Ryan Gosling’s Driver has no name. He is a professional getaway driver, bound by an interior code he refuses to break. But even the hardest of men have a weak spot. He finds his in the form of neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), offering to break his unknowable exterior shell and risk everything in the process. Playing like a cross between Le Samourai and Miami Vice, the Drive soundtrack harks back to the neon-drenched 80s. It is infused with a refreshing, uncynical directness, making it one of the best movies of the last decade; simultaneously shocking and deeply romantic.

A huge part of its success comes down to its iconic, era-defining soundtrack. Music can play such an important part in enticing the viewer into the world of a film. Bouncing between slick, neon-streaked cityscapes and swooning, violence-laced romanticism, Drive needed something that could express everything the Driver couldn’t. This simultaneously futuristic and nostalgic collections of songs, complemented by Cliff Martinez’s airy score, immerses us into this world with seductive ease. As a result, the Drive soundtrack stands as one of the best of the 10s, and one of the few that can be said to give rise to its own unique aesthetic.

In this article, we will take a deep dive into the Drive soundtrack — examining its origins, its impact and taking a closer look at four key tracks. At the end of this piece we will suggest a few ways to try and make this music yourself. Read on for everything you need to know about the Drive movie soundtrack.

To sum up, we will respond to the following questions:

  1. What was the concept behind the Drive Movie Soundtrack?
  2. What makes it such an iconic soundtrack?
  3. The Chromatics, “Ticking of the Clock | The Sound of the Chase
  4. Kavinsky, “Nightcall” | The Ultimate Synthwave Seduction
  5. Desire, “Under Your Spell” | Just Can’t Get Away
  6. Electric Youth, College “A Real Hero” | The Classic Anti-Hero Anthem
  7. The Alternative Drive Soundtrack | A Fascinating Failure
  8. Music Influenced by the Drive Soundtrack
  9. How to make Music That Sounds Like Drive
  10. Conclusion

What was the concept behind the Drive Soundtrack?

Part of what makes Drive a success is down to the choice of director. When Ryan Gosling was approached to star in the film, he chose the Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn— previously known for the Pusher trilogy, Bronson and Valhalla Rising — to helm the project.

Winding Refn got in touch with Johnny Jewel, the band member of both Desire and The Chromatics, to help create a specific musical vision that would evoke both the Carpenter scores of the 70s and 80s  and the ambient feel of Sex, Lies and Videotapes while helping to make Drive feel like a fairytale. 

Drive Ryan Gosling

As Johnny Jewel told Box Office Media“I got a call from the music supervisor of Drive saying they wanted to use [Chromatics’] “Tick of the Clock” and [Desire’s] “Under Your Spell”… We had a big long conceptual conversation about John Carpenter and Claudio Simonetti and all this stuff, synth-based scores.”

While Jewel wrote tons of hours of soundtrack for the movie, Cliff Martinez was eventually used to complete the remaining score; which complements the propulsive bassy synth sounds of the tracks with airy, evocative atmospherics.

Winding Refn has a strong visual sense as a director, using the music to express desires of the Driver that he would never say out loud. He and Ryan Gosling would go on long drives, listening to music, to try and piece together this soundtrack.

The songs work well as a piece; as Pitchfork says: “These songs follow such a similar format, you could almost mistake them for the work of a single band. All have hyper-literal lyrics, dry-pulsing beats, and subdued, comely female vocals.”

This is to the Drive soundtrack’s benefit — while a lesser film would put in disparate, well-known songs together to sound cool, everything in Drive is of a piece, making it a remarkably cohesive work of art.

  • Get the Drive Soundtrack Vinyl here 
  • Get the Drive Soundtrack CD Album here

What makes the Drive soundtrack so iconic?

Basically put, Drive helped to put synthwave on the map… 

Influenced by 1980s film soundtracks and video games, the genre is characterized by its futuristic, minimalist sound, with the tempo staying around 80-118 BPM. It originated in the mid-2000s, with French House artists such as David Grellier, Kavinsky and Justice credited as early pioneers.

A fair few of the synthwave bands featured on the Drive soundtrack, and the songs they used, weren’t that big before the soundtrack came out. After Drive, synthwave became a much bigger deal, inspiring many artists and YouTube playlist makers to put out their own Drive-inspired tracks and albums.

The success is that while the soundtrack harks back to the 80s, these tracks do not feel like empty parody. They are warm tracks, evoking a sense of mystery and romance: while danger is always around the corner, they offer the slight opportunity for love within a coarse, violence-riddled world.

A Closer Look at Four Key Tracks Of The Drive Soundtrack

There are four tracks in particular that help to give Drive its strong musical identity. “Tick of the Clock” by the Chromatics, “Nightcall” by Kavinsky, “Under Your Spell” by Desire, and of course, “A Real Hero” by College & Electric Youth. In the next section we will put all four songs under much closer analysis.

1. The Chromatics, “Tick of the Clock” | The Sound of the Chase

The Driver has a five minute rule for getaways. As he says at the beginning on the movie: “Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours… Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own.” And what better way to express the ticking of a clock than “Tick of the Clock” by The Chromatics? A simple, propulsive song, characterised by a looping bass-line and a steady 101 bpm rhythm, it suggests both urgency and calm, the perfect correlative for a getaway driver who takes his sweet, confident time evading the cops.  One can also find the track in Taken 2, used to a similar yet less iconic effect.  

