I was fortunate enough to catch up with Stu and Brett, the two brains behind Outland London.
Our conversation began with the basics.
So to begin, how’s it going?
Brett: Well, very well. It’s been an amazing journey to get to this point. We are very proud of how things are coming together.
For the readers at home who might not be familiar, can you give me a quick overview of the festival?
Stu: It’s a single evening event celebrating and showcasing synthwave and featuring a screening of cult classic pulp thriller Drive with Ryan Gosling.
We dive deep into some live synthwave from bands and artists from Holland, Germany and France as well as some home-grown talent making waves abroad.
It’s a full immersion event so we have a huge 24ft screen at our disposal, plus huge sound, lasers and projectors. There will be loads of retro and artist merchandise on sale and we even have some retro-styled cocktails to be enjoyed. The Clapham Grand is a venue so well suited to audio visual spectaculars so it was an easy venue choice for us.
Give me a brief history of Outland London; how and why you decided to put together a synthwave festival?
Brett: Stu and I are long time mates with an appreciation for music. We were relatively new to synthwave, or at least the genre name, and were really getting into it. We both loved Drive and had the soundtracks but that’s as far as it went. Then GUNSHIP really was the door that opened us up to ‘the grid’…
We wanted to go and experience these awesome sounds live, but we couldn’t find anything anywhere (some other events did pop up a bit later) and the scene, as we discovered, was quite small and niche… and we couldn’t understand why.
Stu has a background in music, as both a drummer, tour manager and event organiser. So we decided to do something about it – that was the start sometime last year. What would we do? How? Where would we do it? Would people come? The juices started flowing…
Stu: …And an idea formed, and it began with the movie Blade Runner and its sequel due for release in October. We tried to build the event around a screening of the original film but the screen license was unavailable. So the next best thing was Drive.
Brett: We also found that many people we were speaking too were not aware of this genre called ‘synthwave’, even though they were listening to some of the music, thanks to some popular movie soundtracks and of course M83 who popularised the style. The stuff we were listening too, was just too good not too want to share.
Stu: So we felt if we were going to do this, let’s try and do something different. Let’s go bigger. It was risky, but we were up to the challenge. Of course promotion, promotion, promotion is key.
Brett: We have met some amazing people along the way and have received a lot of help. OUTLAND is bringing people together in ways we didn’t expect…and that in itself is a great thing.
Our conversation then moved onto a look at the festival itself.
The lineup for the festival is fantastic! Are there any artists you’re particularly looking forward to seeing?
Brett: All of them. We chose our artists very carefully and love them all. We wanted to include a good headliner like Timecop1983 with a legend like 80sStallone, probably one of the first guys to start dabbling in new synthwave back in the MySpace era.
Stu also wanted a full live synthwave band performing, so Neon Lines from Strasbourg was a no-brainer. NINA is primed to go huge we think and no one comes close to the retro 80’ production like Sunglasses Kid does – his live show is amazing too.
The whole idea was born of the idea of having GUNSHIP perform live, and we courted them for months, but the boys were just too busy with the new album. Hopefully next time. But, we love their stuff so much, so we decided to do the next best thing… “A moment in time with GUNSHIP”… Playing a number of their most popular music videos on the Grand’s huge 24ft screen – we can’t think of a better way to watch ‘Fly for your Life’ in a setting like that.
And, on that note, are there any synthwave artists you would love to bring to Outland 2018?
Brett: We have plans…. BIG plans. This is only the beginning. Be excited… But first… OUTLAND LONDON 2017! Our goals for 2018 and beyond is a far reaching, multifaceted vision – the journey has only just begun. Our goals and ambitions with synthwave are all-inclusive.
We want to grow the scene and introduce more people to ‘The GRID’ – collaborating with like-minded people and scenes, bringing people together under the synthwave umbrella. Growing the community benefits everyone, the artists, the fans and the industry. We want to encourage LIVE gigs and supporting the live gigs, buying the music, the merchandise and spreading the word.
Tell me a little bit about the other attractions at Outland; it’s not just music, right?
Stu: Yeah so as mentioned before, we feel that every synthwave live performance needs to be accompanied by the visual aspect. A screen, good production on lights and sound as well as some lasers is important. Throw in some other tricks and the event becomes an amazing experience.
We’d like to see synthwave events do things differently to what we’ve seen from trance and house parties the last few years, but even those DJ’s are now instrumentalising and using visual as a medium. Tie in anything retro 80’s and the event then has more wow factor.
