Drive. Only God Forgives. Spring Breakers. A lot people would say they are three of the coolest films of recent years. You’ll also find some people who’ll hate all of them. But pretty much everyone would agree on one thing: that they all sound amazing. That’s down to composer Cliff Martinez, who’s detached, eerie and atmospheric synth scores have become one of the defining sounds of modern, cool American cinema. He started out as a drummer in the 1980s, playing with the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Captain Beefheart, but in 1987 he got a break writing music for an episode of cult HBO kid’s show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. This led to him scoring the breakout indie hit Sex, Lies and Videotape for director Steve Soderbergh, starting a partnership that would last over 11 films and nearly 20 years, including classics like Traffic, Solaris and Contagion.
But it was when he was brought on at the last minute to score a Ryan Gosling-car chase movie called Drive, directed by Danish arthouse director Nicolas Winding Refn in 2011, that truly established him as one of the most iconic film composers in America. His dreamlike synths perfectly accompanied the instantly-iconic 80s-style pop songs like “A Real Hero”, and the soundtrack album became a modern classic. Martinez would re-team with for Winding Refn and Gosling for their 2013 follow-up, the controversial and aggressively uncommercial Only God Forgives, providing a nightmarish soundscape to accompany the horrifying violent visuals. He’d also team up with EDM superstar Skrillex to score the Disney-stars-gone-wild trip Spring Breakers.
Now he’s teamed with Winding Refn for a third time, for his latest film The Neon Demon. The film is a surreal, beautiful and disturbing take on the fashion world, starring Elle Fanning as a young model in LA hounded by beauty-obsessed older peers. Martinez again brings the oppressive beats, but this time there’s a distinct sense of glitz and glamour befitting the subject matter, and the end result is almost definitely the most fire film score of 2016. We caught up with Martinez when he was in London to promote the film.