It’s common for people to talk about how loud, garish, and obnoxious the 70’s were, but I think the 80’s have much more to answer for. It seemed that everyone wanted to look “cool”, regardless of socioeconomic status. Punk rockers, hip hoppers, wall streeters, pop idols, all worshipping at that nocturnal neon glow. It was a time of cheesy flicks (and even cheesier television), leg warmers, skinny ties, dark shades, and synthesized ditties. Despite the threat of ozone depletion, the Cold War, and nuclear annihilation, we partied on!
Most of us awoke from the 80’s with either a killer hangover, or a bad habit. There’s no better indicator of the post-eighties blues, than the music that would soon follow. Gone were the optimistic, carefree, irreverent songs of Duran Duran, Madonna, and the Thompson Twins, to be replaced by grunge, alternative rock, and nu metal. In the nineties, we were baring our souls, and confessing our sins. We left the eighties behind without so much as a fare you well.
Three decades later, under similar threats to human existence, there’s an optimistic sound being heard through aural avenues throughout the world. Musicians tragically infected with eighties optimism, synthesized and weaponized this pleasant pestilence, and have begun a pandemic that can't be stopped! Though Michael Oakley and his fellow synthwave riders probably can’t save us, they’re going to make sure we don’t stop believing.
I am totally new to this thing called synthwave, though I understand it became a thing sometime during the early 00’s. When did you hear about it?
First time I heard Synthwave was totally on a fluke. It was 2013 and I was about to go in the shower and get ready, and I wanted to listen to Tangerine Dream "Love On A Real Train". I found this awesome Betamaxx remix of it, and from there I discovered other great tracks like "Palms" by Quixotic, Mitch Murder, and the Drive soundtrack. Then later I discovered New Retro Wave, FM-84 and The Midnight. But yeah, Betamaxx was my gateway into it, and I haven’t looked back since.
Of all the different genres of music you could have chosen to pursue, why synthwave?
When I was growing up in the 90s I really didn’t like 90s music all that much, apart from some of the Euro dance music. So I adopted 80s music and got into artists like New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Tears For Fears, and Depeche Mode. All amazing artists, and absolutely incredible music, but I felt like I had missed the boat in terms of me being able to write music in that style. I was 10 years too late.
So, when I got into the Synthwave scene, I realised I could write the kind of music I had always wanted to without fear of being called too retro or being outdated. I had no idea that 20 years later, we would live in a recycled generation, and previous decades would come back in such a big way. More so the 80s than any other.
What kind of hardware are you working with?
I record everything in Propellerhead Reason on my MacBook. When I record vocals I’ll use hardware, but technology has evolved so much now that software and virtual synthesizer plugins hold their own, and it’s very hard to distinguish a real hardware analog synthesizer from a virtual one. You can do so much more with software and get incredible results.
Software VST synth plugins I’m currently using are Spire, Korg M1, UVI Synth Anthology 2, OB Legacy and Darklight, Sylenth1, Tal-U-No-LX, and a few other things.
Effects I use are Soundtoys 5, Fabfilter stuff, Decimort, and Valhalla reverbs.
From what I’ve heard of the genre thus far, synthwave usually eschews vocals for snippets from eighties cinema. Your songs have lyrics, and singing!
Yeah it’s really great to see a new generation of singer/songwriters emerge on the synthwave scene. I think it needed that to keep things evolving and moving. The Midnight and FM-84 have certainly been inspirational to me, and I hope to see more vocal synthwave. There’s not enough of that.
Which electronic groups from the 80’s (or any era, for that matter) do you like?
Bands I mentioned earlier: I grew up listening to Depeche Mode, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, and Tears For Fears. I also love more classic singer songwriters like Elton John, Billy Joel, The Beatles, and Jimmy Webb. Apart from playing synthesizers, I have a great love for Piano. So those influences reflect that.