Originally crowdfunded in 2016, The Rise of the Synths is a documentary feature film that explores the roots and the rising popularity of synthwave music. It is available to pre-order now but only until November 1st, so you’ll need to act quickly in order to get your hands on a copy as no full commercial release is currently planned.
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What is Synthwave?
Synthwave is a musical genre that has grown in popularity since its inception in the mid-2000s. While you have most likely never heard the word before, you’ve almost certainly heard synthwave music before, even if you didn’t recognize it for what it is. Synthwave is built on a base of nostalgia for the ’80s and (occasionally controversially) early ’90s. It’s music like the theme to Stranger Things or the soundtrack to Blade Runner and it’s creeping ever more into the mainstream with bands like Gunship, The Midnight, and Waveshaper gaining popularity.
The visual aesthetic of synthwave is even more recognizable. Think of the posters for Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman 1984, or Drive, the bright neons and grid lines that make you think of Tron, the art style of recent and forthcoming video games like Inertial Drift and Cyberpunk 2077. This is synthwave. It’s more than simply “’80s style music”, it’s a whole genre that takes ’80s nostalgia, mixes it with modern technology and techniques, and asks what it can become today. The answer, in part at least, is songs covering such wide themes as video gaming, vampires, drone racing, nuclear apocalypse, Cthulhu, faking your own death, driving into the night with the stereo blazing, and so much more.
What is The Rise of the Synths?
The Rise of the Synths is an 81-minute documentary film that explores the synthwave scene in detail. Narrated by film director John Carpenter himself (Carpenter is a synthwave icon and also provides a guest vocal on a Gunship track) the film explores how the scene came to be, its aesthetic, inspirations, and what might be coming in the future.
The film is visually stunning and captures that iconic synthwave aesthetic in every scene, font choice, and also in its soundtrack which you can listen to on all major streaming platforms. A companion album is also available featuring new and exclusive tracks from 19 synthwave artists. Woven throughout the ’80s clips and interviews that make up the majority of the film is the story of the Synth Rider who drives his Delorean on his own journey of exploration parallel to the viewer.
Interviewed throughout The Rise of the Synths are dozens of synthwave artists, composers, record labels, and others, many of whom are speaking on camera for the first time. Synthwave evolved from people’s bedrooms and many of the artists behind it are naturally introverted, preferring never to show their faces. Indeed, many of them choose to continue this on-screen, only being filmed in shadow or with their faces covered by masks. This surprisingly common choice in the synthwave scene is reminiscent of artists like Daft Punk, fitting given how Euro-centric both the film and the whole scene is with interviews taking place in France, Belgium, England, Spain, and many others – suffice to say you’ll need to watch with subtitles unless you’re fluent in a whole collection of languages!
I discovered synthwave at the beginning of 2020 when a favorite YouTuber (Christine McConnell) mentioned listening to Gunship in one of her videos. Hearing them for the first time reignited that teenage sensation of musical discovery for me, of opening a door and finding a whole new world behind it filled with sounds and imagery I could instantly love, and I’ve been exploring the genre ever since. As a relative newcomer to synthwave, The Rise of the Synths was the crash course I didn’t even realize I wanted. Through those 81 minutes, I was given a thorough grounding in the history, controversies, big names, and inspirations of my new favorite music scene and I came out with a list of new artists to explore. I also had the feeling that my parents playing Mike Oldfield, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, and the Chariots of Fire soundtrack in my youth may have helped lead me down this still rather niche road!
For anyone with an interest in synthwave, The Rise of the Synths is a must-watch, but the film will also appeal to anyone with even a general interest in music, and those who nurture any deep-seated nostalgia for the ’80s will no doubt love seeing the many clips from films, TV, and music that are studded throughout.
How to Watch The Rise of the Synths
The only way to watch The Rise of the Synths is by pre-ordering the film directly from the film’s official website where it is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and even VHS! Every format costs $39.95 (including shipping) and includes the film on your physical format of choice plus a digital download, over 60 minutes of extra scenes (digital only), a digital copy of the soundtrack, a poster, and some stickers.
Ordering is only available until November 1st and with no plans to make the film available to stream or launch additional sales once this pre-order window closes, you’ll need to order quickly if you want to watch this stunning film.
Be warned though, synthwave is a rabbit hole and once you’ve started listening, you’ll never want to stop!
GeekMom received a screener of this film for review purposes.