Synthwave (also called outrun, retrowave, or futuresynth) is a genre of electronic music influenced by 1980s film soundtracks and video games. Beginning in the mid 2000s, the genre developed from various niche communities on the Internet, 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.
Example of synthwave aesthetics
|Cultural origins||Mid-2000s – early 2010s|
Synthwave was inspired by many 1980s films, video games, and cartoons, as well as composers such as John Carpenter, 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.
Synthwave 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.
The release of the movie Drive in 2011, whose soundtrack featured several synthwave artists, pushed new fans and artists inspired by it 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. Nerdglow's 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 the Netflix television series Stranger Things.
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.
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