Drive came out in 2011, mixing stylish violence with a nostalgic soundtrack, 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 also makes memorable use of several synthwave songs by artists such as Kavinsky, College and Electric Youth.
To recreate the movie’s most memorable sounds I’ll use Arturia Mini V, a software emulation of the legendary Minimoog synthesizer, Arturia Prophet V, and TAL U-NO-LX, an emulation of the classic 80’s Roland Juno synths. This article is a newly updated in January 2020, with a new section on the synths in Desire’s Under Your Spell.
I’ll start with Drive’s opening credit song, Kavinsky’s Nightcall. The track sets the mood for the rest of the movies with lush 80’s synths and a cool, driving beat. Nightcall is composed of two distinct sections, the vocoder-led verse, and the chorus section sang by Lovefoxxx. Despite the warm, analog sound, Kavinsky uses entirely soft synths.
“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.” – Kavinsky
The main synth sound in Nightcall is the chorused arpeggios that play throughout the song. TAL U-NO-LX is a great synth for 80s sounds, and can be used to create this sound. From the default settings, activate the square wave oscillator and set the PW fader to almost maximum to make it a narrow-pulse wave. Set the sub oscillator’s volume to halfway and optionally add some white noise to dirty the sound up.
Set the HPF filter fader, VCF frequency and resonance to halfway to filter the high and low frequencies, and add some plucked movement to the low-pass filter by raising the ENV fader to 3. Change the VCA mode to envelope and set the ADSR’s decay to 5, sustain to 0 and release to 4, which will create the tight plucking effect. Turn on the Chorus II effect to get that lush 80’s sound. To mix the sound, add a high-shelf EQ around 2.90 kHz and reverb with a mix level around 20%.
- Nightcall Arps 00:00
The verse and chorus sections of Nightcall have distinctly different bass sounds; the verse has a resonant sweeping sound whereas the chorus bass is thick and powerful. The verse bass sound is a layered sound, with a thin high layer creating the resonant sweep and a deeper low layer filling the bass-end.
To create the resonant bass layer in TAL U-NO-LX, start with the default sawtooth wave with the sub-oscillator volume set to 4. Set the main filter cutoff to 3, resonance to 7.5, and envelope amount to 3.5. Change the VCA mode to ENV again, and set decay time to 7.5 with sustain at 0.
There is also a small amount of vibrato that plays at the end of each note; this is created by using an LFO with a delay to modulate the pitch. This way the vibrato doesn’t start until the time specified by the LFO’s delay time. Raise the pitch fader in the DCO section to 2, set the LFO rate to 5.08 Hz and raise the delay fader to the 4 mark to add the vibrato modulation.
The lower layer of the bass patch can be created with heavily filtered sawtooth waves, and I used Arturia Mini V to create a growling, detuned layer. Using the HPF in TAL U-NO-LX will also help the two bass sounds to layer nicely in the mix.
- Nightcall Bass High Layer 00:00
- Nightcall Bass Low Layer 00:00
- Nightcall Verse Bass Full 00:00
The chorus bass sound in Nightcall is just one layer with a big, open sound. A powerful mono-synth like Arturia Mini V is suitable for this patch. Use two sawtooth waves pitched an octave apart and set the both volume knobs in the Mini V mixer section to 10 to drive the mixer and add saturation. Set the cutoff frequency to the 2 mark (3.9 kHz) and add a small amount of contour with a 400ms decay and no sustain.
- Nightcall Chorus Bass 00:00
The last synth sound to cover in Nightcall is the chorus strings, and for these I’ll use Arturia Prophet V specifically for the detuned oscillators. Set oscillator B to a pulse wave with the PW setting at 0.82 and fine-tuning at 8%. Lower the filter cutoff to 30Hz, resonance to 1.8 and envelope amount to 80%. For the filter envelope, set attack to 10ms, decay to 3.5 seconds and sustain to 0.20. Add the onboard chorus with a dry/wet mix of 50% and add plenty of delay and reverb to the track.
