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Synthwave (also called outrun, retrowave, or futuresynth [5] ) is an electronic music microgenre that is based predominately on the music associated with action, science-fiction, and horror film soundtracks of the 1980s. [2] Other influences are drawn from that decade's art and video games. [3] Synthwave musicians often espouse nostalgia for 1980s culture and attempt to capture the era's atmosphere and celebrate it. [8]


The genre developed in the mid 2000s through French house producers, as well as younger artists who were inspired by the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City . Synthwave reached wider popularity after being featured in the soundtracks of the 2011 film Drive (which included some of the genre's best-known songs) and the 2010s Netflix series Stranger Things .

A synthwave music video

Synthwave is a microgenre [9] of electronic music [1] that draws predominantly from 1980s films, video games, and cartoons, [10] as well as composers such as John Carpenter, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream. [11] [12] [13] [ text–source integrity? ] Other reference points include electronic dance music genres including house, synth, and nu-disco. [14] It is primarily an instrumental genre, although there are occasional exceptions to the rule. [15] Common tempos are between 80 and 118 BPM, while more upbeat tracks may be between 128 and 140 BPM. [16]

"Outrun" is a synonym of synthwave that was later used to refer more generally to retro 1980s aesthetics such as VHS tracking artifacts, magenta neon, and gridlines. [15] The term comes from the 1986 driving arcade game Out Run , which was known for its soundtrack that could be selected in-game. [17] According to musician Perturbator (James Kent), outrun is also its own subgenre, 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. [18]

Other subgenres include dreamwave, darksynth, and scifiwave. [6] Journalist Julia Neuman cited "outrun", "futuresynth", and "retrowave" as alternative terms for synthwave [5] while author Nicholas Diak wrote that "retrowave" was an umbrella term that encompasses 1980s revivalism genres such as synthwave and vaporwave. [15]


Synthwave originates from the mid 2000s. [19] Diak traced the genre to a broader trend involving young artists whose works drew from their childhoods in the 1980s. He credited the success of the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City with shifting "attitudes toward the '80s ... from parody and ambivalence to that of homage and reverence", leading directly to genres such as synthwave and vaporwave. [15] Among the first synthwave artists were the French acts David Grellier (College), Kavinsky, and Justice. These early artists began creating music inspired by famous 1980s score composers; music which was, at the time, largely associated with French house. [5]

In the early 2010s, the synthwave soundtracks of films such as Drive and Tron: Legacy attracted new fans and artists to the genre. [6] Drive featured Kavinsky's "Nightcall" and, with College, "A Real Hero", which catapulted synthwave into mainstream recognition and solidified its stature as a music genre. [4] The genre's popularity further increased thanks to its presence in the soundtracks of video games like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon , as well as the Netflix series Stranger Things , which featured synthwave pieces that accommodated the show's 1980s setting. [4] Nerdglow's Christopher Higgins cited Electric Youth and Kavinsky as the two most popular artists in synthwave in 2014. [20]

In the mid-2010s, fashwave (a portmanteau of "fascist" and "synthwave") [7] emerged as 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] The phenomenon was described as self-identified fascists and alt-right members appropriating vaporwave music and aesthetics. [21] [22] It was popularized in 2016 by Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin, who touted synthwave as the "Whitest music ever" and "the spirit of the childhoods of millenials [ sic ]". [23] Elsewhere, there was a growing trend of Russian synthwave musicians whose work espoused nostalgia for the Soviet Union, sometimes described as "Sovietwave". [24]

Synthwave remained a niche genre throughout the 2010s. Writing in 2019, PopMatters journalist Preston Cram said, "Despite its significant presence and the high level of enthusiasm about it, synthwave in its complete form remains a primarily underground form of music." [4] He added that "Nightcall" and "A Real Hero" remained "two of only a small number of synthwave songs produced to date that widely known outside the genre's followers." [4]

See also

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Kavinsky French musician

Vincent Belorgey, known professionally as Kavinsky, is a French musician, producer and DJ. His production style is reminiscent of the electropop film soundtracks of the 1980s. Kavinsky claimed that his music is inspired by thousands of movies he watched as a young boy and that he has cherry-picked the best parts from them, consolidating them into one concept. Kavinsky has been compared to many similar French house artists including Daft Punk and Danger. He achieved greater mainstream recognition after his song "Nightcall" was featured in the 2011 film Drive. His debut studio album, OutRun, was released in 2013.

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David Grellier French musician

David Grellier is a French electronica musician and founder of the musical projects College (2005) and Valerie (2007). Under the stage name Mitch Silver, he is also a member of the electroclash band Sexy Sushi, active since 2004.

City pop is a loosely defined subset of pop music that originated in Japan in the late 1970s. It was originally termed as an offshoot of Japan's Western-influenced "new music", but came to include a wide range of styles associated with the country's nascent economic boom, such as AOR, soft rock, R&B, funk, and boogie. It was also associated with new emerging technologies, such as the Walkman, cars with built-in cassette decks and FM stereos, and various electronic musical instruments.

Power Glove (band) band

Power Glove are an Australian electronic music and synthwave duo from Melbourne, Victoria, named after the Nintendo Power Glove. They provided the soundtrack to the 1980s-influenced retro-futuristic video game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. The soundtrack was met with critical acclaim.

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Vaporwave is a microgenre of electronic music, a visual art style, and an Internet meme that emerged in the early 2010s. It is defined partly by its slowed-down, chopped samples of smooth jazz, elevator, R&B, and lounge music from the 1980s and 1990s. The surrounding subculture is sometimes associated with an ambiguous or satirical take on consumer capitalism and pop culture, and tends to be characterized by a nostalgic or surrealist engagement with the popular entertainment, technology and advertising of previous decades. Visually, it incorporates early Internet imagery, late 1990s web design, glitch art, anime, 3D-rendered objects, and cyberpunk tropes in its cover artwork and music videos.

Robert Parker is a Swedish electronic musician from Stockholm, known for his synthwave works.

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Franck Hueso, better known by his stage name Carpenter Brut, is a French synthwave artist from Poitiers, France. Little personal information is known about him aside from his French origin. His anonymity is a deliberate artistic choice in order to place more importance on the music itself rather than the identity of the musician behind it. Hueso started writing music as Carpenter Brut with the intention of mixing sounds from horror films, metal, rock, and electronic music.

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The Rise of the Synths is a 2019 documentary film written and directed by Iván Castell and narrated by filmmaker and composer John Carpenter. The film explores the origins and growth of the electronic music genre known as synthwave, charting its rise in popularity from the underground online music scene to its recent mainstream exposure following use in retro-themed soundtracks, notably the 2011 film Drive and more recently the television series Stranger Things.


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