Nostalgic for nostalgia? The future of Synthwave
I was listening to an episode of the excellent Beyond Synth this week and Marko Maric was discussing how he had found some old Retro Promenade print magazines whilst clearing out his house and it had made him nostalgic for nostalgia. A strange concept.. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. There was a lot of talk a few months ago about Synthwave being dead, having reached its peak and we were now at full saturation point. We are in an era of new artists citing Synyhwave forefathers as their influences, fans attempting to try their hand at making music (with drastically varying degrees of success!) and the whole genre looking for a future path.
Thinking back over what I was listening to in the early days, I certainly pick up those albums from time to time, however they are more likely to get a vinyl spin than find themselves on a well-used Spotify playlist. Kavinsky is a good example of this. His lack of recent releases has not done him any favours in my eyes, however you can’t help but notice the shit he gets online. He sometimes presents himself as the reason we are all here reading blogs and seeing live Synthwave shows. Again – Not doing himself any favours.. But to me he represents a different time for the genre. A less developed and far less-risky era. I enjoy his music when it pops up however I don’t seek out his material anymore. I would be interested to hear something new from him, however there is so much out there now, he would have to make something monumental to garner the same amount of positive attention he was getting 8 years ago.
So where are we now? Artists have come and gone, developed, changed their style and some have even attempted to distance themselves from Synthwave. It is undeniable that the acts that straddle both the darker side of the scene and the metal scene are the ones that have had the most immediate success as time has gone by – The recent world tours from Pertubator and Carpenter Brut have proven that. Their live shows certainly have a different vibe to the lighter artists and that huge metal fan base has propelled their popularity into a different place. Carpenter Brut’s 2018 Leather Teeth, whilst garnering praise, had its Synthwave authenticity questioned. I for one, loved it and felt that it was a very well developed concept that still fits within the umbrella of Synthwave, however the same can’t be said for Pertubator recent 2017 release ‘New Model’. The title track itself ‘Birth of a New Model’ makes it clear of James’s intentions. This is his journey, and he’s taken his Synthwave umbrella and ditched it. Whilst ‘New Model’ and it’s industrial metal sound opened up a genre of music that I had little interest in before, it’s my least favourite of his releases. When I compare it to the 2014 EP Sexualizer, there is no contest. But then I am such a nostalgia nut that it’s not a surprise I feel that way.
There are however some very exciting new works that have either just come out or are on the horizon. The Midnight’s ‘Nocturnal’ was undoubtable one of the fantastically well produced and balanced albums of 2017. It’s fresh and clean production blew my mind. Their accompanying live shows in the US have also gone to show that the softer side of the genre can compete with the likes of Brut and Pert for live show success and i’m confident that a Euro tour is just around the corner for them. What Nocturnal did was show that a group as successful as The Midnight can find those fresh 80s inspirations and develop their craft in a new and exciting direction whilst still having that nostalgic vibe. It’s all in the story-telling with those guys.
Timecop1983 has also released ‘Night Drive’ this last month. A now infamous review by IronSkullet whilst complimentary, was none-too-approving of the release. However it was in the minority in its critique. Its opening track could easily have found its way on to Noctural with the dreamy melancholy we expect from him with some clean freshness and the track Tokyo with Kinnie Lane pulled at the Synthwave feels-strings. Timecop1983, the soft heart of Synthwave, brought what we all want and have grown to need from him. It was exciting and fans love it – The cassette run sold out in less than a day!
Equally as exciting is the imminent new release from Sunglasses Kid. SK has been kind enough to show us all little snippets of his new album on social media and it has a very different vibe. Already we can see how he has moved on through the decade and touching on the 90s by taking inspiration from New Jack Swing. If the previews and comments are anything to go by, it’s a genius move and sounds fucking great so far. It also feels like one of the smartest progressions of a Synthwave artist by literally propelling us through the era.
So what’s the conclusion? For me it’s pretty simple… There were always going to be those producers who felt they needed to go in a different direction and you can’t blame them for the choice. Why make music that doesn’t satisfy you? Make the music that makes you happy.
Pushing the boundaries of what we expect is the natural progression of the genre and those artists that have developed their nostalgic homages have surprised us, excited us and had us cranking up the Bandcamp purchases. If this is what we can expect from Synthwave artists developing and progressing the genre, then we are safe in their hands.
Now you’ll have to excuse me. I need to return some videotapes.