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ISSUE NO. 01 MAY 2017

SYNTHWAVE An Introduction

PERTURBATOR The Real Neon Icon $4.99

IN REVIEW Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Vampire Step-Dad: Love Bites Dance of the Dead: The B-Sides


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Philip Orr

ISSUE NO. 1 MAY 2017

Editor Philip Orr

Creative Director Austin Harvey

Writers Emily Auburn Jeff Trebbel Guy Smith


Photography Emily Walzec

Advertising Siobhan O’Connor

Synthetic Magazine is published monthly. It is mailed directly and distributed at locations around the United States by: MassArt 621 Huntington Ave. Boston, MA 02115 Subscription inquiries:

ŠMassArt 2017 All rights reserved.


IN THIS ISSUE THIS MONTH IN REVIEW.....................6 We give you guys the scoop on the goings on this past month, like the release of two new albums, Love Bites and The B-Sides.

EDITOR’S SELECT..........................8 For our first ever issue, we give you a list of great video games to get a taste of retro synthwave goodness.

SYNTHWAVE: AN INTRO.....................14 Emily Auburn gives an awesome intro to the world of synthwave and the “outrun” culture surrounding it.

THE REAL NEON ICON......................22 Jeff Trebbel was able to sit down with synth legend James Kent aka “Perturbator” for an exclusive interview.



Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Sprawling in both story and level design, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a more fleshed out, ambitious follow-up to its 2012 predecessor. There are a few truly frustrating moments, but that sense of flow is still here; it’s a relentless, rhythmic, and brutal game of killing fast, and often dying even faster. Hotline Miami 2’s style is a smooth continuation of the first game. It moves the setting ahead into the grungy ‘90s, but also occasionally whips us back to the mid-’80s in a feverish rollercoaster ride that further unfolds the twisted story. This is a deep dive into an engaging alternate history full of masked fanatics, mobsters, drugs, war, and a few haunting figures from the past. The soundtrack, dripping with nervous synth and a pulsing bass, is even better than the last one; a moodier and more expansive set of tracks merges appropriately with the symphony of door-busting, skull-crunching, and gun firing you’ll create yourself. Like the last game, the music is the fuel that drove me forward into each new challenge – and in Hotline Miami 2, there are plenty. Hotline Miami 2 carries on the same top-down twitch-shooter gameplay and ultra-violent retro art style of the original, shifted only slightly to make things feel fresh. What’s changed most is the scale of the levels. Where Hotline Miami 1 had you shooting, stabbing, and bludgeoning enemies in a series of small rooms and hallways, Hotline Miami 2 isn’t afraid to drop you into vast, open areas, where danger lurks outside the boundaries of your screen. This is an interesting change of pace that demands a new, more cautious approach.. The story has also grown into a layered multicharacter saga that spans several years and involves a serial killer, a Russian gang war, and even an actual



war. It’s less of an ambiguous mystery, but just as bizarre and fun to piece together. The more plotdriven approach means we don’t get as much freedom to choose how we tackle each level, because most are tied to a specific character. The upside is that it also allows room for Hotline Miami 2 to present new situations, interesting characters, and unpredictable events that break away from the typical expectations of a sequel. Hotline Miami has always been known for its mindless killing, but in Hotline Miami 2, the dozen playable characters are defined by their personal motivations. You can play as a soldier who kills because he’s in a warzone, which is a very different reason from the copycat killers who recreate the crimes of the original Hotline Miami character. This saves it from falling into gross repetition or suffering from style over substance. It also means that Hotline Miami 2 can explore new scenarios, thanks to character-specific goals. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a great game and a worthy sequel. It’s more confident in its style, storytelling ability, and level design than the first game. It has enough depth to stand on its own, but also manages to nail a balanced variety of new and old Hotline Miami goodness for fans who want both.

MONTH Vampire Step-Dad: “Love Bites” There’s something strange in the neighborhood… With a name like Vampire Step-Dad how could we not check this out? His most recent release, Love Bites, takes us on a dreamy journey that tells “the tragic story of an undying love for those that inevitably die.” It’s a concept album that works especially well and all of the tracks blend together for one extended experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Seriously, look at the track listing. I think ‘The Cough (where a little blood comes out)’ might be my favorite track, and not just for the name. The EP oozes nostalgia and is sure to bring out some 80’s inspired feels. Those sax solos… Vampire Step-Dad recently opened up for Carpenter Brut on his NA tour and I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the future.

Dance of the Dead “The B-Sides” Earlier this month, Dance of the Dead returned with B-Sides: Volume 1, an album that solidifies Dance with the Dead’s sonic persona as masters of synthwave’s heaviest jams. Album opener “Get Out” could pass as a metal song—with its galloping pace, thrash and death metal riffing, whammy dives and borderline blast beats—if not for its reliance of razor-sharp analogue synth lines in place of vocals. The guitar solo on “Stoic” shreds with the best of them. And even the eminently danceable numbers like “The Man Who Made a Monster” incorporate chugged riffing and, once again (to my delight), whammy dives where they’re completely unnecessary (but in the best way possible). Every track, it seems, has either chugged rhythm guitars under the synth veneer, searing leads, or both. It’s





From the makers of the 2012 Game of the Year: The Walking Dead, comes a gritty, violent and mature thriller based on the award-winning Fables comic books (DC Comics/Vertigo). As Bigby Wolf - THE big bad wolf - you will discover that a brutal, bloody murder is just a taste of things to come in a game series where your every decision can have enormous consequences.


Hotline Miami Action 2011

Hotline Miami is a high-octane action game overflowing with raw brutality, hard-boiled gunplay and skull crushing close combat. Set in an alternative 1989 Miami, you will assume the role of a mysterious antihero on a murderous rampage against the shady underworld at the behest of voices on your answering machine. Rely on your wits to choreograph your way through seemingly impossible situations as you constantly find yourself outnumbered by vicious enemies. The action is unrelenting and every shot is deadly so each move must be quick and decisive if you hope to survive and unveil the sinister forces driving the bloodshed. Hotline Miami’s unmistakable visual style, a driving soundtrack, and a surreal chain of events will have you question your own thirst for blood while pushing you to the limits with a brutally unforgiving challenge.


The Wolf Among Us Adventure 2013



The player must race to the end of each stage as fast as possible against a time limit while avoiding traffic. At the end of each stage, the player is presented with a fork in the road where the player must choose one of two stages. The left route presents an easier stage, while the right offers a greater challenge. Passing through checkpoints awards the player with extra time. Once the timer reaches zero or the player completes the race, the game ends.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is THE KickAss Cyber Shooter. Welcome to an 80’s vision of the future. The year is 2007 and you are Sargent Rex Colt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando. Your mission: get the girl, kill the baddies, and save the world. Experience every cliché of a VHS era vision of a nuclear future, where cyborgs, blood dragons, mutants, and Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens, Navy Seals) collide.


GTA:Vice City Action/Adventure 2002

Outrun Racing 1986

4 Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon FPS Action 2013

5 From the decade of big hair, excess and pastel suits comes a story of one man’s rise to the top of the criminal pile. Having just made it back onto the streets of Liberty City after a long stretch in maximum security, Tommy Vercetti is sent to Vice City by his old boss, Sonny Forelli. They were understandably nervous about his re-appearance in Liberty City, so a trip down south seemed like a good idea. But all does not go smoothly upon his arrival in the glamorous, hedonistic metropolis of Vice City.




