History of Synthpop
In this article, we will explore the history of synthpop, from its technological origins to its cultural impact.
Synthpop is a genre of electronic and pop music that first became prominent in the late 1970s and features the synthesizer as the dominant musical instrument. It was prefigured in the 1960s and early 1970s by the use of synthesizers in progressive rock, electronic, art rock, disco, and particularly the Krautrock of bands like Kraftwerk. Emerging as a distinct genre in Japan and the UK during the post-punk era, synthpop became a significant part of the new wave movement from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s.
The Dawn of Synthpop
The invention of the synthesizer was the most important technological advancement that led to the creation of synthpop. The first synthesizers were developed in the early 1950s, but they were large, expensive, and difficult to use. In the 1960s, synthesizers became more affordable and portable, and they began to be used by musicians to create new and innovative sounds.
One of the most important early synthesizers was the Moog Minimoog. The Minimoog was released in 1970, and it was one of the first mass-produced synthesizers. It was also one of the first synthesizers to be used by popular musicians. Kraftwerk was one of the first bands to use the Minimoog, and they used it to create their signature electronic sound. Other early synthpop bands that used the Minimoog include Devo, Gary Numan, and OMD.
Another important early synthesizer was the ARP Odyssey. The Odyssey was released in 1972, and it was known for its warm and organic sound. It was used by a wide variety of musicians, including synthpop bands like The Human League, Ultravox, and Depeche Mode.
Early synthesizers were also used to create new and innovative drum sounds. The Roland TR-808 drum machine was released in 1980, and it quickly became the standard drum machine for synthpop bands. The TR-808 was used by bands like The Human League, OMD, and Depeche Mode to create their signature electronic beats.
Early synthesizers and drum machines were used by musicians to create a wide range of new and innovative sounds. These sounds were central to the development of synthpop in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Precipitation of Synthpop due to Cultural and Musical Shifts of the 1970s
The cultural and musical shifts in the 1970s also made the ground fertile for synthpop's emergence. The 1970s was a decade of experimentation and innovation in music. Many musicians were looking for new ways to express themselves, and they were drawn to the unique sound of the synthesizer.
Some of the most important cultural and musical shifts that led to the emergence of synthpop include:
- The rise of punk rock: Punk rock was a rebellious and experimental genre of music that emerged in the early 1970s. Punk rockers rejected traditional music values and experimented with new sounds and styles. This spirit of experimentation helped to pave the way for synthpop.
- The development of new music technologies: In the 1970s, a number of new music technologies were developed, including the synthesizer, the drum machine, and the sequencer. These technologies allowed musicians to create new and innovative sounds that were not possible with traditional instruments.
- The growing popularity of electronic music: Electronic music was becoming increasingly popular in the 1970s. Bands like Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra were using synthesizers to create new and futuristic sounds. The popularity of electronic music helped to create a demand for synthpop.
Synthpop in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is widely regarded as the birthplace of synthpop. In the mid-1970s, a new generation of British musicians began to experiment with synthesizers and electronic instruments. They were inspired by the German band Kraftwerk, whose pioneering work in electronic music had a profound impact on the British music scene.
One of the earliest synthpop bands in the UK was Ultravox, formed in 1974 by John Foxx and Billy Currie. Ultravox's early sound was heavily influenced by Kraftwerk, but they quickly developed their own unique style, which incorporated elements of art rock and glam rock.
Another early synthpop band was The Human League, formed in 1977. The Human League's early sound was more experimental than Ultravox's, but they eventually moved towards a more pop-oriented sound in the early 1980s.
Other notable synthpop bands from the UK include OMD, Depeche Mode, New Order, The Cure, and Duran Duran. These bands all achieved mainstream success in the 1980s, and while not wholly synthpop, their music helped to define the synthpop sound.
History of Synthpop in the United States
Synthpop first emerged in the United States in the late 1970s, as a subgenre of new wave music. It drew inspiration from pioneering German bands like Kraftwerk and the Japanese band, Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO). American synthpop artists were also inspired by the DIY ethos of punk rock, and they often used synthesizers and other electronic instruments to create new and innovative sounds.
One of the earliest and most influential American synthpop bands was Devo. Devo formed in Ohio in 1972, and they quickly developed a unique sound that combined elements of new wave, punk rock, and electronic music. Devo's music was often satirical and humorous, and they were known for their distinctive visual style, which incorporated elements of science fiction and technology.
