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Scoring Stranger Things

Michael Stein & Kyle Dixon
Published March 2017
By Will Betts

Kyle Dixon (foreground) is joined in his studio by collaborator Michael Stein. As one half of Austin-based electronic act Survive, the pair have amassed an enviable array of vintage and modern synthesizers. And you haven’t seen Michael’s studio yet... Kyle Dixon (foreground) is joined in his studio by collaborator Michael Stein. As one half of Austin-based electronic act Survive, the pair have amassed an enviable array of vintage and modern synthesizers. And you haven’t seen Michael’s studio yet... Photo: All Alex Kacha

Cult TV series Stranger Things has become essential viewing — and essential listening. We talk to the previously unknown composers behind its hit soundtrack.

If you’re not familiar with Stranger Things, the sci-fi mystery TV show commissioned by Netflix and starring ’80s screen legend Winona Ryder, you’re missing out. The plot follows a group of misfit kids looking for their missing friend (the missing child’s desperate mother is played by Ryder), a girl who has seemingly appeared from nowhere, and a shadowy government agency meddling with forces they cannot control. Set in the fictitious town of Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980s, it’s very much in the vein — both thematically and visually — of a Stephen King, Spielberg or John Carpenter endeavour. King himself even said watching it was like watching his own greatest hits.

With nods at Carpenter, Tangerine Dream and Goblin, among others, the programme’s synth-dominated soundtrack is absolutely vital in creating the atmosphere of rose-tinted ’80s nostalgia. It quickly became the invisible hero of the show, and within moments of the first season appearing online, viewers were clamouring for the soundtrack to be released. In fairly short order, it was (in two volumes) and, at the time of writing, it has been nominated for several awards, including a Grammy.

Opportunity Knocks

The show was created and directed by relative unknowns the Duffer Brothers, whose biggest prior credit had been directing a handful of episodes of M Night Shyamalan’s TV show Wayward Pines. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that they approached Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein to score the show — for they, too, were newcomers, never having scored a TV show before. The closest they had come was to have a couple of tracks on the soundtrack for 2014’s mystery thriller The Guest.

Despite this, the Duffers seem to have had Kyle and Michael in mind early in the process, reportedly using a track by the pair’s band, Survive, when pitching the show to TV execs. Once the series was greenlit, the directors immediately approached Dixon and Stein. This isn’t the sort of thing that often happens if you’re a newcomer to...

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Published March 2017