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“Initiative Standby” by Reddit user /u/acoolrocket 11



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H WAVE An Introduction by Emily Auburn



Vincent Belorgey, aka Kavinsky, one of the pioneers of synthwave music and culture.


magine driving on the freeway at night. No other cars around, the road ahead seems to stretch into forever. The perfect soundtrack for such a setting would come from an emerging music genre called “Synthwave”—retro-electronic music that brings beats from the 1980s, sends them though the modern-day computers systems, and spits out music that you can drive to all night long. Over the past few years, there has been a boom in retro electronic music, commonly known as synthwave. Inspired by 1980s electropop, synthesizers, and film soundtracks, synthwave is quickly rising in popularity among music fans, and it has spilled over into movies, video games, and soon, the mainstream. The 1980s saw the rise of synthesizers and



electronic music, but those tracks were rather crude compared to the advanced notes that modern computers are capable of. Those “crude” notes are one of the big appeals of synthwave—the genre embraces the imperfections. Inspired by the 1980s new wave of electronic music and samples, synthwave artists are turning out instrumental tracks with heavy focus on analog synthesizers, reverbs, and sci-fi samples. Often, the only “lyrics” will be lines of dialogue mixed in from 80s movies. Nostalgia plays a big part in the synthwave culture. From the music videos, to the album cover designs, to the promotional materials, even the typefaces and colors, all take their inspiration from the 1980s in one way or another. The persona of one of

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the pioneers of synthwave, French musician Kavinsky, includes his trademark 1980s clothes and shoes, and a Ferrari Testarossa—the quintessential 1980s sports car, as seen in his “Protovision” music video below. Synthwave emerged in the late 2000s thanks to two French artists: Vincent Belorgey aka Kavinsky, and David Grellier, aka. College. Both artists were featured in the 2011 movie Drive, the first movie to use a synthwave-heavy soundtrack, and the movie that got many on the synthwave bandwagon. Kavinsky drew inspiration from 80s electropop and film soundtracks to come up with a distinct take on electronic music. By comparison, David Grellier was influenced by his own childhood, growing up in the 1980s at the height of American cultural export. Other artists soon started emerging around France. James Kent, aka Perturbator, started creating his own variation on synthwave, with darker, moodier tones, sometimes dubbed “dark-synth”. As the new underground genre started attracting more fans, more artists came forth with their own retro-inspired tunes. While Perturbator brings the dark side of synthwave, Miami Nights 1984 takes its inspiration from Miami in the 1980s, featuring tracks perfect for a drive into the sunset. Or a remake of Miami Vice. If Miami isn’t the right setting for you, Johan Benghtsson, aka Mitch Murder, finds inspiration for his synthwave tracks from 1980s New York and its fastpaced culture. He describes his Mitch Murder persona as “…an overworked Wall Street I.T. from the 80’s who dreams at night other realities for himself. These are the soundtracks to his dreams”. After its emergence and popularity in France, synthwave artists are now found all over the world: Dynatron (Denmark), Mitch Murder (Sweden), Night Runner (Brazil), Lazerhawk (USA), Power Glove (Australia), Miami Nights 1984 (Canada), FutureCop (England), Timecop1983 (Netherlands). None of these artists are associated or signed with any major labels. Most of them distribute their



“These are the soundtracks to his dreams.” The Ferrari Testarossa, which many would say is the quintessential 80’s car.



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s albums themselves through Bandcamp. In addition to Bandcamp, YouTube plays a massive role for synthwave artists—it is the way to promote their tracks, which are often music videos featuring clips from 80s movies, Japanese anime, or custom-made 3D graphics inspired by the early digital computer graphics effects that emerged in the 1980s. YouTube has so far become the de-facto way to get a feel of synthwave. The online video site has dozens of channels dedicated to the genre, and some of them have huge followings. Channels such as New Retro Wave, Luigi Donatello, Maniac Synth have over 160,000 subscribers and 50 million video views between them. Like many emerging music trends, synthwave isn’t just a new genre of music. It’s quickly becoming an art style as well. When it comes to the art of synthwave, there’s a solid foundation in 80s trends and graphics, from neon, to sharp typefaces, to dark and gritty city-scapes. If a single color could be assigned to represent synthwave, it would be magenta. It plays a prominent role as either the primary or accent color of most synthwave album covers and artworks, alongside other neon colors, most often variations of teal and cobalt blue. In addition to a distinct color palette, synthwave artists commonly use 80s science fiction artworks as inspiration, such as B-movie posters,

commercials, VHS covers, and the crude computer generated graphics of the time. If there’s one movie that brought synthwave into the mainstream, it’s Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Released in 2011, Drive’s soundtrack was the first time a (somewhat) mainstream Hollywood film relied on synthwave, and it fit the movie’s style perfectly. Scored by Cliff Martinez, with tracks from Kavinsky and College, the music was just perfect for a movie centering around driving at night in LA. The torch was later picked up and carried on by 2014’s The Guest, and 2015’s hit indie horror It Follows. Both movies feature synthwave-heavy soundtracks. Finally, the cult short film Kung Fury, a parody of all things 80s, featured a soundtrack by Mitch Murder, one of the most popular synthwave artists of today. In addition to movies, synthwave is now rising in popularity in video games as well. Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is the perfect synthwave game: a combination of music by Power Glove and visuals bathed in neon and magentas. Additionally, the game brings back old 80s movie tropes, from corny dialogue, to its cyberpunk setting, complete with killer cyborgs and dinosaurs. For icing on the synthwave cake, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon features Michael Biehn, the actor who starred in iconic 80s action movies such as The Terminator and Aliens. Despite its retro fetishism and insular network



Ryan Gosling as The Driver in the 2011 neonoir, Drive.

of artists, the so-called synthwave genre, a futurefocused sound undeniably indebted to the pop culture of the Reagan era, is pulsing forward with a Daft Punkmeets-John Carpenter swagger. In the past couple of years alone, the sub-genre of electronic music also known by names like outrun, retrowave and futuresynth, has transformed from a whisper on a few select Internet hubs into a selfsustaining musical ecosystem hoisting itself up and expanding rapidly. It all began in the mid-2000s, when gamers and horror nerds took a liking to French house artists like Justice, Kavinsky, and College, who were creating sounds inspired by ’80s film score legends (Carpenter, Goblin, Brad Fiedel). Since then—and especially after the release of the 2011 arthouse film triumph Drive—the genre has exploded in a plume of modern electronic fury, with artists emerging around the globe, from Stockholm to Dallas, Texas. That satisfied-but-anxious feeling you had watching Terminator for the first time, that inexplicable sense of comfort you got every time the Beverly Hills Cop intro came on, these sensations might just bubble up again when you hear the dark aggression of artists like Perturbator and Mega Drive or the pure ’80s worship of Mitch Murder and Miami Nights 1984. Mega Drive, arguably one of synthwave’s biggest names, remembers the ’80s with a simple fondness that pervades his music. “That whole time in my life was pretty magical, as everything was still new and big,” he says. Perhaps the answer is that simple: ’80s pop culture was plainly, well, badass—vibrant, oversaturated, chest-thumping—and synthwave’s blending of modern electronic composition with nostalgia makes for an irresistible combination. That’s supported by science: we tend to favor music we’ve heard before, and memories tied to music often relate back to a particular time in our lives. But maybe it goes deeper than that, too. For other synthwave artists, like Mitch Murder, the ’80s represent a clash of optimism and pessimism, a fascination with flying cars and robotic dog walkers, tinged with a dark apprehension about what’s to come. “On the one hand, we had all these cool



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David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 horror movie, It Follows.

“…the music was just perfect for a movie centering around driving at night in Los Angeles.”

predictions about how the near future would play out and how awesome it would be, like Back To The Future II‘s depiction of 2015,” he says. “On the other hand, there was this general concern that we could be wiped out at any moment from a surprise­nuclear war. So I feel like people wanted to make the most of the time they had.” That palpable impermanence is captured in synthwave; there’s a comforting minimalism among the flickering neon signs, high-speed car chases, postfuture haircuts and cyborg assassins. Modern synthwave might be best explained as a set of two bookends, one firmly anchored ’80s-styled warmth and familiarity, and the other still ever expanding into a potentially unsettling—but nonetheless astonishing—future. Now that we’re in the thick of a data-driven takeover with no signs of turning back, where are we supposed to seek comfort? The ’80s were the final years before technology snatched us in its inescapable grip. Temporarily dialing back to a time when technology was a controllable beast, and robots were just a wild prediction, seems like a pretty good answer.



