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Useful Notes / Synthwave

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A good visualization of everything Outrun represents.

"Outrun is a style, musical or otherwise. It lives in the 80's, made of the cool visuals and sounds you find from the era. It is sunsets and palm trees, its digital grids and fast cars pushing the redline. Its a romanticized retrospective of a time long gone. I don't consider outrun a genre, because many genres may live within it, electronically speaking. Start with "Outrun" the arcade game, where the name truly comes from."
Wicca_Jedi, /r/

Synthwave, also known variously and interchangeably as Retrowave, Outrun, Futuresynth, 80s Electro, or New Italo Disco is perhaps the ultimate realisation of the Retraux aesthetic in electronic music, coming in three decades after the original source material. Wholeheartedly embracing The '80s in every sense, the style revolves around the synthesizer sound so beloved in that decade and the nostalgic evocation of everything we associate with the era. Memorable treble synth leads, catchy bass lines and finely tuned drum machine snare-kick beatsnote  are central, and the cathartic power of guitar/saxophone/key solos are frequently called upon.

Many musicians work exclusively as "extended jam" structure instrumentalists note , but guest vocalists occasionally crop up for a collaboration. Some groups are explicitly vocals-based, with these songs more readily falling back on a traditional verse-chorus-bridge structure. Thematic inspiration includes action movies and their soundtracks (and their leading stars), dystopia, love, Science Fiction, horror, sex, video games, fast women and faster cars, classic cartoons, classic anime, body building, predictions of the future and the iconic, neon-coated beach cities of Miami and Los Angeles. Lyrics, when used, also follow these themes. The Trope Namer for "Outrun" music is the 1986 Arcade game OutRun, the soundtrack of which had the kind of 80s synth vibe that characterizes synthwave.

The artists craft their music with a complex variety of instruments, ranging from cutting edge software sequencers, physical period synth, classic electric rock instruments right down to primitive custom built sequencers. Perfectionist musicians pride themselves on achieving synthetic rock instrumentation which sounds indistinguishable to the real thing. Distribution is similarly varied, from modern social media and MP3s all the way back to limited-run cassette tapes and vinyl. Samples from period media note  are valued, but generally used in moderation. As with many other forms of Electronic Music, the style lends itself well to remixes and collaborations. These musicians are by a rule mostly reclusive, as of course cyberspace affords them that kind of anonymity, in the mode of Daft Punk. Despite the emphasis on 80s Americana, many of the artists are actually from continental Europe, but the UK, Australia, Canada and the USA also get good representation. Some of the North European producers have even moved to the west and east coasts of the States, to better absorb the beach culture and nostalgia for their art.

Retrowave is not only inspired by various movements from the decade (and conversely, by futuristic movements both from back then and from the present day) but also envelops them, as an overarching art form. It is heavily intertwined with the retrofuturistic aesthetic. Songs often sample classic 80s soundtrack songs or Arcade/NES chiptunes. To a lesser extent, the brother and sister decades The '70s and The '90s also get representation, because these were also vintage eras for music, cinema and video games. It remains a cult phenomenon, but perhaps it is on the verge of mainstream recognition given its slowly growing use as soundtrack material in other media.

Many songs are shared via YouTube, and these "videos" are often just a small handful of still images evocative of the era. Of these, many are snapshots of exceedingly bodacious babes... but just as many are stylised art of the badass action heroes which inspired the songs. Some of the images are original, suggesting a film which the song could score which was never released... or which hasn't yet been released. Indeed, some of these tunes are intended to be used for soundtracks, and many already have been. However, some videos are fully fledged clips, sometimes serving as an Animated Music Video for their inspiration, or are other times wholly original productions in and of themselves. The aesthetics are particularly focused on digital grids and stark bold neon fonts, which evoke what the average Joe on the street's conception of computers and the future must have been like back in the day.

The YouTube channel New Retro Wave is a major, frequently-updated source for finding synthwave tracks and uses videos in the aforementioned style. They also have their own line of T-shirts and other merchandise with the authentic aesthetic. Other YT channels are also good for discovering the style, including artist-specific ones. Albums are often uploaded in their entirety. Also, SoundCloud and LastFM are helpful too. See The Other Wiki's article (specifically the discussion page) for an important distinction between this and the similarly named Synth Wave style; the latter was actually present in the 80s, Synthwave wasn't.

A notable subgenre of Synthwave is Soviet Wave; while Synthwave focuses primarily on American nostalgia for the 1980s, Soviet Wave focuses on Russian 1980s nostalgia and nostalgia for the Soviet Union in general. Essentially it is Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell as a music genre. Musically speaking Synthwave and Soviet Wave are nearly identical, except for some occasional Russian folk influences; the samples come from official speeches as often as from old films. A trend in band names is to use a vaguely scientific term suffixed with a number, e.g. "Proton-4", as if it was a space mission or one of Soviet Closed Cities.

