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1989 bedroom vintage synthwave euro dance retro synth music

Allow me to set the scene……….

The sky is always there, recreation of a vintage bedroom studio hiss fest.

 

It’s 1989 and you are in your bedroom with your synths, some analogue, some digital and a few rather piercing to the ear. Cubase 1.0 is fired up on the Atari and your mixing desk is rather more hissy than you would like, as is your aging 1/4 inch 4 track that you sync via SMPTE. You wished you could distribute your music on CD-R but it costs too much for a short CD-R run (10 CD-R’s duplicated are £80.00 according to the back pages of Sound on Sound magazine).

Instead you have to use your tape deck and an TDK SA-90 to record to. It’ll have to do. As you transfer it over to Youtube 35 years later you are under no illusions, the TDK cassette did not age well.

 

VICE synthwave retro vintage 80s drums
UJAM Vice great for 80’s drums

And yes this cardboard box that I still have actually held 10 x duplicated CD-R’s with tracks I made. I found the duplication service in the back of Sound on Sound mag ! (Albeit from about 1993)

CD-R recordable CD for Synthwave eurobeat goa trance

WavesFactory Cassette vintage retro tape emulation synthwave
Wavesfactory Cassette, a great lo fi assistant

 

This track is nasty, in a good way, it’s meant to be, it’s hissy, a little piercing at times. Leaving behind ultimate control freak levels of automation, sample accurate digital precision and detail. I have gone full circle and made late 80’s nasty trash. (Here is a very modern dance music production I have produced myself for juxtaposition, just in case this very lo fi sound tarnishes my reputation.) Scroll past this link if you don’t care and are loving the recreation of pitchy, hissy, 80’s bedroom trash.

Inspiration, organization and the key to finishing your DAW music tracks.

 

It’s so bad, it’s good. And the aesthetic comes from a track that I was very drawn to, part by melodic feel, atmosphere and part an almost broken sonic aesthetic that pinned this music directly into time and space itself.

 

TAL U NO X synthwave synthpop retro vintage Juno 106 80s
TAL-U-No-X Roland Juno 60 emulation, a very good one.

Really ? A bedroom in 1989, what is the point ?

Total creative freedom I would argue, yes pretty niche, the instrumentation and style of track would not work without its lo fi counterpart aesthetic. The drums, instrumentation, choices of sounds used and overall feel would not be done justice with modern production values. Not to mention that the process is very enjoyable for a sound engineer and it is a nod to the pioneers who were making this music which was futuristic and cutting edge at the time.

I like the connection you get emotionally by retracing the music of the past. There is also a simplicity to the production which allows the feel of the music to speak a little more than it might otherwise for early dance music/proto trance. In modern forms, melody is implied rather than allowed to flourish. (just await the cheese-tastic solo)

I love that about the sonics of an era, or even of a sub sector of an era, the less than well equipped bedroom studio of 1989. There were no Mackie desks yet and no DAT tapes to take care of that serious noise floor. And let’s just be thankful that your cheap tape machines with HF roll off and tape compression partly took care of those horrid digital synths. Not to mention the misjudged EQing decisions you made on some of the lead synths. (Those old hi fi speakers were never great.) But who cares ? You made your tracks anyway. Filled with character to be largely consigned to history, until 2024 when you dig out your old tapes.

 

Baby Audio BA-1 synthwave retro sounds
BA-1 Synth emulation of Yamaha CS-01 perfect for a retrodelic pitchy, hiss fest.

Mainland European origins :

The track is of the Proto Goa Trance era, many tracks were picked up from all around Europe that had a certain feel by a DJ known as Laurent. As such European language (French German and Italian feature, saying what I hope is : “Big sky, big thoughts”, inspired from a short walk with large Cumulonimbus formations a few weeks ago. By and large it was up to Laurent and I suspect some good aquaintences if your track made the grade to be played on those distant beaches. Some were industrial, some Euro beat, spacey synth, Italo pop, Body music, New beat, Tech trance and Electro. Genres somewhat less spoken of these days.

Melodic feel and faux vintage techniques revealed :

This track is written in Mixolidian mode which has given it a clear eastern melodic feel. It is a great scale to play and as you can hear there is an extended synth solo.I used my usual techniques of Slate Virtual Console Collection with Trident desk which I think may be closest to a mixer that may have been used at the time. Though the Trident almost certainly superior than any home desk such as a Studiomaster Diamond, a Series II 16-8-2 or maybe a Seck Model 1882.

 

 

Plug ins for synth wave and synthpop 1 80s
Various effects processing

 

And what of synthesis ?

 

Synths were chosen based on having the right sounds for the time, interestingly some of them modern synths such AIR Hybrid 3 synth which has some lovely old classic sounding synths of bright disposition, there is a distinct smell of cheese with some of these leads.

