[Note from JFrater: It is not all too often that we publish lists on music for their own sake. But with my recent return to the site and my own personal love of all things ’80s retro, it was impossible to pass up this awesome list covering one of the most fascinating and fast growing musical genres of today. This is Listverse’s step into the future with a new generation of readers and writers joining us as we embark together on a journey into a brave new world.]
Thanks to pop culture embracing the all-powerful ’80s nostalgia over the past few years, with shows such as Stranger Things or movies like Guardians Of The Galaxy, the unique electronic music genre that is Synthwave (or Retro Wave for nerds) has become quite popular. Some of the most recognized artists in the world, like The Weeknd or Taylor Swift, have been adopting its influences and slowly bringing it to mainstream audiences.
But there are artists who have been keeping Synthwave alive since its creation. Artists that most people might not know about. Brilliant minds who have explored the genre and shaped it into what is today and what it will be tomorrow. Here are the 10 most influential Synthwave artists of all time:
Meet the German Mother of Synthians. NINA made a name for herself after her single “We Are The Wild Ones” made its way into the Syfy TV show Being Human in 2013. She built an impressive track record, leading up to her 2018 debut album “Sleepwalking”, and solidified herself as a powerful vocalist and an undeniably gifted writer.
NINA is without a doubt one of the leading ladies of Synthwave. She is an important figure of the genre, and she has now reached a strong notoriety amongst fans and is thriving on the stage as well, doing live shows all around the world with her band.
Originally a band with only one regular member, creator Col Bennett, FM-84 already had an impressive run over the years. But everything changed after collaborating with singer and songwriter Ollie Wride on their 2016 hit “Running In The Night.” The song (and their next collaborations) formed a long lasting relationship that eventually lead Wride to become an official member of the band.
FM-84 represents everything there is to love about classic ’80s bands. Their 2016 debut album “Atlas” is a dynamic ride that perfectly captures the nostalgic nature of Synthwave that makes you want to get in your car and drive on a road full of palm trees during sunset.
8 Tokyo Rose
[WARNING: The video above may cause epileptic fits in those with photosensitive epilepsy.] Tokyo Rose is an enigmatic producer from Jersey who has been present in the Synthwave world for almost a decade, since the release of his first EP “Chases” in 2014. He established his style early on, an imaginative mix between Cyberpunk and Dark Electro, and he has since become one of the most respected artists in the genre.
He is also known for his work with his best friend ALEX, with who he has released two joint albums. The first one, “Akuma” came out in 2017, and its sequel “Akuma II” came out in 2019. Both we released to great acclaim that eventually lead them to chart on Billboard, making them two of the few artists in the Synth-verse to do so.
One of the most commonly known artists in the genre is none other than Timecop1983. The American producer is sort of an embodiment of what could be considered “traditional” Synthwave. From his very first body of work — which came in the form of his 2014 EP “Daydreaming”, his music became a true model of the genre. The smooth and melodic vibes of his songs bring you right back to the 1980s and make you want to dance the night away.
Timecop has explained over the years that his inspiration comes from cinema, more specifically from the 2011 movie “Drive”, that started it all for him. Since his start, he has collaborated with most of the best artists in the genre, and he shows no signs of stopping. His 9th album is set to be released in 2020.
6 Jessie Frye
Some of the greatest artists in Synthwave did not come from the Synth world. Jessie Frye is one of those artists. Originally a well known Rock girl in Texas, Jessie made a strong entrance in the genre during the summer of 2018. She teamed up with Timecop1983 on the song “Faded Memory”, an instant hit that made her an overnight sensation with fans.
She followed up that success with two singles, “Fantasy” and “Angel”, as well as two collaborations, “We Are The Night” with DJ Ten and “Fractions” with Wayfloe. The success of those projects quickly earned Jessie the status of superstar in the genre. Her vocal style takes roots from many different genres, making her songs incredibly unique and impossible to copy. She recently teased the release of her highly anticipated album “Kiss Me In The Rain”, which will serve as a continuation of this new artistic direction that has made her such a powerful figure.
Starcadian is a producer and a movie director who has been around since 2011. He has had a significant impact on the Synthwave world, especially with the success of his 2012 song “HE^RT”, but in a different way than most artists. His music has since been featured in movies, TV shows and even in commercials for video games such as League Of Legends.
Starcadian’s albums (which he calls “original soundtracks” or “ear movies”) have a cinematic feel that distinguish his sound from most Synthwave artists. His music is so expertly produced that it eventually brought him to work hand in hand with companies like Izotope and Arturia to develop new sounds and synths for other producers to use. He is a true genius, with an impressive legacy forming around him.
4 The Midnight
Any person who has dipped a toe in the world of Synthwave has heard this name before. To make it simple, The Midnight are essentially Synthwave 101 for anyone entering in this era. They became icons of the genre pretty much as soon as their first EP “Days Of Thunder” hit the scene in 2014, and they since have been consistent with their success.
Their 2016 debut album “Endless Summer” is a staple of the genre, and their 2017 follow-up “Nocturnal” became one of the first Synthwave albums to chart on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic chart, reaching #17 upon release.
Their music sounds like what dreams feel like. It will transport you right back to the ’80s and make you feel so nostalgic, you will wish you could be in the next season of Stranger Things. With multiple albums and multiple sold out tours under their belt, The Midnight are without a doubt the current frontmen of the Synthwave universe, more so than any other artist currently active in the genre.
Few artists can be credited for taking the Synthwave genre forward in a more creative way than this mysterious duo from Canada. Wayfloe is one of the newer acts on this list, but it is also by far its most unique.
Their body of work is one like no other. Their 2019 album “Neon West” has received acclaim for its originality and its unique sound that manages to seamlessly blend genres together, in a way that creates a sub-genre that is very much their own. In other words: if you hear a Wayfloe song, you know it’s them.
And while they only have one album on their resumé, it has not taken much time for them to dominate the Synthwave world in 2019, especially with their song “Fractions”, a collaboration with Jessie Frye that topped Iron Skullet’s “Top 40 Synthwave Songs of 2019” list, beating well known artists like The Midnight, FM-84, and even The Weeknd.
On the darker side of things, we have Franck Rivoire, AKA Danger. An older artist in the world of Synthwave some would even consider to be one of the pioneers of the genre. He has been around for well over a decade and is known for his sinister style — a strange mix between electronic and a retro horror movie soundtrack.
Danger is also known for the titles of his songs and EPs, generally comprised of series of numbers that represent important dates and times from his life, such as his hit songs “88:88” and “9:20”, or his first EP “09/14/2007”.
His influence in the Synthwave world is still very present today, and he continues to release some of the most original and out of the box work the genre has ever known.
If there is one artist who has a right to take credit for shaping the Synthwave genre into what it is today, most people would tell you that Kavinsky is that guy. He appeared in 2006 and quickly built an audience with his dark production style compared to other French artists such as Daft Punk and Justice.
Kavinsky became an overnight star when his song “Nightcall” was featured in the Ryan Gosling movie “Drive” in 2011, making him the first artist in the genre to kick down the mainstream doors. The song became a huge hit, followed by the release of his first album “OutRun”, a classic that now serves as one of the biggest inspirations for most producers in the genre.
But, while he now has a true status of legend in the Synthwave world, Kavinsky has not released any music since 2013, and fans are impatiently awaiting a return that will probably never come.