The movie Drive came out in 2011, mixing stylish violence with a subdued thoughtfulness, and has become a modern classic. The film is influenced by European cinema and 80's retro nostalgia, and it opened up the doors to similar 80's retro-inspired works like The Guest, Stranger Things and It Follows. The original soundtrack features ambient works by Cliff Martinez, and the soundtrack also makes memorable use of several synthwave songs by artists such as Kavinsky, College and Electric Youth. The movie was also rescored by Radio 1 in 2014, replacing the original score with an array of new songs by modern artists, a nice but poorly received homage.
Who are you biggest musical influences?
I would say I am very much, but indirectly, influenced by the movie Drive (2011) like many people in our genre. I didn’t see the movie until a few months ago, but around that time I listened to French electro (mainly Ed Banger guys) and when I was browsing the internet for new music I found “A Real Hero” by College and from there a whole new world opened for me: 80’s influenced music. - Timecop1983
To recreate the movie's most memorable sounds I'll use Arturia Mini V, a software emulation of the legendary Minimoog synthesizer, and TAL U-NO-LX, an emulation of the classic 80's Roland Juno synths. The tutorial will also look at synthwave music production techniques and using effects in the mix.
A Real Hero
The film's most identifiable song is A Real Hero by College & Electric Youth, which plays several times throughout the film. The song's production duties were shared by both College and Electric Youth, while Bronwyn Griffin from the latter group performs the vocals. The song opens with a recognisably chunky bassline that is later accompanied by rich sounding synth-strings, both of which may have come from the duo's hardware synths, which consist of a Moog Lil Phatty, a Dave Smith Prophet 08, and a Yamaha CS-15, a Roland Juno-106 and a microKorg. The opening bassline of Real Hero has a Moog quality too it so it may have come from the Moog Lil Phatty synthesizer; any Moog or Moog-style synthesizer will excel at producing this type of chunky plucked bass.
To create the bass sound in Arturia Mini V, set up a patch with two oscillators both tuned to 16', with one set to a square wave and the other a wide rectangular wave. You can actually right click the waveform knob in Mini-V to adjust the width of the waveform to any value, but I've just left them at the regular settings. Move the cutoff frequency knob to the -4 mark (82 Hz), raise the filter emphasis to 1 and raise the amount of contour to 75%, which will start modulating the filter using the envelope, giving a plucky movement to the notes. To get the pluck sound right we need to set the filter envelope's sustain to 0 and carefully set the decay for a well-timed pluck. This usually depends on the tempo of the song, and for Real Hero, I found that a decay time of 429ms worked perfectly. Process the track with heavy compression and a little saturation and you'll have a great Moog pluck sound to save to your library!
The strings in A Real Hero could've come from a number of Electric Youth's hardware synths; it's an easy sound to create so I'll use TAL U-NO-LX, which is great for synth-string patches. Use a sawtooth waveform with a small amount of sub oscillator, then raise the HPF to halfway to make the sound lighter and airy. The sound is actually quite dark, so lower the VCF frequency to 4 and raise the envelope amount to 2.5. We want the notes to bleed into each other, so change the VCA mode to envelope with the ADSR attack at 3, decay at 0, sustain at 10 and release at 5. Turn on the onboard chorus and run the sound through a lot of reverb. I also ran the track through a low-pass filter set to open up slowly as the part comes in, just like in the original song.
I'll move on to the movies opening credits song, Kavinsky's Nightcall. The song sets the mood for the rest of the movies with lush 80's synths and a driving beat. There are two distinct sections of the song, the verse, which features a heavily distorted vocoder-voice, and the chorus section sang by Lovefoxxx. Kavinsky claims to rely solely on softsynths instead of vintage hardware synths, likely due to their accessibility.
Your sound is to some degree nostalgic for a pre-computer electronic era. Have you come to collect vintage gear since?
No, I just have a computer and a lot of things inside. I don’t have analog keyboards. Plug-stuff I hate.
