A Deep Dive into the Retro-Futuristic Phenomenon

synthwave music

Synthwave, also hitting the charts as Retrowave or Outrun, is an electronic music genre that burst onto the scene in the early 2000s. It’s a genre that’s all about instrumental vibes, heavily drawing on the synthesizer-driven melodies from classic 80s Sci-Fi movies (think ‘Escape from New York’, ‘Robocop’) and iconic TV shows (like ‘Knight Rider’, ‘Street Hawk’, ‘Miami Vice’). It’s a throwback to the 80s New Wave era, echoing the sounds of legends like Depeche Mode and The Cure. The name ‘Synthwave’ itself is a blend of SYNTH(esizer) and (new)WAVE. Pioneers like Jean-Michel Jarre, Giorgio Moroder, Wendy Carlos, John Carpenter, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream have left an indelible mark on this style. The genre’s rhythm foundation is also distinctive, featuring classic 80s drum sounds (kick, snare, hat), all treated with compressed filters reminiscent of the Filtered House Music from the French Touch era.


However, Synthwave artists aren’t just about retro vibes; they also embrace modern tech to craft their sound. They use current musical gear to create pulsating bass lines with SideChain compression, and sometimes, they incorporate the hard-hitting kicks or snares found in House Music, Electro Rock, or Hip Hop. Synthwave has given birth to a few sub-genres too. There’s Darkwave (or Darksynth), which draws its eerie ambiance from horror movie soundscapes. Synthpop is another, featuring vocals processed to mirror that classic 80s sound. Dreamwave offers a more melancholic, romantic feel, while Futursynth takes direct inspiration from retro-futuristic film scores. We’re set to showcase some standout tracks from each of these styles, giving you a clear taste of their unique flavors. Moreover, this fusion of old and new keeps Synthwave fresh and exciting.

France: The Birthplace of a Movement

In 2005, a distinctive EP titled ‘Teddy Boy‘ was launched by Record Makers, crafted by Vincent Belorgey, known as Kavinsky. Among its tracks was the quintessentially emblematic ‘Testarossa Autodrive’. This track epitomizes the term ‘OUTRUN’ in the Synthwave context – music that conjures images of speeding through the night in a sports car. ‘OUTRUN’ was also aptly chosen as the title for Kavinsky’s debut album, released in 2013. The album’s standout hits, ‘Protovision’ and ‘Odd Look’, were brought to life through music videos that captured a nocturnal, dark vibe and prominently featured Kavinsky’s iconic sports car, the 1984 Ferrari Testarossa – a nod to the 80s aesthetic. Dropping on March 25, 2022, Kavinsky’s ‘Reborn,’ released by Record Makers, turns up the beat. Co-produced with Justice’s Gaspard Augé and Housse de Racket’s Victor le Masne, it features collabs like Romuald (The Spimes), Cautious Clay, and the légendary Sébastien Tellier.

Testarossa Autodrive Kavinsky

In 2007, David Grellier, part of the Electro Clash duo Sexy Sushi, embarked on a groundbreaking solo project named College, which became a cornerstone in the development of Synthwave music. His releases ‘Teenage Color‘ and ‘Secret Diary’ through the VALERIE Collective not only showcased his unique blend of 80s nostalgia and modern electronic rhythms but also set a new standard in the genre. Grellier’s artistic vision in celebrating American 80s culture, infused with a ‘kitsch’ aesthetic, was pivotal in defining the Synthwave style. This era was further enriched by the contributions of French bands like Minitel Rose, The Outrunners, Anoraak, and Lifelike. Their music, while maintaining individuality, shared the foundational elements of Synthwave – a fusion of retro and contemporary sounds, which collectively elevated the genre to new heights and solidified its influence in the broader music landscape.

So Electric Lifelike

In 2011, the Synthwave scene was notably elevated with the release of College’s album ‘Northern Council’, featuring the now-iconic track ‘A Real Hero‘ in collaboration with the legendary Electric Youth. This song, alongside Kavinsky’s ‘Nightcall’ (produced with the golden touch of Daft Punk) and Desire’s ‘Under Your Spell’, gained immense popularity through their inclusion in the soundtrack of the film ‘DRIVE’, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The movie’s stylish and atmospheric visuals paired with this soundtrack, a perfect blend of moody Synthwave and 80s retro vibes, created a significant cultural moment. The success of these tracks, especially in the context of the film’s acclaim, not only heightened public awareness and appreciation of Synthwave music but also acted as a catalyst for the emergence of new talent in the genre, marking a pivotal point in its evolution and popularity in the global music scene.

