I’ve only become truly invested in synthwave as a scene over the past year or so. Though I am a long time fan of electronic music, I never found myself moving in circles where I could interact with other fans and artists.
There is a vibrant synthwave community online. And as with any community, there are certain pillars of it. People who tirelessly and enthusiastically help with promotion, constructive criticism, collaboration and encouragement.
Sapphira Vee is, in my opinion, a leading light in this regard. And her latest EP, Missing Pieces has benefited from her place in the community. It features input from fellow travellers like disco-funk producer Jantzen, industrial rock musician Upon Eventual Collapse and long-time collaborator Melodywhore.
This spirit of co-operation is one of Vee’s defining characteristics. However, one reason why the prospect of discussing Missing Pieces was so enticing to me, was that it meant that I could delve a little deeper into who she is as an artist in her own right.
Missing Pieces relies on atmosphere and tone, and Vee has a strong handle on both. What’s interesting though, is that the record itself does have a specific theme. Each song represents, well, things which are missing. Each represents the experience of something being absent from our lives, and how this can impact upon us and the world at large.
The liner notes describe the missing pieces. Opening track “In The Silence” represents the absence of communication. “In The Dark” represents ‘Understanding,’ “Why” takes “Human decency and so on.
But Vee doesn’t want to make it easy on us. She’s not here to spoon-feed us. She wants us to chew.
“In The Silence” leads you anywhere but into silence. It has many layers and textures. Vee’s vocals are haunting yet melodic. There’s some thrashing guitar in there, a little flute, and a bass line comes in which I’d go so far as to call funky.
There’s a definite structure here, but it’s not easy to tease out a definite message. In effect, communication is missing, it’s just being lost in something cool and entertaining.
One of the standout tracks is a cover of Wall of Voodoo’s “Lost Weekend.” It’s fascinating for several reasons. The first being that Wall of Voodoo is an often overlooked, but really interesting new wave act. They blurred the lines between post-punk, early dark wave and elements of folk and country (Wikipedia includes them in the “cowpunk” sub-genre, which I was so happy to discover is a thing).
“Lost Weekend” is about a couple leaving Vegas, having gambled everything away. Their journey isn’t riddled with desperation and anxiety, but rather resignation and even a little hope. They’re living this life, they could’ve made better choices, but for better or worse they have each other and a road ahead.
The missing piece “Lost Weekend” represents is ‘Self Control.’ This is entirely appropriate of course, but what’s most interesting about her cover is the contrast between her style and Wall of Voodoo’s.
The original is more guitar-driven. It’s more grounded in reality – you can imagine the couple flicking on the radio and listening to it as they drive through the desert. Vee’s version leans into synthwave, amping up the uncanny atmosphere around their situation.
It’s more like a dream. These people are divorced from the real world. It’s almost like the difference between analogue and digital. Electronic music can be more precise in its construction. A lot can be removed from and added to the mix. There’s immense scope for expressing emotions in ways that more traditional music sometimes can’t. And for me, Vee’s version works better because of this.
For me, that last point represents what is at the core of Missing Pieces. It’s a record about abstract concepts. It’s about exploring them in unique and interesting ways. Is this EP something I’m going to put on when I just want some tunes to listen to? Probably not. But that’s okay because this is something special.
You can find Sapphira Vee here: