Is Synthwave Doomed? By Joe The Mutant @JoeAlsip

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Is Synthwave Doomed? 12/7/2017

The 80's have been growing in popularity again for the past few years. As a thirty something it seems like just yesterday that the 80's and it's entire lack of shame and or subtlety were considered a joke. However with the rise of such phenomena as Netflix hit series Stranger Things and best selling book Ready Player One a new genre of music is also on the rise. Called by many names, Synthwave, Retrowave, Outrun and with sub-genre's such as Dreamwave and Horror / Darksynth it is clear that there is a great demand for music that invokes the sights and sounds of the 80's

This current fad has been going on for several years now and I love it as much as anyone but a dilemma presents itself, how much longer do we have before said fad is over? I believe there are two directions that Synthwave as a genre can take. It can either evolve and eventually push past it's 80's roots or can die when the 80s revival finally bites the dust.

Our option number one is the one doomsayers have been warning us about since Kavinsky first released Nightcall and that is that at some point we will reach peak 80's and everyone will have had their fill and lose interest. This has a few problems, one of which is the constant attempt by some to "predict the stockmarket" and be the first to declare a given fad as dead. To unfortunately date myself and simultaneously prove my nerd cred I look towards video games and the fact that people are always tempted to declare certain long running video game franchises as dead. I can remember for instance a chorus of voices declaring an "end" to World of Warcraft as early as the first expansion coming out nearly 10 years ago. We all know how that turned out.

There is however still cause for concern as we do know from past experience that nostalgic interest in a given decade of the past never lasts. The 80's themselves were full of 50's diners, Back to The Future famously capitalizes on this 50's infatuation that we know didn't survive the 80's. We can also look to the resurgence of Big Band and rockabilly music in the late 90's. Is Synthwave for sure doomed then as with nostalgia fads in the past? In someways it is a near certainty. 

I would argue that Synthwave must evolve beyond the 80's if it is to achieve immortality. I would direct you to the example of Synthwave's close cousin, Darkwave as model that could provide staying power. Darkwave began in the late 80's and early 90's as a sort of Gothic take on New Wave music. New Wave did not survive the coming of Grunge but Darkwave did. It's popularity in Europe, and especially the German scene, with bands like Project Pitchfork and Blutengel are a testament to that. There is one thing with this example we must point out however and that is that modern Darkwave only vaguely resembles it's original incarnation and the decade that spawned it 

I believe we are seeing the beginning of this process with many Synthwave artists exploring dark or scifi themes that I believe would be suitably timeless and perhaps able to last, see Scandroid and Droid Bishop as examples of this. If you were to play this music to someone and not tell them that it was Synthwave they might almost be tempted to think it was Electro instead.

In conclusion I believe it is inevitable that Synthwave at least as it is now, is doomed but I believe there will be artists who instead take it to the next level. In essence I believe the future is more Scandroid or Perturbator and perhapes less 8o's Stallone. However I do caution you, just as predicting a stock market correction is impossible so is attempting to predict the fortunes of a particular musical genre.


Copyright Joe Alsip 2017
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