Deep dive into Synthwave and the eternal future nostalgia

The futurism and excitement of the 80s captured in the digital power of the 00s. What makes Synthwave such a timeless source of future nostalgia?

Deep dive into Synthwave and the eternal future nostalgia

Let's start off with an admission. I'm a huge fan of the Synthwave genre and the week's feature is one of unabashed joy. As someone born in the early 1980s, the genre's obsession with the aesthetics of analog sythesizers, tactile casette tapes and  fuzzy VHS speaks directly to my childhood and a sense of futurism that made its way all the way over to the little Australian city I lived in. This sense of optimism and fascinating that stemmed from the promise of a techno-future is something I touched on in the very first article I wrote on The Voltge Control, with the same story of childhood fascination (about Kraftwerk who have been a regular theme on this site).

But the reminiscing of a bunch of 30-something and 40-somethings isn't interesting in and of itself. If anything it's the younger generation taking to the artful distillation of the many signals of nostalgia that are being expressed in an overtly digital fashion. I've written before how the fidelity limits of one generation's lived experience become the creative nostalgia of the next, which we can see in all the "flickering VHS tape" and "noisy cassette deck" and unstable analog synthesizer tuning theme, but it goes even beyond that. What we think of Synthwave is a passing genre, without a doubt, but these are valid if not even extremely important. A chance for creatives to connect around a theme together, explore ideas and expressions and hold a collective image and emotion in mind for a while, and then continue their creative evolution.

So consider this as much a love letter and a memorial to what we think of as Synthwave as I write this, already passing through the cycles of collecting themes, making a consistent genre, and then distillation down into cliches that can be ignored for another decade or two (just see my various musings on the history of Acid House for another example of these cycles). But let's move pass the musings and actually tackle what we know about Synthwave itself, and embrace all the noisy Juno choruses and staccato arpeggios and endless drives into the horizon in the process.


Part One: Press play on tape

Synthwave, also known as retrowave or outrun, is a genre of electronic music that emerged in the early 2000s. Inspired by the sounds of the 1980s, Synthwave combines elements of electronic dance music, pop, and soundtrack music. It captures the essence of a retro-futuristic world, transporting listeners back to an imagined nostalgic future. Synthwave is characterized by its prominent use of synthesizers, pulsating beats, melodic hooks, and a strong visual aesthetic inspired by 1980s pop culture.

Synthwave has gained significant prominence in contemporary music due to its ability to evoke nostalgia and its distinctive fusion of past and present. It has carved a unique space within the larger electronic music landscape, attracting a dedicated fanbase and influencing various other genres. The genre's fusion of retro and modern elements has not only sparked a revival of interest in 1980s aesthetics but has also paved the way for a broader cultural impact, reaching beyond the realm of music.

Historical Origins of Synthwave

The roots of Synthwave can be traced back to the pioneers of electronic music during the 1970s and 1980s. These visionary artists laid the groundwork for the genre by experimenting with synthesizers, drum machines, and other electronic instruments that were relatively new at the time. They pushed the boundaries of music creation, embracing technology as a means of artistic expression. Some of the key early influences on Synthwave include:

  • Kraftwerk: Hailing from Germany, Kraftwerk is often regarded as one of the most influential electronic music bands of all time. Their groundbreaking albums like "Autobahn" (1974) and "Trans-Europe Express" (1977) showcased a blend of repetitive rhythms, catchy melodies, and synthesized soundscapes, setting the stage for the future of electronic music. And their work on "The Robots" (1978) would set the stage for bands like Daft Punk to come.
  • Giorgio Moroder: As a trailblazer in the realm of electronic dance music, Giorgio Moroder's innovative use of synthesizers and production techniques set a hjigh bar. His work on Donna Summer's hit tracks like "I Feel Love" (1977) was revolutionary, and it significantly influenced the development of electronic dance music, including Synthwave.
  • Jean-Michel Jarre: A French composer and electronic music pioneer, Jean-Michel Jarre's album "Oxygène" (1976) was a groundbreaking exploration of ambient and atmospheric sounds. His music demonstrated the emotive potential of electronic instruments and inspired future generations of artists to embrace synthesizers as a primary means of artistic expression.
  • Vangelis: The Greek composer Vangelis is renowned for his atmospheric and cinematic music. His iconic work on film soundtracks like "Blade Runner" (1982) and "Chariots of Fire" (1981) showcased the emotive power of synthesizers and demonstrated how electronic music could effectively enhance storytelling in visual media.

