Original synth - Page 2

A strange new wave of retro washes over music and nightlife

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Alex and Brendan at the retrograde Nachtmusik party, which features lost "wave" music
PHOTO BY SADIE MELLERIO

Dark wave was an umbrella term for goth rock, early industrial, and darker synthpop. It grafted lamentation and cavernous basslines over post-punk's angular angst and icebox oddity, and was popularized by groups like Fad Gadget, Front 242, and Chris and Cosey and at clubs like London's seminal Batcave. Cold wave was the French version of dark wave that skewed toward more Pong-like synth figures, fizzling chords, studied malaise, and gnomic haiku. ("Business man/Yet you kill the boss/Computer programs/Shadows in the night," Lyonnaise duo Deux disaffectedly intone on 1983's unshakeable "Game and Performance.") Synth wave, or minimal synth, was a kind of prickly disco: chromatic, sparsely produced, brooding and moody, yet often quite catchy and dance floor-oriented.

All three genres are now generally lumped together as "wave" (or sometimes "retrograde"), which can include a vast array of other period sounds, from John Zorn-like no-wave jazz explosions to Dead Can Dance spooky-tribal incantations. Basically, if it feels like you're listening to a late-night college radio program somewhere in the Midwest in 1984, one possibly called "Flash Frequencies" or "Shadow Talk," you've caught the uncanny wave gist. If you imagine yourself a fishnet-gloved extra in the movie Liquid Sky who pronounces "paradise" as "pah-rahd-eyes," then you definitely have.

Dark wavers Brynna and Domini at Club Shutter. Photo by Sadie Mellerio

But just because the sound aimed for frigidity doesn't mean it didn't build community. Wave acts may have been what some would call "unbranded," but they operated within close-knit networks: cassettes were passed hand-to-hand, recording studios were shared in warehouse-based artists' communes, fans around the world braved dangerous parts of town to attend wave-centric club nights. The music itself attempted to humanize the arctic pitch of analog synths by infusing it with longing, restlessness, ennui, and gloom.

Vice Angular "This is Cold Wave" Mix

Today, that naive sincerity, refreshing lack of self-conscious irony, and marketplace virginity translate into authenticity, appealing to retro aficionados who vomit a tad at goth's Hot Topicality, the macho posturing that torpedoed industrial, or the Polly Estherization of new wave. (Like techno, soul, and disco before it, new wave retro is finally purging itself of excess baggage and mainstream complications by going minimal and original.) Dusted-off waveforms and hyperactive web forums attract a network of virtual seekers and posters who salivate at each discovery. Schoolwerth may be right about wave's cry against a culture of Internet isolation — and the turn toward analog is a specific rejection of the digital — but like an anxious clan gathered around a silicon-chip fire, its current fans watch anxiously online for freshly exhumed and re-chilled visions to appear. Then they go play them at clubs. Here is something old that seems truly new.

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