Until recently, it seemed that most music from the 1980s would be forever relegated to the dustbin of history—a musical purgatory where vapid hair metal and Flock of Seagulls haircuts sat disgraced alongside disco and rap-metal. But over the past few years, synth-pop has had a major renaissance, thanks in part to major artists like Kesha and Lady Gaga incorporating synthesizers into their pop sounds, resuscitating a genre that seemingly disappeared with cassettes and the Walkman.
Full-fledged synth-pop acts began to surface in response, and rather than simply including keyboards as part of their sound, bands like Bleachers and Electric Youth, who both play Seattle this week, offer new takes on the genre with debut albums that summon the sound and spirit of Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, and The Human League.
For his one-man band Bleachers, fun.’s Jack Antonoff took inspiration from the decade of his birth. Strange Desire’s soaring choruses and youthful energy draw heavily on synth-pop and New Wave influences, from Modern English to ABC. But rather than fetishizing the genre as a cover band would, Antonoff adds a pinch of modernity to keep the record sounding contemporary. “When I was working in the studio,” he told BuzzFeed earlier this year, “the song would have an ’80s John Hughes movie feel, but we didn’t want it to seem nostalgic and retro. so I’d program the beat on it, or throw in some weird samples, or put sounds through filters that didn’t exist then.”
Toronto duo Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin, aka Electric Youth, whose debut Innerworld was partially produced by synth-pop pioneer Vince Clarke of Erasure and Yaz (who also contributed to Bleachers’ debut), take a similar approach to modern electro-pop. The pair’s music was introduced to audiences via the film Drive, which twice features their track with College, “A Real Hero.” “The thought of recreating the past with music is not interesting to us,” Garrick told Rolling Stone about their sound. “The reality is, we’re much more interested in creating things for the future than things from the past.”
A pair of local acts are exploring synth-pop from a like-minded perspective. The members of both bands were born in the ’80s, but don’t aim to recreate the sounds of their youth so much as use them as inspiration. Hollis Wong-Wear, who sings the hook on Macklemore’s “White Walls” and who fronts The Flavr Blue, said that synth-pop is embedded in her musical DNA, even though she was young during the genre’s heyday. “It’s more of a reflective, nostalgic understanding,” she says. “It’s part of our identity as ’80s babies. We came from hip-hop, we came from the rise of New Wave, we came from the reign of Michael Jackson. These are things that we refer back to once we have a more developed musical consciousness, and that informs our taste moving forward.”
Sam Ford of Goodbye Heart, another local band with a fondness for synthesizers, put it thus: “When I was a very young kid in the ’80s, [synth-pop] was very sensory. I connect to it in the same way that probably Keith Richards would connect to hearing Howlin’ Wolf.” As such, Ford doesn’t spend his time searching Craigslist for vintage Yamaha and Korg synths, but instead focuses on the limitless sonic capabilities of today’s gear. What moved him about synth-pop initially were the sounds that began to take shape in those songs that he had never heard before. This is what most excites him about the genre: possibility.
This is also true for Bleachers, which will tour as a full band, featuring not only several synth-players but also two drummers. “I see the live show like an E Street Band with synths,” Antonoff told Rolling Stone. “Everyone will probably have synths and live drums, and I want it to be a playground of all those things.”
ELECTRIC YOUTH With Midnight Faces, Ever So Android. The Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., 441-4618, thecrocodile.com. $12. 8 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 6.
BLEACHERS With Wild Cub. The Showbox, 1426 First Ave., 628-3151, showboxpresents.com. $22–$25. 8:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 9.