Under Your Spell Desire

College (alongside his Valerie Collective) and Kavinsky, as pioneers of this music style, paved the way for numerous artists. The darker aspect of Synthwave, known as ‘Darkwave’, features musicians like Carpenter Brut, Perturbator, Power Glove, Dance with the Dead, and Kn1ght. On the brighter side, artists like Mitch Murder, Miami Nights 1984, and Highway Superstar have made their mark. ‘Dreamwave’ offers a more relaxing and romantic flavor, with artists like Timecop1983 and Futurecop! ‘Synthpop’, blending synthesizers with vocals, includes bands like GUNSHIP, Electric Youth, Le Cassette, The Midnight, and Arcade High. Meanwhile, Com Truise defines his music as Synthwave but infuses it with the heavy beats of Hip Hop or Drum and Bass, creating what he calls mid-fi synth-wave or slow-motion funk.

Succession, producers from worldwide

new retro wave

Following the ‘DRIVE’ phenomenon in 2011, a surge of artists emerged, drawing inspiration from the film’s soundtrack and visual style. This wave of creativity led to the formation of various record labels, including Rosso Corsa Records (home to Mitch Murder, Miami Nights 1984, Lazerhawk, and others), Telefuture Records (featuring artists like Betamaxx and Perturbator), NRW Records (hosting Dance with The Dead, Lifelike, Futurecop!, Waveshaper, among others), and Lazerdiscs Records (with talents like Absolute Valentine, Robert Parker, Niky Nine, Z6B3R, Morgan Willis, and more). Additionally, a notable YouTube channel, NewRetroWave, emerged, quickly amassing a substantial following and becoming a significant platform for the genre.


Visually, Synthwave brings a distinct retro-futuristic vibe through its album covers and music videos, drawing heavily from the iconic imagery of 80s Sci-Fi and horror films like ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Tron,’ ‘Terminator,’ and ‘Aliens.’ Aesthetically, as highlighted earlier, the film ‘DRIVE’ reinvigorated the Synthwave scene with its stylish car chases (echoing back to Kavinsky’s Ferrari influence), as did the cult short film ‘Kung Fury.’ The influence of Synthwave extends into the gaming world too, with titles like Hotline Miami, Furi, Power Drive 2000, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Neon Drive and many others (more on these in our games section) showcasing the genre’s impact on video game aesthetics and storytellings.

The Synthwave madness at its peak

In 2015, the Swedish short film Kung Fury – a fantastic blend of comedy and martial arts, written, produced, and starring David Sandberg – significantly boosted Synthwave’s global recognition, thanks to a successful advertising campaign. Drawing heavy inspiration from 80s movies, its soundtrack features the hit single ‘True Survivor’ by David Hasselhoff (famously known as Michael Knight from ‘Knight Rider’), and showcases Swedish composer Mitch Murder along with artists like Betamaxx and Lost Years. This led to widespread media discussion about Synthwave worldwide. ‘Kung Fury 2‘ is slated for release at the end of 2024 as a full-length feature film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, raising expectations for another outstanding soundtrack.

The American sci-fi horror TV series ‘Stranger Things’, created by the Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross Duffer), captivates with its unique cinematic world that pays homage to 80s classics like ‘The Goonies’, ‘E.T.’, ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Super 8’, ‘Aliens’, and more. The series’ soundtrack, essential in mirroring this ambiance, was masterfully composed by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon from the American band S U R V I V E, now a prominent name in Synthwave. Garnering widespread acclaim from both audiences and critics over all its seasons, ‘Stranger Things’ is eagerly anticipated to return for a fifth season in 2024, promising to feature a Synthwave-centric soundtrack once again. The soundtracks for its four seasons are currently available for fans.

Here's a handpicked collection of tracks, showcasing the diversity of the sub-styles:

How to recognize Synthwave genres


Rhythm: electronic, typical sounds from New Wave
Melody: upbeat and Energetic: A Journey into 80s Synth
Voice: only instrumental


Rhythm: electronic, taken from New Wave
Melody: romantic and melancholic: The 80s Synth Experience
Voice: instrumental in general, sometimes with voices


Rhythm: hard and heavy snare from Electro Rock
Melody: influenced by 80s Synth: A Nod to Horror Movie Sounds
Voice: only instrumental


Rhythm: electronic, taken from New Wave
Melody: melancholy meets futurism: The 80s Synth Sound Experience
Voice: only instrumental


Rhythm: electronic, taken from New Wave
Melody: uplifting vibes: The Joyful Side of 80s Synth
Voice: male or female with a sound processing like New Wave

Futuristic CYBERPUNK

Rhythm: electronic, powerful, big beat
Melody: dark, strong, acid, rock, futuristic
Voice: only instrumental

Enjoy Synthwave Music

* two artworks: « 80s Synth Wave » by Diego Orta & « New Retro Wave » by Overglow