When one thinks about synthwave they more often than not conjure up images of neon landscapes made up of transparent grids, sunsets, beaches, palm trees, fast cars and anything else that may fit into such an aesthetic. That said, one does not tend to think about upside down crosses, demons, serial killers and an overall sense of evil. However, for every genre that has ever existed there lies a much darker side, a sub-genre which turns things on their head and produces a much heavier sound in response. For synthwave, that would be darkwave or darksynth, either name seemingly interchangeable for the most part, with well-known acts such as Carpenter Brut, GosT, Perturbator, and Dance with the Dead carrying the torch. Of course, for every well-known act in such sub-genres, there are those who are scratching, clawing and going through hell to be noticed, many of whom were influenced by those already leading that proverbial charge.
Gregorio Franco is one of those dark souls of the synth and, if what he’s produced thus far is any indication, he is not the only one to keep an ear to the ground on but one to keep an eye out for as well; he’s got the tools and the talent to one day lead the way himself. Hailing from Atlanta, this Georgia native brings the heat with hell fire and brimstone on his latest release entitled The Dark Beyond, an unrelenting assault on the senses. He accomplishes this with the most sinister synths you’ve ever heard. The album begins, appropriately enough, with a song entitled “Sign of Evil”. Opening with a muffled demonic voice echoing among heavy reverb that’ll pop your eardrums, the track is but a simple warning of what’s to come, namely industrialized electro by way of synthesized death metal. Indeed, after talking with Gregorio Franco himself, I learned that he gains much influence from metal bands such as Entombed, Celtic Frost, Bolt Thrower, and Emperor.
“Midnighter,” the second song on the album, certainly brings in these influences with a deep bass throughout that simply crushes and slams on the synth with frantic fury. Beyond his metal influences, Gregorio Franco also finds inspiration behind the synth-ladened soundtracks of yesteryear which were provided by the likes of John Carpenter, Goblin, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream. It’s these forebearers of the synth that, Gregorio Franco says, “inspired me to push forward and create a sound that’s both memorable and new at the same time.” This appreciation led to him producing a tribute album to some of those influences, entitled Future Past: A Tribute Collection, which features an amazing rendition of the theme to Escape from New York:
However, as stated before, Gregorio Franco ultimately seeks to go beyond tributes by creating soundtracks of his own such as with Stalker, a concept album in the sense of being the soundtrack to a slasher film that does not really exist. This is actually a common theme in the synthwave community, and was brilliantly written about in a recent blog post over on Bandcamp. Gregorio Franco exceptionally shows off his talent for the style on the aforementioned album. Perhaps no better track on said album can be pointed to as an example of this more than “Scene VI: Into the Sewer,” a beautifully haunting piece that starts slow and brooding, pulsing and pounding with dread, before escalating into an all out panic attack; it’s something that could have easily played in the background of an old school grindhouse splatter flick.
In describing his process to me, Gregorio Franco mostly works “in-the-box” by producing his sound with the most recent FL Studio Producer Edition for his digital audio workstation, with Kontakt plugins, as well as a Roland JD-Xi and Novation MiniNova for controllers and patches. While he admitted that this has made performing live a “bit of a struggle” at times, as live performances can “sometimes seem a bit piped-in, like a glorified DJ set,” he has added “live synth embellishments and segues to compliment the hard tracks that were already there” with plans to add a live guitar into the mix as well. Regardless of these early technical hurdles, Gregorio Franco has persevered and shows no signs of slowing down, constantly looking to improve and make a name for himself in the process after getting his start by opening for GosT just this past February. In September he will be opening for Perturbator and in November he will be apart of the first annual Echosynthetic Festival.
This summer has been known amongst the synthwave community as “the summer of synth” but, according to Gregorio Franco, for him it’ll be all about the dark, cold and harsh winter as he has more material lined up for release alongside his upcoming live performances. Oh, and just in case you thought Gregorio Franco didn’t have a lighter side, he also produced a short tribute album of music from Mega Man X which is simply phenomenal: