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Synthwave, also known as 80's retro revival or simply retro electro, is a form of electronic music that takes most of its inspiration from synth music and pop culture from the 1980s. As the name literally suggests, "synthwave" is a portmanteau of "synthpop" and "new wave".
Musically, synthwave is often instrumental with a futuristic theme and prominent use of throbbing, retro synthesizers. House-influenced heavy drums (often side-chained) are also present. Inspiration for synthwave comes from a variety of genres that originated in the 1980s, including synthpop, progressive house, Italo disco, electro-disco and other derivative styles.
Synthwave albums are generally arranged in a style similar to a film score, television music or video game music. Its instrumental nature and soundtrack-inspired style of musical arrangement take synthwave apart from more pop-accessible or dance club-oriented related genres such as synthpop and Italo disco. Visual elements of synthwave are important as well. Album covers are heavily influenced by 1980s films (especially science-fiction and action movies, such as Blade Runner or The Terminator), TV shows (specifically Miami Vice and Knight Rider), video games (notably Out Run and similar titles), and other important elements of 1980s culture.
Synthwave is often similar in style to (and draws influence from) the electronic film soundtracks of artists such as Wendy Carlos, Giorgio Moroder, Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter. However, the direct origins of synthwave can be traced back to the French electro house scene in the mid-2000s. Artists combined many styles including synthpop and electro/breakbeat music with elements of late 1970s to early 1990s electronic music, particularly electronic film soundtracks. The synthesizers used typically reflect the sound of film music that was in vogue during this time period. The album covers, CD booklets and music videos for this genre typically feature brightly colored 1980s inspired artwork to represent an image of nostalgia. Many French producers, such as College, Anoraak and Minitel Rose began producing this style of music. There have also been synthwave soundtracks in films such as Drive, as well as video games like Hotline Miami and Ubisoft's Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. These soundtracks, particularly that of Drive, are associated with media that has been a major influence on the fashion, visual media and popular musical styles of the 2010s, and all have sparked a large amount of popular interest in the synthwave genre of electronic music.
Since then, many record labels have been set up dedicated to this sound, and a slew of producers have emerged from around the world, as the scene continues to flourish.
The crowdfunded film Kung Fury is heavily inspired by synthwave/retrowave music and videogame culture. The movie features a soundtrack from Mitch Murder and Lost Years.
Examples of artists playing synthwave in their original songs and/or remixes include: Action Jackson, 4TrakZ, Alpha Boy, Anoraak, Beaumont, Betamaxx, Binalog Frequency, Botnit, Bourgeoisie, Carpenter Brut, Cheap Talk, Com Truise, Danger, D.I.M.H., DJ Ten, Droid Bishop, Dynatron, Freshlovers, Futurecop!, Garth Knight, Highway Superstar, Italo Brutalo, Jon of the Shred, Kavinsky, KFDDA, Kolt13, Koobra, L'Equipe Du Son, Lazerhawk, Logan Sky, Lost Years, Lueur Verte, Miami Nights 1984, Midnight Club, Mitch Murder, Neon Indian, Noir Deco, The Outrunners, Perturbator, Power Glove, Robert Parker, Shyguys, Tangerine Dream, TRS-80, Tycho, Tokyo Rose, Tommy, Vincenzo Salvia, Cops Proxy, Worship, Waveshaper and XXYYXX.