Synthwave and Me: A Love Story
I've been writing about music online for quite some time now. I've interviewed folk, country, rock, classical and jazz musicians because I love a wide range of music and listen to my eclectic collection of CDs and vinyl (Yes, what an anachronism!) constantly. However, in the last year, I've discovered that fascinating genre known as synthwave.
My discovery of the music was pure serendipity. I'd been looking to interview electronic music producers and I happened to stumble on the artist known as moonrunner83. I scrolled through his website and, as I always do, I clicked on to one of his songs to get some idea of what he sounded like. From the moment the drums started up, the synths swelled and the energy rose, I felt an excitement growing.
There are some comments that are relevant at this point. The first one is that I've generally disdained pop music (mainstream and non-mainstream) for a while because I felt that it lacked substance and musical quality. The second is that, while I'm a child of the '80s, I wasn't terribly nostalgic for that era's music, nor did I listen to much music from it and the third is that I've loved synth-based music since I was about five years old (my parents had a Kitaro tape that I listened to obsessively as a kid).
My interview with Chad (moonrunner83) went really well and I loved the music so much that I started to immerse myself in it. I haven't looked back since and my love for the genre has only grown.
I started, like most synthwave fanatics, with the big names like The Midnight, FM-84, Gunship and Kavinsky and they were all wonderful. However, as I continued interviewing synthwave artists, I began to realize that some of the newer people with whom I was talking were moving the genre in other interesting directions. I realized that whether you're drawn to the dark synth end of the spectrum or you enjoy music that makes you feel as if you're flying through space, there's something for everyone in synthwave.
While there are some people who just phone it in, all of the people that I've talked to and listened to are making music at a high level in my view. Their sense of melody, ability to write lyrics, ability to sing and overall musical chops are pretty impressive, particularly given that the standard to which most mainstream pop music is made is quite woefully low.
The final insight that I was still lacking was that the community around synthwave music has to be one of the strongest, most welcoming and least judgemental of any music scene with which I've had dealings. The #synthfam as we call it on Twitter is such a wonderful group of people. There's a depth of support and mutual respect that I find impressive.
It doesn't seem to matter whether you're big or small, making video game cover synthwave or the most esoteric, experimental music in the genre, the community is there to nurture you, help you out with questions and generally have your back. Even as someone just writing about the genre, I have felt really welcomed by everyone out there.
The lack of exclusivity and snobbery (generally) is impressive. For whatever reason, there doesn't seem to be the level of competitive attitude in the synthwave scene. Certainly I've seen far more helpful/constructive comments than I have negative, belittling ones. I'm sure there are people who would do that in the scene, but I haven't really encountered any of them.
As I've been immersed in the genre, I've come to realize that the least important thing to me is the nostalgic aspects of the music. I am perfectly fine with people who love the music because it reflects their nostalgia for the '80s but I think that anyone who stereotypes synthwave as being solely about nostalgia is missing something. In my mind, the genre is at its best when it takes that '80s synth basis and moves it in new directions and explores new sounds.
Of course, that's not to say that the scene hasn't given me a fondness for music made in the '80s. In fact, it has opened me up to listening to some of the great artists of that era and given me a new found respect for what they were doing and the standard to which the best of that era's music was made.
I should also add, in the interests of disclosure, that I do have an long-held fondness for the movies of my childhood. Labryinth, The Dark Crystal,and Big Trouble in Little China are all movies that shaped me as a person and perhaps the more cinematic elements of synthwave do tap into that nostalgia.
I've heard some people worry that the genre is becoming stultified and that too much formulaic music is being produced. I can certainly see how that's a legitimate worry but whenever I start to feel that is the case, some new artist or album comes along and pushes the boundaries out further. Frankly I'm just excited to see where the genre and its subgenres goes next.
What I want to say to cap it all off is that, as far as I'm concerned, synthwave has to be one of the most exciting musical genres to have sprung into life in the mid-2010s and I am really looking forward to seeing how the scene will evolve and grow. I'm confident that, even as there is growth, the core values that the best people in the scene hold won't disappear.