Emergence of Synthwave in the 2000s

The early 2000s saw the emergence of a new generation of artists who sought to revive the sounds and aesthetics of the 1980s. They drew inspiration from the electronic pioneers mentioned above and set out to create a unique fusion of retro and modern elements. Key factors contributing to the emergence of Synthwave in the 2000s include:

  • Retro Gaming and Nostalgia: The rise of retro gaming and a renewed interest in 1980s pop culture created a fertile ground for Synthwave's emergence. Video games like "Hotline Miami" (2012), which featured a Synthwave-inspired soundtrack, exposed a new audience to the genre's distinctive sound. It's still available on Steam if you're interested in playing a few rounds.
  • Internet and Digital Platforms: The widespread accessibility of the internet, particularly social media and music-sharing platforms, provided a global stage for Synthwave artists to connect with their audience directly. Platforms like Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and YouTube facilitated the distribution of music, leading to a rapid spread of the genre.
  • Inspiration from Film and Television: The visual appeal of 1980s films and television shows, often accompanied by iconic synth-driven soundtracks, served as a wellspring of inspiration for Synthwave artists. Movies like "Drive" (2011), which featured an atmospheric Synthwave soundtrack, helped catapult the genre to a wider audience.

Relationship with Retrowave and New Retro Wave

Synthwave shares close ties with the broader Retrowave movement, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, there are subtle differences in their usage:

  • Retrowave: Retrowave is a larger artistic movement that embraces various art forms, including music, visual art, and fashion, all drawing inspiration from the aesthetics of the 1980s. It celebrates the nostalgia for the era's neon lights, VHS tapes, arcade games, and other iconic elements. Within Retrowave, Synthwave is a specific music genre that serves as a prominent soundtrack to this nostalgic aesthetic.
  • New Retro Wave: New Retro Wave (NRW) is a record label, YouTube channel, and collective that played a pivotal role in popularizing Synthwave. It brought together artists, visual designers, and enthusiasts under one umbrella, fostering a sense of community and collaboration. The NRW channel actively curates and promotes Synthwave music, amplifying the genre's exposure and impact.

By embracing the aesthetics and cultural references of the 1980s, Synthwave became a cornerstone of the Retrowave movement. Both the genre and the movement have had a reciprocal relationship, with Synthwave inspiring visual artists and designers, and the broader Retrowave movement providing a contextual backdrop for the music's nostalgic themes.

The synergy (yes I just used that word) between Synthwave, Retrowave, and New Retro Wave has contributed significantly to the genre's cultural impact and its ability to capture the collective imagination of audiences worldwide.

Part Two - Meet the (real) heroes

Key Artists and Albums

In the early days of the Synthwave movement, a handful of pioneering artists paved the way for the genre's growth and widespread appeal. These trailblazers demonstrated a deep appreciation for 1980s aesthetics and sound, while also infusing their own modern sensibilities into the music. Some of the key pioneers and influencers of Synthwave include:

  • Kavinsky: Often regarded as one of the forefathers of Synthwave, the French artist Kavinsky gained international recognition with his 2010 single "Nightcall." His debut studio album, "OutRun" (2013), further solidified his status as a leading figure in the genre. Kavinsky's music, characterized by its driving rhythms and retro-futuristic themes, resonated with audiences and brought Synthwave to a broader audience.
  • College: This French electronic musician, along with the duo Electric Youth, made significant contributions to Synthwave's popularity through their work on the soundtrack for the movie "Drive." Their collaboration resulted in the widely acclaimed track "A Real Hero," which became an anthem for the genre and further boosted its exposure.
  • Mitch Murder: Hailing from Sweden, Mitch Murder is known for his mastery of capturing the essence of 1980s synth-pop and combining it with modern production techniques. His album "Current Events" (2011) and subsequent releases have been lauded for their evocative melodies and nostalgic flair.
  • Perturbator: This dark synthwave artist from France gained a following with his brooding and intense soundscapes. Perturbator's album "Dangerous Days" (2014) is considered a seminal work in the genre, blending retro-inspired melodies with a darker, cyberpunk-inspired edge.
  • Carpenter Brut: Hailing from France, Carpenter Brut is known for his energetic and aggressive take on Synthwave, blending electronic elements with metal influences. His trilogy of EPs, "Trilogy," released between 2015 and 2016, garnered widespread acclaim and solidified his place in the Synthwave pantheon.

