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Synthwave Wiki

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May 25, 2018
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Synthwave music has undergone a rapid and far-reaching transformation in the past two years, both in terms of style and overall quality. As the genre pulls in new producers and fans from diverse music styles, and older fans become increasingly disenchanted with the traditional sound of the genre, it becomes more relevant than ever to discuss the nature of the music, where it has come from, and most importantly, where it is heading.

What is Synthwave Music?

Although it's a common assumption for new fans to make, synthwave is not a general or broad term for synthesizer music, and despite the genre's retro stylings, does not include music from the '80s or other decades of the 20th century. Synthwave is a distinctly modern music genre begun in the mid 2000s as an homage to the pop culture sounds and imagery of the 1980s and early 1990s. Conceptually, this interest in the past manifests itself in two significant, and often interrelated, forms.

The first conceptual aspect of synthwave is a romanticized vision of carefree summer days spent on the boardwalk, at the beach, or at the video arcade. This vision frequently orients itself on images of coastal US cities like Miami and Los Angeles, replete with palm trees and oceanside sunsets. The songwriting captures an idealized mental image of the '80s; it's the musical manifestation of a vintage postcard that says "Come to L.A." in pink letters above an image of a crowded beach with people on surfboards and roller skates.

The second core conceptual element of synthwave involves the '80s ubiquitous love affair with science and technology. This aspect is expressed through synthwave producers' interest in science fiction, computers, neon lights, and futuristic supercars. It also extends to '80s horror movies, which themselves frequently contained themes of science and technology.

Musically, synthwave's origins are tied to dance music genres of the mid '00s, specifically house and nu disco. Early synthwave artists put a synth-heavy spin on these sounds using inspiration from '80s pop culture, particularly soundtracks for movies, television, and video games. Smaller elements like '80s jingles for television commercials, VHS production companies, and nightly news programs also played a role in the genre's genesis. Synthwave's name can be slightly misleading, as the music has very little in common with British and North American new wave music, which was a rock-based genre that evolved out of punk acts of the '70s. Instead, synthwave is rooted much more deeply in European disco and electronic dance music.

Despite synthwave's preoccupation with the '80s, it is not simply a rehash of old sounds and ideas; few songs from the genre could pass for vintage creations, and very little music from the past sounds precisely like synthwave. Instead, it is a retrofuturistic evolution of elements from the past, amalgamated and taken into an alternative timeline with suitably distinct musical and visual aspects. As promoter Samuel Valentine succinctly puts it, "synthwave is the music for a future that never happened but everyone dreamed about in the '80s." Naturally, this idea of retrofuturism can be far-ranging in its application, a fact that is represented in synthwave's diverse artistry.

What Are the Different Styles of Synthwave Music?

Even as recently as 2014, the question about synthwave subgenres and styles was an easy one to answer. However, since 2015, the genre has seen an enormous influx of creators with different influences and backgrounds. Synthwave is rapidly evolving and shifting at the edges, closing the distance between numerous other genres. In early 2018, the borders of synthwave and the closely related darksynth genre blend into chiptune, ambient, vaporwave, alt rock, dubstep, drum and bass, aggrotech, and many other styles of music, including some metal subgenres.

As synthwave continues to spill over into neighboring music styles and the term is increasingly applied to songwriting that bears no relation to the original genre, the identity and spirit of synthwave music becomes obscured and more difficult to understand. For this reason, it's useful to touch on differences between the various styles of synthwave music and establish some demarcation lines. This is done with the intent of increasing clarity, recognition, and most importantly, appreciation of the music and the artists. Because this next section goes into detail about differences in music styles, it's helpful to be familiar with the importance of music genres before moving on.

It must be briefly emphasized here that music genres and subgenres shift rapidly when they are new and grow increasingly rigid over time as a greater volume of music is created in and around them. The following discussion benefits from hindsight and broadly surveys synthwave with thousands of releases and more than a decade's worth of music in mind. Also, the music styles listed here are used as general descriptors, not rigid classifications. Very few artists in any genre can be properly represented by a single descriptor, and so this discussion is a flexible and relative way of looking at some of the stylistic choices producers in the genre make when creating their music.

The following diagram provides a visualization of the synthwave genre and its connection to directly related music styles. Note that it is impossible to completely and effectively organize music genres in this way, and so the chart is meant as a visual reference to the descriptions that follow and not a complete classification system.

Synthwave / Retrowave

The terms "synthwave" and "retrowave" are the modern names for the main genre, and they are used broadly when talking about the music. The two terms are roughly equivalent, though there's a useful distinction between them: "synthwave" refers specifically to the music, while "retrowave" is an all-encompassing term that also applies to artwork, clothing, videos, and other media that embody '80s nostalgia and '80s retrofuturism.

Outrun / Outrun Electro

In the formative days of synthwave, "outrun" and "outrun electro" were the most common names for the genre, with "synthwave" and "retrowave" overtaking them in popularity roughly around 2014. As the genre continues to expand, "outrun" remains a useful term for describing the specific music style established by the earliest synthwave releases. Examples of formative albums that shaped the sound and visual aesthetic of outrun music in the late '00s through 2010 include:

Teddy Boy (2006)
1986 (2007)
Nightcall (2010)

Teenage Color (2008)
Secret Diary (2008)
A Real Hero (2010)

The Unicorn & The Lost City of Alvograth (2008)

Mitch Murder
After Hours (2009)
Television (2010)

Redline (2010)

Miami Nights 1984
Early Summer (2010)

The underground origins of the genre can be traced back a little further, such as to songs from MPM, but for the purposes of this article, the shortlist of formal releases provides a suitable and compact understanding of early outrun music and the broader synthwave genre's foundation.
The outrun sound is particularly well represented by the 2010 albums from Miami Nights 1984 and Lazerhawk, as well as their respective follow-up releases in 2012, Turbulence and Visitors. These recordings feature many of the prominent synthwave themes mentioned above, with a particular focus on '80s supercars, night drives, beachside sunsets, and vintage science fiction. These aspects are visually represented in the album artwork and song titles, and musically represented by vibrant, retro synthesizer tones, brightly melodic songwriting, and incorporation of vintage music elements from movies, television, video games, and to a lesser extent, '80s synthpop and electro.

Notably, the driving themes and visual aesthetic of early synthwave echoes the 1986 arcade racing game, Out Run, which puts players behind the wheel of a virtual Ferrari Testarossa as they speed through mountain passes and alongside sunny, palm-tree-packed beaches. This influence is frequently reflected in artist, album, and song titles: The Outrunners released their Running for Love and Money EP in 2010, Kavinsky's 2013 full-length album is called OutRun, and many other synthwave artists have incorporated the name into their creations.

If you want to read the rest go here this is the original wiki of where I got this info from
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