Imagine entering a long hallway. Strong light that resembles the Californian sun shows you the way through the fan palms that cover the walls. A subtle, yet recognizable sound reaches your ears but you can’t really understand what it is. It sounds like disco or Italo Disco but you wouldn’t dare to frivolously label it. As this LA beach vibe makes your steps more decisive, the chilled tones start to faint and the unmistakable synthesizer keys’ sound becomes bulkier and faster. Your black sunglasses and the coolness that comes with them stay on, as you feel like the yet unseen end of the hall sucks you in as if you were driving a speedy sports car on an endless highway.
As the music becomes spookier, you finally reach a room that looks like anything but a regular kitchen. Pink neon signs point to the only object that looks like a futuristic blender with blades that you might have seen only in the “Alien” trilogy. You think you don’t know what to do but you’re struck by a strong feeling of confidence that leads your finger over the chunky buttons. “A big load of analog synth compositions, a pinch of science fiction, a good amount of noughties electronica, some grains of a dystopic future and a generous drench of 80’s nostalgia”. A liquid creature is born and you know that, even though it’s difficult to give it a name, it has to be recognizable in these modern, confusing days: “Synthwave”.
In the era of cultural crossover, the increasing popularity of synthwave musical genre and the subculture that encircles it is almost like a certain mathematical function with exchangeable elements. However, a sense of longing for the 80’s period or a vision of a bleak looking future are omnipresent as it’s widely admitted by creators and fans. With analog synthesizers as the Minimoog or the E-mu Emulator and the use of filtered drum machines, even the youngest members of the scene have managed to achieve a kind of sound that brought online and offline communities closer to an eventually distinguishable fan base around the world.
When Ryan Gosling put on his scorpion jacket to interpret his old-school style, introvert character for Nicolas Winding Refn’s cult gem “Drive”, few had predicted that the actor’s reintroduction to the film industry would coincide with one of synthwave’s important check-points. French artist-persona Kavinsky’s track “Nightcall” and Electric Youth’s first hit “A Real Hero” combined with the retro, balancing between bright days and dark nights, aesthetics of the movie boosted the image of what was considered by then a relatively small musical niche. What really brought the genre closer to mainstream entertainment though was definitely the idea of creating a looming danger atmosphere, orchestrated by synth oscillations, for the 80’s set sci-fi TV thriller “Stranger Things“.
Despite the fact of stepping into mainstream waters, synthwave artists still hold strongly onto their DIY methods and independent mentality. “Ideally being independent is the best solution; you have a transparent and direct view on your sales and you don’t need to wait centuries before receiving the money from your work to finance other projects”, said Carpenter Brut, one of the protagonists of the dominating French scene. Lingering between subgenres like Outrun, Darksynth and Dreamwave, this peculiar group of music makers that forms some sort of worldwide cooperative, has been tirelessly exploring interests that are not necessarily connected with each other like old horror movies, videogames retrieved from the ATARI and Mega Drive forgotten period, a version of the future where technology has taken complete control over humans or even pointless car drives along a sunny Californian coast.
Would anybody dare to uncover Daft Punk’s masks or would it be wise try to convince Justice to renounce their Cross logo? Thinking about synthwave without its visual and cultural references would be a harsh dismantlement of a relationship that has been shaped with particular passion and attention over the years. Spanish director Iván Castell managed to gather some of the best representatives of this complex genre and with the narrative expertise of cinema legend and synth ambient master, John Carpenter, filmed the “Rise of the Synths” which is officially part of IN-EDIT’s movie lineup. If you want to have a deeper look into this complex universe, this is your chance.