Image by Jon Simo and Brad A Kinnan
From veterans of the scene to a new guard of artists shifting the genre into the future, these are the essential synthwave artists you should be listening to right now. In no particular order, here’s who we have on repeat:
The joint collaboration of Spain’s Adrian Quesada Michelena and England’s Josh Dally began when Michelena invited Daily to lend his vocals to a track. The creative spark and chemistry between the two proved to be a winning formula, and they embarked on co-creating an entire album. A Thousand Lives arrived last year as the duo’s debut, and immediately earmarked At 1980 as ones to watch. Their sophomore effort, Late Night Calls was recently released on NewRetroWave and continues their penchant for nostalgia driven, transcendent synthwave that time warps you right back to the era of neon colours and shoulder pads. Lead single California Nights is a sweet piece of teenage dreaming that could be straight out of a John Hughes movie, while We Were on Fire and Somewhere key in on the melancholic romance. Download it here.
Lazer Owl is very much doing synthwave on his own terms, and may just be evolving the genre in exciting new directions in the process. The moniker of Italian producer Anthony Lazaro was formulated as an exploration into the “nocturnal” side of his wild creativity. The result is a sound informed by the laser sharp sounds of French Touch in the vein of Justice and Daft Punk, but with a distinct pop sensibility. His track Fifty Shades Of Blue saw massive success, with its languid beat fluttering beneath Lazaro’s own sensual vocals. His latest album Set Fire To The Night traverses a diverse range of influences, from the retro-synth funk of the title track to the gimier, trap driven sound of Treason. Their latest single Sweet largely forgoes the synthwave sound in favour of brassy big band cabaret, but if there’s anything to expect from this genre chameleon, it’s the unexpected. Download Set Fire To The Night here.
Das Mörtal lurks towards the darker end of the synthwave spectrum, concocting a strange, futurist sonic aesthetic informed by retro sci-fi and horror films but also the weirder parts of vintage American pop culture. Finding inspiration in paganism, cults and the occult, the Chilean Canadian producer formulates the sort of hypnotic and ominous electronica that has the potential to make you levitate. His latest album, Miami Beach Witches is a strikingly cinematic work that conjures a pulpy narrative of late summer nights, neon palm trees and ritual sacrifices by the sea. It’s a marvellously inventive synthesis of some of synthwave’s most striking retro aesthetics, brewed into Das Mörtal’s distinctively potent potion. With pulsing basslines and foggy synths, lead single Age of Solitude is an anthem for anyone who’s found freedom in the darkness, be it in dark arts or on the dancefloor. Download it here.
Swedish producer Tom Andersson is an essential point of departure for synthwave. At the forefront of the retro synth movement, Waveshaper’s reputation precedes him. Largely a part of synthwave’s original sound and identity, Waveshaper continues as one of the genre’s foremost leaders. His latest single, Lost In The Cloud is taken from the upcoming Mainframe LP, due on September 17th via Waveshaper Music Production. Inspired by the image of Red Riding Hood getting lost in a digital cloud instead of the forest, Lost In The Cloud is a synth-soaked fairytale that oscillates between moments of bright hopefulness and the sinister vastness of the unknown. The track finds inspiration in elements of futuristic funk, making this a bit of a stylistic evolution for the synthwave icon. Pre-save Mainframe here.
In the age of Napster, Californian producer Color Theory found success after his track Ponytail Girl was widely shared and mistaken for a lost Depeche Mode B-side. It’s telling of the quality and spirit of his music, which finds itself in the same brooding state of melancholia. Taking his cue from acts like The Cure and recalling contemporary artists like Gunship, Color Theory’s sound is defined by gently rolling synths, forlorn melodies and lots of yearning. His latest single The Next Thing explores synths more than before, while keeping the broody moodiness intact. Embracing the Napster faux pas, Color Theory went on to release an album of Depeche Mode covers and more recently, a collection of covers from the likes of The Pet Shop Boys, New Order and Cause and Effect with Matt Mancid. That Color Theory embraces the referential nature of synthwave by revisiting the songs that shaped the genre is telling of an artist with a passion and love for the sounds he creates, and if the staggering 36 covers on Periphery is anything to go by, he’s having a blast while doing it. Download it here.
The Toxic Avenger
French producer Simon Delacroix found success as The Toxic Avenger with the track Super Heroes, which established his retro-leaning electro house and dance punk style. Informed by fellow artists in the French House pantheon such as Daft Punk and the legacy of Giorgio Moroder, The Toxic Avenger brings touches of disco and funk to the synthwave cannon. His new EP Shifted sees him key in on the sound of his old Juno 106, crafting contemporary dance cuts with a retro-edge. Opening track Sorcery grooves with elements of house and disco, with a subtle spooky overtone while the title track is tech-house by way of synthwave. Shifted is a brilliant interweaving of the vintage with the contemporary, and a shift for The Toxic Avenger’s synthwave into the present. Download it here.
James Bowen is the Australian guitarist, keyboardist and songwriter better known as Droid Bishop. Bishop’s brand of synthwave is defined by warm, funky tones and the lush intermixing of electronic and organic elements. His sound marries synth-driven electro with beachy funk-rock, and it’s a formula that’s seen a fair amount of success. Last year’s excellent Music took Droid towards the machine funk of later Daft Punk, but his new single Silver Screen throws things right back to the golden age of the 80’s with its mid-fi production, twinkling synths and rolling 808s.
Toronto based Scottish producer Michael Oakley finds his inspiration in the golden age of 80’s pop, citing George Michael, Depeche Mode and The Pet Shop Boys as major references while crafting a sound that recalls the nostalgic adventure of Duran Duran and Toto. Oakley’s music finds itself in the pulse of neon soaked discotheques with propulsive rhythms and driving synths forming a backdrop for his anthemic choruses. His sophomore album Odyssey, released via NewRetroWave Records, further delves into this impassioned style. Lead single Is There Anybody Out There is a triumphant piece of synthwave maximalism with a massive chorus, epic harmonies and a stadium rock heartbeat. Tracks like Wake up! meanwhile key in on his retro-pop influences, making for an album full of vintage sounds crafted for the contemporary experience. Download it here.
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