An Interview with German Synthwave Producer Miles Matrix
Miles Matrix is a synthwave producer based in Germany. He creates dark synth visions with a cyberpunk flavour that are shot through with cinematic moments. Via email, we discussed his approach to creating music, his album Buena Vista and how he sees the current global synthwave scene.
Karl Magi: What first made you want to create music as more than just a hobby?
Miles Matrix: To be honest, I still consider it a hobby, albeit one I take very seriously, in that I put a lot of heart and effort into it. I just don't think I'm good enough for it to be worthy of being more than a hobby. Also, I have a full time job that pays the bills and feeds me, so thank God I do not depend on music to make a living. I suffer from chronic depression and I am very bad at handling pressure when it comes to creativity and arts.
I have a background in writing, I have published a couple of books in German, but I gave up full time writing because I just couldn't live up to being creative at the press of a button. Now, of course I wouldn't mind watching my music take off, and if it one day does, and I can generate a modest income that's cool, but money's not my motivation. I really enjoy creating songs, twitching sounds, experimenting with effects – basically the whole production process. That is really important to me, and the fact that there are quite a number of listeners out there who like my music and listen to me is the icing on the cake. Hey listeners, I love you.
KM: Tell me more about the factors that attract you to making synthwave music.
MM: Well, first of all, I love movie soundtracks. I also love rock music, be it indie rock or metal. I am also a real '80s kid and I grew up on synthesizer music by Jean-Michel Jarre, Klaus Schulze and the like. Synthwave turns out to be the best of these worlds, where all of these influences come together in one big melting pot. It's quite the cliché as I learned about synthwave first through the movie Drive, but it took years for me to launch my first attempt at producing. I have no background in music theory, so it's all self-taught
KM: Which artists have been most influential to you as a music creator and why?
MM: In regards to the synthwave genre that has to be artists like Wolftron, The Algorithm, Perturbator, Magic Sword, and Gunship. But I also listen a lot to my peers, other up and coming undiscovered artists like myself. Their output really pushes me.
Thinking of movie scores, I get inspired by composers like Hildur Guðnadóttir, Disasterpeace, Johan Johansson, Ludwig Goransson, Clint Mansell and of course the master himself, John Carpenter.
Beyond synthwave, I take a lot of cues for my songwriting from rock and metal bands, like Architects, for example.
KM: How do you approach music creation in general?
MM: It depends. Sometimes I wake up with a melody in my head, which I sing into my smartphone. Often, I play with the melody in my head and start layering tracks in my head. A lot of my songwriting happens in my head, I often know exactly what sound I am looking for. Many of my songs are soundtracks to short films I concoct in my mind. In German we have a word for that: kopfkino, or head cinema. My music tends to the soundtrack to these mind films or I have a faint idea of sound and play around with my synths to see if it goes somewhere. Either way, I end up in front of my DAW and try to recreate the sound in my head.
In the beginning, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, so I worked from presets a lot. But I am improving my synthesis craft, so I know my way around creating sounds a bit better now. I still like to use presets as a starting point when I am too lazy to start from scratch, but now I usually end up tweaking them completely (For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ky0WRQhUr7U). Another approach I have is that I think of a specific sound on a specific synth that I want to use – and from there the sky is the limit.
KM: Tell me about Buena Vista. What are the ideas/themes that you explore on it and how did you go about creating it?
MM: I would love to claim that Buena Vista follows one consistent, golden thread, but that isn't true. Truth is, I had my album finished in February, and then scrapped 80 percent of the songs because I wasn't happy with them anymore. I want back to the drawing table and recorded what was in my head in a couple of furious, sweaty sessions. So the album Buena Vista is the reflection of my personal brand of synthwave as it was in Spring 2019. But of course there is a lowest common denominator: My childhood in the late '80s, cold war angst, love for science fiction and accompanying hope of a better future. It is as much a Miami Beach and Ocean Drive album as it is cyberpunk and dark science fiction. Beachpunk, maybe. For my next album, I will try a more consistent approach. I am thinking of accompanying it with a story or novella. But that's still far away.
KM: Where do you want to take your music going forward?
MM: First and foremost, I want to become more professional at producing music. I want to learn more about mixing. I think I still have a lot improve on this end. I also want to get better at song writing. And of course, I would love to play more gigs in the future. I am working on the perfect gear set up for me here, and I hope next year I will be able to do a little tour.
Regarding my style, my music will probably stay on the dark side of synthwave, with the odd exploration of more happy tunes. But the dark side of synthwave is one I have been drawn to for a long while, and it reflects my love of rock and heavy metal as well as cyberpunk themes.
Expect some new songs in autumn and winter.
KM: How do you think the global synthwave scene is doing lately?
MM: I've never met such a supportive and wholesome scene, to be honest. I can't stress enough how many genuinely nice people I've met through synthwave, let alone cool artists. I really feel at home. Style-wise, I don't really want to be the judge of that, as I am fairly new to the scene. But if I'm honest it does make me smile when I read the obligatory think piece about how synthwave is stagnant and it all sounds the same. Two thoughts on this: First of all, as long as there are outlets that function as de facto gatekeepers to the scene and have a considerable impact on the success of an artist, and these outlets look for a particular sound, artists will try to emulate this sound – especially if experiments don't get rewarded too often.
Second of all: Synthwave is a niche genre. By definition, it is supposed to sound a particular way. Nobody is pissed that death metal bands sound like death metal or that power metal bands sound like power metal. Based on this fact I sincerely believe that this is a luxury debate, especially since most fans seem to be fine with synthwave sounding like synthwave. There very often is a stark discrepancy between the feedback from listeners to a release and the reviews of said release.
Apart from that, I see so many new and undiscovered artists producing eclectic music there isn't really anything to worry about. So all I can say is: if you want diversity in synthwave, stop turning to the same ten old artists you've been featuring since 2010 and give newcomers a chance. Take the same risks you expect from artists.
KM: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
MM: I spend time with my girlfriend and my dog. Watch movies. Go for a walk. But to be honest, being creative is something that relaxes me. One of the reasons I don't really want it to be a full time job.