An Interview with Synthwave Producer Johan Hauck of 2DCat
Johan Hauck is one part of the synthwave group known as 2DCat. His music is not only influenced by classic New Wave artists like Joy Division, The Smiths and New Order, but also by 8-bit art and other graphic media. I talked to him about how he got started making music, 2DCat's approach to the creation of new music and their latest EP Summer, 1983.
Karl Magi: How did you first get into making music?
Johan Hauck: In 1999, I was living in Tokyo. I met up with some Australian expats and some Japanese nationals there and we started doing underground EBM industrial music. It was weird at the time because the music wasn’t popular in Japan at the time. We wanted to do it and we felt that Tokyo needed a scene. We created a club there and did that for a good ten years. I came out of that to start doing synthwave music a couple of years ago.
KM: What are the elements in synthwave music that attract you to making it?
JH: It’s an interesting question because it seems as though everyone considers it something different. I would say that my music is more synthpop but who knows? For me, it’s about that nostalgic ‘80s feel and taking it back to that genre of music and that time period. Other folks would probably characterize it as something different.
KM: Who are the people who’ve had the strongest influences on you as a music-maker?
JH: Music-wise, I would say that the folks I tend to listen to are Depeche Mode, The Smiths and Morrissey, Joy Division, New Order and the Pet Shop Boys. Those would be the bands I’d listen to if I’m just going out for a run or on the Metro going to work.
I would say I’m more influenced by art in my music rather than other musicians. As you can tell, the Pet Shop Boys would be the closest to what I do musically, but I would say that the artists who frequent Something Awful’s C-SPAM forums would be the biggest inspiration for me. I know Al! does some really good artwork in the 8-bit artwork realm. Twoday does a lot of really good print graphics, so I’d so those are the folks that I get most inspiration from rather than the music itself.
KM: How do you approach the creation of new music in general?
JH: It really depends and it’s always evolving. We got a new guitarist, so that has added a new dynamic to the music. Typically Chloe or someone else will give me vocals and I’d use that as the inspiration to build a song around. It has also gone the other way more recently where our guitarist has said, “Just let me know what you’re thinking and we’ll go from there.” I think, like most folks, that I have about 90 songs that’ll never see the light of day. Out of those songs, I’ll find one where I think there’s something there and I build from there.
KM: Tell me more about your Summer, 1983 EP and how it came together?
JH: I got a Sequential Circuits Pro One synth recently. I’m having a lot of really good fun with it, it’s really good for bass. That synthesizer really drove that album. It was a chance to really build an album around that sound. I felt like a good counterpart to the Pro One was the Roland MKS 50 synth. It’s an awesome synthesizer for bells and some really screechy leads. It was going down memory lane for me with all of the old synthesizers and finding a way to merge them.
KM: What does the future hold for 2DCAT?
JH: We have some exciting lineup additions. Our new lead guitarist is really excited to be a part of the project. His background is in Swedish death metal, so that experience is going to be hilarious and awesome at the same time. We have a new EP that we’re working on right now and it’s coming together really nicely. We’re planning on doing a lot of live shows on the east coast in the next few months and I hope to have the new EP out in about three months time. We’ll probably do a new full length release after that.
This new EP is some of the best work that I think we’ve done, so I’m interested to see what the feedback will be. Also we’re doing a giveaway right now, so we’re giving away five cassettes and two of the official t-shirts. You can find it at 2DCAT.com/giveaway.
KM: How do you think the synthwave scene is doing lately?
JH: It’s a crowded scene and it reminds me a lot of the old EBM/industrial music scene. Nobody knew what was EBM, what was industrial and what was aggrotech. The current synthwave scene has similarities to it, in that there is a lot of debate on synthwave vs. synthpop vs. retrowave vs. dreamwave. I would look at what happened in that scene from the late 90s to today to see what is in story for the synthwave scene. I’m really excited that it’s getting popular.
I know some folks want it to be their own little secret, but seeing how popular it is becoming really makes me happy because it reminds me of a really good time in my life. A lot of the synthesizers I use are from that time period and grew up using. For me, even when I was on hiatus, I was still using those synths just because they made me happy, obvious to the knowledge there was a growing synthwave scene. I never really thought I’d have much of an audience, so I’m happy with the growth. I’m really excited to see a lot of the great artists out there starting to do well.
KM: How do you recharge yourself creatively?
JH: Eventually I get to the point where I’ve listened to the music I’ve made for so long that I want nothing to do with it. At that point, I’ll be on the forums at C-SPAM looking for new inspirations there. I try to do some traveling to get away from the DC area because it tends to be either incredibly cold or really humid. I like traveling down to Miami and the Caribbean and drinking tiki drinks and it seems like the combination of all of those things gets me recharged and wanting to write ‘80s music again.