Synthwave

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Synthwave (also called outrun, retrowave, or futuresynth[5]) is an electronic music microgenre that is based predominately on the music associated with action, science-fiction, and horror film soundtracks, combined with the aesthetic of popular music of the 1980s.[2] Other influences are drawn from that decade's art and video games.[3] Synthwave musicians often espouse nostalgia for 1980s culture and attempt to capture the era's atmosphere and celebrate it.[8]

The genre developed in the mid-to late 2000s through French house producers, as well as younger artists who were inspired by the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Other reference points included composers John Carpenter, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis (especially his score for the 1982 film Blade Runner), and Tangerine Dream. Synthwave reached wider popularity after being featured in the soundtracks of the 2011 film Drive (which included some of the genre's best-known songs) and the 2010s Netflix series Stranger Things as well as Cannons' track 'Fire for You,' which began to receive significant mainstream airplay in February, 2021 after being featured on the comedy-drama series Never Have I Ever.

Characteristics and related terms[edit]

A synthwave music video

Synthwave is a microgenre[9] of electronic music[1] that draws predominantly from 1980s films, video games, and cartoons,[10] as well as composers such as John Carpenter, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Giorgio Moroder and Tangerine Dream.[11][12] Other reference points include electronic dance music genres including house, synth, and nu-disco.[13] It is primarily an instrumental genre, although there are occasional exceptions to the rule and since the mid-2010s there has been a significant influx of vocal synthwave tracks that continue to further combine this aesthetic with a modern take on the general pop music sound of the 1980s.[14] Common tempos are between 80 and 118 BPM, while more upbeat tracks may be between 128 and 140 BPM.[15] Synthwave artists and producers often make use of vintage equipment from the 1980s to achieve a more authentic sound from the era.

"Outrun" is a synonym of synthwave that was later used to refer more generally to retro 1980s aesthetics such as VHS tracking artifacts, magenta neon, and gridlines.[14] The term comes from the 1986 arcade driving game Out Run, which was known for its soundtrack that could be selected in-game.[16] According to musician Perturbator (James Kent), outrun is also its own subgenre, mainly instrumental, and often contains 1980s clichéd elements in the sound such as electronic drums, gated reverb, and analog synthesizer bass lines and leads - all to resemble tracks from that time period.[17]

Other subgenres include dreamwave, darksynth, and scifiwave.[6] Journalist Julia Neuman cited "outrun", "futuresynth", and "retrowave" as alternative terms for synthwave,[5] while author Nicholas Diak wrote that, "retrowave" is an umbrella term that encompasses 1980s revivalism genres such as synthwave and vaporwave.[14]

Origins[edit]

Kavinsky performing in 2007

Synthwave originates from the mid-2000s[18] or late 2000s[4] on Myspace,[19] where a group of composers started to share their nostalgic 80s tracks. Diak traced the genre to a broader trend involving young artists whose works drew from their childhoods in the 1980s. He credited the success of the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City with shifting "attitudes toward the '80s ... from parody and ambivalence to that of homage and reverence," leading directly to genres such as synthwave and vaporwave.[14]

Among the first synthwave artists were the French acts, David Grellier (College), Kavinsky, M83, and Justice. These early artists began creating music inspired by famous 1980s score composers; music which was, at the time, largely associated with French house.[5] David Grellier (College), Nico Bataille (Maethelvin), Garrett Hays (Lazerhawk) and 80s Stallone, declared in the extras of the feature documentary The Rise of the Synths that there were sharing on Myspace their love for italo-disco tracks, and eventually they started to create their own music heavily influenced by this sound. Other key reference points for early synthwave included the 1982 film Blade Runner (both the soundtrack and the film itself), 8- and 16-bit video games, 1980s jingles for VHS production companies, and television news broadcasts and advertisements from that era.[4]

The feature documentary The Rise of the Synths, (2019, directed by Iván Castell and narrated by John Carpenter) explores the origins and growth of synthwave. The film contains interviews with established artists (including Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, College, Scandroid, The Midnight, Gunship, Power Glove and many more), exploring their sources of inspiration which range from early electronic pioneers such as Giorgio Moroder, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream to a collective love of 1980's films and video games.

Popularity and spin-offs[edit]

In the early 2010s, the synthwave soundtracks of films such as Drive and Tron: Legacy attracted new fans and artists to the genre.[6] Drive featured Kavinsky's "Nightcall" and College's, "A Real Hero", which catapulted synthwave into mainstream recognition and solidified its stature as a music genre.[4] The genre's popularity was furthered through its presence in the soundtracks of video games like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, as well as the Netflix series, Stranger Things, which featured synthwave pieces that accommodated the show's 1980s setting.[4] Nerdglow's Christopher Higgins cited Electric Youth and Kavinsky as the two most popular artists in synthwave in 2014.[20]

In the mid-2010s, fashwave (a portmanteau of "fascist" and "synthwave")[7] emerged as a largely instrumental fusion genre of synthwave and vaporwave, with political track titles and occasional soundbites, such as excerpts of speeches given by Adolf Hitler.[21] The phenomenon was described as self-identified fascists and alt-right members appropriating vaporwave music and aesthetics.[21][22] It was popularized in 2016 by Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin, who touted synthwave as, "the Whitest music ever", and, "the spirit of the childhoods of millenials. [sic]"[23] Elsewhere, there was a growing trend of Russian synthwave musicians whose work espoused nostalgia for the Soviet Union, sometimes described as, "Sovietwave".[24]

