I’ve said it before on the blog but my relationship with synthwave (or just “dance music”, as you’ll see it described in the interview below) has been tense at best. From its problematic, and often just plain repetitive and cliche themes, through the musical rut the genre has been for the last few years, I’ve been looking for more and more deviants from the norm to satisfy my neon cravings. People like SurgeryHead, Micronode, and, prominently, Dan Terminus.
As far as monstrous beats, bold science fiction visions, and just an overall disregard for how the genre “should” sound, Dan Terminus has been the one of the main ways I scratch my synthwave itch for years now. And now, just two weeks ago, he has released Last Call for All Passengers, one of his more fluid, experimental, and dynamics albums. It has your massive synths and world-shattering beats but also record scratches, weird, distorted vocal lines, ambience and much more.
So, what better time to grab the man himself and dig into his mind a bit? What follows is a fascinating interview with Dan Terminus, his ideas about synthwave, how he makes music, and what he thinks the future has in store. Strap in, turn up the volume, and get ready to fight cyborg horse demons from hell!
Hello Mr. Terminus! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. Let’s get right down to it: what would you make of the state of the synthwave scene today? Last decade was the “big bang” of the style; do you still consider it alive today? Are you part of it still?
Hello and thanks for interviewing me.
I don’t know much of the synthwave scene today because I don’t listen to synthwave on a regular basis. Some of the producers I like are still up and running although they seem to have shifted their sound to something different.
I believe synthwave is still a thing, though. It has been around since a little more than ten years now. And ten years for something that was born on the internet is a long time. I believe to be a part of the synthwave scene, even though I don’t go into a full “Miami Beach Lazer Cop NightCruiser Walkman Dreams 1984” kind of aesthetics.
Don’t get me wrong, I like such aesthetics. But I want to try my hand at something different instead. Synthwave is home to many genres and sub-genres, there got to be one style for everyone. At the end of day, we’re all making dance music, so to speak !
I started making synthwave music a little less than ten years ago, and as much as I’d love to put out a pure, cheesy 80s, snare w/ gated reverb, Miami Beach album, I can’t be writing the same thing forever. I could write The Wrath of Code 2, but let’s face it: it’s not rewarding from an artistic standpoint.
To outdo myself is what I aim for, although it’s sometimes difficult to come up with something fresh.
It’s pretty safe to say that science fiction as well as fantasy are big influences on your albums. Is this a conscious choice on your part when choosing cover art, track names, and so on or is this just a style you happen to gravitate towards?
I don’t think of anything, to be honest. I have a general direction I try to follow. I try to be spontaneous, which by implication means that all of the books, records, paintings etc I’ve stored somewhere in my mind go into full random mode and send some sort of a neural mess to my brain.
For cover art, I leave it to Luca Carey, my official painter. He’s a true artist. It’s better to give him a few indications and let him do the rest. You don’t want to put limitations on such a genius.
Right now, I’m re-reading my Blame! books and the ever so wonderful Carceri d’Invenzione by Piranesi, so I guess all of this must be an unconscious influence at some point.
You went in a different direction with the cover art for Last Call For All Passengers, darker and more focused. Was this a conscious choice? Do you see this album as darker than your previous works?
Absolutely, although for me it is not dark. I sent Luca a few indications, meaning I wanted a horse that would be a mix between a Merens (robust French black mountain horse) and a Trait Comtois (French draft horse), standing in a world with no sign of human life whatsoever. I also insisted on him using three colors only (because he usually uses 1000 per square centimeter), which was quite a challenge to him.
But for the back cover, I let him go wild and paint whatever it is that he wanted to paint. The front cover is my vision, so to speak. It’s a max zoom-in into a strange world with horses. The back cover is Luca’s vision. It’s a max zoom-out and it shows the unfathomable and horrifying reality.
This album isn’t dark, really. I wrote it after burning out. I fell asleep at the wheel and smashed my car into a wall. After nine years working for a rather big company, I burned out, resigned and wrote music. During this time I spent home to recover, I wrote a whole album of fast, primal, insufferable, violent electronic tracks. But they were written under a specific frame of mind that, once I’ve extracted myself from the burn out, didn’t sound good to me anymore.