Digital art by Reddit user /u/_D_I_S_T_R_E_S_S_ 20

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Interview with Perturbator by Jeff Trebbel

Synthwave, darksynth, neon metal – no matter what you call it, this retroactive branch of electronic music kicks serious ass, and nobody synthesizes like Perturbator. Under the nom de guerre Perturbator, he’s released a series of groundbreaking EP’s and full lengths since 2012 that have not only shaped the nascent genre (a cyber-organic melding of Krautrock, electronic movie scores, and industrial metal) but helped draw in unlikely fans. What’s the last electronic act that really appealed to metalheads? The Prodigy? Even they never got invited to play underground black metal festivals like Kent has. Having since signed with Blood Music, who released remastered versions of his early catalog titles, his fourth full-length seems poised to explode the Paris-based Kent into the vectored stratosphere. It’s already caused controversy with its cover art, and you can pretty much expect it to top the Bandcamp charts when it releases on May 6. In the meantime, we spoke with the Night Driving Avenger himself about his descent into The Uncanny Valley and why metalheads love him so much.





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The thing that interests me about the synthwave thing is how it’s had really significant crossover with the metal scene. I think it’s mostly a handful of synthwave musicians, including myself, and also Gost and Carpenter Brut. There’s a lot of synthwave musicians out there, but only a couple that really stick out for metalheads. Why do you think your music in particular sticks out to metalheads? It’s hard to say. I, myself, am a metalhead, and I listen to metal on a daily basis. I mean, I mostly only listen to metal, actually. I do electronic music the same way I would compose a metal track, so maybe it’s that appealing factor in my music for metalheads. It’s pretty weird for me, too – every time I do a show I see a bunch of people wearing battle jackets and Slayer T-shirts and stuff like that. It feels so weird to me, because they’re here to see an electronic music show. I have little ideas, but I can’t really say for sure what’s appealing.

Perturbator live in Germany, 2017

If you mostly listen to metal, what drew you to make electronic music? I was a guitarist in some local metal bands, but first off, the thing that drew me to electronic music is the fact that you can make electronic music and you can make something sound complete all by yourself. You don’t need a drummer, you don’t need a bassist, you don’t need other band members with insane egos. I just wanted to make music on my own, really, and I thought that the easiest way would be to do it with synthesizers and drum machines. Now that it’s been five years since I’ve been making electronic music, I would say it was a very weird choice, to be honest. I could’ve done a solo project, just me playing the guitar or something like that. Because electronic music has rules, and those rules are very different from the metal music rules in terms of composition. So it was very tough for me to switch, but it was fun. Now I know how to make electronic music as well as I know how to do guitar in a metal band.



