ELECTROWEEN 2016: Synthwave to the Grave

In Art, Music
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Short on time? Head on over to our brand new ELECTROWEEN Mixes page where we have created an archive for all of our ELECTROWEEN productions. There you will find our latest 2016 mixes to stream and download. We will be adding additional mixes from other projects in the future, so please subscribe to GAIA BROS to receive forthcoming news and announcements. The goal is to have everything in one place, and finally we’re on track to make that happen!

the Backstory of ELECTROWEEN 2016

This whole thing began with my move from San Francisco to Portland near the end of June.

I was very much in need of seeking fresh inspiration and change in a more openly collaborative space (both mentally and physically). Somewhere I could more easily channel my creativity, tap into my ENFJ personality type and take my design career to the next level. While floating in Oakland, my higher self communicated that I would find it in Portland.

I took action based upon that simple intuition. Receiving little resistance to the idea, I convinced my wife on setting sail for the land of Voodoo Donuts, food carts and craft beer. Shortly thereafter, we packed our bags and headed north for our next big adventure.

Portland Oregon Classic Sign
Portland’s iconic white stag sign

Landing in Portland, Oregon

Everyone has seen the show Portlandia and knows that Portland is weird. To confirm, it is weird, but that’s the pure beauty of it. People live authentically here and don’t care about what others think of them. And that’s how I knew it would be a great place for my wife and I to create a quasi-new life for ourselves.

In the midst of all the change, I casually started watching Stranger Things on Netflix without any preconception of its nature. That was around mid July. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.

Stranger Things Official Release Artwork
The official promotional artwork for Stranger Things

This was a pivotal moment in time for nearly EVERYTHING in my life. The second my ears heard the title song, I knew I was already in too deep and could not turn back. Now, the show is regarded as a cultural icon for horror and monster movie fans alike, and a second season is on the way. I couldn’t be more excited, and I’m not just speaking for myself here!

Attack of the Synths

GUNSHIP Album CoverWhat started as curiosity became a lifestyle. The first night, I searched “Stranger Things music” on YouTube which was equivalent to the opening of Pandora’s Box. Soon after, I stumbled upon the New Retro Wave YouTube channel which could be considered a portal into an idealized retro dream. For anyone that loves video games or anything 80s related, it is a must. NRW was a gateway drug that consumed me and would not let go. I was texting and emailing Matt constantly about the synthwave genre and sharing many of the tracks and artists that I was finding on a nightly basis. That was more than three months ago.

It then became immediately clear to me what needed to happen. ELECTROWEEN 2016 would embrace this new genre of retrofuturistic sound and the entire project would make a huge leap backwards… into the golden era of the 80s. Having already dipped my toes into the synthwave pool via GUNSHIP’s self-titled 2015 debut, it was time to dive in head first. At this point there was no holding back. I knew what had to be done.

The Pursuit of Timelessness

The final product that is ELECTROWEEN 2016 is the result of countless hours of listening through hundreds of songs to find the “right” ones for the mixes. It was a process that never once felt exhausting. In the meantime, I was constantly losing sleep over the details… but in the long run, it was worth the cost.

I look back on this time as a moment of awakening to what my higher self already knew. What I was looking for all along was a time machine, and synthwave (in its various forms) fit the part all too perfectly. When you come to love something so much, you realize that very love is transformational and overflows into the world around you. This immediately began to show in my daily routine and within my relationships.

renewed clarity and compassion

As someone who suffers from general anxiety, it makes me proud to say that synthwave has helped me to confront and overcome several personal fears of mine. As a result, I’ve reclaimed my extroverted personality from the void and have a much clearer sense of who I am, what I want to do with my life and how I want to accomplish it.

I can only hope that this newfound clarity shines through these mixes, and that in some small way it warms your soul and makes you feel better about life in 2016. Needless to say it has been a hard year for just about everyone. If ELECTROWEEN triggers the slightest headbob or brings out even the smallest heartfelt smile amidst this catastrophic presidential election year, then I know it will all have been worth it.

