Back to the Future: Music of Today That Sounds Like the 1980s
Ok. We’re agreed on the underlying fact that everything goes round in cycles, yeah yeah? Be it fashion, hairstyles, trends, Indy cars (although technically, more oval-ish) or indeed, washing machines. But for the purposes of this article we’re waxing lyrical about the subject of popular music. And let’s face it, some music is so good it deserves to come around (as Cyndi Lauper would doubtless concur), time after time. We’ll make no apologies for that predictable pun by the way, as there’s far more from where that came from.
The sort of soundscapes that were once on a permanent tape loop on our Walkmans – yet long since confined to cardboard boxes in our parent’s loft spaces – have made timely reappearances of late; but not exactly as we know/remember them. Despite the nagging voices in our heads suggesting that these are the soundtracks to our youth, the voices are sadly wrong.
Yes, they are familiar, but no; they’re not blasts from the 1980s past. To be precise, these melodic interludes are from a new breed of lovers of the decade of excess and synthesiser glory.
Kids who themselves more than likely grew up listening to their parent’s record collection and were somehow, possibly subconsciously drawn in by the powerful, hypnotic beats that almost certainly DIDN’T hint at anything (over) produced by Messrs Stock Aitken and Waterman, circa the same era.
Of course, some people will blame the parents, the system, society and/or the boogie. Or if we’re referring to B*Witched; the weatherman. Yet we personally blame (if blame is the correct word) Jean-Michel Jarre and his keyboard, and maybe even Depeche Mode and OMD a little, albeit reluctantly.
They were the obvious soundtracks today’s current batch of songwriters (or more pertinently, synthesiser knob-twiddlers) are obviously taking on board, be it consciously or subconsciously. And if they haven’t been rifling through their parent’s back catalogue, then you can bet your life that they’ve been trawling through YouTube videos of old episodes of Top of the Pops or The Old Grey Whistle Test at one point.
Either way we have observed undeniable 80s influences of late, ones that there’s no escaping from in recent music releases. And nor should there be an emergency exit.
Not when they represent music to our ears. With this in mind we thought it high time we shared our findings with you below. Synth-pop and new-wave is the broad label the following fly under, so maybe take a listen and see what you think.
The best bit is, 1980s asked for their synthesisers back, but thankfully this far-sighted new bunch of electropop agents et provocateurs stood their ground.
Metric: The Electro-pop Band, NOT a Recognised Measurement
Close your eyes and imagine pretty much ANY John Hughes flick from the 1980s, inevitably starring ‘Brat-packers’ such as Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Andy McCarthy and Ally Sheedy.
Blondie? Is that you?
Formed almost a decade after the 80s drew to a close in Canada (although the decade also ended elsewhere, globally), yet there’s no mistaking swirling keyboard ambiences which resonate with the in-crowd from the decade which concerns us the most.
Could they pose any more eighties-style??
What’s more, there’s definite elements of Debbie Harry in her Blondie heyday (sexy, breathless vocals courtesy of lead singer, Emily Haines) to be heard too. Which make the whole experience nothing short of epic.
Chvrches: Not a Hint of Enigma-esque Monastic Chanting
The Scottish synth-pop band have been doing their stuff for a few years now, blending indie pop with electronica and dance. However there’s more than the occasional nod to a more 80s synth sound on most of their headline tracks from the debut album onwards.
As far as their game of hide n seek went, there were no clear winners
It’s not just in the sound where Chvrches (yes, don’t forget that ‘V’ usurps the traditional ‘U’, while the ‘E’ tends to look a bit more graphic-y) project their love for both the 80s and 90s, as lead vocalist, Lauren Mayberry regularly applies her heavy eye make-up not altogether dissimilar to how Michael Stipe did in 1990s REM performances.
You’re absolutely right. They might be giants
Plus Mayberry does little to hide her idolising of another blast from the 90s past, in the equally edgy and non-suffering-of-fools-gladly persona of Garbage’s Shirley Manson. So, yeah. Chvrches borrow discernibly from a few decades before their birth on a few scores.
