GUNSHIP’s synthwave sound is rooted in ‘80s cyberpunk nostalgiaJuly 14, 2018
A couple of years ago, UK-based electronica band GUNSHIP released their debut, self-titled album, along with a meta video for its lead single, “Tech Noir”, which expressed its love for the 1980s and era of VHS blockbuster videos. The band just announced its sophomore album, Dark All Day, and it retains that same sense of nostalgia that’s fueled stories like Ready Player One and Stranger Things.
The band has been busy lately. Last year, it released a song on a companion EP for a documentary about 1980s retro synth, The Rise of the Synths, called “Vale of Shadows,” which the band described as its tribute to Netflix’s Stranger Things. Earlier this spring, the band released a single called “Art3mis & Parzival,” their interpretation of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One. Dark All Day, slated for an October release, will give nods to other geeky stories: Richard K. Morgan, the author of Altered Carbon (the basis for the Netflix series), lends his voice to the song “Woken Furies” (the title of one of his books), while the other songs are a nostalgic look back at cyberpunk with songs like “Cyber City” and “Drone Racing League.” There’s even a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 song “Time After Time”.
Band co-founder Alex Westaway, told The Verge that nostalgia was a huge inspiration for the group, but rather than recreate the past, they used “it more as a tone in the sound palate, rather than trying to make music that sounds like it’s actually from the 80s.”
Westaway notes that the band came together as a side project between him and Dan Haigh. Over two years, the duo wrote a number of tracks and refined their sound, recruiting a childhood friend, Alex Gingell, to record the drums. Early on, they realized that the combination of no radio-friendly tracks and no live performances meant that they would have to rely on their videos to get any sort of attention. “We put a huge amount of time and effort into the videos, which I think has been the key reason for our success thus far,” Westaway explains, while Haigh added that the video for the song “Dark All Day” “probably took over a year from idea inception to completion.”
The band’s videos feel like throwbacks to the decade of films like Terminator 2, ET, The Last Starfighter, or Blade Runner, often using clips from the films or animation of the era. The videos are part of their appeal, rather than a supplement to their music. “Along the way we had to figure out how to create anime on a tiny budget and how to bring one of our childhood film heroes back to the screen,” he adds.
The band’s sound can best be described as synthwave — they say that they’re a “A Neo 80’s Retro Futuristic Assault” on their Facebook page. Haigh told The Verge that he came from a rock and metal background and was a relative latecomer to synths, but once he discovered them, he compared the experience to “being gifted one of those ludicrously huge packs of felt tip pens: suddenly [there were] so many more colors.” He goes on to say that the 1980s holds particular inspiration for them, as it “was an extremely creatively rich period for cinema – some of the finest film scores ever made came from that era and the early use of analog synths played a huge part.”
Gingell noted that they saw a number of parallels between their approach and that of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. “You really do get a sense that what he does is rooted in an earnest and deep love of popular culture and art, and it is certainly that way for us.”
The band says their first album was slow to come together, because Haigh and Westaway spent a lot of time experimenting to get the sound right. “After the first album was released,” Gingell says, “there was a shared feeling that something special had been found.” They set out to write a cyberpunk-infused EP, but it grew as they wrote. “There’s just something about an album… and I think that translates to a more powerful experience for the listener, which is ultimately what it is all about.”
This time around, they were particularly inspired by modern science fiction. Haigh notes that they were particularly drawn to cyberpunk’s take on science fiction — a more realistic, gritty experience, which William Gibson summed up as wanting “to see dirt in the corners.” He went on to say that his “deep love for cyberpunk comes from the ingenious ideas of future technology but, critically, the impact those ideas will have on society,” and that the genre helps to expose that dirt that accumulates on the edges. While the future has turned out differently from what the 1980s imagined, Haigh notes that he sees their album as “a series of snapshots of various cinematic archetypes, familiar setups for people to write their own stories into,” and that they hope that the experience allows listeners “imaginations to run wild.”