2. Kavinsky, “Nightcall” | The Ultimate Synthwave Seduction

As the opening credits come onto the screen in their iconic, GTA Vice City-evoking font, Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” perfectly sets the mood. With a rising bass melody, confident, slow drum pattern, as well as deeply vocoded lyrics, the song adds a little French Touch to the world of Drive. Produced by none other than Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and mixed by French DJ Sebastian, it quickly establishes Drive as a genre film that has more style in a single frame than others have across an entire movie.

3. Desire, “Under Your Spell” | Just Can’t Get Away

People like the Driver aren’t supposed to fall in love. But sometimes they simply can’t help themselves. With the simple opening lines, “I don’t eat/ I don’t sleep/ I do nothing but think of you”, “Under Your Spell” immediately describes the immense power of falling in love. An unabashedly romantic vision, helped by a gorgeous rising synth pattern, it helps to stress the ways in which the Driver is willing to sacrifice everything to ensure Irine’s safety.

4. College & Electric Youth, “A Real Hero” | The Classic Anti-Hero Anthem

Every hero, even the most conflicted, needs an anthem. The instantly recognisable synth-bass pattern of “A Real Hero”, direct and endearing while never descending into schmaltz, acts as the perfect soundtrack for the film’s hero. Created as a homage to both lonely heroes of cinema such as Mad Max and real heroes such as Chesley Sullenberger, who managed to safely land a commercial plane on the Hudson River after an accident, it is an anthem for all those who sacrifice themselves for the greater good, even if they may not be understood at the time. Now “A Real Hero” has grown hugely in popularity since 2011, mostly thanks to the Human Bean meme.

The Alternative Drive Soundtrack | A Fascinating Failure

In 2014, Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe embarked on a fascinating experiment, rescoring Drive with a new soundtrack. With help from bands such as Bastille, Churches, Banks, The 1975 and Laura Mvula, the TV broadcast was fascinating to watch, even if it didn’t really work. Watching Drive with this soundtrack is a mostly flat experience, with the cuts barely matching and the music distracting instead of evocative. This soundtrack reminds us that film is not just about visuals or music, but a unique mix of the two. Unsurprisingly, it left little of the same legacy as the original.

Music Influenced by the Drive Soundtrack

By re-energising the Synthwave genre, the Drive movie soundtrack helped to put Desire, Kavinsky, and College on the map. Along with the Daft Punk-scored music for Tron: Legacy, it helped to establish a clear aesthetic for the genre, which has been aped in the various Synthwave playlists one can find on YouTube — think pink palm trees, purple cars, and neon-streaked, empty streets.

Further continuation of the sound can be found in artists like NINA, FM-84, Timecop1983— the music videos for which often take place in cars, often in cities such as L.A and often at nighttime. The apotheosis of this can be found in both the soundtrack for Stranger Things and The Weeknd’s chart-topper “Blinding Lights” which although doesn’t touch the quality of the originals, shows how popular it has become.

Kavinsky

How To Make Music That Sounds Like Drive

As previously mentioned, music like the Drive soundtrack needs to be slowish — less than 120 BPM — feature clear chord patterns, simple drum beats — ideally with strong reverb — and either whispy-female-led vocals, or the deeply vocoded sounds of Kavinsky’s “Nightcall”. Lyrics should focus on timeless, romantic concepts, yet laden with a hint of darkness, making your tracks the perfect thing to listen to while driving your car around an empty city in the wee small hours of the morning.

Hardware

As the name synthwave suggests, if you fancy doing the composing yourself, a great analog synth is the way to go. You should probably get one released in the 80s itself, such as the E-MU Emulator II, used by bands such as New Order and Depeche Mode, or a KORG Polysix, used by Tears for Fears and Astral Projection, or a OBERHEIM Matrix 6, found in the music of Future Sound of London and Orbital.

Software

The great thing about synthwave is you don’t really need that expensive software to get started. Something as simple as the preset synth sounds on Garageband can get you started, especially the one’s with science-fiction or futuristic-sounding names. To step things up another notch, we would recommend these plug-ins:

Samples

Here the synth-soundtracks to 80s films and TV shows are your friend. This is the chance to go obscure — beyond touchstones such as The Thing or Miami Vice to weirder and more wonderful stuff. If this seems like too much hard work however, we would recommend these sample packs:

Best Drive-Inspired Playlists on YouTube/Spotify

Here the synth-soundtracks to 80s films and TV shows are your friend. This is the chance to go obscure — beyond touchstones such as The Thing or Miami Vice to weirder and more wonderful stuff. If this seems like too much hard work however, we would recommend these sample packs:

Conclusion

While its unlikely we will ever have a Drive sequel — after all Nicolas Winding Refn is far more interested currently in seeing how far his abrasive, ultra-violent, relentlessly slow approach can go — the film has left a huge legacy that has easily transcended its 80s influences. We hope that this guide has got you a great idea of where to start to make your own Drive-inspired music. For something similar, we would also recommend our guides to vaporwave and french house music.

Redmond Bacon

Redmond Bacon

Contributor

Redmond Bacon is a film obsessive and amateur music producer who can easily spend all day either at the cinema or making fresh beats. Catch his writing over at redmondbacon.co.uk.

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