Last November, the UK’s Doc ’n’ Roll Film Festival, described as a celebration of musical subcultures and a platform for underground music documentaries, premiered The Rise of the Synths, a feature documentary on the musical genre known as Synthwave.
Featuring an impressive international cast of Synthwave composers and artists, the film will be presented across the UK in March and April, beginning with Brighton, Liverpool, Nottingham, and Exeter. It is described as “a journey through time to the roots of the music scene now known as Synthwave, a blend of 80s nostalgia and electronic music.”
The Rise of the Synths was made possible by creative financing, including a successful crowdfunding campaign, a patchwork of private and public donations, and a collaboration with Radio 3, Spain’s largest music radio station. Its Spanish premiere, at the In-Edit Film Festival in Barcelona, was sold out on its first day; and the vinyl version of the companion album sold out in 24 hours. It has been selected for screening at film festivals across Europe in 2020.
In the early 2000s, a group of international composers spontaneously formed an underground musical movement, which became known on the internet by several names, including Synthwave. While remaining underground until recently, the music has a consistent following which accounts for millions of plays online. The genre is loosely defined as electronic music which is strongly influenced by the music and pop culture of the 1980s, a blend of original music and nostalgia which plays with cultural references and distinctive forms of the creative process. Until recently, almost all Synthwave composers have remained anonymous; this film brings them into the public eye, just as the genre’s popularity is expanding. The impact of the Cannes Film Festival award-winning film Drive, and the enormous popularity of Stranger Things, which both feature Synthwave scores, point to a nostalgia for the ’80s that is reflected endlessly today in film, television, fashion, and even video games…and in a revival of the music itself.
The Rise of the Synths was directed, produced, and written by self-taught filmmaker Ivan Castell, former film editor and director of music videos and a previous documentary on underground music, the 2014 feature Trovadores. It is narrated by legendary actor/filmmaker John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween, Stranger Things), who guides the film from the roots of the musical genre to its current place in popular culture.
Director Ivan Castell comments that the film “is not just about synthesizers or ’80s inspired music. It explores, through a group of composers and their experiences” the ability to “create art in their bedroom and share it with the world via the internet.” The theme goes beyond examining a particular sub-genre of music, exploring creativity and the ways the internet has opened up possibilities for musical artists. Remarks Castell, “that’s what it’s all about, exploring, re-imagining, and re-inventing the process that takes place when you build on something that already exists and creates something new and unique out of it.”