What is The Retrowave Music Genre and How Was It Born?

What-is-Retrowave-music-genre cover art. A cassette with headpones in purple and violet lights.

The retrowave music genre is “that” genre that almost everyone in the world, during their daily lives, listens to without knowing.

How can a genre be so popular but so unknown by people at the same time?

Today we’ll be going through the definition of retrowave, its characteristics, where it comes from, where you can hear it and why people do not know it exists even if they listen to it all the time.

Let’s go!

What is retrowave music?

Let’s start by defining the retrowave music genre. 

It’s actually a difficult question since many musicians and producers of the genre will probably provide different answers.

Many consider it to be a subgenre of synthwave and I tend to agree with that. My interpretation is that there is one main genre, that is “Electronic“, and inside it, we have different subgenres such as Techno, Trance, or Synthwave.

Synthwave is then divided into different sub-sub genres like Dreamwave, Vaporware, Outrun, Cyberpunk, Darkwave, and of course, Retrowave.

Retrowave music is defined by its focus on nostalgia for the 1980s. This includes not only an obsession with synthesizers and drum machines but also a reverence for the pop culture of that era.

Retrofuturism is also frequently a common theme, with many artists adopting a retro vision of the future that was popularized in science fiction and action films of the decade.

What is Retrofuturism?

what is retrowave music genre retrofuturism

Retrofuturism is a trend that’s been around for some time now, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. It’s the contemporary take on embracing the past, but with a futuristic twist. This style can be seen in everything from fashion to furniture and architecture — all with one common thread — vintage vibes combined with modern technology.

At its core, retrofuturism is about taking elements of classic looks and combining them with advanced innovations. Think art deco-style subway stations blended with cutting-edge digital displays or vintage cars paired up with electric engines. It’s a way to bring together both eras as we move forward into the future.

In terms of fashion, expect to see lots of bright colors, bold prints, geometric shapes and plenty of neon lighting!

As far as sound goes

Retrofuturism in music

Retrofuturism in music has been a growing trend over the past few years, as more and more artists incorporate elements of the past into their modern compositions. By combining traditional sounds with futuristic sensibilities, these musical innovators are able to create unique soundscapes that bridge the gap between retro and futuristic styles.

The term ‘retrofuturism’ is used to describe an aesthetic combination of vintage-inspired sounds, visuals, and concepts with modern technology. Many popular acts have embraced this concept in their music; for example, Daft Punk’s iconic electro-pop sound draws heavily from disco and funk influences while also incorporating cutting-edge production techniques. Similarly, synthwave pioneers such as Kavinsky fuse classic 80s synths with electronic beats to create a captivating mix of nostalgia and innovation.

The characteristics of retrowave

Characteristics of retrowave, a picture of a young woman with headphones, in front of hundreds of neon-like lights

The sound

To understand what the retrowave music genre is, let’s start analyzing the sound inspirations.

It Is a unique blend of 80s synthpop, like for example Gary Numan or Depeche Mode or 80s-inspired movie and videogame scores, trying to re-create them in the exact way they where in the past, going as far as “dirtying” some sounds on purpose, or using the exact same video game sound engines of old consoles..

Retrowave artists take inspiration from the past, but it’s not just that, they revere it so much that they do all they can to emulate those exact sounds like perfectionists.

Not everyone manages to tho, and many incorporate some modern production techniques that takes the sound a little away from pure retro and more towards the broader synth category, making it a lot harder for everyone to properly understand the differences in genres to the point that many consider the two to be synonyms.

The look

It’s impossible to answer the question about what is retrowave without talking about aesthetics.

Retrowave is all about nostalgia. It harkens back to a simpler time when life was more about having fun and less about being stressed out.

Visuals often combine elements of both vintage and contemporary fashion. The result is a unique, one-of-a-kind aesthetic that is sure to turn heads.

How was the retrowave music genre born?

The genre is often characterized (but not limited) by its use of vintage synthesizers and drum machines, as well as its nostalgic themes.

Even if the genre was already starting to grow in 2010, the real bloom happened in 2011 thanks to the soundtrack of the movie “Drive” with Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Brian Cranston, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.

The soundtrack to the movie contained tracks from Kavinsky, David Grellier, Johnny Jewel, and Cliff Martinez. It was their soundtrack that introduced a lot of people to the genre.

Why retrowave still set standards

Why is the retrowave music genre unknown to many?

Listen to Retrowave

Suggestion 1 - Download OUR DISCOGRAPHY FOR FREE

Our entire discography is free to download thanks to our “pay what you can” model.

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Suggestion 2 - The best retrowave reviews

We have a massive review section where you’ll be able to read about and listen to a lot of amazing tunes!

Suggestion 3 - the top 10 best new retro wave albums ever created

Check out our Top 10 Best New Retro Wave Albums!

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Conclusion: The enduring appeal of the past

A retrowave image of a yellow road going thorugh a purple grid towards a retro sun

Remember: Art Can Be More!

Luca and Alex



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