When it comes to retrowave, outrun and other similar 1980s inspired genres; a common criticism can be found. Something along the lines of ‘It all sounds the same.’ The idea that the genre is oversaturated and derivative.
I worry about this from time to time. Nostalgia for the tropes of the era are en vogue. A market – a lucrative market – exists within and beyond the mainstream. Given how accessible music production is now, it’s expected that this climate would lead to a lot of cookie-cutter works.
As a movement, retrowave has been a thing for well over a decade. Its current momentum was arguably gained around 2013, when Ubisoft dropped Far Cry 3’s expansion Blood Dragon. A gloriously over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek and loving tribute to the ultra-violent, neon drenched sci-fi action movies many of us grew up with.
It was lauded for many reasons, not least of all Australian duo Power Glove’s incredible soundtrack. Blood Dragon helped redraw the map of popular culture – neon grid, chrome text and all.
The game was indebted to eighties cinema. It also showed how perfectly modern musical production can mesh with media of that decade. However, many artists seem content to make something that could work in those contexts. Only a few are actually embracing 80s cinema and video games as a core component of their work.
Matrix includes legends of electronic music such as Jean-Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze among his main inspirations. Vangelis too: something which becomes very obvious upon hearing lead single “Night Striker.” It really captures the oppressive, rain soaked, tech-dominated landscape of Blade Runner’s far-future (2019) Los Angeles. And yet there is something else in the mix; a flash of disco beats. It’s a little touch, but one which suggests that this isn’t retrowave by rote.
If “Night Striker” has its feet planted between the ominous skyscrapers of Blade Runner, “Starpilot” sees Matrix reaching for the stars. The high tones and melody express ascension and acceleration beyond the stratosphere. It’s a nod towards fixed shooter arcade games like Galaxian. But it’s…different. A sense of infinite scope really shines through.
“Super Getaway Driver: Miami” is, as you can imagine, the most nakedly outrun track on Buena Vista. But the beeping car horns at the start do a great job of setting the scene. A lot of outrun just drops you in. Little build up: you’re already in the race. But this track wants to take you from open door to furious chase.
“You Did Good, Kid” threw me for a loop. It looks beyond the 80s, with liberal samples of dialogue from a very obscure sixties Italian sci-fi film, Assignment: Outer Space. I was so delightfully surprised by this simple display of ambition. Beyond this, it’s a suitably ambient companion piece to “Starpilot.”
“Stay A While, Stay Forever!” introduced something else I wasn’t expecting: vocals. This assertion of Matrix’s personality really changes things up, adding further layers and textures. His performance also put me in mind of another legend of electronic music, Trevor Something.
Something isn’t explicitly retrowave, but he knows his way around samples, and he did a phenomenal cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” These comparisons struck me because “Stay A While, Stay Forever!” is reminiscent of Essex’s finest. But what impressed me most is this track’s human touch. ‘When I get the feeling that I’m, losing my mind/I retreat to memory, go back in time.’ This one line is a statement of purpose. It speaks to what Matrix is doing, what inspires and comforts him, and what he wants to share with us. Retrowave doesn’t have to be a sequence of rehashed mechanics. It can have heart and soul.
Doubts about the future of retrowave have been coiling away in the back of my mind for some time. I listen to a lot, but it’s only recently that I’ve felt that there’s still blood going to it. Artists like ACY, Eyeshadow 2600 FM and now Miles Matrix have given me renewed hope for this genre. And Buena Vista is one of the greatest signs that there is still gas in the tank.
You can find Miles Matrix here: