‘Stranger Things’, released on Netflix on July 15th, has become an almost overnight success. Its eerie atmosphere and dark and moody aesthetic has recalled for many the 1980s sci-fi classics of their youth. Whilst the show pays homage to a host of films, including the likes of ‘E.T.’, ‘Carrie’ and ‘The Goonies’, what has really made an impression on viewers is the soundtrack, which has been released in two volumes, comprised of 74 tracks in total.
What both the creators of the show, The Duffer Brothers, and those of the soundtrack, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, achieve so successfully is the effective balance of themes of light and dark, which pervade the narrative of the show. The show begins with our rag tag group of young heroes playing Dungeons and Dragons. They quickly learn the terrifying reality of a beast previously only imagined, and of the desolate yet unnervingly familiar world of the Upside Down.
Their worlds are changed swiftly and drastically, and this is captured perfectly in the soundtrack. The track ‘Kids’, the second on ‘Volume One’ draws to mind a world of 8 bit video games, with its sharp, twanging notes juxtaposed against reverberating drums beats. On the other hand, tracks like ‘The Upside Down’ are slow burners, opening with stark and empty notes which echo through the speakers. As the volume builds, so too do the menacing, deep electronic sounds, which grow and fade, interspersed with an ominous, repetitive tone, and a harsh drum beat. The combination of these effects is something akin to watching someone walking around a house alone in a horror film; dread, and the expectation of something awful waiting just around the corner.
Both tracks create powerful atmospheres, albeit completely different ones; one is upbeat and promising, the other is one of uneasiness and fear. As the characters in ‘Stranger Things’ negotiate the fraught relationship between light and dark and good and evil, the soundtrack captures the uneasy duality between these themes.
The theme of duality is one which runs deeply through the show, perhaps most significantly in the Upside Down, where everything is essentially the same, but equally, alarmingly, different. Dixon and Stein capture the twin nature of places and characters in the show, and to listen to each volume from start to finish is to experience a spectrum of electronic sound, which hurtles from incredibly gloomy to beautifully tender, just as the characters discover the own polarities.
Whilst the cinematography of ‘Stranger Things’ is suffused with nods to decades’ past, the soundtrack is just as heavily fashioned by music from films past. The influence of film-maker John Carpenter, renowned for composing the majority of the music for his films, is evident. The theme from his film ‘Halloween’ is perhaps one of pop culture’s most iconic refrains and his innovative use of dark and jarring synth has influenced countless musicians. His effect on Dixon and Stein is evident and, by infusing the soundtrack with such bold and nostalgic sounds, the two have produced the ultimate homage to him.
With a second season hopefully about to get the green light, the question remains; what are Dixon and Stein going to do next? Whilst season one came to an undoubtedly satisfying conclusion, there are still a number of questions that need answering. In response to the high intensity of season one, perhaps season two will be one of answers, and the bold and raucous synths which played so well in the world of the Upside Down will make way for a more muted and contemplative sound, to serve as the musical background as the characters, and indeed the viewers, make sense of what they’ve seen.
This ‘Stranger Things’ article was written by Eleanor Kendrick-Jones, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson.