Growing up in the 1980s, there was a lot of emphasis on synthesizers in music to make it more interesting, even to the point where drum machines replaced the sound of a traditional drum kit. The “cool” crowd at the time was the skateboarders, and though I wasn’t very adept at skateboarding, it was the synthpop music they listened to while skateboarding that drew me in to their world. Not all of it was good; some of it was downright obnoxious. Many of the bands that participated in that phenomenon became one hit wonders, but some were more than just a fluke. Examples of such bands that excelled at the budding craft of synthpop (back then referred to as New Wave) that I listened to were The Cars, The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order, and many others (with honorable mention going to Romeo Void and Animotion for their critical contributions as well). Into the early 1990s, much of the synthpop movement had been abandoned in favor of the grunge sound with heavy guitar distortion and traditional drums taking center stage, but some bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins (one of my all-time favorite groups still going strong to this day) continued to inject synthpop in their music to keep it relevant and alive. Though the Smashing Pumpkins produced a beautifully assembled album of all synthpop tunes that was way before its time and severely underappreciated (Adore) in an attempt to revive the format, the scene would be abandoned yet again with boy bands and other bubble gum pop singers taking over the airwaves. This era sent many important artists to the bench, but a new one would arise in response to the lack of authenticity and passion: Orgy.
Orgy was a band out of California that consisted of lead singer Jay Gordon and guitarists Amir Derakh and Ryan Shuck as the core members. Their music was powerful because they found a way to balance synthpop with an infusion of rock ‘n roll that completely redefined the genre. One of their biggest hits “Blue Monday” (a New Order cover) was an obvious nod to their synthpop upbringing and a symbolic way of passing the torch. Though Orgy was a fantastic band, Amir and Ryan had additional ideas of their own that wasn’t able to be revealed through Orgy. As a side project, Amir and Ryan formed the band Julien-K to bring their experimental concepts to fruition. The result of this collaboration led to the discovery of two facts: Ryan was an amazing singer (more so than Jay Gordon) and as a duo, Amir and Ryan had exceptional talent that outgrew Orgy. Their initial plan was to make a full album, but they decided to take their time with its creation to ensure that their debut was the best possible. Along the way they contributed songs to video games such as Sonic Heroes (“This Machine”) and Shadow the Hedgehog (“Waking Up”) to gain exposure during their production process. These two songs were amazing in their own right, and it only fueled the desire to hear what they had in store for their LP. When “Death to Analog” was finally completed and released in 2009, it was officially the reinvention of synthpop. To compliment Julien-K, Amir and Ryan collaborated with lead singer Chester Bennington of Linkin Park to indulge in his side project, Dead by Sunrise. Dead by Sunrise echoed the sentiments of Julien-K while expanding upon the use of synthesizers against a rock music backdrop. Both albums are pure audio bliss, and with their next album, “We’re Here With You”, Amir and Ryan solidified their place as the leaders of the latest evolution of the synthpop format.
Recently, Julien-K has begun to release a third album in smaller EP doses entitled “California Noir” in an effort to bring new music to their fans faster than before. The first three songs, “California Noir”, “She’s the Pretender”, and “No You Can’t” are extremely addictive and intoxicating and find heavy rotation in my playlists. Being a former ‘west coaster’ myself, I can honestly say that the music of back home fits perfectly with the atmosphere of tech nerds and comic geeks, because I proudly belong to that group. We are the new “cool” crowd. Whether it’s using my BlackBerry 10 device or watching the latest Captain America movie, the ambiance has an enormous impact on the overall experience. When Julien-K comes through my speakers or my ear buds, everything is that much more exciting and invigorating. For many, this universe is still undiscovered, so if you are in the market for something new to enhance your life, Julien-K won’t disappoint.