Synthwave and cyberpunk are two distinct genres, but they do share some common aesthetic elements that make them a natural pairing in many ways. Here are a few of the shared aesthetics of synthwave and cyberpunk:
- Retrofuturism: Both synthwave and cyberpunk draw inspiration from the past while looking forward to the future. They both embrace a retrofuturistic aesthetic that blends vintage elements with futuristic technology.
- Neon colors: Bright, bold neon colors are a hallmark of both synthwave and cyberpunk. From the neon-lit streets of Blade Runner to the vivid hues of synthwave album covers, these genres both use neon colors to create a striking visual style.
- VHS and cassette tape imagery: Synthwave often features album covers, music videos, and promotional materials that evoke the look and feel of VHS tapes and cassette tapes from the 1980s. Similarly, cyberpunk often features visual references to outdated technology, including analog displays and computer interfaces.
- Dystopian imagery: Both genres often feature imagery that depicts a dark, dystopian future. From the gritty, rain-soaked streets of cyberpunk cities to the post-apocalyptic landscapes of synthwave album covers, these genres both explore the darker side of the future.
- Synthesizers: Perhaps the most obvious shared aesthetic between synthwave and cyberpunk is their heavy use of synthesizers. Both genres rely on the distinctive sounds of analog and digital synthesizers to create their signature soundscapes.
Overall, while synthwave and cyberpunk are distinct genres with their own unique characteristics, they share many common aesthetics that make them a natural fit for each other. Whether you’re a fan of one genre or the other, or both, there’s no denying the powerful visual and sonic impact of these two styles.
There are many examples of the crossover between synthwave and cyberpunk in popular culture. Here are a few prominent examples:
- Blade Runner 2049: This 2017 sequel to the original Blade Runner film features a soundtrack by synthwave artist Hans Zimmer that incorporates elements of the original film’s iconic score by Vangelis. The film’s visual style also draws heavily from cyberpunk aesthetics, with neon-lit cities, futuristic technology, and dystopian imagery.
- Stranger Things: This popular Netflix series is set in the 1980s and features a synth-heavy soundtrack that draws heavily from the sound of classic analog synthesizers like the Roland Juno-106 and the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5. The show’s visual style also includes nods to retrofuturism and cyberpunk, with plenty of neon colors and vintage technology on display.
- Cyberpunk 2077: This highly anticipated video game from CD Projekt Red features a sprawling open world set in a futuristic, dystopian version of California. The game’s soundtrack features contributions from a wide range of artists, including synthwave acts like Daniel Deluxe and Mega Drive, and its visual style incorporates many cyberpunk tropes, including neon-lit streets, advanced technology, and corporate dystopias.
- Kung Fury: This 2015 short film pays homage to 1980s action movies and features a synthwave soundtrack by artist Mitch Murder. The film’s visual style also incorporates plenty of retrofuturistic and cyberpunk elements, including neon lights, VHS distortion, and futuristic technology.
Overall, these examples show how the crossover between synthwave and cyberpunk can be a powerful and compelling combination, blending elements of the past and the future into a unique and captivating style.
Synthwave and cyberpunk are both heavily influenced by the cultural touchstones of the 1980s, a decade that saw rapid technological advancement and significant changes in popular culture. Here are some of the big influences for each:
- Classic analog synthesizers, such as the Roland Jupiter-8 and the Oberheim OB-Xa
- Film and TV soundtracks of the 1980s, particularly those composed by artists like Vangelis (Blade Runner), Harold Faltermeyer (Beverly Hills Cop), and Jan Hammer (Miami Vice)
- Electronic and new wave bands of the 1980s, such as Depeche Mode, New Order, and Gary Numan
- Science fiction and horror films of the 1980s, particularly those that featured a blend of retro and futuristic aesthetics, such as Tron, The Terminator, and The Thing
- The works of science fiction authors such as William Gibson (Neuromancer), Bruce Sterling (Schismatrix), and Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash)
- Japanese cyberpunk anime and manga, such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell
- Films of the 1980s that explored themes of dystopia and technological advancement, such as Blade Runner, RoboCop, and The Running Man
- The punk rock and new wave music scenes of the 1980s, which often featured anti-authoritarian themes and a rejection of mainstream culture.
Overall, both synthwave and cyberpunk draw heavily on the aesthetic and cultural influences of the 1980s, creating a nostalgic but also forward-looking fusion of retro and futuristic elements.