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How Synthwave Became an Unreckonable Force in the Music Industry in 2023


Love it or hate it, the retro-futurism of synthwave and retrowave is here to stay, at least until a new sonic trend comes along, which is hopefully sooner rather than later because the music industry can only take so many up-and-coming artists assimilating The Midnight, Gunship, and Timecop1983.

Whether you delve into R&B, rock, pop, or electronica genres, you are bound to find artists struggling to leave the neon-soaked iconography of the 80s in the rearview mirror and determined to tap into society’s lust for nostalgia.

200+] Synthwave Background s |

The 21st-Century Obsession with 80s Aesthetics

The music industry is far from the arena choked with retro-futuristic aesthetics; the wider landscape of pop culture is luminous with backlit lights; films such as the 2011 hit Drive, the Hotline Miami videogame, and TV shows such as Stranger Things can all be pinpointed as culprits in this cult-like obsession with nostalgic synth-driven soundscapes.

While neither electro-pop nor synthwave has ever been fully shunned from the mainstream, it is back with an analogue vengeance with more artists inclined to tap into the feel-good factor of nostalgic melodies, characteristic synth lines and pulsing rhythmic beats and patterns.

It is far from just the addictive hooks perpetuating the appeal of the retro genres. The desolation, dystopia, and isolation of the COVID-19 era have also been attributed to the unreckonable force of retro-futurism.

During the multiple lockdowns, which paused live music and left people confined to their homes, people found themselves finding escapism via music, and notably, there were few better escapist avenues than the ones synthwave provided. Take the success of Charlie XCX’s album, How I’m Feeling Now, and anything the Weeknd has ever created as a prime example; The Weeknd is still the most streamed artist on Spotify with 111.2 million monthly listeners; his hit single, Blinding Lights broke records after it became the most streamed single history. To date, it has garnered over 3.827 billion streams.

A Brief History of Synthwave

Synthwave started to emerge in the mid-2000s, when the French house producers, David Grellier and Kavinsky started to emanate 80s film soundtracks in their soundscapes.

Download This John Carpenter-Themed Retrosynth Album

Other musicians and producers who jumped on the bandwagon were keen to assimilate the likes of Tangerine Dream, New Order, and Gary Numan, while visual artists were instantly obsessed with neon lights, Ferraris, and pretty much anything to do with Miami, and John Carpenter seemed to be at the epicentre of it all until the premiere of the Ryan Gosling film, Drive, in 2011. Shortly after, the likes of Cassius, Stardust, and Daft Punk played a pivotal role in the glamourisation of 80s imagery.

Initially, synthwave represented a rejection of the 90s sonic styles; today, there is little semblance of rebellion with the mainstream appeal of it. Even Taylor Swift has hopped on the bandwagon with her 2022 album, Midnights.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Just as the rock and hip-hop genres managed to diversify themselves, we have little doubt that innovative artists will come along with the ability to make the synthwave sound a little less derivative. However, as nostalgia is much a part of the music as the 4 / 4-time signatures, which provide a kick on every beat of the bar, and the staple drum machines and synths, it’s unlikely that the evolution of the genre will ever blast into an entirely new stratosphere. But for what it is worth, Synthwave has already spawned swathes of subgenres. To name a few, they include:

Dreamwave – the downtempo sister of synthwave, which comes with higher tones and higher frequencies.

Scifiwave – an iteration of synthwave with a heavier emphasis on orchestral and cinematic synthetics.

Vaporwave – a more satirical and ambient exploration of 80s and 90s stylings, which is often confused with synthwave.

Sovietwave – surreally everything that it says on the tin; soundscapes which euphonically encompass the fall of the Soviet Union.

Darkwave – a darker and more gothic approach to synth wave; a genre defined by the sounds of Carpenter Brut and Perturbator.

Download Synthwave Wallpaper

When we asked AI to predict the future of the genre, it had even bigger ideas, envisioning the genre reaching even bigger heights with augmented and virtual reality immersive experiences for music fans, hologram-littered visual shows and entire festivals dedicated to synthwave artists.

Time will only tell if the genre can sustain its legacy, but as technology evolves, there is plenty of expectation that synthwave will follow suit. Although, after the excessive appropriation of the 80s sound, there is every chance that a new revivalist era will begin.

After all, trends work in cycles, which means a resurgence in Britpop, grunge, and nu-metal may be becoming overdue! It used to be that trend cycles lasted for 20 years, but internet culture has wreaked havoc with those trend cycles. Now, the music industry is era’s game.

For more updates on music industry trends, keep following our blog, or learn the importance of nostalgia in music by reading our piece on the neurology of nostalgia and the price the music industry pays for it.