These pioneers not only shaped the sonic landscape of Synthwave but also contributed to its global reach, inspiring a new generation of artists and establishing the genre as a recognizable and influential force in the music industry.

Seminal Albums and Songs

Several albums and songs have become defining moments in the evolution of Synthwave, shaping the genre's identity and propelling it into the mainstream. These works showcase the diverse styles and themes within Synthwave while garnering critical acclaim and building a dedicated fanbase. Some of the seminal albums and songs in Synthwave include:

  • Perturbator - "Dangerous Days" (2014): This album, characterized by its dark and cinematic ambiance, is often regarded as a landmark release in Synthwave. Perturbator's expert blend of retro aesthetics with dystopian, cyberpunk-inspired themes earned the album praise for its evocative storytelling and intricate sound design.
  • The Midnight - "Endless Summer" (2016): Known for their dreamy and nostalgic sound, The Midnight's debut album "Endless Summer" struck a chord with listeners. The album's nostalgic themes and captivating melodies epitomize the essence of the Synthwave genre.
  • Carpenter Brut - "Trilogy" (2015-2016): This trilogy of EPs from Carpenter Brut showcased the artist's unique blend of Synthwave with heavy metal and aggressive electronic elements. "Turbo Killer" and "Le Perv" are standout tracks that exemplify Carpenter Brut's bold and daring approach to the genre.
  • Timecop1983 - "Reflections" (2015): Timecop1983's "Reflections" album is celebrated for its lush and emotive melodies, capturing the wistful essence of the 1980s. The album's ability to transport listeners to a nostalgic dreamscape solidified Timecop1983's position as a key figure in the genre.
  • Gunship - "Gunship" (2015): Gunship's self-titled debut album combined Synthwave with a strong rock influence, creating a distinct and captivating sound. The album's powerful tracks, such as "Tech Noir" and "Fly for Your Life," showcase the band's ability to create cinematic and atmospheric experiences.

Subgenres and Diversification within Synthwave

As Synthwave grew in popularity, artists began to experiment with different styles and themes, giving rise to various subgenres and diversifications within the genre. These subgenres allowed artists to explore new musical territories while retaining the nostalgic essence of Synthwave. Some notable subgenres within Synthwave include:

  • Darkwave: Darkwave emerged as a subgenre that incorporated darker and more brooding themes, drawing inspiration from horror and sci-fi aesthetics. Artists like GosT, Dance with the Dead, and Perturbator explored haunting soundscapes and sinister atmospheres, expanding the boundaries of Synthwave.
  • Dreamwave: Dreamwave introduced a more ethereal and dreamy quality to the genre, often characterized by lush, ambient textures and euphoric melodies. Timecop1983 and FM-84 are prominent artists associated with this subgenre, evoking a sense of nostalgia and introspection.
  • Chillwave: While sharing some similarities with Dreamwave, Chillwave places greater emphasis on laid-back and relaxed vibes. It incorporates elements of chill-out and ambient music, creating a mellow and soothing listening experience. Artists like Tycho and Com Truise are known for their contributions to this subgenre.
  • Synthpopwave: Synthpopwave blends Synthwave with classic synth-pop elements, combining catchy hooks and infectious melodies with a retro-futuristic touch. Artists such as The Midnight and FM-84 have dabbled in this subgenre, infusing their music with pop sensibilities.
  • Outrun: Taking inspiration from the aesthetics and themes of the "outrun" subgenre of video games, Outrun Synthwave features energetic and driving beats, often accompanied by a sense of speed and adventure. It draws parallels to the exhilarating feeling of racing through neon-lit cityscapes, embodying a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere.

The diversification within Synthwave demonstrates the genre's adaptability and enduring appeal. As artists continue to experiment and innovate, new subgenres and creative expressions emerge, contributing to the ongoing evolution of Synthwave.

