[2023] The Ultimate Guide to Synthwave: A Journey into the Retro-Futuristic World of Synth Pop

Welcome to Synth Pop™, where we dive deep into the world of synthwave, a genre that combines the nostalgic sounds of the 80s with modern electronic music. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the characteristics, origins, and popularity of synthwave, as well as provide quick tips and facts to help you navigate this retro-futuristic genre. So put on your neon shades and let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Quick Answer

Synthwave is a genre of music that emerged in the late 2000s and is characterized by its nostalgic sound, inspired by 80s synth pop and soundtrack music. It combines elements of electronic music, new wave, and retro-futurism to create a unique and immersive experience. Synthwave has gained popularity in recent years and has become a global phenomenon, with artists and fans embracing its retro aesthetic and futuristic vibes.

Quick Tips and Facts

  • Synthwave originated in the late 2000s as a revival of the 80s synth pop sound.
  • It is characterized by its nostalgic and retro-futuristic sound, often featuring synthesizers, drum machines, and vocoders.
  • Synthwave draws inspiration from 80s pop culture, including movies, video games, and television shows.
  • The genre has gained a dedicated fanbase and has influenced other genres such as pop, electronic, and rock.
  • Synthwave art style often features neon colors, futuristic landscapes, and nostalgic imagery.
  • Key elements of a synthwave song include catchy melodies, pulsating basslines, and atmospheric soundscapes.
  • Synthwave is often associated with the outrun and retro wave subgenres.

Characteristics and Origins

Synthwave takes its cues from the synth pop sound of the 80s, characterized by the heavy use of synthesizers, drum machines, and electronic instruments. The genre often features nostalgic melodies, catchy hooks, and pulsating basslines that transport listeners back to the neon-lit streets of a retro-futuristic city. Some of the key characteristics of synthwave include:

  • Nostalgic Sound: Synthwave captures the essence of the 80s, evoking feelings of nostalgia and reminiscence. The use of vintage synthesizers and drum machines helps recreate the iconic sound of the era.
  • Retro-Futuristic Aesthetic: Synthwave embraces a visual style that combines the retro aesthetics of the past with a futuristic twist. Neon colors, vintage technology, and futuristic cityscapes are common themes in synthwave art.
  • Influence from 80s Pop Culture: Synthwave draws inspiration from 80s movies, video games, and television shows, creating a sense of familiarity and nostalgia for fans of the era.
  • Atmospheric and Cinematic Soundscapes: Synthwave often creates immersive and cinematic soundscapes, transporting listeners to imaginary worlds filled with nostalgia and sci-fi elements.

The origins of synthwave can be traced back to the late 2000s, when a new wave of artists began to revive the sounds of 80s synth pop. Artists like Kavinsky, College, and Electric Youth gained popularity with their nostalgic and synth-driven tracks, paving the way for the genre’s resurgence. The rise of the internet and platforms like Bandcamp and SoundCloud played a significant role in spreading the genre’s music to a wider audience.

Popularity and Legacy

In recent years, synthwave has experienced a surge in popularity, gaining a dedicated fanbase and influencing various aspects of pop culture. The genre’s unique blend of nostalgia and futuristic vibes has resonated with listeners around the world. Here are some reasons why synthwave has become a global phenomenon:

  • Nostalgia and Retro Appeal: Synthwave taps into the universal appeal of nostalgia, transporting listeners back to the 80s and capturing the essence of a bygone era.
  • Rise of Retro Aesthetics: The resurgence of 80s-inspired aesthetics in fashion, design, and media has helped fuel the popularity of synthwave, with its retro-futuristic art style aligning perfectly with the zeitgeist.
  • Influence on Mainstream Music: Synthwave’s influence can be heard in mainstream pop, electronic, and rock music, with artists incorporating synthwave elements into their songs.
  • Soundtracks and Gaming: Synthwave’s atmospheric soundscapes have made it a popular choice for movie soundtracks and video game scores, further exposing the genre to a wider audience.
  • Global Community: Synthwave has a strong online presence, with communities of artists and fans sharing their love for the genre on platforms like Reddit, Discord, and social media.

As synthwave continues to evolve, it leaves a lasting legacy on the music industry and pop culture as a whole. Its unique blend of nostalgia, futurism, and catchy melodies has solidified its place in the hearts of fans worldwide.

Synthwave Art Style

Synthwave’s art style is an integral part of the genre’s identity, capturing the retro-futuristic aesthetics of the 80s. Neon colors, futuristic cityscapes, and nostalgic imagery are common themes in synthwave artwork. Here are some key elements of the synthwave art style:

  • Neon Colors: Synthwave art often features vibrant neon colors, reminiscent of the neon signs that adorned the streets of the 80s.
  • Futuristic Landscapes: Synthwave artwork often depicts futuristic cityscapes, with towering skyscrapers, flying cars, and glowing grids.
  • Nostalgic Imagery: Synthwave embraces nostalgic imagery from the 80s, including cassette tapes, VHS tapes, retro video game consoles, and classic cars.
  • Vaporwave Influence: Vaporwave, a related genre, has had an influence on the synthwave art style, with its use of glitch art, Roman statues, and retro computer graphics.