Another important early American synthpop band was The Cars. The Cars formed in Boston in 1976, and their music was more pop-oriented than Devo's. However, The Cars were still one of the first American bands to embrace the use of synthesizers, and their music helped to popularize synthpop in the United States.
Synthpop began to decline in popularity in the mid-1980s, as other genres of music, such as grunge and hip hop, began to emerge. However, synthpop has continued to have a cult following, and it has also influenced other genres of music, such as dance music and electronica.
History of synthpop in Russia
Synthpop emerged in Russia in the late 1970s. However, the development of synthpop in Russia was hindered by the Soviet government's strict censorship of music.
Soviet Government Music Censoreship
The Soviet government censored music for a number of reasons, including:
- To maintain control over the population: The Soviet government was a totalitarian regime, and it used censorship to control the flow of information and ideas. Music was seen as a powerful tool for communication, and the government wanted to ensure that only music that was in line with its ideology was released to the public.
- To promote socialist realism: Socialist realism was the official artistic doctrine of the Soviet Union. It was a style of art that was supposed to depict the lives of ordinary people in a positive light. The Soviet government censored music that did not conform to the principles of socialist realism.
- To suppress dissent: The Soviet government was very afraid of dissent, and it used censorship to suppress any music that was critical of the government or its policies.
The censorship of music in the Soviet Union was very strict. All music had to be approved by the state before it could be released. The government also controlled radio and television stations, and it only allowed music to be played that had been approved by the state.
Despite the censorship, there was a thriving underground music scene in the Soviet Union. Many musicians released their music unofficially, and they often performed at secret concerts. The underground music scene was a way for musicians to express themselves freely and to challenge the government's ideology.
The censorship of music in the Soviet Union began to relax in the late 1980s, during the period of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). This led to a flourishing of new music genres in the Soviet Union, including synthpop.
Russian Synthpop Bands
Despite the challenges, a number of Russian synthpop bands emerged in the early 1980s. One of the earliest and most influential Russian synthpop bands was Forum. Forum was formed in 1983, and they quickly became one of the most popular bands in the Soviet Union. Forum's music was a unique blend of synthpop, rock, and traditional Russian music.
Other notable Russian synthpop bands from the early 1980s include:
- Nautilus Pompilius
These bands all achieved mainstream success in the Soviet Union, and their music helped to popularize synthpop in the country.
Post Soviet Union Synthpop Bands
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian synthpop scene flourished. New bands emerged, and existing bands began to experiment with new sounds. Some of the most popular Russian synthpop bands from the 1990s and 2000s include:
These bands all achieved international success, and their music helped to define the Russian synthpop sound of the era.
Synthpop in Japan
Japan was another major center of synthpop activity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Japanese synthpop scene was known for its innovative and eclectic sound, which incorporated elements of traditional Japanese music, Western pop music, and electronic music.
One of the most influential Japanese synthpop bands was Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO). YMO was formed in 1978 by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono, and Yukihiro Takahashi. YMO's music was a unique blend of electronic music, rock music, and Japanese traditional music. They were one of the first Japanese bands to achieve international success, and their music had a major impact on the development of synthpop around the world.
Other notable Japanese synthpop bands include P-Model, Hikashu, and Denki Groove. These bands all developed their own unique sounds, but they were all united by their shared love of electronic music and experimentation.
Synthpop in Italy
Synthpop emerged in Italy in the late 1970s. Italian synthpop bands often incorporated elements of traditional Italian music into their sound, creating a unique and innovative sound.
One of the most popular Italian synthpop bands of the early 1980s was Baltimora. Baltimora is best known for their hit single "Tarzan Boy," which was released in 1985 and reached number one in several countries around the world.
Another popular Italian synthpop band of the era was Matia Bazar. Matia Bazar was known for their experimental and eclectic sound, which incorporated elements of pop, rock, and electronic music.
Other notable Italian synthpop bands include Righeira, Gazebo, and Den Harrow.
Synthpop in Spain
Synthpop also emerged in Spain in the late 1970s. Spanish synthpop bands often incorporated elements of traditional Spanish music into their sound, creating a unique and innovative sound.
One of the most popular Spanish synthpop bands of the early 1980s was Mecano. Mecano was known for their catchy melodies and their innovative use of synthesizers.
