When The Weeknd dropped his second surprise single at the end of November, "Blinding Lights", it signified something more than just a potential new album on the way. It also confirmed that 2019, though multi-faceted and forward-thinking in many ways, truly belonged not to the modern or trendy, but to the nostalgic 80s.
If you'll remember, at the end of 2018, Netflix released its special Black Mirror episode, "Bandersnatch". An interactive experience that was set in the 80s, complete with a soundtrack that flitted between the psychedelic (Tangerine Dream) and the more easily digested (Eurythmics). While viewers were entranced by the story, determined to complete every choice to discover every possible ending, it was a subtle premonition of what was to come in the forthcoming year. A year of music that attempted to recapture that feeling. A feeling of wonder, possibility, curiosity, and even fear.
Of course, when we talk about the 80s, we're not only talking about one-hit wonders like "Take On Me" or "You Spin Me Right Round". Great songs they may be, but that colourful decade gave much more than just future karaoke hits. It was a decade that revolutionized the art of the synth. The Yamaha DX7 Synthesizer, Roland Jupiter-8 Synthesizer, and Roland D-50 Synthesizer are only scraping the long list of analogue synthesizers that gave life to an endless era of infectious pop, foot-tapping rock, and the beginning of a mind-warbling electronic genre. A beginning that seemed to find its footing again in 2019.
More than anywhere else, the 80s were a large influence on electronic music this year. Producers flocked to the idea of psychedelic synths and analogue sounds from Alex Lustig on Milk & Bone's collaborative EP:
To M83's entire new 80s fantasy album.
Marseille producer French 79 even released a music video to "Code Zero" that followed him around his house as he composes the early stages of his track: "Most of the time, the very early stage of my creative process is like this, in my living room, just playing few notes on my Wurlitzer or on the piano, then recording some arpeggio synths with my tiny dictaphone."
Though more easily recognizable, electronic music wasn't the only one affected by the neon fever. Pop and more alternative artists also found themselves drawn to the high-energy synths and drums of their childhood. From Kita Menari's "Pretty Sure" to the most subtle "Love Me" by Rad Cat, featuring Lacey James. Listen carefully, and you start finding synthwave influences everywhere, reviving memories of a time that wasn't engulfed by a constant stream of information. That is the wonder of the 80s, and why we find ourselves clinging so forcibly to them. From TV to fashion, to art and music. Because the decade of the 80s wasn't just marked by too bright colours and hairspray-heavy hairstyles. It was marked by the collective opening of minds to a world that traversed realities of sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, and space. It was a time to dream and wonder about what more could be out there, what more we can find, and what more we could become. And perhaps in the saturated world we live in now, where it seems like new discoveries are scarce, we all wish to cling to that sense of wonder again. And I, for one, hope that this next decade of music becomes curious again, curating a sound that will live on past its time, inspiring generations to come, and rekindling our passion for the unknown.