Article by Amelia Vandergast

All isn’t fair in love and war in millar’s indie alt-electro-pop single, hunting ground

By drawing parallels between blood sports and romanticism in her indie alt-electro-pop single, hunting ground, the up-and-coming London-based singer-songwriter, millar, delivered a striking exposition of how nothing is fair in love and war when unsuspecting diehard romantics are forced to play by the rules of mind games.

As the atmospheric space progressively shifts from light to dark in the same vein as The Neighbourhood, Cigarettes After Sex and Perfume Genius around the strikingly angular indie guitar work which bears reminiscences to Slowdive and the driving backbeat that gives the single a punchily vindicating energy, hunting ground, is one of the most stunning UK indie tracks to spill up from the underground in 2023.

We can’t wait to hear where millar’s candour and inexplicable talents in euphonically visualising melancholy take her next.

hunting ground was officially released on September 1st; stream it now on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Jazz meets chiptune in Samuel Weaver’s latest score, Saviour Complex

With touches of House of Fun by the Madness grooving through the polyphonic funk of the jazz & chiptune amalgam, the UK-based artist Samuel Weaver concocted a superfluously ingenuity-driven score for the standout single in his debut album, Telechora!

Hitting play on Saviour Complex may be moderately akin to an acid trip due to the artist’s tendency to delve into sonic novelty despite his discernible composition and instrumental talents, but the euphoria-instilled vibrancy of the soundscape will lift you higher than any tab of acid ever could.

Given that intellectualism oozes from every progression, especially when the dissonance of sufferers with saviour complexes starts to manifest in the funk, at 17 years old, the composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist has the music industry at his prodigal feet.

Saviour Complex charged in on its white knight syndrome on August 19th; hear it on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Get Your Romantic Flashback Fix with Oliver Sullivan’s Latest Summery Slice of Dance Pop, High Above, ft Jetason

Oliver Sullivan transcended high-vibe dance pop with this latest single, High Above, featuring Jetason, which was inexplicably crafted to place you on a plateau of pure sonic bliss.

With retro synthwave spliced into the progressive EDM pop hit, there’s an aural glimmering of nostalgia, allowing the single to whisk you back through the decades for a panoramic romantic flashback that will take the gloss off your old Polaroids.

High Above is the 6th single penned and released by the Swiss-born artist, who has perceptibly honed his craft to a Grammy-worthy degree. Ahead of the release, Sullivan had clocked up over 200,000 listeners on Spotify. Something tells us that with Jetason on his side, who flew from Nashville to Zurich to work on the mix, plenty more listeners are going to be tuning into his warm melodicism.

If Jetason’s soul-permeable harmonies sound familiar, that will be due to his previous work with other icons, including Armin van Buuren and Martin Garrix. Together, they’re the epitome of a collaborative power duo.

High Above will be officially released on July 28th; stream it on Spotify.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

The sonic raconteur of space-age tales Robert Ramirez held a mirror to our future with his single, Migrate

With a music video more compellingly dystopic than the latest season of Black Mirror, the standout single, Migrate, from Robert Ramirez’s debut LP, is one small step for synthwave and one giant leap for synthkind.

As the polyphonically playful synths hammer down in a scintillatingly ethereal atmosphere, the Migrate lyrics and music video tell the tale of an android venturing to an underground lab where human emotions are extracted and sold. Given the rapid rates of technological progression and the rising levels of ennui, the concept that brought Migrate viscerally to life under Ramirez’s deft touch as a composer and sonic raconteur of space-age tales won’t be farfetched for long.

Boldly going further back than most synthpop artists dare to roam, Ramirez also dabbled in late 70s-esque synthetics reminiscent of Thomas Dolby, Telex and Yellow Magic Orchestra.

The official music video for Migrate Premiered on July 13th; stream it on YouTube.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

NY’s Premier Synth-Driven Rock n Roll Outfit, After the Echo, Found a New Way to Ride the Retrowaves in I Like The Way You Do:

Only Stars by After The Echo

The Brooklyn-based synth-driven rock n roll trio After the Echo laid the reverb-drenched retrowave nostalgia on thick in their latest single, I Like the Way You Do.

There are synth & guitar carved crescendo-esque hooks by the smorgasbord in the single that is authentically 80s enough that it sounds like it could have been prised from your favourite 80s flick soundtrack. While the lyrics portray a portrait of irreplicable passion from the perspective of a far-from-perfect protagonist who feels alienated by the world that surrounds them, the dreamy new wave synths and strident guitar hooks will immerse you in the soundscape so deeply you’ll find yourself torn from the 21st century.

