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rise of the synths

premiere at the Rio cinema in London, uk

In HBO's Mad Men, our cynical ad man Don Draper says, “Nostalgia is delicate, but potent… It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone… It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” 

This is what director and writer Iván Castell captures in his epic world-traversing journey into the origins and influences of synthwave: 'Rise of the Synths'. He hits all the right notes in terms of why and how the music and iconic imagery appeals - even to those who weren't born in the 70s or 80s.

Yes, there are missing artists if you're a completist, but make no mistake, the movie gives a rare voice (and sometimes face) to a great many legends, heroes and newer protagonists of the scene, with notable standouts from Electric Youth and 80s Stallone.

Synthwave is, clearly, more than 'just' a phenomena of nostalgia; video games, long days and California sun-rays. But at its heart is rooted inspiration drawn from decades where analogue was king. Landlines, cassette tapes, a handful of channels and Saturday morning cartoons and - invariably - the freedom and promise of childhood and adolescence.

Now in my 40s, I have adult responsibilities - but synthwave takes me back to a time of hope, where the future wasn't yet spelled out and I could fantasise about what being an adult "was" whilst revelling in my safe world of Sega, The Real Ghostbusters, and watching American wrestling on my nan's TV.

'Rise of the Synths' definitely riffs on all of these sentimental touch points as we follow our 'Synth Rider' through time (which for the most part works as a mechanism for moving us to different talking heads and topics), and "synthwave forefather" John Carpenter narrates our path from some glimpsed dystopian future.

For me - and I'm certain many - it is a triumph of a film, and a must-own for any member of the 'synthfam'.
rob dyson


I want to start by saying that ivan castello, ana castanosa, rebeca villar and damien jackson have created a mesmerising documentary that speaks different volumes to different people whether they be a musician or a simple appreciator of the genre itself. i thoroughly enjoyed the vast array of people and insights given by them from those at the darker end of the spectrum such as 'dance with the dead' to the popwave princess 'nina'. and it made me realise this scene is so much bigger than it is often portrayed.


rather than describe the ins and outs of the film, I'd like to tell you about the message i drew from it. As someone who spends most of his spare time listening to all that the synthwave scene has to offer, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what synthwave was, who was out there and what it all meant. i can honestly say...i was wrong.

'iron skullet' wrote an article recently about 'gatekeeping' which describes us at foreversynth down to a tee. and part of this is down to our own view of what sounds right, and what sounds wrong. and it's people like us that go against what the artists featured in the film were trying to encourage. do whatever makes you happy, we're not here on this earth to answer to everyone all the time. If it sounds good...bloody release it!

it was made clear by 'the valerie collective' et al, in the early years of the scene that none of them were aware of it and what 'it' was. they were simply making music and sounds that pleased them. and i think they were speaking to the musicians in the audience when they implored the scene to carry on with this mantra.

i'd highly recommend seeing this documentary whether you experienced the 80's or not. those that were will get their nostalgia fix, and those that weren't will get a solid all-in-one reminder of the fact that they missed out on the best time ever! as for me, it's high time i opened up this mind of mine and appreciated what comes my way. time to stop telling people 'this isn't synthwave' and just accept what pleases me for what it really is. we're part of a wonderful and gracious scene. ah who am i kidding? i have my preferences and I'm damn well sticking to them! joe ward

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