In the end, Portland had been expecting me. What I couldn’t have known was I had been expecting myself, and things couldn’t be better. Man oh man, does it feel great to be BACK!!

The 2016 Logo Design and Initial Teasers

The ELECTROWEEN 2016 logo was inspired by my obsession with the Netflix original series Stranger Things. Instead of using the same typeface (ITC Benguiat), I ended up choosing a different typeface entirely. I went with Inbox, an art deco sans-serif inspired by ITC’s Avant Garde typeface from 1970, which really felt genuine to this project. The outlines style and long elegant bars remained as a tip of the hat to the Stranger Things series producers, The Duffer Brothers.

Stranger Things Logo
The Stranger Things logo, created for The Duffer Brothers’ Netflix original series

To announce the release of the mixes, I had the idea to do a teaser presentation similar to the opening sequence of Stranger Things. I produced 6 small zoomed-in thumbnails for both mixes’ cover art designs. For the last three days of September, Matt and I posted two each day (one in the morning, one in the evening) to our social media accounts, followed by the full designs on the first day of October. This created a carefully paced level of mystery and drew from the same visual analogy so masterfully executed by the Duffer Brothers. The separate components coming together organically to form the whole is the process of moving from ambiguity to clarity. It felt relevant and familiar while also unknown and unpredictable. Watch the original animated sequence in the video below.

There aren’t words in the English language that can fully express how awesome the Duffer Brothers are for their ingenuity showcased throughout the first eight episodes of Stranger Things. Thus, mimickery as a form of flattery is the path we chose for showing our immense love for their work, originality and immeasurable impact on the creative community. We urge those of you who haven’t yet watched Stranger Things to stop reading this post right now, fire up Netflix and expose yourself to the masterful combination of stellar casting, a killer synthwave score by S U R V I V E, and high doses of monster-induced paranoia for the next 8 hours.

The Artwork of ELECTROWEEN 2016

For the most part I stuck to the initial visions that I had in my head for the artwork. I was primarily looking at the neon soaked portfolio of master designer James White (aka Signalnoise) for inspiration. White was hired to be the visual design talent behind the album cover of the massive synthwave act GUNSHIP (shown earlier in this post). The design left a huge impression on me the first time I saw it. Each time I take a glimpse at it, I can’t help but feel as though I am gazing at a futuristic masterpiece. For that very reason, I have a huge poster of it hanging in my home office.

When I first began listening to New Retro Wave tracks on YouTube this past July, one of the first things I noticed was how the visuals are on the same frequency as the music. It reminded me of Daft Punk’s philosophy on music: images and sounds are one and the same. Thus, when I started my design process I knew going in to it that it was crucial for me to get the presentation just right. The three mix covers for ELECTROWEEN 2016 took many hours and multiple days to complete, but I was constantly engaged and excited by what was unraveling that it didn’t matter in the least!

While creating the artwork for 2016, I was consistently in awe of the degree of polish and attention to detail there is in great tracks like Electric Youth’s “Get Along” or Com Truise’s “Glawio.” These artists deeply inspired me to keep refining the designs until they were just right. I think that’s what excites me the most about synthwave — there is this inherit standard for a high level of production quality, which the current generation of consumers seems to dismiss — or even fully reject — on a daily basis.

As someone who strongly believes in the mentality of quality over quantity, it is no suprise to find myself standing in the middle of the synthwave scene. I realize this was inevitable, and can’t say that I mind much!

“Days of Synthwave” Mix Liner Notes

ELECTROWEEN 2016 - Days of Synthwave Mix Artwork

From Scott: For my 2016 mix, I wanted to produce something that sounded like a video game without using any video game samples. Using clips from Kung Fury, TMNT 1 (1990) and Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory made that possible. It also streamlined the creative process to be extremely fun and engaging from start to finish.