Part Three: What it sounds like

Musical Characteristics

One of the defining features of Synthwave is its unique sound and instrumentation, which harkens back to the era of analog synthesizers and electronic instruments prominent in the 1980s. Synthwave artists carefully curate their sonic palette to evoke a sense of nostalgia while incorporating modern production techniques to create a contemporary and polished sound. Key aspects of the sound and instrumentation in Synthwave include:

  • Analog Synthesizers: Synthwave artists often use analog synthesizers to achieve the warm, rich, and organic sound reminiscent of the 1980s. These synthesizers allow for hands-on control over the sound, enabling artists to craft intricate melodies, lush pads, and iconic synth leads. Needless to say the Roland Juno reigns supreme here, but emulations of the Yamaha CS-80 by Arturia are common, and of course, the digital era dominated by the Yamaha DX-7.
  • Drum Machines: The rhythmic foundation of Synthwave is often built upon classic drum machines like the Roland TR-808 and TR-909. These drum machines provide the characteristic punchy and iconic drum sounds that defined many 1980s hits.
  • Arpeggios and Sequences: Arpeggios and sequenced patterns play a significant role in Synthwave's sound. Artists use them to create pulsating, hypnotic rhythms that drive the music forward and contribute to the genre's signature nostalgic atmosphere.
  • Vocal Processing: Vocals in Synthwave are often processed and treated with effects like reverb, delay, and vocoders to add a futuristic and otherworldly quality to the singing. This approach enhances the dreamy and cinematic elements of the music.
  • Sampled Sounds: In addition to synthesizers, artists in the genre frequently incorporate sampled sounds, such as vintage commercials, movie dialogues, and retro video game sound effects. These samples contribute to the genre's storytelling aspect and strengthen its nostalgic allure.
  • Retrowave and VHS Effects: Some artists apply audio effects that mimic the characteristics of vintage audio equipment, giving their music an intentionally "aged" or "warped" quality. Additionally, VHS tape emulation and degraded audio effects evoke memories of watching old videos, reinforcing the nostalgic theme.
  • Epic Soundscapes: Synthwave often employs grand and expansive soundscapes, creating a sense of vastness and grandeur. This cinematic approach allows the music to transport listeners to imagined retro-futuristic worlds, where neon-lit cityscapes and intergalactic adventures come to life.

The combination of these sonic elements provides a distinctive and immersive experience for listeners, allowing them to be transported back to the 1980s while still being firmly grounded in the present.

Nostalgic Aesthetics and Cultural References

Synthwave is not only an auditory experience but a visual and cultural one as well. The genre embraces nostalgic aesthetics, drawing inspiration from the pop culture and visual art of the 1980s. This fusion of retro imagery and contemporary music has become a hallmark of Synthwave and is a significant factor in its cultural impact. Key elements of the nostalgic aesthetics and cultural references in Synthwave include:

  • Neon Lights and Retro Futurism: Synthwave's visual identity is often characterized by neon lights, creating a sense of nocturnal allure and a futuristic vibe reminiscent of the 1980s' vision of the future. Neon-lit cityscapes and glowing grids are common themes in album artwork and music videos.
  • VHS Visual Effects: Artists often incorporate VHS-inspired visual effects, giving their music videos and live performances a retro charm reminiscent of old videotapes. These effects add to the nostalgic experience and reinforce the genre's connection to the past.
  • Retro Graphic Design: Synthwave artwork often features retro graphic design elements, such as geometric shapes, pixel art, and bold color schemes. These design choices are reminiscent of vintage video game covers, VHS tape sleeves, and 1980s graphic design trends.
  • 80s Fashion and Style: In their imagery, some Synthwave artists and fans embrace the fashion trends of the 1980s, including shoulder pads, pastel colors, and neon accessories. This fashion aspect further reinforces the immersion into the nostalgia of the era.
  • Cyberpunk and Sci-Fi Themes: Synthwave frequently draws inspiration from cyberpunk and science fiction themes, incorporating futuristic cityscapes, spacecraft, and otherworldly landscapes into its visual representations. This convergence of the past's vision of the future with contemporary technology creates an intriguing juxtaposition.
  • References to Retro Pop Culture: Synthwave often pays homage to iconic movies, TV shows, video games, and other pop culture artifacts from the 1980s. Visual references to classics like "Blade Runner," "Back to the Future," and "Tron" are common, creating an added layer of nostalgia for enthusiasts familiar with these references.
  • Vaporwave Elements: Synthwave's connection to the Vaporwave movement is evident in some visual representations, incorporating elements like glitch art, marble statues, and surreal landscapes. These elements further explore themes of nostalgia and consumer culture.

The nostalgic aesthetics and cultural references in Synthwave not only enhance the overall experience of the music but also contribute to its visual identity, making it a multi-sensory journey into the retro-futuristic world of the 1980s.

