29 Jan 2016

Rise of the Synths

"The Old Soundtrack of a New Generation"
It goes by many names. Retrowave, Vintagewave, Synthwave, whatever you want to call it. With musical roots stretching as far back as the late 70s, it's a far-reaching style. Musicians like Edgar Froese, Giorgio Moroder and others pioneered the electronic music genre in the 70s, and it exploded as part of modern culture in the 80s. Later French House musicians like Daft Punk and Kavinsky revived the genre and perfected the style, mixing it with modern sound engineering and newer elements. In 2011 Nicolas Winding Refn's film "Drive" reacquainted many with the sound we today call "Synthwave".

The genre that we know today is, despite Drive's substantial popularity, mostly an underground one, largely ignored by mainstream media. The musicians of the genre are numerous, reaching back through time while yet looking ahead. There's a sort of retro-future aspect to be found. While the roots stretch all the way back to the 70s and the cradle of modern electronic music the genre's focus is moreso centered around 80s pop culture, with many artists making references to and going for a visual and audial style similar to that of sci-fi shows and films from that era. Neon, pounding reverbed drums, groovy synths and powerful, funky bass lines are all prominent parts of the recipe. Though the genre is, in its modern form, "new", its roots lend it a lot of historical milage.

Promotional image, The Rise of the Synths

Rise of the Synths
Spanish filmmaker Iván Castell recently began a new project, aiming to chronicle the history of Synthwave. Having had some success with a sci-fi shortfilm entitled "Nave #527", a number of music videos and the documentary "Trovadores" - "Troubadours" in English - about underground artists and music creation, he's no novice to the filmic medium. Though he cites classic grunge and rock bands like Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam as some of his favourites, he's been gravitating more and more towards the Synthwave genre in recent years. It speaks of the far-reaching appeal Synthwave has - Metalsucks.net even has a series of articles called Synthwave Sunday, promoting the genre to fans of metal and hard rock.

The funny thing is that these artists' love for the 80s is in many cases a sort of second-hand nostalgia. Many of the most prominent musicians in the scene weren't even born until the late 80s or early 90s and as such never fully experienced the power of that decade's pop culture up close. Given the movement's "age" in its modern state there might at first glance not be too much historical ground to cover. According to Castell, what inspired him to start the project was the fact that it's "a DIY grass-roots music movement", as he puts it, that spawned from the dedication of thousands of producers through the authenticity of the internet, where it hasn't yet been manipulated by music media and labels. He and his team aim to explore several facets of this long-short history, wanting to also address the lack of attention the musicians have received outside the scene.

Shooting the promo video, The Rise of the Synths
Ambition and visuals
"It's a very ambitious project, and a big step forward. We have to travel to many places and we're covering one of the most iconic decades in music and visual style, so we need to do this right," Castell said when enquired about the scope of his upcoming film, citing also the difficulty of obtaining information as most of the genre's lifespan has up till now remained largely undocumented.
Due to the close ties to 80s pop culture, film and videogames, Castell aims to give "Rise of the Synths" striking visuals. "I'd like to go for a neon-noir and warm Miami Vice type of visuals. I'm pretty influenced by the late 70s and first half of the 80s style of framing and cinematography for this documentary, and we'll do our best to honour one of the most iconic decades in filmmaking."
The documentary will include several prominent artists within the scene. At the time of writing the list includes Electric Youth, College, Miami Nights 1984, Com Truise, Nightcrawler, Dynatron, Dance with the Dead, Maethelvin, Stellar Dreams, Vincenzo Salvia, Jordan F, Futurecop!, The Midnight, Power Glove, 80s Stallone and Betamaxx, but the list is not yet closed. "We are extremely happy to have such an amazing roster of talented composers. I believe they cover the whole spectrum of the Synthwave scene and its recent history," Castell said.

"A reinterpretation of a retro sound that taps into somewhere in your brain..."
To some it may be power fantasies, others might be inspired by Daft Punk's getup, or perhaps Kavinsky's blue-skinned jock did the trick, but avatars are vital parts of the artists' musical personas. "That's one of the main aspects of the film, how and why they hide behind an avatar, an alter-ego. To remain anonymous and focus on the creation itself, perhaps. It's nothing new in music to adopt a personality, but in this scene it's been taken to a whole new level," says Castell, tying the alter-egos to the whole internet-aspect that has helped fuel the genre's evolution.

Regarding the fact that the scene as a whole isn't very "public", Castell said: "The whole team feels honoured if we are able to be the first to explore this scene in a documentary. Of course there's a bit of pressure from a creative perspective, because we do it for the fan base and we want to do it right, with a high production value. On the other hand these artists rarely reveal aspects from their life, they always hide behind their avatar, so it's even more interesting but risky at the same time."

The Future
Given the extent of his project Iván Castell can not at this point confirm when Rise of the Synths will be done. What the future holds for Synthwave no one knows. The filmmaker says "What I think is that if filmmakers pay attention to them a lot of these composers could work in the following years scoring films. They're hugely talented. Look what happened in the late 70s and the 80s, scores that are so relevant and iconic that we're talking about it now, and they've inspired a whole new scene. That's what I hope for, but nobody knows."

Follow the project through #SynthRiders, Facebook, Twitter & Instagram @TheRiseOfTheSynths and the official site.

RISE OF THE SYNTHS is currently looking for funding. The project is searching through international markets and traditional sources, but are also in the planning stages of launching a crowdfunding campaign. More on that in the future.

Follow TONEwood on Facebook for daily updates

No comments:

Post a Comment