Daft Punk: As Far-removed from the Sex Pistols as It’s Musically Possible to Be
Robotic sounds, clever collaborations and electronic music that makes you sit up and take note whatever you’re doing, Daft Punk are routinely name-checked as being uppermost in the minds of the current generation of synth-pop pioneers when they embark on their respective careers.
Men in Black (2050)
Essentially providing a keyboard bridge of sorts between pure 80s electronica and the new, new-wave making, er, waves in the genre today, the French duo are arguably the biggest thing to come out of our continental nearest-neighbours since Le Chunnel.
They clearly hadn’t received the memo about being incognito
So in demand still, Daft Punk are more often than not THE people other, less-known music types go to if they’re in need of a serious hit record. Or be seen to be uber cool in the eyes of the youth. But irrespective of Daft Punk’s status, their sound remains fundamentally 80s in contextual surround.
La Roux: No Relation To Danny
Ignore the peculiar hairstyle and stropy attitude, and instead focus on their music (especially their debut LP), and like Daft Punk, one of the first elements you’ll note is how La Roux also sound very French. Only they hail from Brixton, London; while the lead singer’s mum used to be a regular on ITV’s cop drama, ‘The Bill’ years ago.
The Tron-themed toilet was a slow burner
Via the use of many elaborate layers of heavy 80s-inspired tech and laced with more synth-itivity than Neil Lowe’s actual keyboard, the sound that La Roux create wouldn’t be out of place on an arcade game soundtrack. Or Tron, the original movie, at a push.
The coolest person waiting at this bus stop, for sure
Speaking of the visual, even their music videos are positively dripping with retro 80s vibes, and lift any from that first album and it would be like immersing yourself in recent Hollywood blockbuster, ‘Ready Player One’. Well, almost. I think you get our drift here…
The Chromatics: Not to be Confused with Steely Dan
Neon aesthetics, lots of haunting, echo-y vocals and plenty of keyboard action doesn’t necessarily make an 80s aural experience. But it does however, when it’s done to perfection like The Chromatics make a recurrent habit of doing.
Well, somebody would have to pay for the next round at the bar…
Dreamy stuff from the top drawer of 80s sound-alikes, yet NEVER flirting with a karaoke version of original events, this Oregon-founded 4-piece deliver the melodies and oft-winsome harmonies that scream everyone’s favourite decade in music. Yet perversely, never really THAT obviously.
Apple’s latest eye pod might struggle to catch on
The Chromatics public image/potential audience was propelled into the stratosphere with the release of the 2011 movie, ‘Drive’; which as well as being a power-play of a flick, was also critically acclaimed in light of its resolutely new-wave 80s-tinged OST.
Kavinsky: Started Out as a Human, Then Turned into a Zombie. VERY ‘Thriller’
Like The Chromatics above, Kavinsky’s stock rose considerably in the direct aftermath of one of the perpetuator’s tunes appearing on the ‘Drive’ movie soundtrack. ‘Nightcall’ lends much from 80s electro-pop origins and to our mind the intro reminds us of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, with reference to SFX.
Alonso’s new post-F1 career had taken everyone by surprise
Just like the aforementioned Daft Punk and (not) La Roux, Kavinsky is French. But after that, things start to get a bit weird. Notably when we learn that Kavinsky is a character, rather than a real person (think Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz-ish).
Ryan Gosling’s Dad stands in for son on Drive movie photoshoot
Vincent Belorgey is the musician, producer and DJ behind Kavinsky, who – for the record, record – is an electro-synth-obsessed zombie who was reanimated in the wake of crashing his Ferrari Testarossa in 1986. See. We told you it was freaky.
Future Islands: Nothing to Do with Ridley Scott
With a name like that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a futuristic, Blade Runner-esque city in the clouds (possibly with a beach), yet you couldn’t be any further from the truth. Or indeed a beach or galaxy-fringing cityscape. And as you can see in the above video, it’s got way more to do with horses and cowboys. Possibly.
“Oh jeez, not another Jools Holland’s hootenanny!”