Compare and contrast vaporwave, which frequently draws influence from '80s and Cyberpunk imagery and themes of retrofuturism as well; unlike Synthwave, however, vaporwave is largely sample-based, with only a relative handful of artists writing original pieces.

    Some of the major cinematic, animated, video game and televisual influences include: 

    Notable bands, and their primary themes/inspiration include: 
  • TimeCop1983: (Dreamwave, retraux romantic with music videos ripped straight out of period piece commercials. Primarily instrumental, with vocals mainly by guest artists.)
  • Waveshaper
  • Starcadian
  • Dance With The Dead: (Horror-leaning group acclaimed for blending various flavours of Heavy Metal with darksynth, and likewise doing that for whoever they do remix collabs with.)
  • Alex: Including collaborators like singer Rachel Mcalpine
  • Tokyo Rose
  • College
  • Chromatics
  • Voyag3r
  • Mitch Murder
  • Lifelike
  • Mega Drive
  • Bourgeoisie
  • Power Glove: (Darksynth, with driving, dystopic soundscapes, angsty guitars and John Carpenter/The Terminator-influenced motifs. Primarily instrumental but with robotic voices as an extra musical layer.)
  • The Midnight: (Bittersweet romancewave with hefty nods to Back to the Future. Includes vocals and a dedicated singer, relatively rare for synthwave groups.)
  • NINA
  • Kavinsky (Trope Codifier, especially with his soundtrack for Drive (2011), which brought the genre to prominence.)
  • Miami Nights 1984
  • Carpenter Brut: (Mixture of metal, synthesizers and 80s TV shows and B-movies, usually darksynth; described as Justice meets John Carpenter.)
  • GUNSHIP (a collaboration between alt-rock band Fightstar's members sans Charlie Simpson. devoted to making cinematic-style music; varied, emotional tracks with Terminator and Blade Runner homages)
  • Lost Years
  • Touch Sensitive: (Not a primarily RW oriented artist, but his track "Pizza Guy" is a warm sunny day on Miami Beach with a wall of synths and a boogy-tastic bassline.)
  • Lazerhawk
  • Com Truise: (ASpoonerism named for the action star.)
  • Zombie Hyperdrive : (Horror based, paying tribute to Castlevania and the like with some amazing guitar work. Primarily instrumental.)
  • Droid Bishop: (Occasional vocals but also instrumental.)
  • Perturbator: (Horror and cyberpunk-based with occasional guest vocals, formerly a Black Metal guitarist; mixed with darkwave starting with New Model, before adding a heavy dose of industrial and Goth Rock with Lustful Sacraments.)
  • The Black Queen: (Greg Puciato's main project following the breakup of The Dillinger Escape Plan, featuring former members of both TDEP and Nine Inch Nails; mixed with New Wave Music and Darkwave.)
  • Gost (Also horror-inspired.)
  • Karl Lennar (Bittersweet instrumental progwave, with occasional ethereal female-voice sampling.)
  • Anoraak
  • September 87 (Their songs, especially Bad Dream Baby, are a very effective recreation of 80s synthpop.)
  • Futurecop!
  • Le Cassette
  • Kristine (A fully fledged vocalist from Athens with backing instrumentation, mostly by Kristine herself, a talented multi-instrumentalist.)
  • Betamaxx
  • Robert Parker
  • Highway Superstar
  • Phaserland
  • Magic Sword
  • Crockett
  • Cold Cave (also Dark Wave)
  • Danger (mixed with French house and electro house; his debut album Taiko even mixes elements of Trap Music and traditional Japanese music)
  • Makeup and Vanity Set
  • S U R V I V E (Austin-based quartet that exclusively uses analogue synths.)
  • Umberto (Italian horror and giallo-based)
  • Zombi (Also cross over into Progressive Rock and Space Rock.)
  • Trevor Something
  • Flashworx
  • Dallas Campbell
  • OGRE (Not to be confused with Ogre of Skinny Puppy)
  • The Outrunners
  • Protector 101
  • Sally Shapiro (Dreamwave with trance influences.)