How did it happen that your music found its way into the soundtrack for Drive?
They just contacted us and asked. At the time I didn’t know where it would be placed, but I was like, “Yes!” I am big fan of the Pusher Trilogy that [director Nicolas Winding Refn] did. So I was jizzing in my pants. I was wondering why he chose me, but my producer, who is a little bit friends with the guy, told me he was listening to my music to go and come back from the film set in his car. It was always in the car, so he decided to put it in the movie. When I heard my song in the movie, I screamed in the cinema. I was like, “Whoah, yes!” A guy grabbed me and was like “SHHHHHHHH.” - Kavinsky
For the arpeggios, I'll use TAL U-NO-LX, all though this could've been created in any softsynth, anything with a chorus effect will suffice. Turn on all 3 oscillators, then set the square wave with PW set to Manual with the fader at almost maximum, then take the sub osc volume down to around the 3.5 mark. Set the HPF to halfway and lower the VCF frequency and resonance to around 3, raising the envelope amount to 6. Change the VCA mode to envelope and set the ADSR's decay and release both to 6, then use the onboard chorus effect to get that lush 80's sound. Process the track with compression and reverb; I used Soundtoys Little Plate but you can just use your own personal favourite reverb plugin!
Both sections of Nightcall have a distinctly different bass sound; the verse bass is thin and resonant whereas the chorus bass is thick and overpowering, I'll create both of them in Arturia Mini-V. For the buzzy-sounding verse bass, set oscillator 1 to an 8' sawtooth wave and oscillator 2 to a 16' square wave, then set oscillator 1's volume to 6 and oscillator 2's to 10, to get a good blend of the octaves. To create the movement over time, set the cutoff frequency to 213 Hz, the filter emphasis to 6 and the amount of contour to 8, then move onto the ADS envelope below and set decay and sustain to 820 ms and 1, respectively.
For the full verse example, I've added a simple drum beat and some Fender strat guitar to the mix to even it out. For mixing, I used heavy compression on each track to get it to sound loud without worrying too much about dynamics. The guitar is also really low in the mix, just like the original, as to not take away anything from the synth elements, while still adding a cool element to the sound palette.
The chorus bass patch is much simpler, relying on the power of the Moog's oscillators to achieve a thick, deep sound. Set the oscillators both to sawtooth waves and pitch one an octave below the other, with both set to the same volume. Right click on oscillator 2's tuning knob to set the fine tuning to 11%, and then set the cutoff frequency to just below the 4 mark (around 8200 Hz).
The last patch is the chorused chords which fill out the chorus section, which we'll turn to TAL U-NO-LX to recreate. Turn off the sub oscillator and turn on the square oscillator with PW set to manual with the fader at 7. Set the cutoff frequency to 4 and raise the envelope fader to 7. The chorus mix is really straightforward, the only challenge is getting the bass to sound strong without overwhelming the other tracks. I ran the bass track through some light distortion to make it a little bit more growly.
As always, thanks for reading! Check out the link below to download the patches and try using them to create your own 80's influenced music. If you want to explore the dreamier side of synthwave, and learn a bunch more TAL U-NO-LX patches, then also check out my Timecop1983 Synth Sounds article!
The Ableton Projects from my Drive Synth Sounds tutorial, featuring all the MIDI files, patches and effects chains I used for the audio examples. The download contains Ableton projects for 2 songs: Nightcall and A Real Hero. Nightcall has 5 tracks: 2 bass, 1 synth chords, 1 arps and 1 drum track. A Real Hero has 2 tracks: the synth bass and the synth-strings.
You'll need Arturia Mini-V and TAL U-NO-LX to run the MIDI tracks. For effects I used a combination of Ableton stock effects and Soundtoys plugins. I have created another project for those without the Soundtoys plugins that replaces the Soundtoys plugins with Ableton plugins, for those without the Soundtoys plugins. The projects use VST plugins and work and Mac and Windows. Enjoy!