Earlier this year I lamented that there wasn’t really much of a synthwave scene where I live, the north east coast of the United States, at least in terms of live shows with big name acts like Carpenter Brut, Perturbator, and GosT making only occasional touring appearances in Boston. Therefore, when I heard that there was going to be a massive two-day music festival in New Jersey, just a short four hour train ride away from me and featuring acts in the synthwave, chiptune, and electronic music genres, I knew that I had to go and I’m glad that I did because it turned out to be an amazing event.
Human Music, at the QXT Nightclub in Newark, was everything that a music festival should be: it brought together a community, highlighted a variety of acts, and introduced many of those acts to a new audience including myself; I walked away with a number of artists to dig deeper into as well as keep tabs on in the future. It was also a great time for me to finally get to see some of the heavy hitters play live, as this was my first ever exposure to any of the acts in person, and especially to do so in such an intimate venue where I was practically always in the front row made it feel even more special as a result.
Now, considering that this was a two day event, I will be having two posts between today and tomorrow to cover both. So, without further ado, let’s talk about the first half of Human Music:
Before even walking into the building on the first day I bumped into a synthwave producer who, unfortunately, was not on the bill but was there to enjoy the show as well as handing out promotional cards for his latest release. That producer was Greyskull and, though our time talking was short, it reminded me that I really need to highlight his latest release on here because the fact I have not yet done so is criminal. If there is a Human Music 2 next year, which I really hope there is, Greyskull is certainly one of many acts that I would love to see up on stage because he deserves that opportunity.
After making my way inside I was immediately surprised to find that someone was already on stage and playing music, even though I was certain that I was on time and even a little bit early, I was quickly informed that it was none other than Protector 101. Unbeknownst to me, he was added to the bill rather late, and therefore many of the posters and promotional materials that I had seen leading up to the event had omitted his participation.
So, to say it was a real treat to see him perform is an understatement, because he really kicked things off right. The guy has some serious energy, jumping around and really getting into the music, all while wearing a very Chopping Mall-esque mask with attached lasers that cut majestically through the darkness and fog. Also, major props to whomever was in control of the projector, as showing clips from Robocop during his set was a nice touch.
Up next was Boaconstructor who, like many, was a new act to me so I was very much intrigued by his set, especially with what seemed like the major use of a Gameboy Advance in his chiptune arsenal. As I have stated previously on this site, before getting heavily into synthwave I was intrigued by chiptunes, and often feel they go hand in hand in many respects. That said, I’ve been away from the chiptune scene for some time now, by no fault other than my own, and I have to say that Boaconstructor made me take notice again; he’s got a new fan in me.
Following him was The Rain Within, fronted by Andy Deane and backed by an electric drummer that unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of and apologize profusely for such an oversight, but believe me when I tell you that he was amazing.
Speaking of amazing, if wearing a Zombi 3 shirt wasn’t awesome enough (Zombi 4 is actually my favorite movie in that franchise and I would LOVE to hear The Rain Within cover the theme song), Andy Deane is an incredibly talented vocalist with some great range. This was another act that I did not know of before, but you can bet that I will be keeping an eye and ear on them from now on.
We switched back over to chiptunes with Trey Frey, delivering a four GameBoy fueled assault on my senses, and further reignited the chiptune flame within me that Boaconstructor first lit up earlier in the night. Speaking of Boaconstructor, he actually joined Trey Frey on stage at one point, as they made a note to explain that since they live so far apart from one another they don’t often get to share a stage together. It was a magical moment, for many reasons, but just highlighted one of the many reasons why a music festival such as this is important: it brings people in the community together.
Although, sometimes, things don’t work out as you planned which was unfortunately the case for Dead Astronauts. Between technical difficulties while on stage, to a 16-hour travel schedule causing the singer to lose much of his voice, and a recent lineup change it all together left the Dead Astronauts at quite the disadvantage for their set.
Regardless, they gave it their all and still put on quite a show as the crowd was behind them all the way, thus showing off the support that the community has for one another. Still, I can only hope that if there is a Human Music 2, the Dead Astronauts can come back in full force to really show us what they’ve got because they deserve another spot on that stage.
Second to last, and making his live show debut, was Betamaxx.
I have to admit, this one meant a lot to me, because Betamaxx was one of the first synthwave acts I discovered and I’m proud to say I own his long out of print cassette tape release. Now, even though this was his live show debut, you honestly wouldn’t have known it based on said performance. Running like a well oiled machine, Betamaxx brought the goods and then some, showcasing his exceptional talents on a three-tiered synth tower of power. While I consider myself lucky to have been there for his first live show debut, I also hope it will not be his last, because he deserves to be up on any and all stages that’ll have him to showcase his amazing work to many more audiences out there.
Last, but certainly not least, there was Magic Sword. They’re another act that I was really looking forward to seeing mostly due to their whole mystique. As I have mentioned in some prior reviews of other acts, I do enjoy a good gimmick, and I greatly appreciate the vibe that Magic Sword brings to the stage.
Their music reminds me of days gone by, listening to my dad’s prog-rock albums of the 70’s and 80’s, when synths and guitars lived in perfect harmony. I feel like they’re carrying on that tradition, with their otherworldly, space, and fantasy themes, all of which resonates to my core deeply.
With a three piece band consisting of a drummer, a keytar player, and a guitarist (who I unfortunately didn’t get in the above picture) they fight the good fight against the forces of evil with the titular Magic Sword and they slayed it that night. An absolutely fantastic way to end the first day of Human Music.
Tune in tomorrow for coverage on the second, much longer, and final day!