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Synthwave is a genre of electronic music [2] influenced by 1980s film soundtracks and video games. [3] [4] Beginning in the mid 2000s, the genre developed from various niche communities on the Internet, reaching wider popularity in the early 2010s. [1] In its music and cover artwork, synthwave engages in retrofuturism, emulating 1980s science fiction, action, and horror media, sometimes compared to cyberpunk. [8] It expresses nostalgia for 1980s culture, attempting to capture the era's atmosphere and celebrate it. [9]

Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments and circuitry-based music technology. In general, a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means, and that produced using electronics only. Electromechanical instruments include mechanical elements, such as strings, hammers, and so on, and electric elements, such as magnetic pickups, power amplifiers and loudspeakers. Examples of electromechanical sound producing devices include the telharmonium, Hammond organ, and the electric guitar, which are typically made loud enough for performers and audiences to hear with an instrument amplifier and speaker cabinet. Pure electronic instruments do not have vibrating strings, hammers, or other sound-producing mechanisms. Devices such as the theremin, synthesizer, and computer can produce electronic sounds.

The decade of the 1980s in Western cinema saw the return of studio-driven pictures, coming from the filmmaker-driven New Hollywood era of the 1970s. The period was when "high concept" films gained popularity, where movies were to be easily marketable and understandable, and, therefore, they had short cinematic plots that could be summarized in one or two sentences. The modern Hollywood blockbuster is the most popular film format from the 1980s. Producer Don Simpson is usually credited with the creation of the high-concept picture of the modern Hollywood blockbuster.

A film score is original music written specifically to accompany a film for the actors. The score forms part of the film's soundtrack, which also usually includes pre-existing music, dialogue and sound effects, and comprises a number of orchestral, instrumental, or choral pieces called cues, which are timed to begin and end at specific points during the film in order to enhance the dramatic narrative and the emotional impact of the scene in question. Scores are written by one or more composers, under the guidance of, or in collaboration with, the film's director or producer and are then usually performed by an ensemble of musicians – most often comprising an orchestra or band, instrumental soloists, and choir or vocalists – known as playback singers and recorded by a sound engineer.



Synthwave was inspired by many 1980s films, video games, and cartoons, [10] as well as composers such as John Carpenter, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream [3] [11] [12] , however the genre itself arose from electronic dance music genres including house, synth, and nu-disco. [13]

John Carpenter American film director, screenwriter, producer and composer

John Howard Carpenter is an American filmmaker, screenwriter and composer. Although Carpenter has worked with various movie genres, he is associated most commonly with horror, action, and science fiction films of the 1970s and 1980s.

Vangelis Greek composer of electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, pop rock, and orchestral music

Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, known professionally as Vangelis, is a Greek musician and composer of electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, and orchestral music. He is best known for his Academy Award-winning score to Chariots of Fire, also composing scores for the films Blade Runner, Missing, Antarctica, The Bounty, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and Alexander, and the use of his music in the PBS documentary Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan.

Tangerine Dream German electronic music group

Tangerine Dream is a German electronic music band founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese. The group has seen many personnel changes over the years, with Froese having been the only continuous member until his death in January 2015. The best-known lineup of the group was its mid-70s trio of Froese, Christopher Franke, and Peter Baumann. In the late 1970s, Johannes Schmoelling replaced Baumann. Since Froese's death in 2015, the group has been under the leadership of Thorsten Quaeschning.

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. [11] According to musician Perturbator (James Kent), the style is mainly instrumental, and often contains 1980s cliché 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. [7]

Racing video game Video game genre

The racing video game genre is the genre of video games, either in the first-person or third-person perspective, in which the player partakes in a racing competition with any type of land, water, air or space vehicles. They may be based on anything from real-world racing leagues to entirely fantastical settings. In general, they can be distributed along a spectrum anywhere between hardcore simulations, and simpler arcade racing games. Racing games may also fall under the category of sports games.

