'The Neon Syndicate' | An Interview
Synthronicity: The Neon Syndicate is a German Synthwave producer from Udine, Italy.
Music has been a constant part of his life ever since he started taking piano classes as a child, later switching to synthesizers and finally to computer music production. While early influences included prog legends such as Pink Floyd, The Neon Syndicate gradually moved away from rock towards electronic music, all the while developing a fascination for the 80's, finally finding his calling in Synthwave in 2018.
After having been in the works for more than a year, The Neon Syndicate’s debut album “Ignorance Raw Power” was released in late 2019. Its instrumental Synthwave tracks pack the punch and energy of contemporary electronic productions and clad them in 80's nostalgia, with a subtle but distinct progressive flavour to them.
The Neon Syndicate aims to give as many nostalgic time travelers as possible that same “aha!” moment he had when he first discovered the Synthwave genre. Check out the cool interview below...
Tell us a little about you, where you’re from and how you got started in Music?
I’m from Udine, a small town in north-eastern Italy, just a handful kms away from the borders to Austria and Slovenia. That’s where my father’s family traditionally is from, my mother’s however is German (she moved to Italy when her and my father decided to move in together), and she always made sure that heritage wasn’t lost: for instance, we’d celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24th, like they do in Germany, instead of the
morning after, which is customary in Italy... Which means I always got to open my presents before all my friends 😁 She’s also the one who first got me interested in music. Every day, the sound of her practicing piano would fill the house. One day - I must’ve been 7 or so - she said to me: “Aren’t you tired of just listening? Why don’t you start playing yourself?”. So I took up piano lessons!
How has your 2020 been? With the Gig situation how have you managed to stay reasonably sane?
Yeah, when this pandemic broke out, I had just played my first 2 gigs - nothing big, you know, a small club and a local music contest, but I was super pumped and there were definitely more irons in the fire. For instance, I had met this DJ managing a small club here in Trento (the city I’m currently living in) and as it turned out, he loves and spins Synthwave, too, so after some back and forth we had managed to organize an epic event (well... for this small town anyway 😁) which should’ve taken place end of March: a live Synthwave night, with Cosmo Cocktail and Intermission, two super talented Space-Synthwave and ambient-electronica producers, and Pumpkiller, another cool local Synthwave act, joining in as well; we had had some some sick flyer graphics prepared, too, hotels had been booked and everything... Man, was I looking forward to that!
Also, a friend of mine back in Udine had just started working in the event management sector (talk about perfect timing!) and there were at least 2 more gigs in the talks. On the other hand though, I can work on expanding my repertoire (which was admittedly pretty small), tweaking the sounds even further and simply practicing the songs more in order to be ready and prepared to hit the road once again when all this is over! Also, I have a YouTube
channel where I regularly post clips of me playing live - it’s not the same as playing in front of an actual live audience of course, but it’s tons of fun all the same!
Who are your influences in music today? Who did you listen to when you were growing up?
Back when I was a teenager, there was just one band for me: Pink Floyd. Now I know progressive rock from the 70's doesn’t have that much to share sound-wise with 80’s pop, the musical direction Synthwave liberally draws from, but in terms of vibes and atmosphere, there might well be some similarities! Dark and slow Synthwave in particular I think has a lot in common with albums like Wish You Were Here or Animals, so I wasn’t at all surprised when some of the people I asked for feedback on my first album came back to me saying they didn’t quite know how to explain it, but it somehow reminded them of Pink Floyd!
Also, I’m not so much a singles guy, I tend to prefer albums. To me it’s a bit like an album is a book and the songs that make it up are the chapters - instead of a “collection of singles”, where each song could work just as well on its own, I prefer for them to be interlinked in a way, like they’re telling a story; sure, a couple of them should probably work well on their own, too - after all, you need a single or two, right? But for the most part, they should be best
enjoyable as part of a whole and listened to in the particular order they were put in. That too, I think, comes from listening to Pink Floyd as much as I did back as a teenager: just about every album they released in the 70's is a concept album, the songs literally flowing into one another - sometimes you feel like you’re actually just listening to a single 40 minute long track!
Tell us your best and worst gig experience?
