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Theme for an imaginary world: DRIVE and low-tek nostalgia

For all the hype and praise DRIVE received, even without Ryan Gosling undressed, the film really is a refreshing Hollywood release that focuses on the darker personalities and fringe aspects around town. Compared to other highlights of 2011, this film was made on a shoestring budget of $16 million. FYI, Johnny Depp received $20 million to star in THE TOURIST—sad. But DRIVE’s real success rests in the fact that it became the catalyst and poster child for a sub culture of low-tek nostalgics that have been working independently, and are now seen as using the same vocabulary to create a vision of the world. It’s the BLADE RUNNER affect all over again.

In the graphic design field, where there is no shortage of geeky aficionados of esoteric culture, we meet their crowned prince, James White, and his company Signal Noise. White is a regular speaker on design at conferences. He was so inspired by the film that he created his own unofficial poster. It was stylized, using a specific color palette that worked White’s vocabulary but existed in the fantasy world of the film. The buzz in the blogs was so high he decided to release a limited run of the poster. They were signed and numbered like any good art piece, and sold out immediately.

In music, where it’s hip to be square, round, rotund, or just plain out of your mind, the synth camp of Italians Do It Better have been breaking our hearts with their brooding sounds and fresh interpretation of Italo Disco. Producers Johnny Jewel and Mike Simonetti have released a slew of music that easily fits into the dusky world director Nicolas Winding Refn presented on screen. Groups like Chromatics, Glass Candy and Symmetry are part of a global scene, French posses like the Valerie collective, and even the Ed Banger label, whose artist Kavinsky is actually on the DRIVE Soundtrack, are fashioning their music into the conversation. The music delves into a stark and broken world where consequence comes with every decision. With a dash of hope.

Aside from its excessive violence and a broken hero, DRIVE is the face for a budding subculture. When was that last time the audience of a studio production eschewed Rolling Stone magazine for the indie culture of Pitchfork? JUICE is the only film that comes to mind. And that was 1992, pre-Pitchfork. Its soundtrack had a terrific theme song by Rakim that ushered in a new style of Hip Hop to a mass audience. We can’t say if Nicolas Renf had the intention of being a mouthpiece for an independent culture. He may have just been tapping into a sentiment that was hanging in the ether and needed cohesion. DRIVE’s aesthetic is doing what all great cult films do. It’s inspiring and influencing an entire generation of artists with a world they want to see realized. Pretty fly.