  • Satellite Young (Japanese Synthwave duo, who draw inspiration from 80's Anime. Have collaborated with Mitch Murder and recorded a song for Senpai Club.)
  • FM Attack
  • FM-84 (Occasionally features Ollie Wride on vocals, who has gone on to become a very respectable solo artist in his own right.)
  • HOME
  • Starforce
  • Dynatron
  • Void Vision (also Dark Wave)
  • Le Prix
  • Robots with Rayguns (combined with Hip-Hop)
  • Todd Terje
  • Electric Youth
  • Jupiter
  • Scandroid (Side project of Scott Albert, aka Klayton of Celldweller fame, with Varien (formerly); sometimes mixed with Industrial Metal.)
  • Meteor
  • Marsheaux
  • Маяк (Mayak, means "lighthouse". Draws heavily from the Soviet music of the time, with a similar aesthetic, occasionally divided into its own sub-genre of "sovietwave" with a bunch of other artists. Inactive as of 2017.)
  • Марксэн (Marxen. Generally a sovietwave band, but their 2020 album Найтград — Night City — explicitly carries a rather more synthwave-ish cyberpunk theme.)
  • Anders Enger Jensen (combined with Trance and sometimes Chiptune.)
  • Princess Century (Minimal-wave Solo Side Project of Maya Postepski from Austra and TR/ST)
  • Mega Corp
  • Leeni (also Chiptune)
  • Jowie Schulner
  • Lightracer (also does spacesynth as Everdune)
  • The New Division
  • Surgeryhead (horror-inspired, with rather gory album covers)
  • Judge Bitch
  • GraveSlayer (horror-based, a side project of Malcolm Pugh of Inferi)
  • Slasher Dave (horror synth, side project of Dave Monastiere of Acid Witch)
  • The Rain Within (Solo Side Project by Andy Deane of darkwave band Bella Morte)
  • Night Runner
  • Midnight Driver
  • Dream Fiend
  • S.T.R.S.G.N.
  • Bunny X
  • Dan Terminus
  • Dead Astronauts
    • Mecha Maiko
    • Glitbiter
  • Pengus
  • Dana Jean Phoenix
  • John Carpenter himself started releasing original albums in 2015, titled Lost Themes' vols. I to III.
  • Andy Fox (Italian producer heavy influenced by '80s Italo Disco)
  • Sung
  • Zone Tripper
  • Michael Oakley
  • Roxi Drive
  • DragonForce (Extreme Power Metal has prominent synthwave elements and also adopted a synthwave aesthetic for its cover art and promotional material)
  • Xetrovoid
  • Tonebox
  • Color Theory
  • Sphat-90 / Sphatika (Prolific British musician whose music is rooted in 80s new wave but incorporates modern synthwave elements, and has collaborated with numerous other musicians in a 10 year career).
  • Voyager (Colours in the Sun has prominent synthwave and 80s pop elements, and they have adopted a synthwave aesthetic for the promotion of the album)
  • Victoria Celestine (Starting with the single "Wasted Tears"; earlier material was primarily R&B/folk-pop and lacked synthesizers)
  • We Are Magonia (almost entirely darksynth, music has clear inspirations from horrornote )
  • Daniel Deluxe
  • Volkor X
  • Vulta
  • Dreamtime (Finnish producer who got his start in the preceding spacesynth genre)
  • YORU 夜 (Malaysian retrowave artist who has collaborated with Roxi Drive, GeoVoc, Del-Anov, and others)
  • Heatwave
  • The Kyoto Connection (Argentinian band strongly inspired by traditional Japanese culture, hence the name; also does New Age, house, and acoustic)
  • LAU (Born and raised in Argentina, emigrated to London, where she was a long-time collaborator with NINA, before relocating again to Barcelona at the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic)
  • Titan Slayer
  • Signal Void
  • Siamese Youth
  • Bryce Miller (combined with Ambient)
  • Thunder Porpoise
  • Zenith Volt
  • Jordan F.
  • Orax
  • Parallels
  • Killstarr
    • STARBOUND (Supergroup of Dream Fiend and Killstarr)
  • Hyperlink Dream Sync
  • Kid Moxie (self-described as cinematic pop AKA cinemawave, also crosses over with darkwave)
  • JODA (collaborative project between Darren Tate and Jono Grant, who is one third of Above & Beyond. Blends the aesthetic with house, trance and breakbeat influences)

