How The Blade Runner Soundtrack Became A Dark, Dystopian Blueprint For Run The Jewels, Aphex Twin And More

Recent revelations that a sequel to 1982 dystopian sci-fi classic Blade Runner is going into production have taken everyone by surprise, and not just because the original – one of the greatest genre films ever to come out of Hollywood – is so perfectly absolute that to revisit the story would surely only lessen its legacy. Blade Runner was a famously difficult movie to make: the shoot was a nightmare, while wrangles between the studio and director Ridley Scott meant there have been more alternate versions than ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles in the 33 years since it first spooked cinema-goers with its neon-lit cyber-punk autopsy of genetic engineering, environmental devastation and the true meaning of humanity. In fact, Scott only released his definitive “final cut” of the film in 2007, so why the Alien director want to revisit a piece he’s spent a huge chunk of his life perfecting is beyond me. Particularly as his attempts to revitalise existing cinematic universes with Hannibal and Prometheus have been, to be kind to the man, questionable.

Among the biggest challenges facing the sequel is matching the might of the original Blade Runner soundtrack. A sweeping electronic tapestry that nodded inventively to the smooth, mournful jazz of classic film noir, Greek composer Vangelis’ score fit the film’s retro-futuristic philosophy and design majestically. Desolate synths work in tandem with a smooth saxophone on the romantic ‘Love Theme’, while ‘Blade Runner Blues’ is a bitterly cold, minimalist update of classic noir orchestration. Elsewhere, the skittering, propulsive ‘Blade Runner – End Titles’ sounds like 10,000 different brain processes all happening at once. Like the AI replicants Harrison Ford must hunt down, the score, primarily composed using the Yamaha CS-80 and Roland VP-330, was synthetic but held a stirring deep-rooted sense of humanity.


It wasn’t long before Vangelis’ influence began to spill out into the wider world of music. Gary Numan, a pioneer in synthesised music himself, became obsessed with the film to the point that it got seriously weird. He heavily sampled audio from the movie on his chugging 1982 single ‘Call Out The Dogs’, something he’d continue to do throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. The Londoner even dressed up like Roy Batty on the cover of his 1986 album ‘Strange Charm’ while ‘Time To Die’, a B-side taken from that album, pinches its title and most of its lyrical content from Batty’s famous speech in the movie. There’s echoes of the Blade Runner score in the dark synth churn of the wave of murky, moody 1980s electro pop that followed in the years after the movie, from New Order to Depeche Mode.

Three decades on, it continues to be a huge influence. Run The Jewels rapper-beatmaker El-P cites Blade Runner as his favourite film ever, and his production style – a mix of battering programmed drums, shadowy synths and creeping keyboard loops – draws from it heavily. “Vangelis is one of my biggest influences and so Blade Runner, and the ’80s super synth era, strikes a chord in me,” he told The Stranger in 2008. Elsewhere, Danger Mouse claimed he was “going for the Vangelis Blade Runner vibe” on Marina Topley-Bird’s 2008 trip-hop-soul record ‘The Blue God’, while R&B singer Janelle Monae cited the film as one of the sci-fi flicks that impacted her ‘Metropolis’ concept series – a tale of messianic androids featuring lyrical themes of human emotion, identity, and self-realisation that are consistent with Blade Runner.

Look further afield and Vangelis’ opus can be heard all over the work of everyone from his fellow electronic pioneers like Massive Attack and Aphex Twin, to the hollowed-out instrumentals of cloud rap producers like Clams Casino and SpaceGhostPurrp. Even Swedish teeny rapper Yung Lean has a track called ‘Heal You // Bladerunner’, which finds the MC rapping rather unconvincingly about robotics (“Cut you like mango, My iPod is nano… Just call me on my Android”) over ethereal synths.

Vangelis is 72 now and still working, so could feasibly be brought into the fold on Blade Runner 2. Though the film risks dampening the monolithic legacy of the original, if the Greek composer can be roped in, it’s tantalising to think how a return to that dark dystopian world may herald music that entertains another wave of intrepid electronic button-pushers. Bring it on.