to know about the music behind Stranger Things. (Warning: Mild spoilers ensue.)
Who's Behind The Original Score?
The eerie, synth-laden original score that runs through Stranger Things is the work of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. As part of the electronic quartet S U R V I V E, they've been dropping releases since 2008 — it's worth digging through their Bandcamp vault if you want to unearth a batch of '80s-sounding synth gems — but it's Dixon and Stein's work for the Duffer Brothers that looks set to thrust the band center stage, especially with a new album slated for a September release.
A Bag Of '80s Soundtrack Influences
Dixon and Stein were definitely paying attention to legendary horror composer John Carpenter's work on flicks like Escape From New York and the Halloween franchise. You could totally imagine Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Eleven biking away from Dr. Brenner's cronies to “Chase Across The 69th Street Bridge,” right? The duo also seem to nod to the work of the German electronic unit Tangerine Dream, whose prolific soundtrack discography includes contributions to Thief, Risky Business, and Sorcerer.
Embracing The Analog Texture
Crucial to the way the Stranger Things score whisks you back to the '80s is Dixon and Stein's use of analog synthesizers. In particular, they based their nostalgic soundscapes around the Prophet-6, a modern synth that's intended to recreate the texture and feel of the sort of keyboards their movie score predecessors used all those years ago.
Like A Throwback Mixtape
Just like the show's artwork and setting, the soundtrack to Stranger Things hits home like a classic '80s mixtape you forgot you used to love so much. Essential to the selection is The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go," which we're first introduced to when Jonathan Byers hips his younger brother, Will, to its raucous punk charms. As the track's used again in the series, it becomes a metaphorical motif, playing up to the idea of characters figuring out which side of the world they need to be in.
Steve and Jonathan and Nancy Too
As the love triangle between Steve, Jonathan and Nancy unfurls, the teenage three-way tryst is paired with staple songs of the '80s. When Steve distracts Nancy from studying in her bedroom by putting them moves on her, Toto's "Africa" seeps into the background. As he climbs up to her bedroom window and peeks in on her being consoled by Jonathan, Corey Hart's "Sunglasses At Night" soundtracks his stalkerish ascent. Later, as Jonathan and Steve inevitably come to blows over Nancy, it's Tangerine Dream's chilling and dramatic "Exit."
Suspend Your Disbelief
Just like believing in the existence of a shadowy parallel universe, you'll need to put your terrestrial music nerd tendencies to the side to get the best out of Stranger Things' musical charms. The show is set in 1983, but many of the songs accompanying the action weren't released until after that year. Chief offenders include The Bangles' "Hazy Shade Of Winter," New Order's "Elegia," and Vangelis' airy, synth-caressed "Fields Of Coral."