The Aesthetic of the 80s is Invading ‘Indie’ Music

Check out Part 2 and Part 3 on this topic!

Am I the only one that has noticed that the 1980s are coming back with a vengeance? Everywhere I look in youth culture (my culture) I find remnants of and aspirations towards the aesthetic of the 1980s. This post will mostly focus on ‘indie’ music, but even outside of music you can see it everywhere. Mullets, skinny jeans, high pants, denim jackets, neon colors, teased hair, shoulder pads, leggings, headbands, aviators etc…go to any college campus (or Williamsburg) and you’ll easily find an example of the fashions listed above. Granted, it’s not all a copy of the 80s aesthetic, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that it’s all “influence” by the 80s. Nonetheless, I can remember my grandmother telling me that fashions repeated themselves every 30 years, and many people in the 1980s said that their fashion was inspired by the 1950, so maybe the cycle is repeating itself in the 2010s?

However my only claim to hipster credibility is in regards to music, so that’s were I’d like to focus this post. When I was in high school and in my early college years (2005-2010), “indie music,” to me at least, meant mostly music coming out of the post-punk revival of the mid 2000s. Bands like Interpol, Bloc Party, Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, The Kooks, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Cribs, We Were Promised Jetpacks, The Maccabees, Razorlight, Cage the ElephantTegan and Sara, and The Strokes all came to epitomize this post-punk sound, and much of what has constituted “indie” music for the past several years has been largely (or at least partially) defined by this post-punk sound.

However over the past couples of years I’ve noticed a change in so-called “indie” music, specifically a shift towards music that is more reliant on electronic/synth-heavy/low-fi techniques and sounds. Instead of extolling upon what I’m referring to, I’d rather give you examples. Check out these bands/songs: MGMT, Animal Collective, Matt & Kim, Passion Pit, The Naked and Famous, Everything Everything, M83, The xx, Foster the People, Say Hi To Your Mom, The Radio Dept, Crystal Castles, Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing, Washed Out, WU LYF, Phantogram, Sunglasses, Youth Lagoon, Grimes, Deerhunter, Future Islands, Neon Indians, Craft Spells, The War on Drugs, Little Dragon, Frankie Rose, Mystery Jets, Diiv, Ice Choir, Big TroublesGeographer, Stranger Talk, Nightbox, Yeasayer, Hooray for Earth, Crystal Fighters, Purity Ring, Stars, Twin Shadows, Baths, Generationals, Hot Chip, Freelance Whales, The Limousines and Small Black.

You may have noticed that the list above is in a vaguely chronological order (or maybe you didn’t notice because it’s a stupidly long list and you didn’t listen to the songs)? Most of the songs on the latter part of the list have been released in the past 18 months, and those latter songs are where you really find the spirit of the 80s in full force. Many of them sound so much like 80s songs that I bet you could convince some people they were actually recorded in the 80s. The songs above by M83, Frankie Rose, Ice Choir, Twin Shadows and Small Black are strong examples.

Pinning down exactly where this “resurgence” of 80s-style music is coming from is not clear. It’s easy just to say it’s a cultural zeitgeist, a la repeating music/fashion styles every 30 years (thank you, wise old grandma). But it’s important not to overlook music from the early and mid 2000s that has influenced the music coming out today. The success of bands like The Postal Service, Daft Punk and The Killers certainly has help moved this style along. I even remember when The Killers came onto the scene and people were accusing them of being “just another 80s ripe-off band” (and the like). Now, almost 10 years later, bands that sound much more like 80s music are becoming very popular and are not garnering any criticism (at least that I’ve seen) for their stylistic resemblance to 80s music.

But what’s really interesting to me is that this music, while heavily emulating 80s music, is doing so unironically (and what have hipsters ever done that wasn’t ironic)? There’s no sense (at least among those consuming the music) that this style of music is meant to be an emulation or ironic replication of 80s music. Accordingly, it’s never called or referred to as music similar to 80s music. I may be describing it to you as similar to 80s music, but I almost never hear others refer to it in that way. The music is always called something like “electro-indie pop,” “synth-washed noise pop,” “low-fi electronic indie,” “indie electronic,” or just “indie.”

But how popular will this trend become? Will it swing into full force, perhaps helping to define the sound of the decade? Or will it last only a few years and remain mostly an underground thing? It’s too hard and too soon to say of course, but many of the bands mentioned above are becoming very popular, and could hardly be considered “underground” anymore. And if, at this time last year, you had told me that Mercedes-Benz would be using dubstep in their commercials, I would have told you there’s no way that dubstep would become that popular. So who knows how popular or widespread this aesthetic that’s influenced by the 1980s will become? Maybe we’ll soon see Taylor Swift playing synth? That will be the day…

21 thoughts on “The Aesthetic of the 80s is Invading ‘Indie’ Music

  1. such a bad fad in my opinion. The 80’s weren’t as great as what people remembered and most of the kids weren’t even born in the 80’s. There is a lot of 80’s style electronic music merging around now with all these terms like ‘chillwave’ and ‘glo-fi’ where they just rip 80’s style aesthetics. It all seems rather uninspiring.