My chat with Stu and Brett moved onto a look at the genre of synthwave in general.
The growth of synthwave as a genre has been amazing to watch. What do you think is the reason for its rapid growth?
Brett: Synthwave has been around in one form or another for a while, just not quite mainstream. Perhaps this incarnation has only just started since things seemed to fizz out a bit a couple years after Drive. Ironically enough, with the advent of modern technology, almost anyone with a computer and some software at home can put together a knock-out track.
The same can be said for social media and the way we listen to music today. It’s so accessible and easy. I would also say, that people today are more open-minded and keen to listen to something new.
Also, how about the number of popular movies featuring that retro synth-like soundtracks? Films like Blade Runner and now Blade Runner 2049, Tron, Oblivion, Stranger Things…
Stu: …more recently Thor: Ragnorok and Death Note…and obviously Drive. Rob Green’s The Synthwave Show once a month on Artefaktor Radio has done huge things for synthwave music. He is bridging the gap between the 80s synthpop scene and modern synthwave scene. He has been a great help to us.
Brett: Precisely, they’ve all helped feed the interest. But thanks to modern technology, it’s possible to develop some decent music, create a name and a brand online, and never leave home. But, as fans ourselves, we love the live scene. Maybe we’re old school, but there’s something special about experiencing someone playing their music live.
There’s a tangible vibe at a live gig, it becomes an experience, something you simply miss sitting with your headphones on. With synthwave, the way this music is built, when you hear it live it goes right into your cells and reverberates through your bones. Our message to all the new producers cropping up is, don’t underestimate the opportunities of playing live. You may not feel that you need to, but consider it for the fans. Playing live certainly also helps you create a connection with your fans.
Who do you think the most exciting names are right now in the genre?
Brett: It’s pretty subjective, there are so many… as many as there are sub genres within Synthwave, but, GUNSHIP has a new album out soon and it’s going to be a cracker! That said, there are so many new guys exploding onto the scene, so much stuff we’re missing and so much stuff we’re only now beginning to find out.
My iPod is literally just synthwave – it has just taken over, like a computer virus… Just booted everything else out! One of Stu’s mates who recently got into synthwave says he doesn’t listen to rock anymore! If we had to drop some names they have to be Nina, Timecop1983, Neon Lines, The Sunglasses Kid, 80s Stallone is making a big comeback…. Local UK talent like Kalax, LeBrock, New Arcades, Sol Flare, Knight$, White Tiger and The Department are amazing.
Stu: The scene out of Hungary is amazing – the production of Auto Reverse is second to none. It goes without saying that legend acts from across the pond like Lazerhawk, Trevor Something, Miami Nights 1984, Dance With The Dead, Droid Bishop are all still so good, and relevant.
Our converastion ended with that age-old GMM question.
Tell me your thoughts about the current state of the music industry and what advice you would give to young artists looking to break into it.
Stu: There’s just so much music out there now isn’t there? The age of the rockstar has come to an end. The corporate dinosaur record labels are fizzing out and relying on their old catalogues gained through really shady record deals with artists between the 70s and early 90s.
I think we’ve seen the last of the musicians who can safely shore up a pension by signing a record deal. We will see more flash in the pan artists and so this opens up new possibilities for the indie scene. There won’t be the need for a record deal and since the medium of radio (which to some extent was also controlled by the big labels) is being replaced with streaming platforms where any Joe can upload their tunes too, it spells success for the home producer.
GUNSHIP sold something like 3,000 LP’s on the first day of their last release! They built an online brand out of an idea – but they’re great musicians too and that’s where it counts. My advice to young artists is work hard and hone your craft – visualise, materialise – don’t churn out just any tune. The most successful bands are the ones that rehearse every day, recording songs and throwing some away or reworking them. These things take time and passion and as long as the new guys on the block keep that in mind, it’s easy to make a living out of writing music, especially synthwave.
It almost feels like synthwave production is the money-pot genre to be in at the moment. But we need the guys to perform their songs live, even if they include an SPD to pull off the percussive elements of the song. My fear is that if the producers don’t embrace the live scene, that we will end up with a pseudo-trance house scene, where ‘DJ’s’ end up playing the music and making a name for themselves, instead of the producer.
Brett: We are so grateful to the guys and gals playing at OUTLAND. These are real professionals with insane talent, who all get this and we hope that the experience of playing at the Grand will blow everyone away… On both sides of the stage… And hopefully introduce and inspire some new blood into the scene at the same time.