The G / Concrete Island
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a shift going on out there. Synthwave as a genre is growing, and as anything grows their are pains, especially when the pool gets as crowded as it has become. Then it becomes a sink or swim kind of situation, not just for the artists involved, but for the genre itself. We’ve all seen entire styles of music sink on the bloated mass it has become as oversaturation within a market reaches capacity. That brings me back to that shift I mentioned…as everyone else is out there copying the “next big thing,” there are other artists, artists like The G, who are out there pushing boundaries, actually creating new and exciting avenues to explore. This not only makes a statement that A.) synthwave is growing in positive ways to compensate for the overpopulation, and B.) there are leaders in this community that aren’t going down without a fight. Want a perfect example of what I’m talking about? Concrete Island is it.
With Concrete Island, not only is The G showing that he’s got serious writing chops, he’s once again one-upped his previous release (which had already topped his debut). Honestly, some of his more casual fans may find this album difficult at first. There’s nothing here that jumps out at you and says, “Hey look at me, I’m the most neon and chrome thing you’ve heard all year!” My response to that is, “Good!” It doesn’t make the album any less synthwave…it’s synthwave with serious depth, expansive soundscapes, and nuances that will keep you hearing new things on your repeat listens. For me, a lot of recent synthwave has become the equivalent of fast food takeout. Concrete Island is more akin to a fine dining experience.
Let’s find out a little more about the album from the source! I had a chance to talk to The G this week ahead of the album release:
First things first, it’s been a while since we talked! How are you?
I’m good! Back in LA after 2 years in Singapore—which was great, I should add, but I’m also happy to be home.
You have new music, what sets Concrete Island apart from your previous work?
The music I make tends to reflect the headspace I’m in at that moment. Postcards from LA is fun, upbeat music – a love letter to driving up the Southern California coast, which I was doing a lot of at the time. Cosmopolis is moodier. It’s not dark music, per se, but it’s night music. Like, you’re driving alone and you approach the city at night. It looks so futuristic, it’s almost like an alien world. But even though Cosmopolis and Postcards are trying to express different things, I used a lot of the same kinds of sounds, beats and techniques across both releases, so they really fit together too.
Concrete Island is a very different beast. I started work on it in late 2016. That was a moment of deep anxiety – there was just so much fear and anger. So, I turned to music to try to make sense of how I was feeling about all that. And this vision came to me, of a black-and-white film made in 1983 but set in a different 2016 – a road trip across a bleak landscape of overgrown freeways, abandoned buildings and decaying monuments to a collapsed civilization. Concrete Island is the soundtrack to that film.
Because it’s soundtrack music, Concrete Island doesn’t have the hooks that either of its predecessors did. Really, it’s pattern-based music with a strong emphasis on atmosphere and texture. Debatable whether it’s synthwave, though it’s definitely retro ‘80s music. I guess it all depends on how you define the genre.
How did you approach the writing of this album?
I’ve always loved the more cinematic side of synth music. For example, RR7349 by S U R V I V E and Wilderness by Makeup & Vanity Set. Music that builds tension by introducing new patterns and textures, rather than shifting from verse to chorus and so on. I’ve always liked that approach to composition – not just in the synth scene, but outside of it too. Like Steve Reich or Maceo Plex. And let’s not forget about John Carpenter. You can’t find a better title theme than the ones he did for Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape from New York. I wanted to make something along those lines – something really evocative of time and place. So I started with some Carpenter-esque arpeggios and sort of just went from there.
In terms of production, I wanted Concrete Island to have a really authentic sound – to sound like it could have been made in 1983, even though it wasn’t. I started by going back to the classic synth sounds of that era. I’ve always loved the “American sound” made famous by Sequential Circuits and Oberheim synths – these almost impossibly fat, analog tones. In a sense, Concrete Island is an homage to the Pro-One and OB-X, as well as the Prophet 5, Matrix* and Roland Jupiter-8. Nearly alll the sounds used in Concrete Island trace back to one of those synths.
*Technically the Matrix was first introduced in 1986, but who’s keeping track.
I also tried to use or emulate studio processes that were common back then. Like, using preamp overdrive and plug-ins to emulate classic SSL consoles, or using very short delay tails instead of reverb. And I ran everything through tape for a bit of saturation and warmth.
The point of all this was to make music that really evokes this imaginary film, Concrete Island.
You’re also known for your mastering work. Have you had your hands in any interesting projects?
I’ve had to take a step back from mastering, due to a sharp downturn in available time. But I’m still working on some cool projects. One I’m really excited about is Dreamer’s Avenue. It’s really gorgeous, purist’s synthwave—great hooks and a strong nostalgic vibe. I’d say it’s more on a Timecop 1983 than Midnight tip, though it has its own unique feel too. Just wait until the full EP drops—you’ll love it!
Thanks so much for talking with me. Anything you’d like to add before we go?
Since I started this project, I’ve discovered some kindred spirits, artists who are also making synth soundtracks to films that were never made. A few really good ones are: Night Sequences by Europaweite Aussichten, Ballard by OGRE, Night Acquisitions by Correlations and Quantum Memories by Gregorio Franco. So, if you like Concrete Island, check those out as well!
You can snag Concrete Island RIGHT NOW over at the TimeSlave Recordings Bandcamp page, not just in digital, but also in limited edition cassette and vinyl as well!