One of the most popular Netflix series worldwide, Stranger Things has reinvigorated the Sci-Fi horror genre and elevated it to something more than cult status. A huge part of its unique success stems from its ‘80s aesthetic—specifcally the eerie, slow-rolling, synthesized sounds that S U R V I V E band members Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein created for the show’s score. In the lead-up to their performance at Siam Square One on Nov 23, the Austin, Texas-based duo talked with us about their inspiration for the score. 

How did you two hook up with the Duffer Brothers for Stranger Things?

Kyle Dixon
We were in a band called the S U R V I V E. They heard some of our songs, somehow, and made a sizzle reel with it—[which is] like a trailer using footage from other movies to kind of give the idea of the static of the show. They sent us an email randomly like, “Hey, we’re doing this show for Netflix with one of our writers and it’s a Sci-Fi horror.” Pretty much at that point, we were like, cool, let’s do this. So, it didn’t take a lot of decision-making on our part.
Michael Stein
We were like, you know, why would this be fake? Yeah, let’s talk.

Were all the tracks inspired by the characters and storyline?

Some of the tracks were—“Eleven” is obviously based on Eleven, the character. For the track “Upside Down,” we called it the monster theme, because we were [initially] trying to do something with the monster.

What genre of music do you consider your work to be?

For Stranger Things, the music rides the line between pop, drone-y ambience and Sci-Fi. But as for our music, I wouldn’t say most of it fits in one genre. I mean, it’s electronic music, but it’s difficult to classify. If you give me one track, I would tell you what genre that song is.
We used to have a band and we’ve always had a problem describing what our music sounds like, because some people say it’s EDM or house music. No, it’s not—you can’t really dance to it. Or maybe you could, but they’re not made for that. I would just say to people that our music is “Sci-Fi music.”

Could you briefly describe your music-making process?

I’d say there are two ways of writing music. One is you’re writing music to make it sound cool. Or there’s writing a score, where you’re watching footage and you’re saying, okay, we need to make this mood work or we need to get more intense here and then calm down there. You’re pretty much building out the structure of the scene based on the film. Which is very different than sitting down and writing a baseline that you like and then putting a melody on top of it.
I’ll just give you two examples: sometimes, you could be writing music at a piano and writing a really simple melody and you think this is a good theme for this person or this event; other times, you’re sitting in a studio for three hours, trying to scope a sound, and then you get to the sound and it fits the mood for the scene. The process is very different every time I work.

What was your biggest challenge?

This is a hard one. Some days you don’t really feel like doing it. There might be one thing in the episode that really has to be done, but you’re just not in the mood. Especially if you’re doing it for a long time, multiple days in a row of really loud stuff—it hurts your ears and you feel tired and don’t want to do it anymore. Being in the mood to make music can be difficult sometimes, but it’s easier if you have a goal.
Also, after you put too much energy in something and think, “I have to get it done, I have to turn it in,” and it’s not working and you have to start over. That “getting yourself back” can be tough. It’s like playing a video game—you have to keep yourself going.