Greed is Good: The Influence of 1980’s Business Culture on Synthwave

At the risk of sounding like a broken record I would like to reiterate that by no means do I consider myself to be an expert in anything nor is it really my place to ever pigeonhole someone into a certain genre or subgenre less they declare themselves as such first and foremost. That said, in the past couple of posts I talked about two such things in regards to subgenres with “spacewave” and “cybersynth” respectfully but now I come to a bit of an impasse due to the fact that, while there is a certain theme of which a few artists have written their music around, there really isn’t a clearly defined name for such a subgenre.

Some call it “officewave,” others “yuppiewave,” whereas I have personally bounced around such terms as “wallstreetwave,” “stockmarketsynth,” or “businesswave.” Again, none of these are wrong per say nor are they entirely right due to there being no real clear consensus just yet or at least one that I can decipher. Then again, as stated before, I’ll always leave it up to the producers themselves to define and label their own music because they know it best.

Nonetheless, much as “spacewave” concerns itself with themes of invoking imagery of space and “cybersynth” is drawn from the cyberpunk genre, this particular subgenre seems to be inspired by a rather specific aspect from the 1980s: namely the crossroads of greed and excess between the rise of wealth and the culture of business. If it’s to be assumed that a lot of synthwave is simply inspired by both media and culture of the 1980s, as well as more modern takes on the decade, then I think that this particular subgenre does as well albeit with a more focused look towards certain examples. To me, at least, said examples of inspiration seem to range from period appropriate film releases such as 1987’s Wall Street to the somewhat modern examples found in 2000’s American Psycho

a2644532227_10These influences, and more, seem clearly evident to me when considering the look, feel, and sounds which certain artists utilize in their work. Perhaps the most recent example of this is The Wild Life by Shadows & Mirrors (released on April 20th, 2018) whose cover features a very Gordon Gekko-esque businessman hunched over their desk in an office with quite the impressive view.

Seriously, the cover art is gorgeously done by Maya and really sells the theme within as the Bandcamp page proclaims the album to be inspired by the events of October 17th, 1987 aka “Black Monday” when the stock market crashed.

Speaking of the music, and a bit more to my point, one of the first singles released from The Wild Life was the track “Video Tapes” which not only includes audio clips from American Psycho but also had an accompanying music video that was edited by Bernie of URY’s The Nightcall and Nokogiri Nami.

I want to be clear that these observations are not to suggest that the album, and the subgenre as a whole, is entirely beholden to their influences as there is plenty of originality to be found within albeit with a tongue firmly planted in cheek at times. After all, one only needs to peruse the track listings on such albums which are awash with business lingo and other similar references.

 

a0605674098_10Perhaps the best example of all this is Michael Weber, a self proclaimed producer of “officewave” music, whose debut full-length album Executive Suites (released on January 17th, 2017) is chock full of them but also full of equally impressive music in their own right with some truly unique and inventive sounds.

“Start Dialing!” is hands down one of my favorites off said album for this very reason as he utilizes the sound of a ringing phone for the beat on the track. You might read that and think such a sound would just be somewhat annoying, but it’s anything but once you actually listen to the song as instead it’s rather catchy as anything.

 

Michael Weber‘s most recent full-length release, Back in Business!, was released on March 21st, 2018 and the track “First Call” features another notable producer within this subgenre by the name of Bart Graft. Their own foray into the business realm of synthwave, to which I’ve seen them use the term “yuppiewave,” took shape in the form of the album Go for Broke! (released on June 18th, 2017) and it is yet another excellent example as, much like the rising and falling of the market, the album manages to take you on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster between the more melancholy songs and those that’ll rock your stocks off complete with a few tracks containing some guitar work.

a1657748667_10Now I hesitate to completely cast a wide net over the music itself or the subgenre as a whole, for there are those little nuances and differences to be found for sure, but at the same time I can’t help but equate the sound at times as being not unlike the kind of cheesy background music one might hear when viewing a corporate training video or promotional material for a new product.

 

a2390750433_10At least those are the vibes I get when listening to the likes of The Real Deal (released October 21st, 2016) by Mitch Murder, especially the track “Digital Marketplace Strategy” which in fact features audio clips from such videos. Mitch Murder has always been known for their more ambient takes, be it leaning towards the science fiction or horror, but The Real Deal in comparison is a much more laid back affair that’s akin to a cool ocean breeze one might experience when relaxing on their yacht off the Miami coast; you’ve left the hustle and bustle of New York behind without a care in the world.

 

a2730740092_10Of course one of the questions that always seems to come up when you talk about any kind of subgenre is who was the catalyst, which is to ask: what release can all other releases under such a theme trace their lineage back to like some kind of family tree to their patriarch? Again, I by no means can claim to be an expert on such and welcome feedback in any form (over on Twitter is your best bet) but through my limited research it would at least appear to me at this time that Robert Parker‘s Money Talks (released June 5th, 2015) seems like it can maybe make that claim to fame.

After all, it’s got all the makings of that which would come in its wake from the business related track names to the up-beat commercial-like grooves contained within the songs themselves. Regardless of if it is in fact the first of its kind or not, at least from a timestamp perspective, it is still an influential achievement.

 

That all having been said, if you’ve yet to buy stock in any of these albums or the subgenre as a whole than I think there’s no better time to buy-in because it’s certainly become one of my favorite rising subgenres within the synthwave scene for awhile now and I can only hope that we’ll get more like it soon enough!