When you initially started making this music, did you just come in saying “I like John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream” and playing around with that as a basis and then throwing your in metal background? Yeah, exactly, that’s what happened. As I said, when I decided to make electronic music I didn’t know jack shit about electronic music. I don’t listen to electronic music a lot. My only reference was the soundtracks from The Thing, Blade Runner, Tangerine Dream, Goblin – the whole retro synthesizer soundtrack thing. That was my only footing. I was using that reference to build my own sound from it. And after that, of course, I discovered more contemporary electronic musicians that I like, so every time I make a track or an album I will add to it some of the stuff or some of the influences that I got throughout that time. What were some of the new influences that went into your new album, Uncanny Valley? After Dangerous Days, I started to listen to a lot of – this is going to sound weird, but I start to listen to a lot of jazz. There’s a track on the album [”Femme Fatale”], I wanted to make a semi-jazz electronic thing. It’s Perturbator trying to be jazz, which is a bit funny, a bit silly, but I think it came out pretty well. I also got way more interested in the 70s, like the Moogsounding soundtracks from weird obscure horror movies – the old Satanic exploitation movies from the 70s, especially Italian movies. Like I said, Goblin, who are masters at that kind of stuff. Out of all the pioneers – the Tangerine Dreams, the John Carpenters – Goblin sound the most occult. I got really into it. I was aware of it before, but I got really into it after Dangerous Days, so it really influenced the way I made this new album. It’s probably the most occult-sounding one I’ve done yet. There are definitely more vintage sounds from the 70s. Do you consider The Uncanny Valley a continuation of Dangerous Days? Every time I make a new album, I try to make it either really, really different, or just better in terms of production, pacing, and sound. Uncanny Valley is basically what I wanted to do when I made Dangerous Days. When I made Dangerous Days, I didn’t have the knowledge and skills yet to do The Uncanny Valley. It’s cool, because it’s the logical step forward for me. It was either that, or I do something completely different, which is what I did, for example, when I released an EP called Sexualizer, which is pretty much all disco music. I wanted to make my fourth album to be an amalgamation, a melting pot of everything Perturbator is. Some tracks are very fast-paced, aggressive – it’s definitely the most aggressive one I’ve made. But there’s also what you would expect from any of my albums – vocal tracks, weird ambient interludes, stuff like that.



“Dangerous Days” 2014

Perturbator’s newest album, “The Uncanny Valley” 2016

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What do you use to make all those great sounds? Mostly software. I get emulators of old vintage synths like the OB-X or the CS-80, which I modulate to my liking. Synths are extremely versatile instruments so then it’s all about taste and preference. I’m a huge fan of those dirty-as-fuck John Carpenter-esque saw pads, so you’ll most likely find more of these in my music for example. This whole thing is the most bizarre case of retro-asmodern. Electronic music has lost a lot of its musicality lately. It’s all drops and bass lines looped for five minutes non-stop. Back in the ‘80s, you had classic themes and iconic melodies. I try to take the best of ‘80s music and the best of what modern electro has. The 80s were the golden age of synths too, with master composers like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream, who are huge inspirations for most of us in this genre. There’s this special imagery that comes up in your mind when you think about this decade. There’s a lot of ‘80s cliché that I find to be extremely cool, like gory practical effects or over-saturated neon colours. It also reminds me of old school anime. I love that shit, Akira, Ghost In The Shell, The Running Man. Also movie soundtracks for the mood, metal music for how powerful it all sounds, video game music too... lots of other stuff. It doesn’t even have to be retro. Again, you can do almost anything you want with synths. I sometimes find the inspiration in riffs from bands like Cult Of Luna or Mr. Bungle, and turn that into my own thing. And cyberpunk. You are totally into that. Sci-fi in general is a bottomless pit of inspiration and imagination, visually and musically. Anyone can make their own interpretation of what the future will look like and come up with some crazy shit and people can relate to those interpretations. You look at a movie like Blade Runner and can’t help but think, “What if this is really how our future will look like ?” And the fact that the world we are living in is already pretty fucked up (I mean, Michael Jackson just released a new album and everyone is like, “Oh cool.”) that it makes it easier to imagine our future to be dark and weird. You don’t even need drugs to be trippin’ anymore, just take a look outside. I’ll sound like a jackass, but sometimes I even find beauty in looking at an ugly building, trying to imagine how it’ll look like in 2088. I hope people have the same imagination when listening to my music.


ISSUE NO. 02 JUNE 2017


BLADERUNNER 2049 Interview with Denis Villeneuve

IN REVIEW The Midnight: Endless Summer Lazerhawk: Dreamrider



Magazine about the synthwave music and the art it inspires.


Magazine about the synthwave music and the art it inspires.