Far from your average love song, the songwriting chops that constructed I Like The Way You Do allow romanticism to ooze from the pores of each instrumental, including the sax lines from Mitch Marcus, the pulls of the violin strings from Michael Hunter, and the massive 80s drum fills as a courtesy of the third featuring artist, Dan Caruso.

Stream and purchase I Like The Way You Do, which features on After the Echo’s LP, Only Stars, via Bandcamp.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Good Time Locomotive dialled up the beguile in their synthpop sophomore single, Medusa

As one of the memorable synthpop outfits we’ve had the pleasure of putting on our radar in 2023, Good Time Locomotive is proving to be tough competition to their contemporaries. Especially after the release of the latest single, Medusa, which hauntingly demonstrates that lustful beguile is one of the most powerful forces known to man and mythology. The superlative single contests the adage that all is fair in love and war with the mind games that have become a frustrative cornerstone of seduction.

With their sophomore single, the London-hailing powerhouse moved away from their archetypal synthwave synthetics and started to forge their own sonic signature in their distinctively rhythmic guitar lines, jazzy time signatures and anthemic builds, which borrow a few sticky-sweet propensities from pop-punk anthems.

In the words of singer Hugo Leite;

‘It’s a song all about the power of infatuation and those who know how to wield it over us. The story of Medusa seemed like a fitting metaphor for that as she is, quite possibly, the most misunderstood character of all time. Beautiful? Yep, but deadly when fallen from grace!’ 🧟

Medusa was officially released on June 17th. Hear it on Spotify or watch the official music video via YouTube. For more info, head over to the artist’s official website.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Sandor Gavin borrowed from 80s synthpop pioneers in his captivatingly lush synthwave single, Ghost of a Memory ft Weldon

For his latest single, Ghost of a Memory, the Synthwave sensation, Sandor Gavin, borrowed the mesmeric vocal timbre of the featuring artist, Weldon, to leave the airwaves awash with nostalgia, emotion, and captivatingly lush melodies.

There is a strange assumption amongst artists and producers that when summer hits everyone is drunk on love and desperate to hear anthems which capture the euphoria of lust. Thankfully, Sandor Gavin injected realism into his latest synthwave crusade to help his audience through the minefield of lost love and shattered dreams.

The relatability of his crushed romanticism does so much more than just scratch at the surface of superficiality. Everything within Ghost of a Memory runs deep, from the basslines to the ennui to the reverberant hums emanating from the vocals, ensuring that the bitter-sweet release hits all the right marks.

Ghost of a Memory hit the airwaves on June 16; stream it on SoundCloud.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Take a trip with GeoMike122’s synthwaves in ‘Mode’

Ride the synthwaves in GeoMike122’s latest single, Mode, right through the 80s nostalgia and into the electrifying escapism the alt-electro single provides. The trippy tendencies of the pulsating basslines are only amplified by the official music video, which distorts reality as much as the oscillating trance-y EBM beats and synths that put a myriad of EDM genres under heel to knock you off an even keel.

When GeoMike122 isn’t orchestrating alchemy in his studio and allowing his audience, affectionally dubbed ‘the travellers’, to sonically arrive at new destinations, he’s sating his desire for wanderlust or enriching minds by the more conventional means of being a teacher. Mode is a scintillating convergence of his adventurous tendencies; grab your passport and sink into the cinematic sci-fi-esque tones.

Check out the official music video for Mode, which premiered on May 15, via YouTube.

Review by Amelia Vandergast

Synth yourself to sleep with Curtis Melton’s Firefly Lullaby

The endlessly accoladed American composer, conductor and music educator Curtis Melton dusted off his analogue synths to orchestrate the ultimate instrumental soundtrack to synth yourself to sleep.

Firefly Lullaby is a definitively 80s ambient score with majestic overtones that invite you into a scintillating fantasia of pop and romanticism-soaked synthwave; insomnia doesn’t stand a chance against the glistening motifs and crescendos that are endlessly efficacious in their ability to allow your subconscious to take the lead.

His sonic scores are achievements standing alone. In addition to them, in 2015, he was nominated for “Best Original Score” at the Idyllwild International Film Festival, in the same year, he won “Best Original Song” at the Las Vegas 48 Hour Film Festival. He was named a finalist in the Ravel Association International Soundtrack Competition in Italy in 2016, and was named a semi-finalist in The American Prize Composer Competition in 2018 for his original works “The Genesis Effect” and “Forever Through The Fire”.

Firefly Lullaby hit the airwaves on May 1; hear it on YouTube.

Review by Amelia Vandergast