Arcade game Coin-operated entertainment machine

An arcade game or coin-op game is a coin-operated entertainment machine typically installed in public businesses such as restaurants, bars and amusement arcades. Most arcade games are video games, pinball machines, electro-mechanical games, redemption games or merchandisers. While exact dates are debated, the golden age of arcade video games is usually defined as a period beginning sometime in the late 1970s and ending sometime in the mid-1980s. Excluding a brief resurgence in the early 1990s, the arcade industry subsequently declined in the Western hemisphere as competing home video game consoles such as the Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox increased in their graphics and game-play capability and decreased in cost. The eastern hemisphere retains a strong arcade industry.

<i>Out Run</i> 1986 video game

Out Run is an arcade game released by Sega in September 1986. It is known for its pioneering hardware and graphics and innovative features such as nonlinear gameplay and a selectable soundtrack with music composed by Hiroshi Kawaguchi. Designed as a racing game where the goal is to avoid traffic and reach one of five destinations, Out Run was set up for players to enjoy the experience of driving.

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]

Power Glove (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.

<i>Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon</i> 2013 video game

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a first-person shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft for the for PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360 in 2013. It is a stand-alone expansion to the 2012 video game Far Cry 3 and the eighth overall installment in the Far Cry franchise.

<i>Kung Fury</i> 2015 short film directed by David Sandberg

Kung Fury is a 2015 English-language Swedish martial arts action comedy short film written and directed by David Sandberg. It pays homage to 1980s martial arts and police action films. The film stars Sandberg in the title role, Jorma Taccone, Leopold Nilsson, and a cameo appearance by David Hasselhoff.


Synthwave originates from the mid 2000s. [1] 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. [1]

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.

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.

Justice (band) French electronic music duo

Justice is a French electronic music duo consisting of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay. The duo's label is Ed Banger Records which is managed by the label's head, Pedro Winter. Justice is known for incorporating a strong rock and indie influence into its music and image.


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. [10] Since 2015, synthwave has reached a broader audience from outside musicians and popular media. [18]

<i>Drive</i> (2011 film) 2011 American action drama film by Nicolas Winding Refn

Drive is a 2011 American action drama film directed by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. The screenplay, written by Hossein Amini, is based on James Sallis' 2005 novel Drive. The film stars Ryan Gosling as an unnamed Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. He quickly grows fond of his neighbor, Irene, and her young son, Benicio. When her debt-ridden husband, Standard, is released from prison, the two men take part in what turns out to be a botched million-dollar heist that endangers the lives of everyone involved. Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks play supporting roles.

Electric Youth (band) Canadian synthpop duo

Electric Youth is a Canadian synth-pop duo from Toronto, Ontario. The duo consists of Bronwyn Griffin and Austin Garrick.

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, [19] that originated on YouTube circa 2015. [20] The phenomenon was described as self-identified fascists and alt-right members appropriating vaporwave music and aesthetics. [19]

Notable artists

See also

Related Research Articles

New wave is a genre encompassing numerous pop-oriented music styles popular in the late 1970s and the 1980s with ties to mid-1970s punk rock. New wave moved away from traditional blues and rock and roll sounds to create pop and rock music that incorporated disco, mod, and electronic music. Initially new wave was similar to punk rock, before becoming a distinct genre. It engendered subgenres and fusions, including synth-pop.

Dan Haigh is an English musician, film director, video game designer, writer and visual effects artist. He is best known as co-founder of synthwave band Gunship and as the bass player in the English rock band Fightstar.

Futurecop! are British cinematic and electronic music based composers and consists of Manzur Iqbal and Peter Carrol.

Parallels (band) Canadian synthpop band

Parallels is a synthpop band from Toronto, Canada, lead by Holly Dodson.

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. The genre reached the peak of its popularity in the 1980s before losing mainstream appeal. Since the 2010s, city pop has gained an international online following as well as becoming a touchstone for the sample-based microgenres known as vaporwave and future funk.

