We’re living in an era in which new musical movements are forged from those of the past, particularly the 1980s, whose day-glo synthesisers and whiplash drum machines have been rediscovered by a new generation of fans. In this rush for all things retro, a new genre has emerged: synthwave.

I spoke to Graham and Jonny of new party-starters Steel City Synthwave to find out what it’s all about.

What is synthwave?

[Graham:] It takes musical stylings from the eighties and applies modern production techniques to produce something ‘retro futuristic’.

It span out of the French house scene of the early 2000s, with guys like Air, Justice and of course Daft Punk producing dance music with a blatant nod to the music of the eighties, but putting that house and techno spin on it. You’ve got a real melting pot of genres in synthwave, so everything from eighties electro, synth-pop, rock and metal, power ballads, video game soundtracks, movie soundtracks – it’s all in there, but with a house and techno sensibility. That sensibility is the DIY bedroom production. The great thing with the technology we’ve got at our disposal is that anyone can make the music they grew up listening to as a kid, put their stamp on it whether that’s light or dark, master it, publish and promote it.

[Jonny:] The music and artwork is based around retro-futurism. While it emulates eighties culture, movies, TV and fashion, it also represents a post-apocalyptic /cyberpunk vision of what a digitally connected society might look and sound like in a perceived dystopian future. TV series like Stranger Things and Altered Carbon are big mainstream releases now. There’s also the [upcoming] computer game Cyberpunk 2077 that has proven very popular this year. Now seems to be the perfect time for synthwave to emerge from the underground.

How did your first night at The Dorothy Pax go?

[Jonny:] RetroLines was a success on a number of levels. We wanted to introduce synthwave to Sheffield by putting on a lot of diverse acts and DJs. We were pretty packed both inside and outside, and the event brought people from different musical backgrounds together in a cool, laid-back and positive environment.

[Graham:] There’s always things that you think could have been done better, but the turnout was great, we got people dancing and got some awesome feedback. It’s SCS’s first self-organised gig, so it meant pulling favours for all the elements we wanted in place, like help with the sound, lighting, visuals, etc.

We’ve got quite ambitious plans and synthwave demands more than just a DJ behind some decks. It’s a ‘sum of the parts’ thing. We want to ensure we’re ticking as many boxes as possible, so let’s get the smoke machines and lasers on the go. Let’s get some awesome visual backdrops. Let’s get a load of retro games hooked up. This is hopefully the difference between a synthwave gig and, say, a standard band or DJ night.

What’s next?

[Jonny:] We’re got three wonderful Saturday night events coming up at the Mulberry Tavern. They’ve recently rebranded and refurbed it into a much more edgy and trendy live music venue, with a dance-metal-cyberpunk theme, so it sits perfectly with where we want to go next. 

15 September will be the first instalment of our new NIGHT RUN branded events. We then follow up on 6 October with a Halloween special split across two venues, a horror spectacular all day at the stunning Samuel Worth Chapel, then a NIGHT RUN after-party at the Mulberry. Then on 17 November we’ll have the third NIGHT RUN, opening with three bands and finishing with late night DJ sets.

As Graham said, we’ll be offering that little bit more than the typical music night, with awesome visual backdrops, arcade games and merch stalls. We really believe people are going to fall in love with the vibe, the aesthetic and the incredible music.

steelcitysynthwave.co.uk

Sam Gregory