Synthwave (also known as Outrun) is a particular aesthetic that draws a lot of inspiration from the 1980s. While it does often get lumped in with Vaporwave, there are significant differences between the two genres. While it is particularly regarded as a musical genre, there are examples of synthwave in movies, TV shows, art, and video games. The genre is credited as being started by acts such as College, Kavinsky, and Justice, although a fair argument could be made that the first big mainstream album evoking the Synthwave vibe and aesthetic could be traced back to the sophomore Daft Punk album, Discovery.
The music strongly shares some key traits within the French House/Italo Disco musical genres. The true proto-synthwave acts came from musical scores of films in the 1980s created by the likes of John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, They Live, etc.), Vangelis (Blade Runner), and Tangerine Dream (Firestarter). While the genre has started to dip in popularity slightly, there is still a very devoted following and a lot of musicians still sell decently.
The French House sound first began to develop with the French House genre (popularized by groups like Daft Punk); a style of house music originally produced by French artists that was a popular strand of the late 1990s and 2000s European dance music scene and a form of Euro disco. The genre has also been referred to as "French touch", "filter house" and "tekfunk" over the years. The defining characteristics of the sound are heavy reliance on filter and phaser effects both on and alongside samples from late 1970s and early 1980s American or European disco tracks (or original hooks strongly inspired by such samples), causing thicker harmonic foundations than the genre's descendants. Popular artists in the French House genre include:
- Benjamin Diamond
- Daft Punk
- David Guetta
- Mr Oizo
- Thomas Bangalter
Synthwave visuals draw a lot of inspiration from graphics often seen during the '80s, such as sunset graphics, neon grids, neon lights, '80s sports cars, wireframe vector graphics, pixel art that is designed to look like an old school 8-bit video game, video cassettes, arcades, malls, etc. Some people will often confused Synthwave visuals with visuals from the Vaporwave genre (which has led to derivative aesthetics of the two, Fashwave and Laborwave, mashing the two together to promote their respective agendas), but there are key differences in not only what is used in the art of the respective aesthetics, but also the tone of it: while Vaporwave can tend to have a more tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic tone to it, Synthwave is incredibly earnest with its love of everything 80s and is made in tribute to the era rather than critiquing it. Despite this, however, it's not uncommon for artists from the two scenes to collaborate to make art or music (one noteworthy example includes Synthwave artist Bart Graft collaborating with Vaporwave/Future Funk artist Bubble Keiki to produce the album, Emerald.
Synthwave visuals may also borrow very heavily from '80s Cyberpunk (most notably the 1982 film Blade Runner and the 1989 anime Akira) but celebrate the aesthetics of it rather than heeding the initial warnings that were offered by these works about the risks of technology advancing too fast.
The Synthwave color palette differs from Vaporwave because while Vaporwave tends to utilize a lot of washed-out colors to show the wear and tear of time on the past, Synthwave uses colors as bold, vibrant, and colorful as the '80s themselves (which can lead to some nice-looking crossovers with the Glowwave aesthetic).
The least-talked about in the Synthwave community is the fashion aspect. The fashion tends to be heavily inspired by the fashion seen in 1980s movies and TV shows (especially shows like Miami Vice), but more casual 80s-themed clothes can be worn in the Synthwave aesthetic.
Synthwave music sounds like the natural progression of the 1980s film score, although some artists will take inspiration from the New Wave music that was popular then.
However, a lot of modern Synthwave music seems to be moving away from the 1980s and moving more into the 1990s, thanks to tracks like "America Online" by The Midnight. Some Synthwave artists include:
- Trevor Something
- The Midnight (a personal favorite of Chris Evans aka Captain America)
- Mitch Murder (a personal favorite of Pewdiepie)
- Carpenter Brut
- Dana Jean Phoenix (has a fan in the likes of Nicki Minaj)
- The Northern Lights
- C Z A R I N A
- Magic Sword (appeared as part of the soundtrack to Thor Ragnarok)
- Synthwave from Space - A sci-fi & space themed spotify playlist with over 160k followers by aofd3
- Synthwave World Spotify playlist by bonggitalistens
- Synthwave Sounds (feat. The Midnight, Gunship, FM-84, M83, Power Glove, Carpenter Brut) Spotify playlist by Synthwave Sounds
- Synthwave Spotify playlist by Vapor95
- Synthwave 101 (Over 1800 Artists Curated and Always Updated) Spotify playlist by Julian Green
- Synthwave | Retro Electro | Synth Pop | Retrowave | - Nightride FM Spotify playlist by Nightride FM
- Neo Tokyo: Synthwave & Retrowave Spotify playlist by Adam Waldo
- Essential Synthwave... for your Night Drive Spotify playlist by Squares
- AGATA SYNTHWAVE Spotify playlist by ixepsitech
- ⚡ AESTHETICS: synthwave by Chaotic Good
Movies & TV
Synthwave movies tend to look like movies that would've been popular back in the 1980s and some have even seen widespread theater releases. Some synthwave movies and TV shows include TRON, Kung Fury, The Wraith, Drive, Manborg, Hobo With a Shotgun, Turbo Kid, Thor: Ragnarok (yes, THAT Thor: Ragnarok), Stranger Things, It Follows, Ready Player One, Commando Ninja, and the upcoming Blood Machines.
If any medium can compete with movies and TV in terms of taking on the synthwave aesthetic, it's video games. While most synthwave video games look like games that could've been played on an original Nintendo, there are some that have very polished next-gen graphics. Examples of Synthwave video games include Hotline Miami, Hotline Miami 2, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Saturday Morning RPG, Trials of the Blood Dragon, Neon Drive, Power Drive 2000, Furi, Katana ZERO and Double Dragon Neon.p.
As its name suggests, the Darksynth concerns the dark part of Synthwave, or as the title Liberation in one of its stands written by Olivier Drago: The darkness of electro. A genre whose themes are darker, heavier, and more tragic (which is reflected in the covers presented above), often inspired by the horror and science fiction films of the 70s and 80s. It will often utilize what many consider to be Satanic symbolism (the upside-down pentacle, the Cross of St. Peter being popular in particular). Perhaps as a nod to the Satanic Panic that happened throughout the 80s (when '80s horror films, metal music, and Dungeons and Dragons were often blamed for the ills in society at the time). Within Darksynth, there is a strong Metal influence (since many of the artists in the genre coming from a Metal background themselves) and can sometimes overlap into the Goth aesthetic as well. Artists in this genre include the likes of GUNSHIP, Perturbator, Carpenter Brut and Gost. An argument could be made for Trevor Something. Their songs deal with darker subject matter than your average Synthwave artist, though his music doesn't share the metal influence the aforementioned artists do (going for more of a Depeche Mode/'80s Goth sound with a lot of his music).