Friday, 27 December 2013

"It's always snowing in Miami"; New Retro Wave.

"Nice to know there's still a little poetry left in the world." ~ Sonny Crockett

Revivals have been as frequent over the last ten years as a wino's relapses. We had hair-brained thrash metal rubbing shoulders with good ol' timey garage rock while the mid 00s London scene gave birth to thousands of Curtis worshiping androids. Girls suddenly decided that daisy dukes were back on the cards for informal Summer-wear, a decision that aroused a rapturous applause from those of us dressed like Kurt Cobain's jocks. We've seen the b-movie come back in a big way with cult hits like Machete, Hobo With a Shotgun and Black Dynamite. The cult of Chuck Norris rose up with no ceiling in sight, but thankfully, died a most ungraceful death before it could rise any further and there are now more teenagers claiming right to the 1990s than there were actual births in the 1990s. If the last ten years have been proof of anything; it's that there is most certainly a vogue cycle and we are spinning that bastard like the wheel of fortune. Unlike the game show, however, we never really won the jackpot with any of our attempts, we just got into a bad habit of flogging dead horses we never even had a saddle on.

Lame as some of those revivals were, it wasn't all sugarless. The movie Drive (2011), with all of its nodding, harking, and speeding, introduced us to something we'd probably never really heard before; real electronic pop, straight from the 80s. Cliff Martinez, the man behind the soundtrack, plucked this dated sound right from its deathbed in 1987 (before Rave and Dance began slobbering everywhere) and brought it right back to life like some kind of neon necromancer. Drive's soundtrack is as popular as Ryan Gosling is, and that's because we were hearing something we'd been deprived of in our time; catchy electronic hooks without an overbearing vocalist robbing the limelight. We could hear and appreciate the music behind it all without some RnB singer's arse jiggling in our faces. The music behind Drive was the perfect marriage of cinematic atmosphere and the sound of a Ferrari rolling along the Sunset Strip. It provided a platform for artists like Kavinsky, College and Desire to spread the good news that, yes, electronic pop in its purest form is alive, kicking and stealing your car. And they weren't and aren't the only ones spreading that message. I'm not even sure if it's right to call it a revival, because for something that's been dug up out of the ground, nothing has sounded as fresh as this "New Retro Wave" does.

I'm not sure where the term New Retro Wave comes from other than it is the title of a Youtube channel that tirelessly promotes artists with an 80s electronic sound, but it's as fitting a title as any for the movement. "Movement? Movement!?", take one look at the New Retro Wave Youtube channel and tell me this isn't a movement. Hundreds of artists are now adopting this sound that Cliff Martinez, Kavinsky and bands like Daft Punk and Crystal Castles have made great use of over their careers and they're making it their very own. It's "new wave", it's retro, but it actually sounds new. Still not following me? That's okay, I'm not following myself the best of times, here's some music to chop up on that dash board:

Tesla Boy - Rebecca

Desire- If I Can't Hold You

Artists like Tesla Boy and Desire hark back to a time when electronic music was a multifaceted beast, where space shuttle atmospheres blended in seamlessly with livening beats, jumping bass lines and melancholy harmonies. There's a complexity there that is balanced out only by blunt, innocent and romantic lyrics. The words are simple and powerful, but the music itself remains intricate even amid the candid lyrics. I'd wager this is pop music at its very best; beautifully dumb and shockingly ambitious. These two groups in particular show how widespread this sound has become over the past few years, Desire are split between the US and Canada, while Tesla Boy hail from Russia. Proof enough that music is the great bonding agent.

Lazerhawk - Dream Machine

Neon Vandal - ShadowDancer

Far more loyal to the old school electronic sound are artists like Lazerhawk and Neon Vandal, who essentially sound like a coke binge in a vintage arcade. About three years ago, when I first heard Lazerhawk, I left a comment on one of their videos declaring; "I love this. I love that this exists. I love you guys". That is what Lazerhawk sound like, pure glee. There's nostalgia there, even for those of us who never grew up with this music, it's in our SEGA Megadrive and in our old VHS tapes. These are two very dangerous artists in that they are taking a risk by employing this uniform sound. If I could sound like a pretentious old fogey for a moment (Moment? Hah!), today's electronic audience demand "the drop" or "dat bass", they want instant gratification in their music. My English lecturer, Malcolm Sen, calls that capitalist, when one enjoys something for a period, only to discard it in favour of the next "drop". There's no such comfort or ease of consumption with Neon Vandal and Lazerhawk, it might sound knuckle-dragging, but they're dragging their knuckles in an entirely different direction.

You can call it what you like, but there's definitely something excellent brewing in the world of 'leccie tronic at the moment. It might sound like the soundtrack to your favorite Arnie film, I might sound like the final encounter with Dr. Eggman in Sonic the Hedgehog, whatever it sounds like; it's either back in a big way or its on its way back. Lets hope we aren't calling it a revival in 2014, because this is too good to call it anything other than "ours". 

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