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Synthpop Showcase Press

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Neosynthpop - Coming On Strong?

Is Synthpop coming on strong these days, especially with the college listener? There are indications that this is the case. Due in part to the contemporary nostalgia for all forms of music, and the music of the 80's has certainly not been overlooked. However, it isn't only the spinning of old vinyl that is fueling the resurgence. Rather, there is quite a lot of new music being made now which is building on the classic synthpop aesthetic of the 1980's. But even as the new, or Neo Synthpop movement moves forward, it is expanding the genre in ways that some of its wistful fans find hard to accept.

What is it that these enthusiasts find objectionable? Synthpop is not just the latest genre to be plundered in our current cannibalization of all things past, it is also, historically speaking, probably the most recent genre to get this treatment. Memories of the 80's are still quite fresh, particularly for thirty-somethings. Synthpop in it's current guises is rapidly blurring the old boundaries of the genre, and this obliteration of what defines synthpop is creating controversy within the nostalgic synthpop fan base. Email lists and e-forums are teaming with posts from people who are not keeping up with the new directions. Some of them have gone so far as to incite boycotts against Neosynthpop events. But these fans seem to be having little effect in holding back the flood of new devotees who actually like the innovation.

Who are the bands that are stretching the boundaries? Among the best known contemporary acts you'll find Anything Box with their Hip Hop influenced electrodelic offerings. Veterans synthpoppers Red Flag have recently started moving towards Darkwave. Apoptigma Bezerk, VNV Nation and Iris are producing their own visions of synthpop which border on the frantic energy of rave music. These bands didn't grow up in a synthpop vacuum and they are expressing this by borrowing from other genres.

The strength of this trend was apparent at last autumn's College Music Journal's (CMJ) Musicfest in Manhattan, which featured a Synthpop showcase. Among the bands which played to packed houses for this showcase event, The Spoozys, Secret Secret, Assemblage 23, Cut Rate Box, and the Cruxshadows all demonstrated how they are reinventing the genre by employing techniques from outside genres.

Hailing from Japan, The Spoozys are a space invaded group of Devo inspired astronauts whose surfed out synths bring vocoded messages from the future. The Spoozys are showing us that the B-52s and Devo had only opened the doors and that modern bands are capable of exploring this territory. San Francisco's Secret Secret and Tallahase's Cruxshadows have both decided to travel the Darkwave circuit to synthpop. Combining tenebrous melodic vocals, moody synth lines, and a dark fashion sense they pursue flirtations into more gothic realms. Canada's Assemblage 23 and Louisiana's Cut Rate Box's approach is that of the techno-industrial camp. Occasional strongly effected or distorted vocals, harsher synth-core beats and a constant drive towards a more aggressive sound give them an edge missing in the more classic synthpop sounds of yesterday.

What ties all of these bands together is their willingness to innovate, and to explore how synthpop can grow. They all share aspects with their heros of yore, but they have left selected restrictions aside. The net effect is that this genre is growing faster then it has in years. With events like CMJ's Synthpop Showcase and the upcoming SynthCon convention, not to mention many smaller live events and opportunities to enjoy this Neosynthpop. For those of us willing to embrace these changes there are many delights. Yes, Synthpop is coming on strong.

Emaline Desmond - San Francisco (C) 2001