Well, I almost destroyed my PC during my second gig 😅 Come to think of it, way to go! Only 2 gigs played so far and I already have a “worst gig experience” to talk about, lol. Anyways, there was this contest I participated in where each candidate got to play one song in front of a live audience. The first half of my song, I was playing like normal, standing behind my keyboard, but on the second half there was a solo, so at home I had practiced
countless times suddenly picking up my controller, wearing it like a Keytar and moving forward towards the crowd for added epic-ness, which is exactly what I did on that occasion as well - only the moment I lifted my controller, the sudden absence of weight on that side of the stand immediately caused it to quickly start tilting towards the other side, where my PC was, ready to fall to the ground! They say you get an adrenaline rush in life-threatening
situations, and that was probably the case with me as I was seeing the tragedy unfold out of the corner of my eye. It all happened in a split second: I reacted instinctively, knocking my left elbow into the now free side of the stand to stabilize it, my left hand simultaneously reaching out towards my PC (which was inches away from crashing into the ground) to grab it and put it right in the safe area in the middle of the stand, my right hand not leaving the keys for a
second! I was able to go on without interrupting the song and play my solo the way I had planned it, so all’s well that ends well!
Is there anything new you’re working on currently that you’d like to share a little bit about?
I’m currently working on a couple new tracks, hopefully I’ll have enough material for an album by the end of the year. For this new release, I’m trying to move away from the heavier, more energy-packed kind of sound I was after with my first album (think Dynatron, Volkor X), I want this one to sound more like a “Dreamrider Lazerhawk meets Tonebox” sort of thing, a more minimal and evocative kind of atmosphere is what I’m after. In a nutshell, I’m completely changing my approach to sound design and mixing - and so far I’m enjoying every second of it!
If you couldn’t make the great music you are making today what would you be doing?
Before deciding to try to make it full time as a producer towards the end of last year (btw - still trying 😅), I’ve worked as a language teacher for about a year and a half. I enjoyed that quite a bit actually (though not as much as making music of course), so if this music thing shouldn’t work out the way I hope it does, I think I’d try to fall back on that.
If you’re having a bad day what do you do to make yourself feel better?
It sounds cliché, but I just sit down and work on a track. Now, there are those days when you fire up your daw, you start tweaking parameters and 3 hours in you haven’t come up with anything decent so you end up feeling even more depressed than before 😅 But in general, even if you don’t have anything to show for it, putting in the work (instead of say chilling on Netflix) in and of itself will already lift your spirit a bit. And if you actually manage to lay
down a sick riff or patch yourself a killer sound, then so much the better!
What’s next for you as an artist?
Studio work is and will continue to be my main occupation: working on new material, promoting my music, building relationships with people in the scene. But I’d really like to start playing live shows regularly as soon as it will be possible to do so again! This is one of the most compelling challenges for me, preparing a set where as much as possible of what the audience is hearing is actually being played live. That involves being able to scroll through
different patches (so as to play different parts of the song, say a pad during the verse and a lead during the chorus, as opposed to be playing say just the bass line start to finish), freely launching different sections of a song so as to change its structure (maybe the crowd is reacting well to a solo, so you might wanna double the length of that section, or maybe that particular song is not doing it for them so you might wanna skip the second verse and go
right to the final chorus, so as to just be done with it and move on as quickly as possible), muting stuff (maybe take away the drums from the pre-chorus only to bring them back in when the chorus his, making it that much more impactful), freely applying effects and risers whenever you feel like it (as opposed to pre-recording them, thus having them always activate/deactivate at the same timestamp every time), in a word: having enough variety and
control to potentially never play a given song the same way twice, truly bridging the gap between a DJ and a live band. Now that’s something that really fires me up!
If you could collaborate with anyone else on the scene who would it be and why?
That would have to be Lazerhawk. Boy do I love Lazerhawk! And I’m not talking classic Lazerhawk - you know, his first three albums: I actually don’t like those that much, just maybe a few tracks here and there. No, I’m talking Dreamrider baby! It’s one of the first synthwave albums I discovered, one of the ones that actually got me into this genre, and even though I’ve listened to countless other releases since then (many of which I’ve fallen in love with),
this one still holds a special place in my heart. Put on this album, close your eyes and it’ll truly feel like you’re dreaming! It starts with the mix: way less harsh high frequencies here than in his previous releases, which makes for a softer, more muffled sound - just like in a dream your senses aren’t as sharp.
