We Made an Alternative 'Stranger Things' Soundtrack Full of Synth-Heavy, Supernatural Selections
Can't live without your new favourite TV show? Here are some inspired choices to take you back to 1980s Indiana.
One of the nicest, most bewildering things about the near-universal love that Stranger Things received was the adulation poured upon the music across the opening credits. Appearing for just under one solitary minute, those undulating, analogue arpeggios triggered fervour across my social media feed. Suddenly old school friends whose previous musical endeavours had barely stretched beyond Kasabian, were musing on when the score might see the light of day on vinyl. It felt strange. Where were you guys when I wanted to geek out about the Danza Meccania compilation of Italian synth-wave 1982-1987?—I thought. Where were you when I was trying to get my Kickstarter going to fund the purchase of a reconditioned Micromoog that I would have no actual, practical use for?
Of course, neither of those things were linked so intrinsically to a show like Stranger Things, a show that captured our generation's coming-of-age by paying tribute to the movies (and almost by proxy, the soundtracks) that were so comforting during those confusing times.
That in turn got me thinking: how did the mood and hardware of those soundtracks—from the proggy melodrama of Goblin to the staccato menace of John Carpenter—come to hold such a persistent influence over various forms of dance music over the years? Maybe its the fact that the way we experience club culture shares a common bond with the way we experience shows like Stranger Things (and by extension the way we experienced movies like E.T. and The Goonies). They're both forms of escapism that feature universally innocent acts shot through with the thrill of subversive temptation, of danger even.
With that in mind, here are a selection of tracks that will hopefully evoke a similar reaction to the Stranger Things score. Drawn from across four decades or so of music and styles, they nevertheless share common thematic and/or formal elements. You might be pining still for the soundtrack but the below should at least help you channel your inner-Winona on the dancefloor whilst doing so.
1. Space Art - Nous Savon Tout (1978)
This track from French duo Space Art came out in '78 but occupies a weirdly timeless, liminal space. Despite being rooted in the proggy electronic experimentations of that decade, the mood it conjures somehow transcends that. Voices are fed with robotic bewilderment through an early prototype of the vocoder while synths swirl in all directions beneath. Suddenly though, everything opens up with the introduction of clamouring 4/4 drums and soaring major keys. You're aware, of course, that you're not really experiencing the thrill of space travel as the music rises and rises, but at the same time you are wondering just how acceptable it would be to try and 'build' a rocket ship out of the cushions currently being used as seats by your pre-drinks-round-at-mine-before crew.
2. Richard Wahnfried - Time Actor (1979)
Pioneering slow-mo disco from the alias of Klaus Schulze, one time member of electronic krautrockers Tangerine Dream. This was a big tune for Daniele Baldelli, who basically invented the 'cosmic' sound by mixing between tracks like this, straight up US disco, oddball new wave and African polyrhythms. The vocals sound like something from a black and white sci-fi show you stumble upon via late night cable TV. They're also pretty marmite if the comments on the record's Discogs page is anything to go by (like many of the vocal tracks on this list to be fair). I've always liked them though: pseudo-scientific/philosophical musings that are gonna provide that guy on the dancefloor—you know the one I mean, swaying alone after two thirds of the crowd have already left, weirdly positioned Strongbow stain on his shoulder or someplace, grinning at his fingers spread two inches away from his face—with the Big Night Out equivalent of this timeless gif. And who could begrudge him that?
3. Anne Clark - Sleeper in Metropolis (1983)
This conjures that same sense of urban decay that John Carpenter did with his classic soundtracks to Assault On Precinct 13 and Escape From New York. Like Carpenter, Clark is all about the analogue synths, but puts them to way more muscular, dancefloor-friendly use on this pounding slice of melodrama. "As a sleeper in metropolis, you are insignificance, dreams become entangled in the system," so go the opening lyrics, and suddenly you're every adolescent kid hanging on to the wonderment of youth whilst the darker allure of the adult world pulls ever stronger.
4. Savage - Don't Cry Tonight
Savage is the alias of Roberto Zanetti whose best tracks were like an Italo reimagining of the more US-centric sub-genre of morning music (i.e. the more subdued, emotional tracks that disco DJs would play towards the end of the night as the sun comes up and dancers paired off—see Luke Howard of Horse Meat Disco's excellent Soundcloud page for numerous mixes exemplifying this). In a perfect alternative universe the crystalline John Hughes-esque bounce and huge chorus of "Don't Cry Tonight" would have soundtracked the finale of my Year Six leaver's disco as my home-made robot friend clunkily walked off into the sunset, having taught me that it's possible to stand up to the bullies and get the Molly Ringwald while still staying true to my child-genius ways. Instead I got "My Heart Will Go On" whilst awkwardly grabbing the waist of a girl who I can't remember beyond the fact she was a foot taller than me and concentrating on not throwing up after a Fanta-fuelled mosh to "Shake A Tail Feather." These are the times we live in though, I guess.