- Nightcall Strings 00:00
Here’s the full video with all the patches in action. The synths in the verse are layered nicely with a palm-muted guitar part that sits quietly in the mix. The strings are stereo-widened and there is a delay effect with a low mix on the string and arps tracks.
Under Your Spell
Under Your Spell by Desire plays in the party scene when Standard is released from prison. Desire is composed of Chromatics members Johnny Jewel and Nat Walker alongside vocalist Megan Louise, with a single album released in 2009. Under Your Spell is atmospheric, with noisy synths, a hypnotic guitar loop and repetitive vocals. There are several synth sounds in the track, and they can all be created in Arturia Mini V.
The main bass is a classic monobass with two detuned sawtooth waves tuned to 16’ and a third sawtooth providing sub at 32’. Set the volume of the third sawtooth lower to get a good bass balance in the patch. Set the filter to the 2 mark and leave emphasis and contour at 0 to create a relatively flat sound. The bass track also has a strong 1/8th delay effect, adding space and some smearing between notes. The intro to Under Your Spell features two instances of the bass track playing different notes, creating a melodic harmony. The higher part of the harmony is quiet in the mix, so it’s a subtle effect.
- Under Your Spell Bass Main Layer 00:00
- Under Your Spell Harmony Bass 00:00
- Under Your Spell Full Bass 00:00
There are several lead synth parts in Under Your Spell, and I’ll start with the buzzy lead at 0:50. Use three sawtooth waves and activate oscillator sync for oscillator 1 to add some buzziness. Close the filter only slightly, and raise the emphasis setting to 1 to add brightness. All the lead sounds in Under Your Spell have been stereo-widened, and you can use plugins like Ozone Imager to achieve the same width.
- Under Your Spell Lead 1 00:00
- Under Your Spell Lead 2 00:00
The second lead patch is similar to the previous patch, but without the oscillator sync, and with resonance increased to 2. This patch mostly plays the ascending scale runs, and at 1:22 the part is doubled with an octave-lower version of the track.
- Under Your Spell Lead 2 00:00
- Under Your Spell Octaved 00:00
The patches in Under Your Spell are heavily mixed, and make use of stereo-widening and EQ to push the high frequencies. Unusually, the bass track has a low-cut at 115 Hz and is processed with delay and reverb. The guitar sample is also heavily processed, with a thick chorus and a band-pass filter.
A Real Hero
Arguably Drive’s most identifiable song is A Real Hero by College & Electric Youth, which plays several times throughout the film. The song is a collaboration between College and Electric Youth, with songwriting and production shared by both artists.
A Real Hero opens with a chunky bassline sound that Moog-style synths are great at producing. Set up a patch with two sawtooth and one square wave oscillator, all tuned to the same octave and all saturating the mixer.
Turn off keyboard filter tracking with the two ‘keyboard control’ switches and set the cutoff frequency knob to the -3 mark (120 Hz), raise the filter emphasis to 2 and raise the amount of contour to 55%. To get the pluck timing, set the filter envelope’s sustain to 0 and decay time to 200ms. Compression and a nice saturator like Soundtoys Decapitator can help bring synth bass tracks like this to life.
- A Real Hero Bass 00:00
The synth strings in A Real Hero are airy and light, and high-pass filters should be used to cut any bass frequencies below 300 Hz.
To create the sound in TAL U-NO-LX, use the default sawtooth waveform with the sub-oscillator volume set to 2. Raise the HPF fader to halfway to cut any bass frequencies and the VCF frequency to 4 to darken the high-end. Raise the filter envelope amount to 2, set the VCA mode to envelope and set up the ADSR envelope with an attack of 3 and release of 5. Turn on the onboard Chorus II effect to finish the sound.
Fox mixing, EQ any remaining low-end, add some stereo widening, and then the usual delay/reverb combo for strings.
- A Real Hero Strings 00:00
There is also a flute-like synth track in A Real Hero that doubles the vocal melody in the chorus. For this track, I used the same TAL U-NO-LX patch as the strings, but with a longer release time to allow the notes to flow more.
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!
If you want to dig deeper into the sounds in this article, check out my Patreon page to get access to the MIDI files, samples, multitrack stems, and Ableton Projects from the recreations in the article.