Influences from 1980s Pop Culture

At its core, Synthwave is an homage to the pop culture of the 1980s. Its sound and visuals draw heavily from the music, movies, TV shows, and video games that defined the decade. By paying tribute to these cultural touchstones, Synthwave artists create a nostalgic and immersive experience for their audience. Some of the key influences from 1980s pop culture that shaped Synthwave include:

  • 80s Film Soundtracks: The synth-driven soundtracks of iconic 1980s films heavily influence Synthwave. Movies like "Blade Runner," "Scarface," "The Terminator," and "The Lost Boys" featured music that combined synthesizers with traditional orchestral arrangements. Synthwave artists often channel this fusion of electronic and cinematic elements in their compositions.
  • TV Show Themes: The memorable themes from 1980s TV shows, such as "Knight Rider," "Miami Vice," and "Stranger Things," evoke a sense of adventure and nostalgia. Synthwave artists draw inspiration from these themes, crafting their music to transport listeners into the era of neon-lit detective dramas and action-packed adventures.
  • Video Game Soundtracks: The soundtracks of classic 1980s video games played a crucial role in shaping Synthwave's sonic landscape. Games like "OutRun," "Streets of Rage," "Castlevania," and "Mega Man" featured electronic music that left a lasting impact on the genre's aesthetic and melodic sensibilities.
  • Synth-Pop and New Wave: Synthwave's sound also owes a debt to the synth-pop and new wave movements of the 1980s. Artists like Depeche Mode, New Order, and Duran Duran pioneered the use of synthesizers in pop music, leaving an indelible mark on the genre's musical DNA.
  • Retro Arcade Culture: The arcade culture of the 1980s, with its neon-lit gaming cabinets and immersive experiences, heavily influenced the retro-futuristic visual aesthetic of Synthwave. References to classic arcade games

Part Five: Cultural Impact of Synthwave

Revival of Retro Aesthetics in Visual Arts and Design

Synthwave's cultural impact extends far beyond its music, sparking a revival of retro aesthetics in various visual arts and design disciplines. Artists, graphic designers, and creators from diverse backgrounds have been inspired by the genre's nostalgic charm, leading to the resurgence of 1980s-inspired visuals and design elements. This revival is characterized by:

  • Neon-Infused Visuals: The prominent use of neon colors, reminiscent of the neon lights that adorned the urban landscapes of the 1980s, has become a signature feature of the visual arts influenced by Synthwave. This vibrant and electrifying color palette evokes a sense of nostalgia while creating a futuristic and otherworldly atmosphere.
  • Geometric Shapes and Patterns: Synthwave's visual language often incorporates geometric shapes and patterns that harken back to the abstract and futuristic design trends of the 1980s. These symmetrical and repetitive elements evoke a sense of order and add a visually compelling aspect to the artwork.
  • Vaporwave Aesthetics: The connection between Synthwave and the Vaporwave movement has led to the integration of Vaporwave aesthetics in visual arts. Vaporwave elements, such as glitch art, marble statues, and surreal landscapes, further explore themes of nostalgia and consumer culture.
  • Retro Futurism: Synthwave-inspired visual arts often play with the concept of "retro-futurism," presenting imagined futures as envisioned in the past. This blending of past and future ideas creates a sense of timelessness and offers a fresh perspective on what the future might have looked like from the vantage point of the 1980s.
  • Album Artwork and Visual Branding: The album artwork of Synthwave releases often embraces the genre's retro aesthetics, serving as a visual portal to the music's nostalgic world. The consistent use of retro-inspired visuals across artists' branding and promotional materials fosters a cohesive and immersive experience for fans.
  • Incorporation of VHS and Retro Visual Effects: Visual artists and designers sometimes emulate the look and feel of VHS tapes and old analog video effects, further heightening the nostalgic appeal. This technique reinforces the connection to a bygone era and adds an element of authenticity to modern creations.

The revival of retro aesthetics in visual arts and design, driven by Synthwave's influence, has become a significant cultural movement, permeating various creative spheres and captivating audiences with its vivid and nostalgic allure.

