Discovering a Hidden World
The first time I listening to Synthwave I wasn’t even aware that that’s what I was doing. My first encounter with Synthwave was during the soundtrack of the excellent 2011 film, Drive. I was lucky enough to have a friend willing to see it with me and a venue that would show it in Dubuque, Iowa. Occasionally, less mainstream movies could make it to a local independent theater a few months after it debuted in major cities.
What really struck me about the film was the opening song, “Nightcall” by Kavinsky. After finding Kavinsky online, I was finally able to listen to “Nightcall” on repeat; letting the song soundtrack my own night drives on highway I-88. I found other tracks by Kavinsky and soon looked into other artists from Drive like Electric Youth and College. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The Appeal of the ’80s
When thinking of some of your favorite bands, it would only take some preliminary research to learn of at least one or two of the artists that influence their sound (The Strokes have the Velvet Underground, Kanye West – Nas, Daft Punk – Kraftwerk, etc.), but when it comes to Synthwave artists, it isn’t so much bands from their childhood that inspire them, rather it’s ’80s films, cartoons and video games. Sci-fi movies like Blade Runner, The Running Man and RoboCop, and video games like Out Run, Street Fighter and F-Zero must run in the minds of Mitch Murder and Robert Parker constantly.
I’ve grown to love many of these artists and have even sought out classic ’80s sci-fi flicks and TV shows to see just how Synthwave artists have interpreted the past. However, despite the successes of many artists of the genre there are a lot of pretenders and copycats that aren’t worth your time. This list provides an easy starting point to the best artists Synthwave has to offer.
If you’ve ever had the uncontrollable urge to drive a crotch-rocket at blazing speeds past evil corporate spies, hack your way into your favorite computer game to beat the evil boss or just soak up some rays with your high school crush in South Beach, then Mitch Murder is the artist for you. Mitch Murder is described as, “an overworked Wall Street I.T. guy from the ’80s who dreams at night other realities for himself. His music is the soundtrack to those dreams.”
Mitch is the most complete artist in the scene because of his sheer range and unmatchable authenticity. His SoundCloud profile alone features over 70 different songs which cover just about everything ’80s you can think of, from classic Saturday morning cartoons, sci-fi movies, and of course, Mr. T. The best entryway into his vast discography would be his new full length, Interceptor, which debuted on Mad Decent.
Do yourself a favor and check out “Best of the Best” if you ever need some extra motivation to learn karate.
Electric Youth may be the second most popular choice besides Kavisnky when it comes to Synthwave. Electric Youth got their first hit on the Drive soundtrack with the dreamy “A Real Hero”, but they didn’t stop there. The Canadian duo may not put out songs at the same pace as some of their counterparts, but every track they do release is crafted with care and warrants your attention. What separates Electronic Youth from the pack is no doubt the vocals, as most Synthwave artists are producers who don’t sing on their tracks. When vocals are required, many will call up guns-for-hire vocalists like Kristine or Dana Jean Phoenix. Electronic Youth aren’t afraid to lend a hand either, however, and have made cameos with Room8, Miami Nights 1984 and Le Matos. It’s also very hard to deny their heart-on-their-sleeves expression which is sadly lacking in the Synthwave scene.
“Get Along” is a perfect example of Electronic Youth’s emotion as they vie for us all too… well you know.
Robert Parker is obsessed with ‘80s sports cars and honestly probably watches episodes of Knight Rider on a daily basis (who could blame him?), but the coolest thing he’s done lately is make his Modern Moves EP. With its timely release in July, Modern Moves is a tribute to summer and fits nicely alongside the Miami Vice intro.
“Velour Virtues”, the leading track on Modern Moves will make you want to wake up early and go rollerblading along South Beach wearing far too much neon.
A veteran on the scene, Anoraak has been keeping the ’80s dream alive since 2008 with Nightdrive With You. Besides his low humming, hypnotic singing, Anoraak played by most of the Synthwave rules by utilizing neon-heavy album artwork and referencing cars or driving in the titles of songs.
Anoraak has evolved since then, moving beyond the conventions of the genre. Synthesizers are still his bread and butter, but he sings more confidently and the sound has a more live feel. Lately, all Anoraak wants to do is make you dance, damn it. And you will do so gladly.
Just a few weeks ago Anoraak reimagined “Living On A Tape” for summer.
Speaking of summer, there is no artist in the scene that does summer better than Kristine. Kristine does a fine job producing her own tracks but her voice is what makes every Synthwave artist want to collaborate with her. In her “’80s as fuck” (as one SoundCloud commenter put it) single the “Deepest Blue”, Kristine can’t get through the first verse of the song without uttering the word summer. Her songs with Mitch Murder, “Alright” and “Summer of Heat”, are also dedicated to the warmer months of the year.
Kristine would have been a dime a dozen in the ’80s, but now her voice and singing style offers a novelty that is highly sought after. I bet she would have made an excellent addition to The B-52s back in the day.
Listen to Mitch Murder and Kristine chill out about summer love on Alright.
Miami Nights 1984
Being one of the biggest players, and one of its first contributors, Miami Nights 1984 (A.K.A. Michael Glover) is a must-listen for anyone delving into Outrun or Synthwave. Ironically, Glover lives in Victoria, BC, Canada – or maybe not so ironically – as what could possibly sound more perfect than Miami to a Canadian in the coldest days of January? Glover, it seems, provides escapism for himself and his listeners are just along for the ride.
You can consider Miami Nights the prototypical Synthwave artist – songs that resemble a soundtrack from a movie, repetitive melodies, layered synthesizers and a neon album cover with a sports car speeding by that looks like it was straight out of Tron. If all of that isn’t enough, Glover hits you over the head with his damn name – no one need be confused as to what Miami Nights 1984 is all about.
Miami Nights is responsible for some of the best remixes in the game. Listen to the Eightiesfied version of “Somebody That I Used To Know”
Think Electric Youth and Kristine are a little soft for your taste? Let the inner head-banger out with Perturbator. Winning the award for weirdest name, Perturbator (AKA James Kent) has made it cool for metal kids to like electronic music again. Kent, who is from France, grew up on his parent’s taste for American metal bands and wanted his band name to rhyme with Terminator, which would’ve been lot cooler if it didn’t rhyme with another familiar English word.
Perturbator is best known for his contribution to the soundtrack of Hotline Miami, an award-winning retro shooter. Listen to that track called,“Miami Disco”.
Want more Synthwave? Check out my follow up article – Synthwave Guide to Surviving Winter!