Is electronic dance music and sci-fi movies made for each other?
Romantic comedies get soft harmonies and lush strings. Action movies have uptempo hip-hop and hardcore metal. And for science fiction movies like Blade Runner and Tron: Legacy, there’s electronic dance music (EDM), an electronic orchestra of synthetic sounds.
Helped along last year by Grammy-winning DJ Skrillex, EDM is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, in both the music scene and on movie soundtracks. Popular styles of EDM include dubstep, house music, trance, electro, drum & bass and downtempo, and its rise is actually the culmination of years of prominence in club culture and underground films. Check out Electric Visions, a blog that features a number of films from the past decade where EDM plays a prominent role in the characters’ lives (our favorite: 2003′s Party Monster – when you add the fast-cut editing to the fact that practically every character is decked out in the most outrageous ravewear, it’s a indulgent feast for the eyes).
For younger music-lovers and moviegoers, EDM has become the soundtrack of their generation. Here are a few examples of EDM’s rise into Hollywood’s upper echelons:
- 2010′s Tron: Legacy was the first sci-fi soundtrack completely filled with synthesized songs, composed by the French electronic group Daft Punk. Sales hit 70,000 in the first week of release (is a Tron 3 in the works?).
- The Bond flick Skyfall (2012) featured an EDM track on what became the highest-charting Bond soundtrack on the Billboard charts since A View To Kill in 1985.
- Spring Breakers (scheduled for a March release) features the expertise of dubstep king Skrillex.
So Why the Surge of EMD Into Sci-Fi?
Here are five factors why EDM is soaring in use in sci-fi films:
1. ’80s Revivalism. America has been enjoying all things ’80s in the past few years, and EDM in a movie gives it a decidedly ’80s feel. The sound of synthesizers automatically conjures up images of “Danger Zone” and the synthesizer obsessions of Devo.
2. Adrenaline Rush. The theme to the 1978 Midnight Express demonstrates perfectly how EDM contributes to the adrenaline rush a filmmaker is trying to elicit. The instrumental track “Chase” by Giorgio Moroder creates an ambiance for the film that made audiences root for the hero – viewers felt the anticipation and the struggle.
3. Fist-Pump Reaction. EDM songs from movie soundtracks easily transition into becoming dance club favorites. Case in point: The soundtrack to Tron: Legacy was a huge club hit.
4. Music and the Mind. Our minds move with the music. We think what the musicians and filmmakers want us to think, because it’s brilliant! Remember the introductory scene of Blade Runner, when Harrison Ford’s character met with the villainess? The music didn’t for one moment stray from the seriousness of the movie, even with the electronically orchestrated tunes. It was so mysterious.
5. Social Media. As these songs increasingly get used in films, it builds up the genre’s popularity, which leads to more awareness and appreciation of key dance tracks. The younger set shares their favorite EDM tracks via social networks, and YouTube is helping to create EDM stars almost overnight.
With these factors at the forefront, we must ask: Is the addition of EDM to sci-fi soundtracks a stirring creative triumph? Or is it all a marketing scheme by the EDM and movie industry?
John Houlihan, a film supervisor who has worked on more than 60 soundtracks, including those for the three Austin Powers movies, Training Day and the Bruce Willis thriller Looper, offered a more measured perspective on why EDM is showing up in film these days, in last fall’s New York Times: “I think it’s their day in the sun, and Hollywood is very trendy,” he said. “An EDM artist like Skrillex is pushing frequencies and using new instrumentation that is so intense, his music has the potential to drive a modern action scene more effectively than a traditional Hollywood orchestra.”
Electronic dance music, for all its popularity, may just eventually face the same up-and-down fickle nature of music trends. As Hollywood moves into new directions, other films may find a place for EDM or not. Perhaps indie folk pop or hard guitar rock may take its place in the soundtrack world. Whether through artistic brilliance or good-bad marketing, there will be a place for the next great sci-fi soundtracks in coming years.