Influence on Film, Television, and Video Game Soundtracks

Synthwave's distinctive sound and evocative atmospheres have found a natural home in the world of film, television, and video game soundtracks. Its ability to create immersive and emotive musical experiences makes it a powerful tool for enhancing storytelling and setting the tone in visual media. The influence of Synthwave can be observed in:

  • Cinematic Soundtracks: The cinematic qualities of Synthwave, with its lush and grand soundscapes, have drawn the attention of filmmakers looking to create captivating audio experiences. Directors and composers have incorporated Synthwave elements into their movie soundtracks to evoke nostalgia, underscore action scenes, or convey a retro-futuristic mood.
  • Television Scores: Synthwave's ability to transport viewers to the past while maintaining a modern edge has made it a popular choice for television show scores. Whether set in the 1980s or in a retro-futuristic world, Synthwave enhances the viewer's connection to the narrative and adds an element of intrigue.
  • Video Game Music: Synthwave's association with retro video games and their soundtracks has influenced contemporary video game music. Game developers and composers often use Synthwave-inspired elements to create captivating gaming experiences, tapping into players' nostalgia for classic gaming moments.
  • Emotional Resonance: Synthwave's emotive qualities, including dreamy melodies and evocative harmonies, add emotional depth to visual storytelling. It can intensify suspense, evoke nostalgia, or create a sense of wonder, making it a versatile choice for composers and directors alike.
  • Retro-Themed Productions: Films, TV shows, and video games set in the 1980s or inspired by the era frequently feature Synthwave soundtracks to heighten the period atmosphere. The music becomes a key element in capturing the essence of the time and reinforcing the authenticity of the narrative.
  • Viral and Online Content: Beyond traditional media, Synthwave's influence extends to viral videos, online content, and social media platforms. Creators often use Synthwave tracks to complement and enhance their videos, capitalizing on the genre's nostalgic appeal to resonate with a wide audience.

By bridging the past and the present, Synthwave has become a versatile and beloved choice for composers and content creators in the visual media industry. Its sonic landscapes continue to breathe life into stories, evoke powerful emotions, and fuel audiences' passion for nostalgic adventures.

Relationship with the Retrowave and Vaporwave Movements

Synthwave shares a close and intricate relationship with the broader Retrowave and Vaporwave movements, each contributing to the nostalgic resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s aesthetics in the 21st century. While they share certain similarities, they also exhibit distinct characteristics that set them apart.

  • Retrowave and Synthwave: Retrowave is a broader artistic movement that encompasses various art forms, including music, visual art, and fashion, all inspired by the aesthetics of the 1980s. Synthwave, as a specific music genre, acts as a prominent soundtrack to this nostalgic movement. The two often go hand in hand, with Synthwave artists providing a sonic backdrop to the visual and artistic expressions of Retrowave.
  • Vaporwave and Synthwave: Although Vaporwave and Synthwave are distinct genres, their paths have intertwined in significant ways. Vaporwave emerged in the early 2010s, drawing inspiration from smooth jazz, elevator music, and '80s and '90s corporate muzak. While Vaporwave's focus is more on deconstructing and critiquing consumer culture, Synthwave embraces a more celebratory and cinematic approach to nostalgia.
  • Artistic Crossovers: Some artists and fans participate in both the Synthwave and Vaporwave scenes, resulting in artistic crossovers that blur the lines between the two genres. This overlap has led to the creation of "Vaprowave" tracks, which fuse elements from both genres, incorporating Vaporwave's dreamy ambiance with Synthwave's energetic beats and melodies.
  • Shared Aesthetics: Both movements draw heavily from retro aesthetics, with a shared fascination for neon lights, VHS-inspired visuals, and '80s and '90s pop culture references. The convergence of these nostalgic elements in both music and visual arts contributes to a broader cultural reimagining of the past.
  • Diverging Themes: While both Synthwave and Vaporwave evoke nostalgia, they differ in their thematic approach. Synthwave often celebrates the adventurous spirit and optimism of 1980s pop culture, while Vaporwave explores themes of consumerism, technology, and the deconstruction of capitalist ideologies.

The interplay between Synthwave, Retrowave, and Vaporwave has fostered a collective sense of nostalgia-driven creativity, allowing artists and enthusiasts to rediscover and reimagine the bygone eras of the 1980s and 1990s through diverse artistic expressions.