On the contrary though, THIS Future Islands owes more to an American chat show, where the retro techno-pop ensemble appeared back in 2014. After which they meteorically rose from relative obscurity to the mainstream, both in the US and further afield.
There’s mood lighting and then there’s MOOD lighting…
And the track you can hear playing in the background (providing you’ve hit the ‘play’ button on the accompanying video) is the one which Future Islands performed on David Letterman’s show, entitled ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’. Cue synthesized, dreamy, post-punk mixed with pumping disco beats, culminating in something of a triumphant electro-pop anthem.
Robyn: Swedish for Lisa Stansfield. OK. Not Exactly, Yet Still VERY 80s
Being nobody’s sidekick, this Robyn has made massive strides on her own two feet, thanks to wickedly addictive and Duracell Bunny-energised tracks such as ‘Dancing on My Own, Call your Girlfriend’ and ‘With Every Heartbeat’.
“Don’t think GaGa’s got the monopoly on weird shiz…”
All of these examples of Robyn’s ‘sound’ are super-infused with a thumping 80s vibe-ology. While Robyn musically expresses herself in a way similar to how Lisa Stansfield would, if she’d sold her soul to the later, early 1990s rave scene.
I’m with Yazz. The only way is up
Speaking of making some serious shapes, ‘Call your Girlfriend’ sees Robyn dancing like whatsherface* from Irene Cara’s ‘Flashdance’ video. Which is always welcome in these parts.
Electric Youth: Shockingly Good 80s Music Vibes Enclosed Within
A long way from Musical Youth (although sharing a few 80s-derived similarities nonetheless), Electric Youth owes more to another 80s stalwart who knew a thing or three about ‘Electric Youth’; namely Tiffany’s nemesis, Debbie Gibson. But in name only, when all is said and done.
Dear Millennials, the image below is of a cassette tape. Ask your parents if in doubt
This particular Electric Youth takes the guise of a Canadian synth-pop duo from Toronto, whose biggest claim to fame is (and following in the fine tradition of Kavinsky and The Chromatics above) is being included prominently on the ‘Drive’ film score.
Dear Millennials, the image below is of a TV set, etc, etc
That being said, Electric Youth are about MUCH more than just that one track (albeit an absolute belter), and have forged a very 80s-sounding, er, sound whether by design or accident. Although we’re assuming it’s intentional. We mean, why else?
M83: A More Expansive Electro-pop Sound You’re Not Likely to Hear
Less a motorway, more a band, the M83 we speak of in this instance is the French electronic music ‘project’ currently based in Los Angeles (according to their Wiki page).
As if the Rubik’s Cube wasn’t difficult enough on the table…
The duo hail from Antibes in France which, incidentally (and maintaining this automotive feel) was a lesser known sub-brand of the Vauxhall Nova in the late 1980s. So there you go.
Nope. We can’t fathom this txt spk at all
What is it with the French and their love for all things 80s though?! That aside, M83 create stratospheric soundscapes up there with Jean-Michel Jarre, bordering on electro opera with lashing of cinematic scope. And we’re pretty sure ‘outro’ appears on a recent TV ad….
Lazerhawk: Started Out on MySpace, Didn’t You Know..
Even the name conjures up visions of some Streetfighter-esque arcade gaming machine character, complete with violent blue hair and an unhealthy obsession with Chinese throwing stars.
Nice set of wheels Mr Lzrhwk…
But that’s missing the point altogether, as fundamentally Mr Lazerhawk is the founding member of a record label AND regarded as amongst the most celebrated synthwave producers of recent times.
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A product of the MySpace generation, Lazerhawk’s style is described as ‘outrun electro which is robot pop mixed with dark synths and the occasional lyric’.
Or as anyone who’s ever heard any of his tracks might otherwise refer to it as; a reminiscence of everything that was good in the 80s. So we’re naturally talking about synthesizer jams with gargantuan leads, hard toms and spaced-out melodies.
What do you think of the list above? Will you be giving any of these artists a listen? Let us know in the comments section below!