Notable media inspired by, using music from, or otherwise related to the Retrowave phenomenon:

  • Star★Twinkle Pretty Cure uses a synthwave aesthetic for both of its ending themes, more noticeably with the second one, "Oshiete...! Twinkle". It even incorporates the iconography of the genre into the actual animation (for example, polygonal tunnels and cityscapes, as well as a barred sunset). This is fitting, as the show is designed to be an '80s throwback.

  • Afterparti (movie opens as a mixture of '80s neon aesthetics, synthwave melodies and communist newsreels, but later drops it for the post-modern aesthetics of Belgrade club life) note 
  • Cocaine Bear (Period Piece, comedy thriller)
  • Cold in July (Period Piece thriller. features music from Dynatron)
  • Drive (2011) (has a soundtrack primarily featuring Synthwave artists including College and Kavinsky)
  • The Guest (Genre Throwback to John Carpenter's thrillers of the 1970's and 1980's. features a number of songs from artists like Perturbator and S U R V I V E)
  • Hobo With a Shotgun (the grindhouse aesthetic could easily have come straight out of 1984 and Power Glove scored some of the scenes, indulging heavily from their aforementioned inspirations)
  • Planet Terror (likewise, this predecessor film to HWAS from the Grindhouse project uses the style. Made in 2007, it actually may be some of the earliest work in the genre; it feels like an unbuilt, prototype version which leans heavily towards action film parody and yet the film itself doesn't particularly draw from the '80s more so than any other decade in particular)
  • It Follows (evokes an Anachronism Stew aesthetic/setting befitting of the musical genre and is scored by the primarily chiptune artist Disasterpeace in a Genre Shift for him reminiscent of John Carpenter's Halloween and other classic slasher films)
  • The Mind's Eye ('80s sci-fi horror throwback scored by Steve Moore of Zombi)
  • Nerve (Rob Simonsen strong synth's soundtrack, and the whole neon/80's aesthetics in its cinematography and advertising materials)
  • The Neon Demon (like Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011), scores the genre as a soundtrack in as close to a mainstream vehicle as it is likely to get for sometime. However this time, like It Follows, it mostly revolves around tracks from a single composer, his regular collaborator Cliff Martinez)
  • Proximity (Throwback sci-fi dramedy scored by Radio Wolf and Parallels)
  • Thor: Ragnarok plays with the '80s aesthetic, taking Jack Kirby's visual style and rendering it in brightly-coloured neon, and by having a memorable synthesizer soundtrack.
  • Turbo Kid (a throwback to 80s and 90s action movies with intentionally bad gore effects, a fun adventurous tone, endless Shout Outs to 80s and 90s movies, and a synth soundtrack scored by Quebec duo Le Matos)
  • The Void (a throwback to 80s body horror set in the late 1990s/early 2000s and scored by Blitz//Berlin, whose score for the movie is very much in that style)
  • Death Note, the 2017 version.

    Live-Action Television 


    Video Games 

    Web Media 
  • Kung Fury (scored mainly by Mitch Murder, with additional contributions from Lost Years, Betamaxx, and Highway Superstar)

    Western Animation 
  • Some episodes of Love, Death & Robots rely on some aspects of the Retrowave aesthetic, specifically the shorts Sonnie's Edge, Blindspot, Beyond The Aquila Rift, and Zima Blue.
  • The Season 5 Trailer of Samurai Jack features songs by Carpenter Brut, such as "Hang 'Em All" and "Division Ruine", befitting the show's retro future aesthetics and Darker and Edgier tone. Unfortunately, the Synthwave score wasn't used in the actual episodes.
  • Regular Show (tons of pop-cultural references and imagery from the 80s. Soundtrack almost entirely inspired by rock and electronic pieces from that era).

Synthwave exemplifies the following tropes:

  • A Wild Rapper Appears!: Very rarely. It fits, because the era Synthwave hearkens back to was also the era where rap music first became popular and there was some notable interface between it and Synth-Pop back then. However, guest rappers are often a controversial element for many Synthwave fans.
  • Break-Up Song: An occasional theme for groups using lyrics, given the romantic focus.
  • Cyberpunk: The darker aspects of the genre tend to evoke this. Fitting, as many of the iconic Cyberpunk works are from the 1980's.
    • For the contrast, Sovietwave tends to evoke images more in line with the golden era of hard SF, with the darker Soviet realities only occasionally hinted at if at all.
  • Deliberate VHS Quality: A trope that comes up a lot in music videos of this genre, adding to the retro aesthetic.
  • Epic Riff: The instantly recognizable "Journeys" by TimeCop1983, "Red Eyes" by Zombie Hyperdrive, "Accelerated" by Miami Nights 1984 among others.
  • Intercourse with You: Another occasional theme for lyrical groups.
  • Love Nostalgia Song: For example, The Midnight's "The Years: Prologue".
  • Memetic Mutation: The convention of combining the overall style or vibe of an artist with "wave" as a portmanteau e.g. darkwave, progwave, horrorwave.
  • Neon City: Another core part of the Synthwave aesthetic, appearing in music videos and on album covers.
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Due to its use in modern pop music, it sometimes appears in synthwave too, despite not being a style of the 80s.
  • Retraux: To the very core. The '80s as a nostalgia explosion which has ignited during The Oughts and (especially) The New '10s. Synthwave is distinct from 80s synth music from its modern production techniques, which often feature compression and digital reverb, which were not present in the same way in the 80s.
  • Silly Love Songs: One of the universal lyrical themes which resonates with modern music fans.
  • Synth-Pop: With downplayed modern sensibilities including in the production.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: A subgenre of synthwave and other retro-synth genres called "fashwave" has taken root in the last years of The New '10s and The New '20s among white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, using the sound of synthwave to promote hate agendas. This co-option has led some artists and fans to disown the genre entirely.