What is Synthwave?
The Synthwave, also known as Retrowave or Outrun, is a style of Electronic Music that emerged early 2000s. With a great instrumental part, it’s largely inspired by synthesizer melodies coming from Sci-Fi Films (New York 1997, Robocop) or iconic series (K2000, Street Hawk, Miami Vice) from 80s and all related to New Wave musical genre (also Italo Disco). So we have SYNTH(esizer) and (new)WAVE which give the name « Synthwave ». Some legendary musicians such as Jean-Michel Jarre, Wendy Carlos, John Carpenter, Vangelis or Tangerine Dream brought so much to this musical trend. Rhythm’s base is also characteristic with sounds of drums (kick, snare, hat) directly taken from 80s, treated with very compressed filters like Filtered HOUSE Music.
Nevertheless, Synthwave composers also use modern musical machines to create some bass lines such as « SideChain » compression and also sometimes, like heavy and powerful kicks or snares as we can found in HOUSE Music, Electro Rock or Hip Hop. Some sub–genres associated to this style appeared as Darksynth (or Darkwave), inspired by the sound atmosphere of horror films, Synthpop with voices treated with the same structure of the 80s, Dreamwave with melancholy and romantic melodies but also Futursynth, directly inspired by retro-futuristic films soundtracks that project us into space. We’ll present you some very representative tracks of each style to easily hear the difference between the main style Synthwave and the orthers.
France, the starting point
In 2005 a specific EP was released at Record Makers, its named was Teddy Boy and it was produced by Vincent Belorgey aka Kavinsky. It contained a purely emblematic track, Testarossa Autodrive. This is with this track that the word OUTRUN, associated to Synthwave, makes sense (music with which we can imagine rolling quickly into a sports car) and it’s also the word that Kavinsky had chosen as the name of his first album, released in 2013 and co-produced by SebastiAn (Ed Banger Records) at the same label Record Makers. Two videos were made for the hits ‘Protovision’ and ‘Odd Look’ with a dark atmosphere (by night) but also with his legendary sport car, the Ferrari Testarossa (1984), all reminiscent of the 80s.
In 2007, parallel to his project Electro Clash duo Sexy Sushi (as Mitch Silver), the French composer David Grellier launched a musical solo project under the name of College. An EP ‘Teenage Color’ and an album ‘Secret Diary’ were released by VALERIE Collective which he created. Artistic Director of Valerie, he managed this cultural network with a purpose – celebrate American 80s culture with an assumed « kitsch » side. With his very distinctive noise footprint, we can estimate that’s when the Synthwave style really got started. Meanwhile, French bands like Minitel Rose, The Outrunners, Anoraak and Lifelike (not in the collective) participated in the Synthwave movement with identical musical criteria.
In 2011 the album of College ‘Northern Council’ was released with the famous track called ‘Real Hero’ in collaboration with Electric Youth. It was one of the highlights of the film DRIVE from Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn. The sountrack was also enhanced by the legendary ‘Nightcall’ from Kavinsky, produced by the golden half of Daft Punk. There is also a very good song called ‘Under your Spell’ by the band Desire from Canada. Served by the promotion of the movie, this track, with a pleasant female voice sprinkled by sounds from the 80s (Synth-pop), received much publicity. Many more events drew the public attention to this musical genre and prompted the emergence of great artists from all over the world.
Drive legacy - with producers from all over the world
After DRIVE phenomenon in 2011, a large number of artists emerged, inspired by the soundtrack and the visual of this movie. This resulted in the creation of several record companies such as Rosso Corsa Records (Miami Night 1984, Lazerhawk…), Telefuture Records (Betamaxx, Perturbator…), NRW Records (Dance With The Dead, Tokyo Rose…), Lazerdiscs Records (Absolute Valentine, Robert Parker…) and many more. Note that a famous Youtube channel named NewRetroWave was created and gained an impressive amount of followers.
Visually, through the covers and music videos of the artists, the Synthwave conveys the idea of strong retro-futuristic world, directly referring to the best images of Sci-Fi and horror films from the 80s (Tron, Terminator, Alien…). Aesthetically, as mentioned above, the movie DRIVE gives a new life to the Synthwave universe with sport cars (back to roots with Kavinsky and his Ferrari), but also with the short film Kung Fury and the world of video games like Hotline Miami, Furi, Power Drive 2000, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or Neon Drive (check our games page).
As pioneers of this style of music, College (with his Valerie Collective) and Kavinsky have opened the way to many artists. The dark side of Synthwave called ‘Darksynth or Darkwave’ is illustrated by musicians like Carpenter Brut, Dance with the Dead, Perturbator… and the ‘sunny’ side by Mitch Murder, Miami Nights 1984, Highway Superstar… The ‘Dreamwave’ has a more relaxing and romantic side with Timecop1983, Futurecop! The ‘Synth-pop’ has accompanying voices you can hear on tracks from Gunship, Electric Youth, Le Cassette, Tesla Boy and others. Meanwhile, Com Truise describes his music as « Synthwave but with heavy rhythms » borrowed from Hip Hop or Drum & Bass, and is known as mid-fi synth-wave or slow-motion funk.
The Synthwave madness at its peak
In 2015, after a successful advertising campaign, the Swedish martial arts short-film Kung Fury, produced by David Sandberg, revealed more Synthwave to the world. Indeed, still inspired by the 80s movies, the soundtrack contains a famous single called ‘True Survivor’ with David Hasselhoff (Michael Knight from K2000) and highlights the Swedish composer Mitch Murder and artists like Betamaxx, Lost Years and Highway Superstar. For this reason, this musical style was discussed by the media around the world. Kung Fury 2 is expected to be released in 2017 as a feature film, undoubtedly with an excellent soundtrack.
The American horror and fantasy series named ‘Stranger Things’, directed by Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer, has a special universe and brings out the perfect blend of 80s legends like The Goonies, E.T., Alien and many more. The soundtrack had to match this atmosphere with exceptional tracks managed by an American band called S U R V I V E, a Synthwave reference. After many positive reviews by both public and media, a season 2 is now expected by October 2017, with once again a Synthwave soundtrack. The soundtrack of season 1 was released in September, 2016.
Some tracks to differentiate the sub-styles of Synthwave
How to recognize Synthwave genres
Rhythm: electronic, taken from New Wave
Melody: romantic and melancholy with 80s synth
Voice: instrumental in general, sometimes with voices
Rhythm: electronic, taken from New Wave
Melody: rather melancholy with 80s synth and futuristic sounds
Voice: only instrumental
Enjoy Synthwave Music
* two artworks: « 80s Synth Wave » by Diego Orta & « New Retro Wave » by Overglow