Synthwave (also called outrun, retrowave, or futuresynth[4]) is a genre of electronic music[1] influenced by 1980s film soundtracks and video games.[2][3] Beginning in the mid 2000s, the genre developed from various niche communities on the Internet, reaching wider popularity in the early 2010s.[4] In its music and cover artwork, synthwave engages in retrofuturism, emulating 1980s science fiction, action, and horror media, sometimes compared to cyberpunk.[7] It expresses nostalgia for 1980s culture, attempting to capture the era's atmosphere and celebrate it.[8]


Synthwave was inspired by many 1980s films, video games, and cartoons,[9] as well as composers such as John Carpenter, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream.[2][10][11] However the genre itself arose from electronic dance music genres including house, synth, and nu-disco.[12]

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.[10] 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.[13]

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.[5] Another popular example of the genre crossing into other media is David Sandberg's short film Kung Fury.[14]


Synthwave originates from the mid 2000s.[4] 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.[4]


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.[15][16] 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.[17] Nerdglow's Christopher Higgins cited Electric Youth and Kavinsky as the two most popular artists in synthwave in 2014.[9] 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[18] and the Netflix television series Stranger Things.[19][20]

Fashwave (a portmanteau of "fascist" and "synthwave"),[6] 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,[21] that originated on YouTube circa 2015.[22] The phenomenon was described as self-identified fascists and alt-right members appropriating vaporwave music and aesthetics.[21]

"Blinding Lights", a synthwave song, by Canadian singer The Weeknd reached number 1 in more than a dozen countries in 2020, including in the United Kingdom and Australia.[23]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Robert (23 September 2016). "On The Synthwave Genre and Video Games". Surreal Resolution. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Hunt, Jon (9 April 2014). "We Will Rock You: Welcome To The Future. This is Synthwave". l'etoile. Archived from the original on 11 July 2017. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Neuman, Julia (June 23, 2015). "A Retrowave Primer: 9 Artists Bringing Back the '80s". MTV Iggy. Archived from the original on June 23, 2015. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Neuman, Julia (July 30, 2015). "The Nostalgic Allure of 'Synthwave'". New York Observer. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Young, Bryan (25 March 2015). "Synthwave: If Tron and Megaman had a music baby". Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  6. ^ a b Hann, Michael (December 14, 2016). "'Fashwave': synth music co-opted by the far right". The Guardian.
  7. ^ "Perturbator - DANGEROUS DAYS". Scene Point Blank. 2014-12-01. Retrieved 2015-05-24.
  8. ^ Calvert, John (13 October 2011). "Xeno and Oaklander - Sets & Lights". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  9. ^ a b Christopher Higgins (2014-07-29). "The 7 Most Essential Synthwave Artists". Retrieved 2015-05-18.
  10. ^ a b Lambert, Molly (2016-08-04). "Stranger Things and how Tangerine Dream soundtracked the 80s". Retrieved 2016-08-28.
  11. ^ "The Nostalgic Allure of 'Synthwave'". Observer. 2015-07-30. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  12. ^ Skullet, Iron (2018-03-01). "What is Synthwave? 2018 Edition • Iron Skullet". Iron Skullet. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  13. ^ McCasker, Toby (2014-06-22). ynthwave-with-perturbator "Riding the Cyber Doom Synthwave With Perturbator | NOISEY" Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  14. ^ Vehlinggo, Aaron (2015-07-26). "Catching Up With Mitch Murder, King of the 80s Revival". Vehlinggo. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  15. ^ Eric James Lyman (2015-01-11). "Eric James Lyman - Synthwave". Archived from the original on 2015-05-19. Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  16. ^ "Drive at Five: Revisiting the Neon-Noir Masterpiece". Retrieved 2016-10-17.
  17. ^ "5 Synthwave Artists to Introduce You to the Blissed-Out Genre". August 7, 2018.
  18. ^ Hicks, Greg (2019-09-23). "10 Best Synthwave Video Games You Need To Play". WhatCulture. Retrieved 2020-01-17.
  19. ^ "Stranger Things' score is a gateway into synthwave". TV Club.
  20. ^ Cram, Preston (2019-11-25). "How Synthwave Grew from a Niche '80s Throwback to a Current Phenomenon". Popmatters. Retrieved 2019-12-05.
  21. ^ a b Bullock, Penn; Kerry, Eli (January 30, 2017). "Trumpwave and Fashwave Are Just the Latest Disturbing Examples of the Far-Right Appropriating Electronic Music". Vice. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  22. ^ Coleman, Jonny (December 19, 2016). ""Fashwave" Is Fascist Synthesizer Music and Yes, It's an Actual Thing". LA Weekly.
  23. ^ Rossignol, Derrick (November 29, 2019). "The Weeknd Goes Full Synthwave On The Yearning New Single 'Blinding Lights'". Uproxx. Retrieved February 18, 2019.

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