The Rise of the Synths: Exploring the popularity of Synthwave

John Carpenter (Photo by Robert Marquardt/Getty Images)
John Carpenter (Photo by Robert Marquardt/Getty Images) /

The Rise of the Synths is an upcoming documentary that explores the Synthwave phenomenon, with narration by none other than master of horror John Carpenter.

Once I started listening to Nine Inch Nails, I began a backward rabbit-trail into the acts that had inspired them: Skinny Puppy, Ministry, Front 242, Gary Numan and numerous others. Industrial and Goth became my musical genres of choice, and one of the common threads of both was their generous employment of the synthesizer. The upcoming documentary, The Rise of the Synths will shed light on the modern “Synthwave” movement.

The one and only John Carpenter serves as narrator, which makes perfect sense when you consider the influential scores from his 1980’s output. Along with his genre-bending approach to filmmaking, his musical efforts (often co-composed with synth maestro Alan Howarth) were ahead of their time. The director clearly had an affinity for the synthesizer’s ability to create an otherworldly – even “futuristic” – mood when it came to his cinema of the fantastic.

If you need evidence of Carpenter and Howarth’s influence, look no further than Disasterpeace (It Follows), Rob (Revenge and the remake of Maniac), Sinoia Caves (Beyond the Black Rainbow), Jeff Grace (Cold in July) and Mica Levi (Under the Skin), to name just a few contemporary composers whose efforts veer less toward the orchestral and more toward the ambient…or the bouncing beats of a rainbow-colored rave. (You can go back even further, to the Wendy Carlos-produced soundscape for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.)

Written and directed by Ivan Castell, The Rise of the Synths has another built-in bonus for Synthwave fans: the original soundtrack is composed by UK musician Robin Ogden (also known as OGRE / OGRE Sound). Not to be confused with the Skinny Puppy frontman of the same name, Ogden is renowned for work in film and video games.

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The Rise of the Synths is available for preorder on Blu-ray, DVD and VHS (presumably for that “retro ’80’s” vibe), with an expected early December release.

What is your favorite John Carpenter soundtrack? Are you a Synthwave fan? Who is your favorite Synthwave composer? Let us know in the comments.