The synthwave art style has become synonymous with the genre and is a visual representation of its nostalgic and futuristic sound.

What Makes a Song Synthwave?

A synthwave song is characterized by its nostalgic sound, retro-futuristic vibes, and use of synthesizers and electronic instruments. Here are some key elements that make a song synthwave:

  • Synthesizers: Synthwave heavily relies on synthesizers, both analog and digital, to create its signature sound. From lush pads to classic leads, synthesizers are at the heart of a synthwave track.
  • Drum Machines: Drum machines, such as the iconic Roland TR-808 and TR-909, are often used to create the driving beats and pulsating rhythms in synthwave music.
  • Vocoders: Vocoders, a device that combines a synthesizer with a microphone, are used to create the robotic and futuristic vocal effects often heard in synthwave tracks.
  • Catchy Melodies: Synthwave songs are known for their catchy melodies and hooks, often inspired by the pop music of the 80s.
  • Atmospheric Soundscapes: Synthwave creates immersive and atmospheric soundscapes, using reverb, delay, and other effects to transport listeners to a retro-futuristic world.
  • Influence from 80s Pop: Synthwave draws inspiration from the pop music of the 80s, incorporating elements of new wave, synth pop, and electronic music into its sound.

These elements come together to create the nostalgic and futuristic sound that defines synthwave.

Synthwave Subgenres

Synthwave has given rise to various subgenres, each with its own unique take on the genre’s nostalgic and futuristic sound. Here are some notable subgenres of synthwave:

  • Outrun: Outrun is a subgenre of synthwave that takes inspiration from 80s action movies, featuring fast-paced beats, driving basslines, and a sense of adventure.
  • Dreamwave: Dreamwave is a subgenre of synthwave that focuses on dreamy and atmospheric soundscapes, often incorporating ambient elements and ethereal vocals.
  • Darkwave: Darkwave combines the nostalgic sounds of synthwave with darker and more haunting atmospheres, drawing inspiration from gothic and industrial music.
  • Cyberpunk: Cyberpunk synthwave embraces the dystopian and futuristic themes of cyberpunk literature and movies, featuring gritty and aggressive sounds.
  • Chillwave: Chillwave, also known as vaporwave, is a subgenre of synthwave that slows down the tempo and creates a relaxed and nostalgic atmosphere.

These subgenres offer different interpretations of the synthwave sound, catering to a wide range of tastes and preferences.

Synthwave Artists and Albums

Synthwave has a vibrant and diverse community of artists who continue to push the boundaries of the genre. Here are some notable synthwave artists and albums to check out:

  • Kavinsky – “OutRun”
  • Perturbator – “Dangerous Days”
  • Carpenter Brut – “Trilogy”
  • The Midnight – “Endless Summer”
  • Gunship – “Gunship”
  • FM-84 – “Atlas”
  • Timecop1983 – “Night Drive”
  • Electric Youth – “Innerworld”
  • Lazerhawk – “Visitors”
  • Miami Nights 1984 – “Early Summer”

These artists and albums showcase the diverse range of sounds and styles within the synthwave genre, offering something for everyone.


I went out on my deck during a sunset this past Summer of 2016. I had my camera, some fruit and colored paper sheets. The rest is history.

Why does synthwave sound so good?

Synthwave’s appeal lies in its ability to capture the nostalgia and retro-futuristic vibe of the 80s. The use of synthesizers, drum machines, and other electronic instruments creates a unique and immersive sound that resonates with listeners. The catchy melodies, atmospheric soundscapes, and nostalgic imagery all contribute to the overall appeal of synthwave.

What is synthwave art style?

Synthwave art style is characterized by its neon colors, futuristic cityscapes, and nostalgic imagery. It draws inspiration from the 80s and combines retro aesthetics with a futuristic twist. Synthwave art often features vintage technology, glowing grids, and references to 80s pop culture.

What makes a song synthwave?

A synthwave song is defined by its nostalgic sound, retro-futuristic vibes, and use of synthesizers and electronic instruments. Key elements include catchy melodies, pulsating basslines, atmospheric soundscapes, and a strong influence from 80s pop music. Vocoders and other vocal effects are also commonly used in synthwave songs.

Is synthwave the same as vaporwave?

While both synthwave and vaporwave draw inspiration from the 80s, they have distinct differences. Synthwave focuses on the nostalgic and futuristic sound of the 80s, often incorporating elements of pop music, new wave, and electronic music. Vaporwave, on the other hand, takes a more experimental and ambient approach, often sampling and manipulating music from the 80s and 90s.



Synthwave has captivated audiences with its nostalgic and futuristic sound, creating a unique blend of 80s nostalgia and modern electronic music. Its popularity continues to grow, with a dedicated fanbase and a thriving community of artists pushing the boundaries of the genre. Whether you’re a fan of the 80s or simply appreciate the retro-futuristic vibes, synthwave offers a captivating journey into a neon-lit world of synth pop.

Now, grab your favorite pair of headphones and immerse yourself in the sounds of synthwave. Shop Synthwave on: Amazon, Walmart, Etsy and start your retro-futuristic adventure today!

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