I relistened to the album while touring Europe with Perturbator, and I was immediately blown away at how mediocre the album was. So I dumped it and wrote another one, called Last Call For All Passengers. Last Call For All Passengers is an album that deals with coming back to life. Not that cliché phoenix rising from the ashes shitty stuff, no. I’m more into a “Let’s be alive, now” frame of mind.
I think for me, “Disfigured” leaps up out of the album the most. It has this sinister vibe that is just hard to resist! Tell us more about this track; how did you end up with this darker, more ominous vibe?
Disfigured is a simple track I came up with. I hear music in my head, I’ll remember it or shape it to my liking and then I’ll reproduce it in my DAW. I don’t mean to be dark or ominous or stygian on purpose, it just comes naturally. And sometimes, if the track needs more darkness, then I’ll crank the “Darkness” slider up to 100.
I am not saying this to sound cool, though. I just hear music in my head and I’ll write it electronically, nothing more. There’s no secret, no magic trick, no special formula behind this. It’s tragically normal for me to write such music! Of course, once I get the main idea, I toy around with it and make it better (or worse, depends). And the “disfigured” vocal shout is just me toying around with a speech synthesizer.
“Disfigured” also works really well because it leads into the more up-tempo “Multitude”. Is that something you take into consideration when arranging your albums? How tracks feed into each other and contrast?
Yes and no. I have wanted to segue tracks into each other for a moment (and Blood Music has been suggesting the idea to me for as long as I can remember!) but I’m way too lazy to do it properly. The Darkest Benthic Division has a logical order, because it follows the (tiny little) story I wrote to go along the music.
The Wrath of Code is in the same vein. I try to keep a certain logic when deciding on the track order. It all depends on the tracks, eventually. If I were to make a death-metal album, I wouldn’t care.
But in the end, except if you’re listening to the album on vinyl, it most of the time ends up in shuffle mode on an iPod, so.
Finally, this is a weirder question I like to ask electronic/synthwave artists: how do you feel about the future? Obviously the world is a mess right now but this type of music always makes people think about the future. Are you hopeful? Scared? Is synthwave a way to deal/think about this future?
The bleak and hopeless cyberpunk future imagined thirty years ago is now our everyday life, except we don’t have flying cars, replicants, offworld colonies yet. We ARE living in a cyberpunk world today, except it’s not sexy, not flashy, not glittery, not nice at all (if cyberpunk was ever meant to be “nice”).
Come on, if we were to switch to transhumanism tomorrow, we all know how it would end: basic neural interface with ads every thirty seconds straight into your vision, non-stop conf call, electronic slavery with top managers constantly bombing you with emails, conscience transfers turning your mind into a basic USB key, ads in your dreams, revshare for your thoughts etc etc.
People think transhumanism is the shit, but it isn’t. It’s gonna be terrible when it happens, it’s gonna be fuckin bleak, it’s gonna be fuckin atrocious and inhuman. I don’t see how we could handle such “technology” wisely, to be honest.
Take a look at what’s going on with the C-Virus right now: human life doesn’t matter, only the economy does. I don’t wish death to anyone in this world, but if the C-Virus was as lethal as the Black Plague in Europe and if we had rotting, stinking piles of corpses everywhere in the cities, THEN AND ONLY THEN would we care for and save human life. But no. “Save economy first”.
The world has always been both a hateful and loving place, a cruel and reassuring place. But it’s been darker these days.
We’ll either end up in a Mad Max or Star Trek world. Whereas in reality, we all live in an X-Files world right now. I don’t mind because the X- Files is the only TV show I watch.
I’m pessimistic on the short run, and optimistic on the long run. We have technology but we use it badly, as kids in a sandbox who would toy around with plasma rifles in the fourty watt range, you know?
I just hope we can live long enough to heal the planet and get our ass to Mars.