By Jerry Herrera
When I first began writing about synthwave, the retro revival, or however you’d like to characterize it, I honestly did not see it going further than being a small but beloved subgenre of EDM that only the biggest nostalgia nerds listened to. That was fine with me honestly. The community was made up of producers and artists who were also fans of each other so there never really felt like anyone was “above” anyone else, so to speak. But as the fan base grew and word started getting around, different producers started getting recognition on blogs, in mixtapes, getting featured in video games, movies of all budgets, and while I wouldn’t say the “scene blew up,” it was apparent that we were all aboard a train that was gaining momentum.
One thing that was a bit tough to nail down, however, were live performances. Sure we saw an odd DJ set pop up here and there but these were guys and girls creating in their bedrooms and basements, fans of the ‘80s look and sound that were deeply talented, but perhaps not performers or set up to perform. Also, the music itself was more stylistic and thematic, telling a story moreso than getting people moving. Not that there weren’t some danceable pop and italo disco homages, but I daresay the music was fueled by film and artwork, not club sweat.
Still, I think we all as fans and producers wondered at the possibility of live shows. Either for the glory of wearing sunglasses at night and making vintage synths wail, or just so we would be able to gather together for a common interest, many people began putting plans into motion.
Enter Synthwave LA. Originally another group of like minded retro freaks and artists on Facebook, it began the way many other groups did, as a space for artists and fans alike to connect and share music. It was founded by Ernest Mancia and Julie Chang, whom you might also know as Future Holotape. This talented duo not only sought to produce their own music, but to promote their local music scene, as well as further the popularity of our beloved genre in general.
It’s difficult for any artist to promote themselves, let alone an entire style of music, on their own. While I believe the synthwave community to be incredibly supportive of each other, getting Synthwave LA off the ground wasn’t easy. Ernest and Julie have done a lot of legwork promoting themselves and other artists, spending money out of their own pockets and playing small shows as much as possible. Their persistence and perseverance paid off when they met with Spaceland, a company that promotes and presents LA artists at a number of venues. Having a precise vision of what they wanted to do, they proved that they were ready for something a bit bigger in scale. The venue they’d be playing at was The Echoplex, a staple in the LA music scene. It would be oversimplifying to say that “everything fell into place” after this, but it did start a chain reaction. Ernest and Julie still had to do much of the promotion work on their own through Synthwave LA, with huge assists from Drive Radio and New Retro Wave to spread the word.
They reached out to their friends, Dance With The Dead and Protector 101 to do the show with them. Protector 101 then put them in touch with Syntax, and he was brought on board as well. Syntax then brought Joe Seifert in to do the visuals, and even though there were still a million things to nail down, the foundation for the night had been built.
Where do I factor in all of this? I was merely a face in the crowd, a witness to the evening. The Echoplex is on Sunset Boulevard in a neighborhood called Echo Park. Over the past few years Echo Park has become a beacon for artists of every kind, partiers, drinkers, misfits and outcasts while still maintaining a bohemian harmony. It was the perfect place for this show. It was very clear the moment I walked in that synthwave appeals to all kinds of people. I have never seen a more eclectic bunch gathered together. It was oddly heartwarming to see goth cyber punks rubbing elbows with shy music nerds who were drinking with Miami Vice wannabes, who in turn were hanging out with neighborhood hipsters who were in the mood for something different.
The performances themselves were more than I could have ever hoped for. Syntax perfectly crafted a retro vision with hints of modern dreamwave, drum n bass and IDM and his performance alone was worth the price of admission. Future Holotape not only sounded the part but look the part as well, facing each other but rocking the whole crowd with their impressive array of synths, denim and shades. I should mention that Ernest was performing with a slightly slipped disc, but you would have never guessed. Both Protector 101 and DWTD absolutely electrified the crowd. I spent more time looking at the faces of awe than I did the artists.
One paragraph won’t do the night justice but there is plenty of video and photographic evidence, thanks to Allan Zepeda. Apparently the night would not have been at all possible without Manny Montiel, who did everything from loading and unloading gear, setting up and running the merch table, and DJ Codexx who kept things going in between sets. Another thing that was apparent was just how much people love the music. After each performance, every artist that came offstage and went to grab a well deserved beer was met with handshakes and praise, and they themselves were excited to see the other performances. It was a personal high water mark for me personally, to be able to meet the people I’ve written about, who I’ve come to admire, who are actually great drinking buddies.
April 22nd, 2016 really was a monumental night. It was our night. The talent was there, the people were there, the overall mood was full of positivity, and we showed the city and the people that said yes to Ernest and Julie that this is only the beginning. Indeed, Ernest and Julie are working on launching their own label, Room Robot Records. Not stopping there, they hope that the momentum from the Echoplex show will lead to more shows, and more money to bring out other synthwave acts. Julie jokingly wants to have a synth festival (jamboree?) but I don’t see why not someday. One thing she said is for sure, LA is ready for synthwave.
|Dance With The Dead|
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