Scandroid is an electronic music project created by Klayton, and previously included Varien in 2013. The project released its debut single, "Salvation Code", on August 6, 2013, which was added to the debut album Scandroid upon release. Scandroid can be described as encompassing the retro synth melodies of the 80s while still adapting to modern production, thus creating a new retro sound.

Vaporwave is a microgenre of electronic music and an Internet meme that emerged in the early 2010s. The style is defined by its appropriation of 1980s and 1990s mood music styles such as smooth jazz, elevator music, R&B, and lounge music, typically sampling or manipulating tracks via chopped and screwed techniques and other effects. Its 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. It also 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.

Tom Andersson, known professionally as Waveshaper, is a Swedish electronic musician specialising in synthwave. Inspired by artists like Jean Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk and Daft Punk, as well as 80s movie soundtracks, his music is retrofuturistic and is composed with a variety of hardware synthesizers, including the ARP 2600, Roland Jupiter-4, and Korg MS-20. He released his debut album Tracks To The Future on the label Lunar Boogie in 2013, and the EP Sounds That Kill on Telefuture Records in 2014. In 2015, he released the four-track vinyl record Solar Drifter on the Swedish synthwave label Rad Rush Records.

Telefuture Records is a North American record label located in the central coast of California with retro electronic music such as Synthwave and Chiptune as their main focus.

Perturbator French electronic musician

James Kent, known by his stage name Perturbator, is a French synthwave musician from Paris.

Hypnagogic pop Microgenre of pop music

Hypnagogic pop is pop or psychedelic music that explores elements of cultural memory and nostalgia by drawing on the popular entertainment and recording technology of the past, particularly the 1980s. The genre developed in the mid to late 2000s as American lo-fi and noise musicians began referencing retro aesthetics remembered from childhood, such as 1980s radio rock, new age, MTV one-hit wonders, and Hollywood synthesizer soundtracks, as well as analog technology and outdated pop culture.

Carpenter Brut French electronic music artist

Franck Hueso, better known by his stage name Carpenter Brut, is a French synthwave artist from Poitiers. 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. To date he has released three EPs, which were collected and released together under the title Trilogy in 2015; as well as the original album Leather Teeth in 2018. He has also contributed original music to a variety of soundtracks. He started writing music as Carpenter Brut with the intention of mixing sounds from horror films, metal, rock, and electronic music. He has toured the United States and Europe, and in 2016 he toured the US with the Swedish heavy metal band Ghost. In live performances Carpenter Brut is joined on stage by guitarist Adrien Grousset and drummer Florent Marcadet, both from the French metal band Hacride. In a 2018 interview with Loudwire, Tobias Forge, lead singer of the band Ghost, stated that Hueso was also the producer for the band Deathspell Omega, a French black metal band known for the anonymity of its members.


Anoraak is the musical project of French musician Frédéric Rivière, multi instrumentalist, singer, producer and DJ, former drummer of Pony Pony Run Run. and member of the Valerie Collective along with artists such as College, Maethelvin, The Outrunners, Minitel Rose and Russ Chimes. Coming from the rock scene at first, he later came to electronic music, starting Anoraak beside his drummer position.

Gunship is a British synthwave band formed in 2014 by Dan Haigh and Alex Westaway and later joined by drummer Alex Gingell. Gunship's music has been described as "influenced by the soundtracks of '80s film, television shows, video games & cartoons."

Jeppe Hasseriis, known under the alias Dynatron, is an electronic and synthwave music producer from Denmark. He started making his own music in 2012. His works are heavily inspired by movies such as Alien and Blade Runner, composer Jean Michel-Jarre, 80s rock music genre and science fiction.

Shredder 1984 French electronic musician

Steven Schriver, also known as Shredder 1984 is a French American electronic/synthwave artist and video producer.

Nina Boldt, professionally known as NINA, is a German singer-songwriter based in London. She released her first single "Take Me Away" in 2011 on Aztec Records. Her debut album Sleepwalking was released in 2018.


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