Synthwave's Role in the Nostalgia-driven Culture of the 21st Century

In the 21st century, Synthwave has emerged as a leading force in the nostalgia-driven culture that permeates various aspects of contemporary society. Its cultural impact extends beyond music, influencing art, fashion, film, and even advertising. Synthwave's role in this nostalgia-driven culture is characterized by:

  • Cultural Zeitgeist: As a genre that celebrates the past while embracing modern technology, Synthwave has tapped into the cultural zeitgeist of the 21st century. It satisfies a collective yearning for simpler times and offers a temporary escape from the complexities of modern life.
  • Nostalgic Revival: Synthwave's revival of 1980s aesthetics and sound has triggered a broader cultural revival of retro elements, sparking a renewed interest in vintage fashion, design, and visual arts. This revival has also influenced other creative industries, with advertisers and marketers utilizing Synthwave aesthetics to evoke nostalgia and resonate with their audiences.
  • Escapism and Fantasy: Synthwave's dreamy soundscapes and evocative visuals tap into a sense of escapism and create an atmospheric journey into imagined retro-futuristic worlds. This transportive quality attracts a global audience seeking a nostalgic fantasy that transcends time and place.
  • A Bridge Between Generations: Synthwave's appeal extends beyond those who lived through the 1980s. Younger generations, often referred to as the "Millennials" and "Generation Z," have embraced the genre's nostalgic allure, fostering a sense of cross-generational appreciation for the past.
  • Reinvention of Nostalgia: Synthwave does not merely recreate the past but reimagines it, blending nostalgia with contemporary sensibilities. This reinvention allows the genre to stay relevant and resonate with audiences in the present day, rather than merely being a nostalgic throwback.
    Global Cultural Phenomenon: Through the power of the internet and social media, Synthwave has become a global cultural phenomenon. The genre's ability to transcend geographic boundaries and connect with diverse communities has led to an expansive and interconnected fanbase.

As part of the broader nostalgia-driven culture, Synthwave's impact has been profound, fostering creativity, inspiring artistic expression, and providing a cultural touchstone for enthusiasts seeking a connection to the past in the rapidly evolving world of the 21st century.

Part Six: Community and Fandom

Online Communities and Platforms

In the digital age, music enthusiasts and creative communities have found a vibrant home within the world of Synthwave. With its compelling blend of nostalgia and modernity, the genre has flourished on various online platforms, giving rise to a global network of fans, artists, and content creators known as the "Synthwave Enclave."

  • The Virtual Nexus: At the heart of the Synthwave movement lies a myriad of online communities, forums, and social media platforms that serve as hubs for enthusiasts to converge, interact, and share their passion for the genre. From Reddit's bustling r/outrun to dedicated Discord servers, these digital gathering spots form an interconnected virtual nexus for Synthwave devotees to celebrate the music and the culture it embodies.
  • Connecting Fans and Artists: The Synthwave Enclave fosters a sense of camaraderie between fans and artists, breaking down barriers and facilitating direct interactions. Fans can directly engage with their favorite musicians, offering feedback, sharing fan art, or simply expressing their appreciation for the music. In turn, artists use the platforms to showcase their latest tracks, discuss creative processes, and even collaborate with one another.
  • Innovation and Collaboration: Beyond just music, the Synthwave Enclave provides an incubator for creative innovation and artistic collaboration. Visual artists, graphic designers, and video producers take inspiration from the genre's aesthetic and integrate it into their work, further enriching the visual aspects of Synthwave. This artistic fusion leads to unique music videos, album artwork, and live visuals that breathe new life into the genre.
  • Supporting the Scene: The online community plays a pivotal role in supporting emerging talents and independent artists. Fans actively promote lesser-known artists, leading to increased exposure and recognition. Crowdfunding campaigns on platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter enable artists to fund their projects, from studio time to album releases, with the direct backing of their devoted audience.
  • Discovering New Sounds: For enthusiasts seeking to expand their Synthwave horizons, online communities serve as treasure troves of musical discovery. Fans often share playlists, recommendations, and reviews, allowing newcomers and veterans alike to explore the vast and ever-evolving landscape of the genre. Through these collective efforts, hidden gems and rising stars shine in the spotlight.
  • Real-World Gatherings: Beyond the digital realm, the Synthwave Enclave extends to real-world gatherings and events. Festivals and concerts dedicated to the genre offer fans an immersive experience, where they can share the thrill of live performances and connect with like-minded individuals in person. These gatherings foster a sense of unity and celebration within the growing Synthwave community.
  • A Global Movement: From North America to Europe, Asia, and beyond, the Synthwave Enclave transcends geographical boundaries, uniting fans and artists from every corner of the world. This global reach is a testament to the genre's ability to resonate with diverse cultures, offering a common ground where shared nostalgia intertwines with contemporary artistry.

In the age of the internet, the Synthwave Enclave stands as a shining example of how online communities can foster creativity, support independent artists, and celebrate the power of nostalgia-driven music. Whether through the luminous glow of neon lights or the electrifying pulse of synthesizers, the Synthwave Enclave continues to shape and inspire the future of the genre and its devoted followers.

