Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
Net Terminal Gene (Leif Wildman) is a synthwave producer based in the UK. His unique take on synthwave combines influences from classic Japanese anime, sci-fi novels and art as well as both the factual and fictional aspects of outer space with a strong emphasis on sonic aesthetics. In an email, he talked to me about why he loves synthwave, his latest album Voyager and about the Twitter #synthfam.
Karl Magi: What was the first spark that lit your desire to create music?
Leif Wildman: I always loved listening to and making music. I saved up as a teen and bought my first guitar. I got my first MIDI keyboard when I went to uni at 20 and then a Korg Khaossilator. I’d been in bands growing up playing guitar or doing vocals but found it difficult executing ideas with other musicians, and had completely abandoned keyboard.
One day, I pretty much ended up going down a synthwave rabbit hole and was enamoured. I thought, “I want to do this!” I got out my old keyboard, properly learnt how to use a DAW and just started putting the music together. I think it was the fact it was something I could do independently which really gave me the jump start.
KM: Talk to me about the elements and ideas that make synthwave appealing to you.
LW: What isn’t there to love? It’s a musical genre that speaks to me generationally. My childhood was filled with those '80s and '90s movies – the soundtracks that went with them and the visual aesthetics. I think it’s the same for other synthwave creators out there. I’m a designer so it’s definitely something that resonates with me.
I think in today’s society where we’ve grown up and we have these responsibilities, it’s a bit of a romanticisation of a time that we remember fondly, maybe through rose-tinted glasses but remember all the same. I also think with synthwave, it’s way more cinematic than most other music. It really tells a story and builds a picture. Rather than just being music for music’s sake.
KM: Who are your creative inspirations?
LW: I try and take influence from as much as possible. If something resonates with me it naturally becomes incorporated with my creative influence. But through the right kind of filter. I’m a big cyberpunk fan, it’s cliche but Blade Runner is one of my favourite films and Vangelis’ soundtrack has also influenced my music and sound design. The old school anime I used to watch growing up definitely had an effect on me too, whether its the mainstream titles like Akira or Ghost in the Shell, to the lesser-known titles like Macross and Lensman.
I grew up with the usual cast of Transformers, HeMan and Turtles but I think it was the plot lines of the Japanese stuff that really blew my mind as a kid. The work of Tsutomu Nihei had a big part to play, particularly Biomega and Blame!, which is where I got the influence for the ‘Net Terminal Gene’ name.
The Dune novels have influenced me and anything done by Simon Stålenhag who is responsible for Tales from the Loop and probably more prominently to me for the plot in the Electric State. Space, fact and fiction are another influence. Whether it’s imagery by NASA or movies such as Interstellar. I tend to think of pictures in my mind. This drives what kind of tone I’m trying to shape.
KM: Tell me about how you create new music.
LW: I used to play a lot of shoegaze on guitar. The problem with that is I would just play but not really ‘design’ the melody per se (nor remember what I’d played most times). With electronic music and working with a DAW the process is completely different. I’ll usually have some kind of tone or imagery in my head I want to project. Once I’ve got the skeleton I’ll build on that and work on the complete melody until I have something more fleshed out.
Other times I’ll just be exploring with sound design to create a tone whether that’s a synth or through effects and if I find something I like, I’ll run with it and see how I can use that sonic aesthetic to build a complete piece. But at the heart of it I try and iterate each time whether that’s through sound design, melody or the mix. I’ll try and work on improving and developing my skills every time, generally just to explore creatively.
KM: What were the ideas behind the Voyager album and how did you go about creating it?
LW: After I finished my first EP I wanted to work on something a bit more grandiose. I had a couple of tracks written out but I wanted to make my own kind of album soundtrack, a bit of a space opera. One of the major influences was this old VHS I had of the anime Macross, specifically ‘Do You Remember Love’. Super Dimensional Fortress from my EP Convex/Concave was named after the SDF1 from Macross and with this album I wanted to write a similar story to the Macross. A spaceship that had to leave its home, explore the galaxy and the troubles they faced along the way.
The artwork, because it was an older hand drawn anime, always inspired me. The dogfights with the fighter jets in space and the whole aesthetic of it and scale things were animated. This and The Last Starfighter were the main influences for the cover art. Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack in regards to those infamous synthesizer sounds were a big influence, as well as other synthwave artist soundtracks such as Le Matos’ Turbo Kid and Makeup & Vanity Set’s 88:88.
I wanted to make a story out of my music with all of those influences tied in. The album generally has an introduction, plot development, conflict and resolution, typical of a movie I suppose. At least in my mind! From an audio point of view I wanted to give my own flair on synthwave while using those archetypes that make the genre stand out, tapping into those sounds I loved but making them my own.
KM: Where do you want to take your music in the future?
LW: I’m currently wrapping up my second full length album. The melodies are about 95% complete so I’m going through the mixing and mastering phase. This one is a little faster in my opinion, I wanted to give it more energy. In tandem I’m trying to develop the concept for the album in terms of name, titles and artwork. Being a designer is quite handy and another side of it I love because I can really shape the project completely, not just musically, but from an artistic approach.
Musically, though, long term the key thing for me is to stay creative. I don’t want to put myself in a box and become too formulaic. I’ll probably create a sound which is refined to me and I’d hope people recognise as me but I don’t want to get to a point where I make two tracks and they sound the same, so experimentation is important to me, but I’ll still make the music that I like and that resonates with me. The most important thing is I’m enjoying what I’m doing. This is something I love so I want to preserve that.
KM: Give me your thoughts on the Twitter #synthfam as well as the general state of synthwave music?
LW: I think it’s great and there’s really nothing like it. Generally I’m quite an insular person but everyone from the artists to the promotors are the most accepting and communicable people I’ve ever come across. And on an international scale. I think it comes from a place of sheer love for what we do and having a community of people absolutely passionate about what we do and support each other with that likewise. It’s like a subconscious support network and although I’ve never met these people I feel like we know each other.
KM: What rekindles creativity for you?
LW: Luckily I’ve got a massively overactive imagination, but what really gets me going are those few times you come across something that sparks excitement and curiosity in you. I love movies, stories, video games, whatever that really blow your mind away, stuff that you really have to get your head around. I think that’s why I’m so drawn to science fiction. There are so many amazing people creating this stuff and it really changes your perspective on the world.
In relation to music directly, sometimes i can just be sitting at the keyboard, after itching to play. There’s a mnemonic connection there, I have it with guitar too and I think it carries on to audio in general. I can’t go too long without music without craving it and, in a way, I feel like I’m just tapping into my subconscious sonically. In a simplified way, what I’m trying to say is that these are the outlets I need. They’re what I’m passionate about and seeing the passion of other people helps give me that drive. I think within synthwave all the creators are giving each other that energy. To keep doing what we do and making great things!