Keep up-to-date on your favourite artists and movies, track gig and release dates, and join in the conversation.
Click here to listen to a brand new episode of Ink & Paint as Daniel discusses the groundbreaking classic 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians'!x
review, The Rise of the Synths, The, Rise, of, the, Synths, film, movie, latest movies, new movie, movie ratings, current movie reviews, latest films, recent movies, current movies, movie critics, new movie reviews, latest movie reviews, latest movies out, the latest movies, review film, latest cinema releases, Australian reviews, cinema, cinema reviews, John Carpenter, Rubén Martínez, Com Truise, David Grellier, Bronwyn Griffin, Austin Garrick, John Bergin, Pauline Putrescine, Ten, Nina, Iván Castell, Documentary, Music




By Jake Watt
28th June 2020

Synthwave, a burgeoning sub-genre of electronic music, is dedicated to the synthesiser. Here the beat, bassline, harmony and chorus are all played on various analogue or emulated synthesisers and drum machines.

Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Drive' (2011) is an important movie in its own right, but its impact on synthwave was enormous. Much was made of the film's signature style, deliberate pace, bold cinematography and Ryan Gosling's performance as the Driver. However, the score may have been its greatest innovation. It caused a sea change in electronic music, from grassroots innovation to the heart of the charts. It introduced synth music to a whole new audience and showcased the ability of the style to invoke menace and wonder, often at the same time.

However, this was only really the beginning. 'Drive' was no smash hit. However, it soon dragged into its pull musicians, writers and young people hungry for nostalgia and adventure. The attention currently being paid to Netflix's 'Stranger Things' and the popularity of the show's soundtrack represents the synthwave genre's biggest mainstream exposure, even as its influence can already be heard all around. In 2020, this weird little sub-genre is in its heyday.


Iván Castell's low-budget, partly crowdfunded documentary 'The Rise of the Synths' charts the genre's humble underground beginnings to its impact on today's pop culture. "You don't know it," mentions one of the multitudes of producers who are interviewed, "but you've probably heard it in advertising or videogames." The film makes a reverse historical sweep of the synthwave genre, ending where the music started with the sober, even ascetic work of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream in the 1980s. The decade came to an end and interest in synth music waned, with youth culture moving on to grunge, indie rock and hip-hop. However, by the mid-noughties there was already a generation of young musicians who had grown up on B-movies and arcade games, and wanted to recapture that sound.

Castell employs a diverse and global set of talking heads, which gives a sense how far the internet has helped this genre travel. The documentary hops around as he speaks to Power Glove from Melbourne (who provided the soundtrack to the retro-futuristic video game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon), Nantes from Paris, Ten from New York and seemingly dozens more of these "synthriders" from London, Spain, Belgium, etc.

Director John Carpenter ('Assault on Precinct 13', 'Halloween' 'Escape from New York'), who "started the whole ridiculous four-note riff that could be really creepy", is employed as the documentary's narrator, recording his observations onto a cassette tape to be taken back in time by a dude with a neck tattoo driving a DeLorean, in a series of interstitial segments.

In 2020, this weird little sub-genre is in its heyday.

Synthwave is a genre of music that's inextricably tied to the soundtracks of movies like 'The Terminator', 'Gremlins', 'Back to the Future', 'Beverly Hills Cop', 'Aliens' and 'Thief'. Particularly revered by modern-day producers are Vangelis for his 'Blade Runner' score and Giorgio Moroder for his work on 'Scarface', 'American Gigolo', 'Cat People' and 'Top Gun', as well as Keith Emerson, Wendy Carlos, Tangerine Dream, Goblin, Jean-Michel Jarre and Kraftwerk.

Why does this music still appeal to people? "It takes the feelings that were projected by things we loved in the '80s and converts that emotional response into music," says UK group Gunship. "The '80s were a less cynical time and film had not crossed that awful, self-aware meta thing that we're witnessing now." Social media and blogging play their parts, with people sharing their fetish for the neon lights and kitsch fonts as well as the music. Current TV series like 'Cobra Kai' and 'American Horror Story' are also cited, along with 'Thor: Ragnarok' and Taylor Swift's 'Style' album. The charm of synth music is innocence - the fact that, at heart, synth music is still the result of nerds fiddling with keyboards in their garage. It has the distinctly idiosyncratic sound of creators who are on the fringes of pop culture looking in.

This musical style isn't for everyone, and it isn't anything new either. As Texan producer John Bergin notes, "It's a reappropriation of past sounds to make a new trend." But if this sounds like something that interests you, Iván Castell's 'The Rise of the Synths' is worth 80 minutes or so of your time.

RUN TIME: 1h 22m
CAST: John Carpenter
Rubén Martínez
Com Truise
David Grellier
Bronwyn Griffin
Austin Garrick
John Bergin
Pauline Putrescine
PRODUCERS: Iván Castell
Javier Moreno
Rebeca Villar Rodríguez
Ana Casteñosa Bielsa
Looking for more Melbourne Documentary Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights. 
About A Boy - All grown up 15 years on
TRENDINGABOUT A BOYAll grown up 15 years on
Pocahontas - 25 years later, the colours of the wind are fading
TRENDINGPOCAHONTAS25 years later, the colours of the wind are fading
xXx: Return Of Xander Cage - The good, the bad and the ugly
TRENDINGxXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGEThe good, the bad and the ugly
The Violin Player - Sex and strings
The Truffle Hunters - Joy and dedication in the dirt of Northern Italy
TRENDINGTHE TRUFFLE HUNTERSJoy and dedication in the dirt of Northern Italy
A Call to Spy - The unknown stories of real-life heroes
TRENDINGA CALL TO SPYThe unknown stories of real-life heroes
Revisiting 'Dark City' 20 years later - The most underrated and influential sci-fi film ever?
TRENDINGREVISITING 'DARK CITY' 20 YEARS LATERThe most underrated and influential sci-fi film ever?
Boss Level - Nostalgic action and quirky foes
TRENDINGBOSS LEVELNostalgic action and quirky foes
Then Came You - Then came the same movie over and over again
TRENDINGTHEN CAME YOUThen came the same movie over and over again
2067 - Muddled sci-fi with an ecological conscience
TRENDING2067Muddled sci-fi with an ecological conscience
River's Edge - The kids aren't alright
TRENDINGRIVER'S EDGEThe kids aren't alright
The Land Before Time - 30th anniversary of a breathtaking animated masterpiece
TRENDINGTHE LAND BEFORE TIME30th anniversary of a breathtaking animated masterpiece
Waterloo - An epic recreation of the legendary battle
TRENDINGWATERLOOAn epic recreation of the legendary battle
Endings, Beginnings - Star-studded sex drama lacks substance
TRENDINGENDINGS, BEGINNINGSStar-studded sex drama lacks substance
The Shepherd - A true story through an unflinching lens
TRENDINGTHE SHEPHERDA true story through an unflinching lens
Jewish International Film Festival 2021 - The reviews
Lion - A raw and powerful journey of identity
TRENDINGLIONA raw and powerful journey of identity
© 2011 - 2021 midnightproductions
All rights reserved

Support SWITCH | Disclaimer | Contact Us!