The Soundtrack to Drive is a Retro-Futurist Masterpiece of Electronic Composition

Ryan Gosling as Driver

Drive (2011)
Original Score Soundtrack by Cliff Martinez
[Lakeshore Records]

Drive OST by Cliff Martinez. - HeadStuff.org
Drive OST by Cliff Martinez. Source

Dark, seductive, and decidedly slick, Cliff Martinez’s score for neo-noir thriller Drive is a law unto itself as well as a milestone in modern composition. Set in the bustling streets of Central Los Angeles, the film recounts the tale of an unnamed Hollywood stunt performer (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a hired getaway driver. Danish film director Nicolas Winding Refn provides a compelling insight into the criminal underbelly of L.A., defusing this tension with the charming “will they/won’t they” relationship between the Driver and his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan). Martinez responds with an endearing retro-futurist score realised using 80’s replica plug-in synthesisers. Drive is coated in a minimalistic ambience of dissonant strings, metronomic shivers and synth-driven drones. Martinez manipulates these sounds in order to mimic the vibrant lifestyle of the Driver. The result is a gripping electronic soundtrack, reflective of the action but never intrusive.

The music of Drive can essentially be divided into two sections; the five songs preceding Martinez’s score and the score itself. The soundtrack opens with a handful of pre-existing songs hand-picked by the director before the original score was written. Primarily this mini compilation soundtrack is used as an introduction to the world of Drive, cataloging key events in the film. Each of these songs showcase a dry pulsating beat coupled with a subdued, enchanting female vocal. Following this is the film’s original music, heavily inspired by electronic groups such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Martinez claims his initial interpretation of the film centred around “the idea of a fairytale, that there was a certain naivety and innocence and magical quality to the characters”. As a result of this Martinez employed the use of the cristal baschet, an acoustic instrument which uses metal and glass rods, producing angelic vibrations by means of friction. The combination of this cristal baschet with the retro synthesisers allow Cliff Martinez the freedom to express all aspects of the Driver’s double life.

Ryan Gosling as the Driver. - HeadSTUFF.ORG
Ryan Gosling as the Driver. Source

Synthpop enthusiasts Chromatics lead the film’s introduction with the menacing Tick of the Clock. While French-House virtuoso Kavinsky electrifies Drive’s title credits with Nightcall. Both of these tracks prove more than sufficient in establishing the brutality of the film as well as the seedy environs of the L.A. night-life. However, it is the iconic A Real Hero that triumphs as the soundtrack’s most memorable and quintessential song. This uplifting collaboration between Canadian duo Electric Youth and producer College works as a mantra for the Driver and a symbol of his benevolence.



These tracks act as a valuable precursor to Martinez’s original score, prompting an inspired collection of ambient textures and synth-based motifs. The overtly hymnal I Drive can be seen as the film’s love theme. Here the audience becomes fully exposed to the disarming beauty of the cristal baschet, highlighting the Driver’s immediate connection to Irene. Martinez composes with a raw simplicity and enchantment, adhering to the idea of a fairytale.

As Drive becomes more gritty and intricate, so too does the music. Kick Your Teeth breathes a new yet ominous life into the score with its galloping rhythms and fierce melodic tension. Following this is the climactic Diner/Pawnshop sequence, which was incidentally Martinez’s favourite section to score. The tireless synthesiser layers of Where’s The Deluxe Version? build and build, only to erupt in a haze of distortion and feedback in See You In Four. Martinez reuses this sudden distortion later in the score during Hammer, only to provide immediate contrast with an adaptation of the love theme in Wrong Floor. On the Beach is certainly one of the more experimental pieces in Drive, boasting the industrial textures of futurist music. Finally Bride of Deluxe, found within the closing credits, can be seen as the sonic epitome of Martinez’s score, displaying all of the soundtrack’s most enjoyable qualities.

In essence Drive is a bold and ambitious neo-noir fairytale of Los Angeles, which just happens to contain a tour de force in electronic composition.

Listen to the full soundtrack to Drive below.

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