Another popular Spanish synthpop band of the era was Alaska y Dinarama. Alaska y Dinarama was known for their flamboyant and provocative image, as well as their catchy synthpop songs.
Other notable Spanish synthpop bands include Tino Casal, Kaka de Luxe, and Olé Olé.
Synthpop in Australia
Australia synthpop also popped up in the late 1970s.
One of the most popular Australian synthpop bands of the early 1980s was Men at Work. Men at Work were known for their catchy melodies and their humorous songs, which often satirized Australian culture.
Another popular Australian synthpop band of the era was INXS. INXS were known for their energetic live performances and their eclectic mix of musical styles, which included synthpop, rock, and pop.
Other notable Australian synthpop bands include Divinyls, Pseudo Echo, and Models.
The late 2000s and early 2010s witnessed a synthpop revival, marked by a renewed interest in the genre. This revival was fueled by a number of factors, including the rise of digital music and the increasing availability of vintage synthesizers.
Some of the most influential bands of the synthpop revival include:
- The Killers: The Killers were one of the first bands to achieve mainstream success with their synthpop-inspired sound. Their debut album, Hot Fuss, was released in 2004 and featured the hit singles "Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me."
- Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand is another band that helped to popularize the synthpop revival. Their self-titled debut album was released in 2004 and featured the hit singles "Take Me Out" and "The Dark of the Matinée."
- LCD Soundsystem: LCD Soundsystem is a band that blends elements of synthpop, dance music, and rock music. Their self-titled debut album was released in 2005 and featured the hit singles "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" and "Losing My Edge."
- Lady Gaga: Lady Gaga is a pop singer who has often incorporated elements of synthpop into her music. Her debut album, The Fame, was released in 2008 and featured the hit singles "Just Dance" and "Poker Face."
- Chvrches: Chvrches is a synthpop band that formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 2011. Their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, was released in 2013 and featured the hit singles "The Mother We Share" and "Recover."
These bands all helped to bring synthpop back to the mainstream, and their music has inspired a new generation of synthpop musicians.
The impact of the synthpop revival on music as a whole has been significant. The revival helped to popularize the use of electronic synthesizers and other electronic instruments in pop music. It also helped to introduce a new generation of fans to the synthpop sound.
The synthpop revival has also had a significant impact on the development of other genres of music, such as dance music and electronica. Many of the musicians who were involved in the synthpop revival have gone on to produce and remix music for other artists, and they have helped to shape the sound of dance music and electronica today.
The synthpop revival is an important chapter in the history of pop music. It is a revival that helped to bring synthpop back to the mainstream and inspired a new generation of musicians.
Milestones in Synthpop History
The evolution of synthpop is marked by numerous iconic tracks, albums, and moments that have defined the genre. This interactive timeline provides a journey through some of the most influential milestones in synthpop history. Click on the links to explore song samples, music videos, and delve deeper into the world of synthpop.
- Kraftwerk - "Autobahn" (Germany): The track that introduced many to the world of electronic music.
- Ultravox - "Ultravox!" (United Kingdom): A pioneering album that showcased the potential of synthesizers in pop music.
- Yellow Magic Orchestra - "Yellow Magic Orchestra" (Japan): A blend of electronic music, rock, and traditional Japanese sounds.
- OMD - "Organisation and Method" (United Kingdom): A testament to the growing popularity of synthpop in the UK.
- Depeche Mode - "Speak & Spell" (United Kingdom): The debut that marked the beginning of a legendary synthpop band.
- Baltimora - "Living in the Background" (Italy): Featuring the iconic track "Tarzan Boy."
- Baltimora - "Tarzan Boy" (Italy): A song that became synonymous with 80s synthpop.
- Depeche Mode - "Music for the Masses" (United Kingdom): An album that solidified Depeche Mode's place in synthpop history.
- The Cure - "Disintegration" (United Kingdom): While not strictly synthpop, this album's electronic elements and moody atmospheres influenced many in the genre.
- Pet Shop Boys - "Behaviour" (United Kingdom): A masterclass in synthpop songwriting and production.
This timeline offers just a glimpse into the rich tapestry of synthpop's history. Each link provides a doorway to explore more about these iconic moments and the artists behind them. Dive in and relive the evolution of a genre that has left an indelible mark on the world of music.