Synthwave Festivals and Live Performances

The genre's popularity has led to the emergence of Synthwave festivals and live events worldwide. These gatherings provide a unique opportunity for fans to experience the music in a live setting, creating a sense of community and shared enthusiasm. Artists showcase their skills on stage, often accompanied by dazzling visual displays and immersive lighting setups.

Collaborative Nature of Synthwave Artists

Collaboration is a key aspect of the Synthwave community, with artists frequently working together on remixes, splits, and compilation albums. This collaborative spirit fosters creativity, encourages cross-pollination of ideas, and expands the genre's sonic palette.

Part Seven: Where to from here?

If the genre of Synthwave is to be anything more than a point in time to be ultimately forgotten (or actively embarrassed about in the case of genres like Nu-Metal) then it must ask itself what comes next.

Criticisms and Debates Surrounding Synthwave

As with any emergent genre and the various waves of excitement, familiarity, and diffusion of elements that make it unique to the point of cliche, Synthwave is not without its detractors. Critics have plenty to dig into, given the genre started with a certain wink to the camera of fun and nostalgia, and seemingly now attracts mainstream attention and more earnest indulgences. These include:

  • Authenticity and the Role of Technology: Some critics argue that Synthwave's heavy reliance on nostalgia and retro aesthetics hinders its ability to push musical boundaries and innovate. Others question the authenticity of the genre, given its modern production techniques and the use of software emulations of vintage synthesizers.
  • Commercialization and Mainstream Success: With the rise in popularity, Synthwave has garnered commercial success and mainstream recognition. This has sparked debates around the genre's commercialization and whether it risks diluting its original spirit and artistic integrity.
  • Perceived Lack of Innovation: Critics argue that Synthwave often adheres closely to established formulas and fails to break new ground in terms of musical innovation. Some see the genre as overly nostalgic, recycling familiar sounds and themes without significant advancement.

Future Prospects and Evolution of Synthwave

Despite the backlash and chin stroking, there's a lot of room for the people and ideas and energy of Synthwave of evolve and work their way into new and more unique areas of exploration. Likewise the impact of the genre, even if it was a "passing genre", is such that the original goals of the artists involved is achieved. If perhaps losing the agency that the underground community had, as anything successful on the fringe tends to find itself pulled into the middle. Some areas to watch include:

  • Synthwave's Influence on Contemporary Music: Synthwave's impact can be seen in the broader landscape of contemporary music, with elements of the genre finding their way into various genres such as pop, electronic, and indie music. This section would explore how Synthwave continues to shape and inspire new musical directions.
  • Experimental and Hybrid Genres: Artists within the Synthwave community are pushing boundaries, experimenting with different styles, and fusing Synthwave with other genres. This section would discuss emerging subgenres and hybrid styles that incorporate elements from Synthwave, further expanding its sonic possibilities.
  • Challenges and Opportunities for Synthwave Artists: The section would delve into the challenges faced by Synthwave artists, including the need to balance nostalgia with innovation, standing out in an increasingly saturated market, and navigating the evolving digital music landscape. It would also explore the opportunities available for artists to reach new audiences and collaborate across genres.


As we conclude our journey through the history and cultural impact of Synthwave, we find ourselves immersed in a vibrant realm where the past collides with the future. From its early electronic music roots to the emergence of a global movement, Synthwave has captivated hearts and minds, breathing new life into nostalgia while pushing artistic boundaries.

The genre's distinctive sound, driven by analog synthesizers and iconic drum machines, transports us to an era of neon-lit cityscapes and retro-futuristic dreams. Through mesmerizing visuals, Synthwave has reignited a passion for 1980s aesthetics, not only in music but also in visual arts, film, and fashion. Its influence has transcended digital spaces, creating a real-world community of enthusiasts who gather at festivals to celebrate the genre's undeniable allure.

While nostalgia acts as its guiding star, Synthwave continues to evolve, embracing modern technology and innovation. Its collaborative spirit fosters a sense of unity among artists and fans, and its global reach builds bridges across borders and cultures. As we bid farewell to this journey, let us remember that Synthwave is not merely a musical genre; it is a cultural phenomenon that captures the essence of a bygone era while resonating with the spirit of the present. In a world constantly hurtling forward, Synthwave reminds us to slow down, take a neon-hued ride through our memories, and find inspiration in the past as we shape the future. Even if just for a few minutes at a time.