The latest resurgence of synthwave has cultivated much attention beyond just electronic music fans. It initially spread in online communities filled with nostalgic gamers, science fiction enthusiasts, and fans of ‘80s’ films—no shock considering the genre’s inspiration came from video game soundtracks and film scores of that decade. In the 20-teens, synthwave is showing up once more in movie and TV show soundtracks such as Stranger Things, Roadies, and It Follows. As always, the genre’s sound can be defined by analog synthesizers, heavy electronic drum beats, retro synths, and samples from sci-fi films and video games with add-ons of house dance beats, synthesizers, drum machines sequencers, and even sung pop vocals. To surf the swells, start with these 5 artists making synthwaves today.
Formed in 2010 by multi-instrumentalists Alex Westaway, Dan Haigh, and Alex Gingell, Gunship received massive critical acclaim for their 2015 self-titled debut album. In their review of Gunship, Good Music Matters notes, “A variety of 80s-style soundscapes are explored and experimented with, but the end result doesn’t sound like a pastiche or imitation.” Gunship enlisted vintage synthesizers like the Juno 106, DSI Prophet 12, DSI Prophet 6, and MOOG MiniMoog to achieve their sound while ensuring that each layer of their synthesizers was present in the mix of their album. Many of the band’s tracks maintain a pop song structure, emphasized by prominent drum beats and Westaway’s catchy vocal melodies.
Unlike the more upbeat feel of Gunship’s music, Perturbator—a one-man project by James Kenten—lists the darker elements of synthwave, creating a gothic atmosphere with heavy bass, a prominent drum track, and emphasis on rhythm over melody. To achieve his sound, he uses software to emulate the vintage synths like the OB-X and the CS-80. Having several tracks featured on the soundtracks for video games such as 2012’s Hotline Miami and 2015’s Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, he is a big hit among video gamers; this success has propelled Perturbator as one of the faces of the modern synthwave movement.
3. Robert Parker
Raised as a classically-trained pianist, Swedish producer Robert Parker began his journey into synthwave in 2009 when he first purchased a Korg Polysix analog synthesizer. His love of ‘80s’ music and films has resulted in seven albums since 2013 that incorporate elements from French house and disco. The result is music that makes the listener nostalgic and itching to dance at the same time.
4. Trevor Something
Trevor Something doesn’t limit himself to any genre of electronic music. Synthwave just happens to be what his music turns into. His music often throws a nod towards ‘80s’ acts, with samples and remixes of songs by bands like Depeche Mode and Soft Cell. But unlike many of the pop-influenced songs of the genre, Trevor Something doesn’t utilize catchy choruses and energetic singing. Instead, his voice is subdued like a drone track. Additionally, he’s not afraid of surprising the listener; one minute, he’s making an upbeat track about love like “Summer Love” and the next minute, he’s crafting an eerie song about a toxic relationship in “The Possession.”
5. Mitch Murder
Johan Bengtsson, better known as Mitch Murder, was originally a hip-hop artist but now draws inspiration from jazz, ‘50s’ bossa nova, new wave, ‘70s’ Motown, and ‘80s pop. One of his most successful appearances is a collaboration with David Hasselhoff that produced “True Survivor” for successful comedy film, Kung Fury. Mitch Murder’s music captures sounds from seemingly every cartoon, sci-fi movie, and theme song from the ‘80s. Even his album artwork and music videos, such as the video for “Interceptor,” make some people wish they were living in the ‘80s.