SynthwaveSynthwave (also called outrun, retrowave, or futuresynth) is a genre of electronic music influenced by 1980s film soundtracks and video games.
The genre developed from various niche communities on the Internet during the mid 2000s, reaching wider popularity in the early 2010s. In its music and cover artwork, synthwave engages in retrofuturism, emulating 1980s science fiction, action, and horror media, sometimes compared to cyberpunk. It expresses nostalgia for 1980s culture, attempting to capture the era's atmosphere and celebrate it.
StyleSynthwave was inspired by many 1980s films, video games, and cartoons, as well as composers such as John Carpenter, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream. However the genre itself arose from electronic dance music genres including house, synth, and nu-disco.
The subgenre name "outrun" comes from the 1986 driving arcade game Out Run, which was known for its soundtrack that could be selected in-game. According to musician Perturbator (James Kent), the style is mainly instrumental, and often contains 1980s clichéd elements in the sound such as electronic drums, gated reverb, and analog synthesizer bass lines and leads - all to resemble tracks from that time period.
This aesthetic has been incorporated into retro themed movies and video games featuring synthwave artists. According to Bryan Young of Glitchslap, one of the most notable examples of this is Power Glove's soundtrack to the 2013 video game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Another popular example of the genre crossing into other media is David Sandberg's short film Kung Fury.
CharacteristicsSynthwave is a genre of electronic music that uses 80's pop culture and the use of synthesizer-based music to create futuristic, minimalist music that sounds like it from a futuristic version of 1980's style music. Synthwave is described as a primarily instrumental music with 1980's cliche elements thrown in. Often included in the production of Synthwave is analogue synthesizers and electronic drums, but there are many online resources to create synthwave without a traditional set up.
For the production of synthwave, tempo tends to stay around 80 - 118 BPM but more fast pace, up beat tracks will be between 128 - 140 BPM. Traditional equipment used for the production of synthwave can cost up to $1000 but programs like Xfer Records' Serum or NI's Massive can be used in place of the equipment.
BackgroundSynthwave originates from the mid 2000s. French acts including David Grellier (College), Kavinsky, and Justice are recognized as pioneers contributing to the early synthwave sound. These early artists began creating music inspired by famous 1980s score composers; music which was, at the time, largely associated with French house.
PopularityThere have been many mainstream uses of synthwave for the soundtracks for shows and movies. The 2011 movie Drive featured a whole synthwave style soundtrack that goes along with the films cinematography and style very well. The release of movies like Tron: Legacy in 2010 or Drive in 2011, whose soundtrack featured several synthwave artists, pushed new fans and artists toward the genre. Following the various influxes of new artists into the genre, several of these artists gravitated toward specific aspects of synthwave carved out by the early artists, leading to a wide variation in styles between artists who are associated with the genre. Nerdglows Christopher Higgins cited Electric Youth and Kavinsky as the two most popular artists in synthwave in 2014. Since 2013, synthwave has reached a broader audience from outside artists' fan bases and through popular media, thanks to games like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Hotline Miami. Also, the third season of the Netflix series, Stranger Things, featured many Synthwave pieces that fit perfectly with the shows 1980's setting.
Fashwave (a portmanteau of "fascist" and "synthwave"), is a largely instrumental fusion genre of synthwave and vaporwave, with political track titles and occasional soundbites, such as excerpts of speeches given by Adolf Hitler, that originated on YouTube circa 2015. The phenomenon was described as self-identified fascists and alt-right members appropriating vaporwave music and aesthetics.
The origins and growth of the genre were explored in the 2019 documentary film The Rise of the Synths, itself narrated by John Carpenter and featuring numerous synthwave artists including Gunship, The Midnight, Perturbator and Electric Youth.
"Blinding Lights", a synthwave song by Canadian singer The Weeknd, reached number 1 in twenty-nine countries in 2020, including in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.