Then you have the track names: Hypnic, Somnus, Oneiric... They’re all connected to the concept of sleep and dreaming, and you know by now how much of a sucker I am for this kind of things 😁 So you see, it’s not just the actual songs or the artwork: every single detail here has been taken care of to make sure you as a listener are taken on a journey, nothing has been neglected.
I think it’s an incredible artistic accomplishment! Plus it takes a lot of courage, putting out an album that’s almost chill-wave after having made a name for yourself as
a more traditional Synthwave act, one that even ventured into Darksynth territory with 2013’s Skull and Shark! To me that says: I don’t care about anything else when it comes to music, I’m wide open to experimenting and trying out new things.
Now doesn’t that sound like the perfect partner to collaborate with!
Favourite Movie and why?
Right now I feel particularly attached to a Ghibli movie, “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind”. For starters, the soundtrack is incredibly emotional and evocative, it’s one of those compositions where you don’t just simply enjoy the music, if you close your eyes you can actually see images in your head. And those images match the ones you see on screen perfectly: a remote future where the Earth has been polluted so much that only a few colonies have been left for mankind to live in, the rest having been swallowed by either desert or the “deep”, a sort of toxic forest with an incredible variety of enormous, spore producing plants, where the air is un-breathable and insects as big as dinosaurs have their territory.
As is usually the case with most Ghibli movies, the storyline is a little inconclusive (which personally I don’t mind at all: Hollywood style happy endings never really were my thing!), but the sound and images are so intense that before you even realize it, you find yourself carried away to that distant, imaginary world, and when the movie is over, it feels a bit like waking up from a dream.
How do you feel about the popularity of the Synth Genre as a whole and the new Generation of Producers who keep evolving?
You know, this reminds me, there was a heated debate a couple months back when Iron Skullet published an article under the title “Synthwave is dead”, with a lot of people taking offense as they felt like he was looking down on their work. I think it was all just a big misunderstanding. If you read the article, what he’s saying is that if anything, what’s dead is pure, old-school Synthwave, or actually the idea that that is the only possible form of
Synthwave; instead, Synthwave as a genre has outgrown its original boundaries, incorporating elements from other genres and turning into something new and different while still retaining its roots, and this evolution keeps the genre fresh and interesting and assures an increasing following - in short, the future looks bright. So Iron Skullet was
actually saying that Synthwave is more alive and kicking than ever! Befittingly, the second half of the title was: “Long live synthwave” - I guess many people just couldn’t bring themselves to read those 3 more words (let alone the article!) 😈
Personally, I agree 100% with what he’s saying (and bear in mind, this is coming from someone who waited half a year to get a reply to his playlist submission - and a negative one, too 😅): obsessing over strict rules never did anyone any good, even that 80's sound we all love and which purists are so hung up with wouldn’t exist had it not been for some pioneers experimenting and breaking the rules 40 years ago. That's what music is all about:
breaking rules, trying out new things, experimenting and feeling the joy of discovery! Ever heard any producer say "Damn, this new patch I created sounds absolutely phenomenal, it's like nothing I've ever heard before! Oh but wait, I didn't use a DX7 like they did back in the 80s... oh well, I'll just scrape it"?
What type of Hardware/Software to you use, do you have a preference?
My studio is basically a PC, a smartphone and a MIDI controller. Actually, drop the “basically”: it’s literally just that. Sometimes it’s even just a PC and a smartphone. So all the magic happens in the box. It’s insane how much software synths have improved over the last ten to fifteen years. I remember there still being fiery debate on recording forums back when I first ventured into computer music production around 2013-14, you had people who
swore by their hardware synths, claiming virtual instruments just didn’t sound as authentic, and those who insisted one wouldn’t be able to notice any difference between the two in a blind test. You don’t see those debates nowadays, not as much anyway, and for good reason! Between my software synths and samples of original hardware from the 80's, I feel I can patch together sounds that really satisfy me. Also, these past few years I’ve
never lived in the same city for more than a year and a half - imagine if I had a studio full of hardware, moving to a different place would be a hell of a lot more difficult!
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