“Every generation believes they’re witnessing the end of the world.” – Before Midnight.
Like every decade before and after it, the eighties have a fair share of rise and fall in a number of different spheres. Apart from having ironic landmark events such as the largest increase in world population as well as stark rise in the spread of AIDS, one also saw the collapse of Arcade Games, thanks to rise in home and personal computers. If the seventies were a decade of celebration, the eighties were a decade of change, which is, of course when you do not want to consider what happened in the decades to come.
Although, in retrospect, the most prominent and memorable features spring out of, perhaps aptly named as the Pop Culture of the 80s.
We saw Electronic music take tangible shape for the first time, slowly infiltrating into American as well as British Pop Music, with analog synthesizers and drum sequencers replacing the acoustic sound. With IBM PCs entering studios and staying clear from Moog’s and Mellotrons, there was born MIDI technology to make the earliest of computer music. That was around the time music became mobile with Sony’s Walkman that played a cassette of tape from your pocket and let you jog to its rhythm on a cold morning. I’m sure for every band from the 70s that we have profound respect for, there are at least three from the subsequent years, may it be dance music, classic metal, psychedelia or pop rock. The King of Pop rose to fame.
Meanwhile, we also saw electronically synthesized music being used as scores for some of the most prominent sci-fi films of all time, including the likes of ET, Terminator and Blade Runner, with their end-of-world and semi-dystopian atmospheres fusing into fairytale endings.
Back to the Future
Revival of old genres and styles is something that still refuses to become a fad. After attempts by a number of bands trying to revive some of my favourite music scenes from the 80s such as Shoegazing and Post Punk, we finally hit gold when electronica artists tried reviving the 80s Retro Music. This, I’m pretty sure, has a lot to do with certain recent developments in both the independent music as well as the film industry amongst others.
Nicholas Wending Refn’s neo-noire/thriller film not only brought out the 80s world into your head visually, but also with the aid of some of the most outstanding music forming its soundtrack. With a little digging around, I must say this is one major development in music over the past few months.
Here’s some freshly made 80s music from the soundtrack of Drive:
While Refn’s Drive brought indie acts such as Chromatics, Kavinsky and College to the fore, it was time for the mainstream to take a little detour in that direction. Which is what we got, when Daft Punk made Random Access Memories, largely reviving live and electronic music from late 70s and 80s – integrating pop sensibilities inspired by the likes of Michael Jackson and The Cars while still adding Pink Floyd-esque live elements. Of course, the era of reviving retro music had begun already, and the album did nothing more than bringing it to the fore, apart from reinventing itself after a long hiatus. But it did its job.
The New Retro Wave was on.
It’s almost like time travel when one listens to some of the modern yet retro music that’s coming out of everywhere. With advanced recording techniques, and ease in composition thanks to user friendly DAWs that run on portable devices as small as a smart phone, the accessibility has only gotten better.
The past two years have seen a steady rise in acts that could definitely be called as a part of the New Retro Wave, with plenty of support from film, TV as well as other seemingly unlikely media such as video games.
The independent game Hotline Miami, besides treading on some of the greater questions pertaining to violence in video games with a surreal plot set in crime-infested Florida of the 80s and thanking Nicholas Wending Refn in its credits, sets the tone for the great music of the time it is set in to return – ranging from bass heavy groves to disco conflagrations soaked in a million layers of synth.
With the playable character being an unnamed, masked assassin brutally murdering people at a variety of neon-lit venues purely based on anonymous voice messages at his home, the game paints an interesting picture of the crime in Florida during its time. But apart from its badass music, there’s also the silent walk-back after you’ve killed everybody at a venue. A walk-back with no stylish music, but a hollowing static accompanying visuals of all the bloodshed you have just created.
Here are a few tracks from its soundtrack:
(Don’t miss the breakdown Section on this one)
Each of these were made using laptops as big and powerful as the one you are using right now, and probably in the confines of the bedroom, which is what makes the music even more intimate and human despite its machine-like repetitive nature with pulsating synths dictating the rhythm.
The name, New Retro Wave, is courtesy New Retro Wave channel on YouTube – one that has opened me up to a number of other hidden acts trying out this new genre and bending its borders with modern technology. I have no idea who runs that channel, but they’re doing a great job at it. For the Tarantino’s of the coming decades, as we can see, there can be no dearth of retro music to accompany badassery.
Here’s some good music from the scene for you to check and support if you like.
There’s a lot more to explore at the New Retro Wave channel on YouTube.
In an era filled with arguably mediocre music topping mainstream charts and showing up on every music store, there is still a lot of ingenuity floating around. A number of hard working musicians adequately expressing their own renditions of the world they see, and the direction it seems to take.
So, hey, Pop ain’t dead.