The mix purposely follows the path of the hero’s journey, originally identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell. There is conflict and resolution, and everything in between. Matt and I try to incorporate elements of the journey into most of our projects as it makes them feel more accessible and familiar. We took a course on this topic in undergrad which significantly impacted our views and understanding of the world and its cultures. Just as Kung Fury and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are called to overcome the challenges in their paths, we must all do the same throughout life. Our heroes are a direct reflection of ourselves, and we aspire to be them time and time again.

At this time I don’t want to comment on much else. I think the music speaks for itself. It is my hope that Days of Synthwave will provide you with a different perspective on what it means to have grown up or have been born in the creatively explosive era of the 80s. I can think of no better time to have been a kid, and hope to rekindle these feelings for years to come.

Lastly, I dedicate my Days of Synthwave mix in memory of Gene Wilder, who sadly passed away this past summer. His performance in Willy Wonka was not only ingenious and timeless, but spontaneously frightening and utterly hilarious. He was entirely his own genre. RIP Gene. This one’s for you Mr. Wonka!

“The Upside Down” Mix Liner Notes

ELECTROWEEN 2016 - The Upside Down Mix Artwork

From Matt: This was a rare and challenging mix since I started with little to no knowledge of the synthwave and darkwave genres. I had experienced the music in the Movie, Drive, which you should all watch, and GUNSHIP, the group mentioned by Scott earlier in this article. I had also fallen for the game Hotline Miami which I feature in this mix. Besides passing fancy, a movie score, and one excellent album shared from Scott, this was a whole new world.

Scott and I both came across Stranger Things on Netflix and were heavily influenced by its excellence. There is nothing currently quite like it. The show was the embodiment of synthwave in episodic format. Taking pieces of the past without overtly copying or winking too hard. It tells a great story with elements or horror, wonder, and camaraderie. My mix, The Upside Down, borrows heavily from what Stranger Things did so well: making the old new again.

Over the course of this production it was difficult to stay away from making it complicated. I wanted to put in more tracks, lengthen songs and produce something akin to previous mixes. However, I decided to stick with my theme and make the old new again. Keep the intensity and darkness of The Upside Down intact. In past mixes, I strove for hard-hitting intensity that featured a central narrative with quick song transitions to keep an audience engaged. With electro, house and dubstep the songs naturally keep the audience satiated with buildups and drops galore. However, over the weeks and days leading up to the final release, I felt synthwave and darkwave operated on different principles. These principles were not worse or better, just different. This made my mix more exciting and challenging than ever. I had to come out of the box with how I handled my theme. With the magic of Ableton, countless hours of hard work, and a patient ear I whittled down my song selection into what I feel is an exhilarating 36 minute long mix that stays true to my intentions and inspirations.

Speaking of my inspirations, I would like to thank all the creative forces behind synthwave and darkwave. If it were not for this new genre and creative minds around the world I would never have discovered this beautiful and eclectic music. I want to thank Scott for being an amazing friend, co-producer and designer savant. And finally, as Scott did, I want to dedicate this mix to Gene Wilder. You enriched my childhood with your portrayal of Willy Wonka and stood as a beacon of creativity for many.

Synthwave Down – The 2+ Hour Megamix

Here’s a look at the cover art for our single massive continuous megamix Synthwave Down. It’s the ultimate Halloween party compilation for any gathering. Perfect for board game nights and long chillout sessions at night. You can listen to and download all of our productions on the new ELECTROWEEN mixes page.

ELECTROWEEN 2016 - Synthwave Down Megamix Artwork

Have a Turbo-Charged Halloween!

Whatever you’re up to this season, we hope that you do it with style and authenticity. Support your local arcades, visit a haunted house with friends, carve pumpkins and roast the seeds, play the newly released Betrayal expansion Widow’s Walk, or try something different. Life is short, and the world needs your creativity, voice and passion now more than ever. Don’t be afraid to show it, share it and live it!

Two Pumpkins

Thanks for listening and being here with us to celebrate the season at hand. Happy Halloween from GAIA BROS!


SW (VII) and MK (Loveless)