5. In Aeternam Vale - La Piscine (1989)
This is where we move away from the more campy numbers and closer to the realm of Serious Grown Up Techno That Nevertheless Still Tries To Intimidate You With Its Scary Horror Movie Sounds. A type of music (as you'll see later in this list) that is still going strong today. That piss-take is a bit harsh actually, because this is a genuinely brilliant fifteen minutes of oppressive, underwater echoes and pummelling bass that rarely lets up. In Aeternam Vale was the work (more or less) of one French dude called Laurent Prot, and his discography has been given new life in recent years thanks to the peerless Minimal Wave label. To be honest most of the stuff they (re-)release could slot into a less dance-oriented version of this list. Good thing I'm enough of a nerd to create a massive Spotify playlist that encompasses everything of this ilk.
6. Pysche - The Saint Became a Lush (1993)
This features on the second volume of Trevor Jackson's Metal Dance series of compilations which, like Veronica Vasicka's aforementioned Minimal Wave label, is a good starting point for exploring the more new wave and industrial-style tracks that used analogue synths to capture the same darkly magical feel of pre-CGI movies. This is pretty much a no-brainer of a track to be honest if you're into this stuff—straight-faced vocals, big driving beat and a high-pitched synth line that dances about like the Halloween theme at a nineties disco.
7. Unit Black Flight - No Turning Back (Legowelt Remix) (2006)
Bringing things a little more sharply up to date is this spacey remix from Legowelt. It might seem a little layered-shimmery-synths by numbers, but it's somehow way more gritty than all the stuff those cosmic Norwegians were putting out at the time. Like if Prins Thomas was the rubbery-looking pod-racer pulling smooth handbrake turns in Star Wars Ep. 1, this would be original trilogy Millennium Falcon being hoisted up on cranes in Pinewood studios. On that note: good use of subtle pew-pew-pew laser sounds in this track too.
8. Delia and Gavin - Releeve (Carl Craig Remix) (2006)
Having just sent a sly diss in the direction of Prins Thomas for being too slick (which he's not really—love you Prins), I present this Carl Craig masterpiece which is so classy, so fucking regal in its refined builds and perfectly positioned drums that it almost makes me want to become one of those boring guys who are completely evangelical about Detroit techno and nothing else. What's great about it of course is that it marries that sensibility with the homemade analogue synths of Gavin Russom, the in-house sound engineer for DFA Records. There's definitely a retro-futuristic space-age feel to it, but more than anything it makes me want to be Tom Cruise before he had his teeth done, pegging it down the autobahn in a sports car shaped like a robotic doorstop.
9. 5th Floor - Two Dogs in a Room (2010)
This was the second ever release on L.I.E.S. and it pretty much set the agenda for the blown out hardware and distorted arpeggios that have come to define the label. It's the work of label founder Ron Morelli and L.I.E.S. mainstay Steve Summers, the former of whom releases delightfully oddball and abstract records on Hospital Productions. In truth, later releases take the L.I.E.S. template to much more satisfying extremes (see this for example) but you know what, sometimes its good to start at the beginning with these things. The first Terminator is still a worthwhile watch, even if Judgement Day does shit all over it.
10. Prurient - You Show Great Spirit (2013)
Much is made of this being the album where a noise artist fuses the world of techno to that of black metal (literally, can you imagine a record more tailor-made for tokenistic Pitchfork praise?). I get it, but to me it'll always evoke the haunted house tropes of old electronic 'dark wave' (ugh) acts far better than Dominick Fernow's attempts to do so as part of Cold Cave. Try to listen to this track without imagining you're in some isolated shack shrouded in mist, whilst some maniac picks off your promiscuous female friends as they inexplicably reveal their going-straight-to-hell bare breasts. Works equally well if you substitute the log cabin for a bleak European club and your co-stars' soft porn nipples for some German guy's leather-clad bulge.
One more for luck...
Lord of the Isles - Geek Chic (2013)
Obviously as a Serious Music Fan (i.e. someone who only listens to dance music on headphones, at home), I don't go in much for those peak-hours-main-room-hands-in-the-air moments. I have equivalents though, and I'll never forget the first time I heard this, playing through those incredible speakers that dominate the club space in the back of LN-CC. That moment where everything falls away and those echoey keys come through to the fore amidst alien-sounding vocal sighs. It's not a million miles away from the first track on this list in that respect actually, despite the 35 year gap between them. It's E.T. lifting those kids' bikes into the air. It's Sigourney Weaver telling the Alien Queen to "get away from her, you BITCH!" It's that amazing little girl from Stranger Things flipping a van upside down with her mind and the look on her friends' faces that says, this is a feeling that we should cling onto for as long as we possibly can.