In the past decade, what started as an underground movement on MySpace has grown exponentially into a major scene with increasing mainstream visibility thanks to film and television like Drive and Stranger Things. That movement is synthwave, a sub-genre of electronic music that harks back to the synthpop of the 1980s and its aesthetic. As its status continues to grow, director Iván Castell has put together a passionate crowd-funded documentary feature to celebrate its past, present and future.
Narrated by acclaimed filmmaker and composer John Carpenter, The Rise of the Synths is a loving tribute to this growing movement and some of its key figures. With appearances from a diverse roster of celebrated artists such as Scandroid, The Midnight, Miami Nights 1984 and the ‘Queen of Synthwave’ herself Nina, the globe-trotting film looks at how the movement has spread, with people from many different backgrounds and races contributing to it with their incredible work. First and foremost, The Rise of the Synths is a celebration, focusing primarily on the community aspect of the movement and how it has brought these people together in art and creativity.
Throughout the film between the talking heads and historical context, we are treated to a visually stunning narrative based around an unnamed ‘Synth Rider’ travelling back in time (in a DeLorean, naturally) under the guidance of Carpenter’s omniscient narration. These sequences are gorgeously shot and surprisingly poetic, feeling somewhat like a long-lost 1980s music video to compliment the rich soundscape of tunes from the featured artists. As the film hops from track to track and artist to artist, the film plays out like a compilation album which director Castell has stated was supposed to evoke the feeling of discovery when getting into a YouTube black hole, exploring the infinite artists the movement has to offer.
As the film moves backwards in time to the earliest roots of the movement in the late 1970s, a remarkable amount of footage from familiar film favourites is used to great effect to transport the viewer into the heart of this movement – the inspiration gained from the magic of the movies. As the film explores the power of these films in inspiring the movement and the creativity that came with it, one can’t help but feel moved by the celebratory aspect of the documentary. The film plays out like a love letter to not just the music, but the whole era that inspired it.
The Rise of the Synths is a wonderful film that gives voices to a community that, until recently, have existed largely under the radar. For those unfamiliar with the genre, this excellent documentary will act as a perfect introduction. And for fans, it is a heartwarming tribute to a movement, and its history. All in all, The Rise of the Synths is one of the most passionate documentary films in years, and a valuable reminder of the power of creativity and community.