Synthwave continued to gain traction throughout the 2010s. Though writing in 2019, PopMatters journalist Preston Cram subjectively said, "Despite its significant presence and the high level of enthusiasm about it, synthwave in its complete form remains a primarily underground form of music."[4] He added that "Nightcall" and "A Real Hero" remained "two of only a small number of synthwave songs produced to date that widely known outside the genre's followers."[4] Despite these implications that synthwave will remain a niche genre, a number of vocal synthwave artists such as Cannons, Primo the Alien, Laurel, W O L F C L U B, PRIZM, NINA, LAU, Jessie Frye, Laura Dre, HOLOFLASH, Alex Markham, and many others have gained a more significant impact on the genre since the mid-2010s, being able to tap into a more pop-oriented audience and bring new fans deeper into the genre, with numerous different types of 80s-influenced styles being prevalent in their production. Even some pioneers of the genre such as The Midnight have also produced significantly more vocal-oriented tracks since the mid-2010s that continue to gain significant popularity. In 2020, "Blinding Lights", a pop-synthwave track by mainstream recording artist the Weeknd,[25] topped US record charts, the first song to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic.[26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Robert (23 September 2016). "On The Synthwave Genre and Video Games". Surreal Resolution. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Hunt, Jon (9 April 2014). "We Will Rock You: Welcome To The Future. This is Synthwave". l'etoile. Archived from the original on 11 July 2017. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Neuman, Julia (June 23, 2015). "A Retrowave Primer: 9 Artists Bringing Back the '80s". MTV Iggy. Archived from the original on June 23, 2015. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cram, Preston (2019-11-25). "How Synthwave Grew from a Niche '80s Throwback to a Current Phenomenon". Popmatters. Retrieved 2019-12-05.
  5. ^ a b c d e Neuman, Julia (July 30, 2015). "The Nostalgic Allure of 'Synthwave'". New York Observer. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e Young, Bryan (25 March 2015). "Synthwave: If Tron and Megaman had a music baby". Glitchslap.com. Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  7. ^ a b Hann, Michael (December 14, 2016). "'Fashwave': synth music co-opted by the far right". The Guardian.
  8. ^ Calvert, John (13 October 2011). "Xeno and Oaklander - Sets & Lights". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  9. ^ Maxwell, Dante (September 20, 2019). "Music Microgenres: A Brief History of Retrowave, Acid House, & Chillhop". Zizacious.
  10. ^ Christopher Higgins (2014-07-29). "The 7 Most Essential Synthwave Artists". Nerdglow.com. Retrieved 2015-05-18.
  11. ^ Hunt, Jon (9 April 2014). "We Will Rock You: Welcome To The Future. This is Synthwave". l'etoile. Archived from the original on 11 July 2017. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  12. ^ Lambert, Molly (2016-08-04). "Stranger Things and how Tangerine Dream soundtracked the 80s". MTV.com. Retrieved 2016-08-28.
  13. ^ Skullet, Iron (2018-03-01). "What is Synthwave? 2018 Edition • Iron Skullet". Iron Skullet. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  14. ^ a b c d Wetmore, Jr. 2018, p. 31.
  15. ^ "Synthwave: 5 Production Essentials | ModeAudio Magazine". ModeAudio. Retrieved 2020-04-15.
  16. ^ Lambert, Molly (2016-08-04). "Stranger Things and how Tangerine Dream soundtracked the 80s". MTV.com. Retrieved 2016-08-28.
  17. ^ McCasker, Toby (2014-06-22). "Riding the Cyber Doom Synthwave With Perturbator | NOISEY". Noisey.vice.com. Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  18. ^ Neuman, Julia (July 30, 2015). "The Nostalgic Allure of 'Synthwave'". New York Observer. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  19. ^ The Rise of the Synths (Motion picture). Nov 1, 2019.
  20. ^ Christopher Higgins (2014-07-29). "The 7 Most Essential Synthwave Artists". Nerdglow.com. Retrieved 2015-05-18.
  21. ^ a b Bullock, Penn; Kerry, Eli (January 30, 2017). "Trumpwave and Fashwave Are Just the Latest Disturbing Examples of the Far-Right Appropriating Electronic Music". Vice. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  22. ^ Farrell, Paul (2018-05-18). "Fashwave: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy.com. Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  23. ^ Hermansson, Patrik; Lawrence, David; Mulhall, Joe; Murdoch, Simon (2020). The International Alt-Right: Fascism for the 21st Century?. Taylor & Francis. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-429-62709-5.
  24. ^ Luhn, Alec (July 29, 2015). "Russia's musical new wave embraces Soviet chic". The Guardian.
  25. ^ The Weeknd's 'Blinding Lights' Is Yearning Synthwave - UPROXX
  26. ^ Why the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” Is the First Chart Topper of the Coronavirus Era - Slate Magazine
  27. ^ "Doc'n Roll Film Festival - The Rise of The Synths". www.docnrollfestival.com. Retrieved 2019-09-30.

Bibliography

External links[edit]