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What Is "Synth-Punk"?

Posted by sage mace on
What Is "Synth-Punk"?

An anxious beat pulses as the synth-punk band, Suicide performs “Frankie Teardrop,” the iconic track off their 1977 debut album, Suicide. Synths grind and singer Alan Vega teeters towards insanity as he tells the story of a family killing Vietnam vet. Pioneers of synth-punk like Suicide and The Screamers replaced electric guitars with synthesizers and drums with drum machines, a bold and risky move. The sound they created is an industrial, avant-garde dissonance that led us to the synth-punk artists we love today. 



For Suicide, inspiration came from New York’s streets and the Vietnam protests of the ‘70s. In interview with The Guardian, Vega says: “We were talking about society’s suicide, especially American society. New York City was collapsing, the Vietnam war was going on. The name Suicide said it all to us.” Because of their name and sound, Suicide was banned from radio and couldn’t get gigs in their early years; when they did get gigs, things got violent: riots incited and objects thrown on stage. Vega recounts his ‘78 Glasgow show:

“I guess we were too punk even for the punk crowd. They hated us. I taunted them with, ‘you fuckers have to live through us to get to the main band.’ That’s when the axe came towards my head, missing me by a whisker.”

Across the country, the Screamers -led by Tommy Gear and Tomata du Plenty- battled for respect in the LA punk scene. Influenced by the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and drag culture, The Screamers developed a uniquely theatrical presence and sound. Like Suicide, they strayed from punk by excluding electric guitar: putting Gear on an ARP Odyssey synthesizer and Brown on a heavily distorted piano. In an interview, Gear explained their decision: “We wanted to push the synthesizer and make it as dynamic as the guitar but without the symbolism attached to it”--symbolism of crude masculinity, AKA “cock rock” as named by music critic Simon Birth. 

Off their EP, Screamers Demo Hollywood 1977, the famous track "Mater Dolores” races through lyrics on sorrow and sexuality, manically sung by Du Plenty. “Peer Pressure,” from the same EP,  is an anthem with its opening, “Everywhere I look, I get pressure from my peers, some of them are straight and some of them are queer!” By 1979, the Screamers sold out every show and pushed forward sonically, experimenting with violins.  


Though The Screamers never recorded their music, Jello Biafra and other artists name them as a key inspiration, and Suicide became equally legendary. Once Red Star Records signed Suicide, they became a huge success. In recent years, Rolling Stone ranked their debut album as one of the greatest of all time, and Pitchfork named it the best of the ‘70s. Today, both Suicide and the Screamers are hailed as godfathers of synth-punk who have influenced current artists.

In today's LA scene, Girl Pusher, a synth-punk duo, have a hard-core following. Their sound is industrial and raw, with Gabby Giuliano on vocals and Jarrod Hine producing the beats. The beats patch together samples from 911 calls and the “The Mercy Tapes,” creating a grating and haunting effect. At every sold-out show the screamed lyrics, full of untethered emotion, captivate fans.

A few miles south, N8NOFACE - a synth-punk artist out of Long Beach - dominates the LA punk scene. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Tuscon native ascended into fame during the COVID-19 lockdown, amassing an Instagram following of 40k+. Most recently, he's toured with City Morgue across the country.


Synth-Punk N8NoFace

N8’s success comes as no surprise, given his energetic stage presence and sound -- which draws from Suicide mixed with distinct hip hop and hardcore influences. His 2020 EP, Don’t Dial 911 shows a cover with a masked cop and the scrawled words, “killer kops in the USA.” The rage-filled lyrics in the EP echo The Screamer’s words of the ‘70 on topics such as police militarization and industrialization.

At Analog Cases, we're big fans of synth-punk music, and huge fans of N8NOFACE specifically, and we have some exciting upcoming collaborations with N8. First up, we will have an interview coming out with N8 here at THE PROGRAM. And for those still wanting more, in early 2022 we will release our first documentary film, "HOMECOMING", also focusing on N8's life and music, and produced by our in-house Creative Producer, Jose Soberanes. Until then, stay tuned for more Analog Feels playlists curated just for you, by the Analog Cases team. 

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