  2. Hi Judy,
    Fire Tiger indeed does sound very 80s…but that’s because they are an 80s style band. Their website touts the fact that they sounds just like 80s bands. All the “influences” they list on their site are 80s bands. The thing about all the bands I was referring to is that they’re not trying to replicate the sound of the 80s, nor are they ironically mimicking that sound. The bands upon see themselves as original and on the forefront of modern music.

  3. Listen to Big Love by Fleetwood Mac – big influence on Lotus Flower by Radiohead, especially the background vocals. Yes, lots of current indie rock is currently influenced by 80’s new wave/synth pop – check out St. Lucia as an example

  4. The early 80’s, especially the Dungeons and Dragons fear mongering has certainly left some panache for pop culture to mine. I saw this event and it made me think of your post, http://www.leveleater.org/ , it’s a D&D art gallery opening in Chicago with bands, it’s own craft beer and an all night 3.5 tournament. Very much a mashing together of favorite things.

  5. I hit this thread on a search on if music is going 80’s again. Its now December 2013 and I’m listening to the new Arcade Fire album and its very reminiscent of mid 80’s. Before I was listening to 24 hours by Sky Ferreira again very 80’s. Even last years Temper Trap album had an 80’s tilt. There are many more examples, even daft punk

    Its unfair to say these are 80’s knock offs the music is definitely original, more complex, polished, and less formulaic than actual 80’s. But the 80’s synth chords, and rich base guitar lines back there.

    “New wave” originally started in the early 80’s with punk ties in the indie college scene before graduating to simple synthpop by the end of the decade. Maybe history is repeating itself.

    I’m not complaining, I’m enjoying a lot of the new music this year.

  6. Like the poster above, came here as I’m listening to Arcade Fire and Capital Cities and wondering why the 80’s synth sound is back so strong. Loving it, but very curious as it’s everywhere now.

  7. Amazing blog. I googled 80s influence on indie music and yours was the first one that came up. You echoed my thoughts exactly. I grew up in the 80s so for me, Im really excited to see where this is going. I would add St. Lucia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HPMK9Uxq3I, Mansions on the Moon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJsWpVnjFnc and Keep Shelly in Athens http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7K0mmvWBlI to the list. Also dont forget Chvrches: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81RqEnvczV8 and HAIM: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEwM6ERq0gc

  8. Amazing blog. I googled 80s influence on indie music and yours was the first one that came up. You echoed my thoughts exactly. I grew up in the 80s so for me, Im really excited to see where this is going. I would add
    St. Lucia:

    Mansions on the Moon:

    and Keep Shelly in Athens:

    to the list.
    Also dont forget Chvrches:

    and HAIM:

  9. Hey Pronoba, I didn’t realize wordpress thought your posts were spam and I had to “approve” them. My bad! In the 14 months since I wrote this post I’ve discovered a host of bands that fall under this category, so many that I’ve considered writing an update to this post! I’m a big fan of St. Lucia, Keep Shelly In Athens, Chvrches and HAIM (so much so that I included two of them on my 10 songs of 2013: https://jefflees.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/top-songs-of-2013/)

    I’ve never heard of Mansions on the Moon though, but I’m really liking the song you linked!

  10. IM FREAKING OUT ABOUT THE LAST BIT BECAUSE TAYLOR SWIFT /DID/ START ROCKING THE SYNTH

    (Also, your wise grandma is right. My mum told me the same thing)

  11. Yo, let me hook you up to the real synthwave scene, I’ve been immersed in the most hardcore end of this stuff for the past three years. Look up the YouTube channels newretrowave and/or maniacsynth or the soundtracks to the Hotline Miami games.

    If you’re going for a sort of pop vibe try Electric Youth or perhaps Kristine. On that note, TrevorSomething’s stuff is a very modernized and heavy/bassy pop stuff (explicit lyrics if that bothers you)

    If you’re trying for something darker, try Perturbator or Carpenter Brut.

    Com Truise offers very “chill” trippy instrumental synth stuff.

    There’s a somewhat new artist called Freeweights that mimics the whole cheesy 80s rock thing so heavily it borders on absurd, I can’t tell if it’s parody or homage but I think it’s funny.

    If you ever listened to Italo Disco back in the day then Vincenzo Salvia is your scene.

    The soundtrack for the expandalone video game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was made by the renowned French duo Power Glove and features a razor sharp Terminator inspired action movie synth score. An early classic in the 80s revival scene with some mainstream success.

    The film Drive also features a retro synth score.

    Many gamers and film buffs seem to like this stuff, gamers being drawn to some of the more chiptune sounding elements and the film guys being reminded of 80s classics like Terminator or The Thing. Also film buffs and gamers seem to have overlap in general. Perturbator is possibly the most metal artist to come out in recent years despite being all synth, a lot of metal fans like the heavier “outrun” style stuff. Perturbator was actually signed onto a heavy metal label, Blood Music, believe it or not.

  12. Pingback: 1983 – Parte 2

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