Characterised by hard-hitting basslines, lush and rich synths, simple yet effective drums, Synthwave music and its subgenres are hardly new to the music scene. Yet, if you have taken a dip into 80s nostalgia, you will notice an interesting pattern of these influences making their way into modern pop culture, often found where you least expect them.
Synthwave is a microgenre of electronic music that found its origins in the 1980s and fully solidified itself through early 2000s and 2010s, slowly making it into mainstream through shows like Stranger Things and musical influences of songs like ‘Blinding Lights’ by The Weeknd or ‘Midnight City’ by M83. Currently, it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Our Synthwave Serum & Cthulhu Presets and MIDI & Loop collections have been growing in popularity here at Glitchedtones and it’s great to see producers and artists taking influences from the genre and appropriating them in new and creative ways. So, what exactly is Synthwave?
Synthwave music characteristics
As mentioned in the intro and suggested by the name, Synthwave relies heavily on synths, namely, big pads to create an impact. Rooted in 80s videogames, action, science-fiction and horror films, it implements simple chord progressions like triads, 7ths, sus2 and sus4 as well as the odd 9th chords thrown into the mix – if you’re feeling spicy. Drums are usually kept simple, creating a memorable beat and contributing to the head-bopping aspect of Synthwave. They are often enhanced with interesting and creative drum fills. The basslines complement the rhythm and the aesthetic of the genre.
All about the aesthetic
Because the genre has originated through film and videogame soundtracks, it’s no surprise that it has carried 80s aesthetic alongside the music. Neon colours, particularly magenta, gridlines and VHS artefacts enhance the visual nostalgia of Synthwave. Movies like Bladerunner and John Carpenter’s works as both a filmmaker and composer, as well as endless 80s nostalgia through VHS tapes, arcades, adverts and jingles have inspired this influential microgenre.
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Despite being a microgenre itself, Synthwave has a few subgenres that let us explore all the colourful and creative ways we have repurposed this musical 80s memorabilia. Here are some of the subgenres to dive into:
Outrun – taking its name from 1986 driving arcade game Out Run, this genre is inspired by the works of Kavinsky, Mitch Murder and Jan Hammer. It relies heavily on 80s cliches like gated reverbs, electronic drums and analogue synthesisers.
Darksynth – contrasting Synthwave’s often upbeat and nostalgic feel, Darksynth takes on a more ominous tone, paying homage to 80s horror films that were instrumental in the birth of Synthwave. TV soundtracks like those of John Carpenter, Stranger Things and American Horror Story are fantastic examples of Darksynth. If you’ve always wanted to try it yourself, check out our Fright Night pack with presets for Serum and Cthulhu!
Chillsynth – a good one to detox with after a night of creating Darksynth, Chillsynth characterises itself with lush, washed out and lofi synths, taking on a more ambient and dreamy aesthetic. Get started with IMMIDIATE: Chillsynth sample pack loops and presets here!
Synthwave and modern pop culture
Electronic music, analogue and digital synthesisers, of course, are nothing new. Yet, Synthwave music developed as a genre in the early 2000s, blossoming into its full prominence during 2010s. At this time, many of the kids who grew up in the 80s began to look back to their childhood and nostalgia it brought with it. Despite the era being overshadowed by a threat of nuclear war and financial instability for many, this was a simpler time, also inspired by the possibilities of technology and visions of a utopian fantasy. We spent a lot of time looking to the future. Musicians and producers of 2000s endeavoured to capture the feeling of that era, slowly developing it into the Synthwave genre we know and love today.
As early as 2002, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City started changing the narrative of 80s nostalgia. Instead of seeing it as somewhat of a parody, it began to be appreciated, inspiring musicians and filmmakers to pay homage to the era.
GTA influenced many house producers, but the Synthwave music genre remained fairly underground until the 2011 film ‘Drive’. With it, came a sountdrack of some of the best examples of Synthwave that are still highly revered today.
From there, Synthwave exploded into mainstream and began sprinkling media from graphics to video and music with its characteristic, nostalgic feel. Shows like Stranger Things, American Horror Story, even Mr Robot all feature soundtracks that have been heavily inspired by Synthwave. Sneaking its way into the creative process of mainstream artists, musically, we can hear its influence on works like Muse’s Simulation Theory, ‘Good Ones’ by Charli XCX, ‘Physical’ by Dua Lipa and other artists. Get inspired by taking a listen to our Synthwave Influence Spotify playlist:
Synthwave is here to stay
We think Synthwave is going to stick around for a while, taking on new forms and interpretations as we have seen through mainstream and underground artists. Yes, it has now been popular for a good few years, however, major global events tend to shunt us back into the realm of nostalgia and escapism once again. It goes without saying, the events of 2020 and beyond are bound to have a meaningful impact on our generation. Synthwave seems to be the perfect answer to it, since it blends both the nostalgia of ‘the good old days’ coupled with dreamy, starry-eyed aesthetic of a genre that allows us to get creative and dream about the future or make up our own reality. Artists and producers are drawn to it and we can expect Synthwave to remain among the melting pot of influences we see in music today.
We are here to encourage and inspire your creativity! With loops, one shots, MIDI Files, Serum and Ctulhu presets you can easily get cracking on your next Synthwave project. At Glitchedtones, we provide the perfect starting point to let your musicality run wild and get inspired straightaway, especially, when that producer block hits. Check out just some of our Synthwave sample packs, including IMMIDIATE: Synthwave, Nightlight Synthwave and Retrowave for Serum & Cthulhu.
Check out the Nightlight Synthwave Kit Preview video from Songwriter and Producer De Ana below and use code DEANA50 for 50% off the pack!