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Submitted by on Aug 8, 2021

Synthwave (also known as outrun, retrowave, or futuresynth) is an electronic music subgenre inspired by the music used in 1980s action, science-fiction, and horror film soundtracks. Other influences come from the art and video games of the decade. Synthwave musicians frequently express nostalgia for 1980s culture, attempting to replicate and appreciate the era’s vibe.

French house producers and younger artists influenced by the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City helped to birth the genre in the mid-to-late 2000s. Composers John Carpenter, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis (particularly his music for the 1982 picture Blade Runner), and Tangerine Dream were used as examples. Synthwave gained traction after appearing on the soundtracks of the 2011 film Drive (which included some of the genre’s most well-known songs) and the Netflix series Stranger Things in the 2010s.

Synthwave is an electronic music subgenre inspired by 1980s films, video games, and cartoons, and artists like John Carpenter, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream. Electronic dance music genres such as house, synth, and nu-disco are also valuable references. Although there are exceptions to the norm, it is generally an instrumental genre. Typical tempos range from 80 to 118 BPM, with more energetic tunes ranging from 128 to 140 BPM.


Outrun is a synthwave synonym that was later adopted to refer to vintage 1980s aesthetics like VHS tracking artifacts, magenta neon, and gridlines. The name is derived from the 1986 driving arcade game Out Run, noted for its in-game soundtrack selection. According to musician Perturbator (James Kent), outrun is its subgenre, primarily instrumental. It often incorporates 1980s clichéd components in the sound, such as electronic drums, gated reverb, and analog synthesizer bass lines and leads, all of which are meant to imitate recordings from that era.

Dreamwave, darksynth, and scifiwave are some of the other subgenres. Alternative titles for synthwave include “outrun,” “futuresynth,” and “retrowave,” according to journalist Julia Neuman, while author Nicholas Diak defined “retrowave” as an umbrella word that covers 1980s revivalism genres like synthwave and vaporwave.

Synthwave is a genre that emerged in the mid-to late-2000s. Diak linked the genre to a more significant trend among young artists working in the 1980s who took inspiration from their childhoods. He cited the popularity of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in 2002 with changing “attitudes toward the ’80s… from mockery and ambivalence to adoration and devotion,” resulting in synth-wave and vaporwave genres.

The French performers David Grellier (College), Kavinsky, M83, and Justice were the earliest synthwave musicians. These early artists began making music influenced by well-known 1980s score composers, primarily identified with the French house at the time. Early synthwave also drew inspiration from the 1982 film Blade Runner (both the soundtrack and the film itself), 8- and 16-bit video games, 1980s VHS production company jingles, and 1980s television news broadcasts and advertising.

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