 

Hybrid 3 synthwave retro 80s vintage
AIR Hybrid 3 synth, bright and piercing

 

A synth I was not expecting to use was Sonic Academy ANA2 but I recall what a nice set of filters it has from prior use and used it for a mysterious “wiry” acid arpeggiated style sound that first appears at 00:41. For this I felt the Moog style filter produced the sound I was after along with some pretend desk channel overload.

 

Kawai K1 for synthwave 80s retro vintage
KAWAI K1

 

Other synths that made an appearance were Sylenth1 on bass (a synthwave style bass, multi voice, pseudo stereo and rather unstable), Baby Audio BA-1, D-16 Phoscyon for various acids, TAL-U-No-X (Juno emulation) I also used a KAWAI K1 emulation for some choir pad sounds.

 

 

 

Synthwave Sylenth1 synthpop vntage retro 80s
A versatile modern classic Sylenth1

 

Roland TB- 303 for synthwave 80s retro vintage
Phoscyon, a decent Roland TB-303 emulation

 

Sonic academy ANA2 for synthwave and synthpop 80s retro vintage
An unusual contemporary choice, ANA2 with a lovely wiry moog style filter

Drumming up interest

 

For drums I predominantly used NI Battery for Linn drums and an 808 kit and also UJAM VICE a retro 80’s inspired drum sample player. For the characterful filtered percussive sound I used Rob Papen Blue III. With a single noise oscillator in use, I assigned a 12dB/Oct low pass filter cut off to velocity, they have a little “whistle” to them produced by adding some Q resonance and on board filter distortion. This needs to be set up precisely to produce the correct effect. A little research suggests this may have been the Simmons SDSV (5) as it had a very interesting noise oscillator which had ability to adjust the tone of the noise (using a tone filter).

 

 

Simmons Linndrum 808 drums synthwave 80s drums
Linndrum and 808 courtesy Battery

 

80s filter drums simmons retro vintage Blue III
Velocity sensitive filter cut off percussion created using Blue III white noise with Q and DIST

Effecting the past ?

 

For effects processing I used Super VHS to add various ‘lo fi’ effects. Reverb courtesy of Steinberg RoomWorks SE (it had just the right sound I was after, a little zingy and metallic at some settings great for mid/late 80’s zing-o-verb) reminiscent of an Alesis Quadraverb of 1988 vintage. Even though such reverbs are now looked down upon they had their own splashy charm.

 

https://www.vintagedigital.com.au/alesis-quadraverb-digital-effects-processor/

 

VST plug ins for synthwave retro vintage 80s synthpop
Just some more processing that worked well including RoomworksSE for some nice metallic splashy reverb

 

Some Lexicon PCM also appears. Without any doubt a big part of the sound is Wavesfactory Cassette where I made some custom settings to produce the aged sound I was looking for. A silly -54dBFS noise floor with hum (against a peak track level of -12dBFS during mixing) pervading the entire track.

 

Very little has been EQ’d into submission, there is very little dynamic control the occasional DC8C touching a few sounds as there may have been a Drawmer 1960 compressor available in the studio at the time if lucky and the newly released Alesis 3630.

 

Super VHS for synthwave and synthpop retro vintage 80s
Baby Audio Super VHS, look at it, you cannot go wrong for pitchy, hissy retrodelic sounds

 

 

I had to make some sonic adjustments to the voice elements in order to age them a little as I noticed they were a little too contemporary sounding to quite fit in. A little EQ and a pass through Steinberg Magneto helped.

 

Wrapping it up :

Mastering was exceptionally light, just bring up the level and stopping anything exceeding -1dBFS with a limiter on the loudest peaks, I saw -0.1dB gain reduction. Even subtle look ahead limiting of 1dB quickly changed the sound away from that desired, the dynamic ceiling for this sound should be transients and nothing else. It’s testament to the need for a type of precision, even when making something very lo-fi.

The uploaded master waveform is nice and hairy and not squared, around -15 LUFS integrated. My goal is looking to achieve a specific sound, not a volume level. In 1989, these times the full musical dynamics were intact, even though the origins of early dance music are evident. It is safe to say dither was not required for this track with its very significant noise floor.

This track was very casual and very enjoyable to make. I am fascinated by sound qualities, excellent and not so good and it is very interesting to me how the role of nostalgia connects us with music. That sentimental reflection back through time adds something very interesting to music. I enjoyed creating something with a focus on atmosphere and feel, it’s electronic yet very human too.

High production standards will always remain an important aim but once in a while it is nice to let go of the reins of precision and go ‘lofi’ and break the rules with intent creating an authentic take on a late 80’s bedroom sound. That’s freedom, freedom to make something out of the ordinary and something artists need to hold onto. Recreating the past takes some thought and application of knowledge to successfully make a ‘sound of a time’ and it is becoming a bit of a hobby of mine.

If you would like 23 years of sound engineering experience applied to your music in the form of mastering please do not hesitate to get in contact :

safeandsound123 at googlemail.com (at being @ no gaps)

Mobile  : 0044 (0) 7810271371

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