“They’re coming for an experience. Basically, coming on a trip back to a time they wish they experienced but never had.” On 5 May, Glasgow will host Outland’s second ever synthwave music festival. Brett Simpson, co-founder of the group, says they can’t keep the scene to themselves. But what is synthwave?
Put simply, it’s a genre of electronic music heavily inspired by 80s films and games. Although its name may not be familiar to many, the music will be. Stranger Things, the hugely popular Netflix show, has used synthwave music throughout its first two seasons.
But here’s the problem, “People know the music, but they’re not aware it falls under this broad genre called synthwave. That’s part of Outland’s mission – bringing it to a larger audience and the greater public.”
Alongside long-time best friend, Stuart McLaren, they hosted their first ever event in London last year, attracting a staggering 700 people to the gig.
“It was huge. We were hoping for a lot of people, but we weren’t quite expecting that many. It was really amazing; the vibe was so good.”
They had live performances from big name synth acts, such as 80s Stallone and Timecop1983, and a screening of 2011 film Drive, another film that has helped popularize the genre.
Born in South Africa and moving to London in their early teens, Brett and Stuart have been friends for most of their lives. With Brett constantly going to gigs and Stuart having a background in music production, “there’s always been that love of music.”
Brett discovered the genre when he stumbled across a band called Gunship, arguably the biggest synthwave band in the UK, building a large following since the release of their debut album in 2015.
“I loved their sound, and it was something quite unusual I’d never heard before. That pretty much started me on my synthwave journey. It was like diving into the rabbit hole and never coming back.”
Brett introduced Gunship to Stuart, and the pair have been discovering new bands ever since. But when they tried to seek out the music being played in London, they couldn’t find any.
This inspired them to take matters into their own hands. “It happened like most things do; two buddies, sitting around with a bottle of wine. We started talking and thought, ‘what if we put something together?’”
Brett is a graphic designer by day, and Stuart runs Musigooroo, a music events company. With their skillsets, the duo “combined forces”.
“We really, really worked hard on that event and we were really lucky. We met some amazing people along the way, and with all of us coming together, we managed to put on an amazing event.”
Brett admits they were quite sneaky when marketing their inaugural event, advertising it as a screening of Drive to movie clubs, and as a club night to partygoers. But after seeing everyone “enjoying the music, enjoying the visuals, enjoying the vibe”, it inspired them to play it out to more people, particularly students.
That’s where Glasgow comes in. “It’s a student town, plus there’s a lot going on there, a lot of incredible talent.” Taking place at The Classic Grand, the event starts at 7pm and goes on till 3am, with promises it will be a “visual spectacular”.
Playing live are Timecop1983, Kalax, New Arcades, 80s Stallone, Glasgow’s own Michael Oakley and synth-newbie LeBrock, as well as popular synth tracks playing throughout the night.
When choosing the night’s acts, Brett explains they discussed who they wanted to hear live, and who they wanted to share. So when they contacted some of their favourite artists, Brett was amazed by the response.
“These guys are incredibly talented and passionate. They’re all so positive, they want to be involved; they want to be in this scene. These guys replied within a couple of days, saying ‘yeah that’d be great’.
“Then they get excited about it, because now they get to share what they’ve been doing with the world, and that rubs off on everybody.”
Before all that, the night kicks off with a screening of 2015’s ode to 80s pop culture, Kung Fury. There will be merchandise on offer, and potentially some pink and blue cocktails with little umbrellas. People are also encouraged to dress up as their favourite character for the night.
Brett insists that Outland isn’t just like any other gig, rather, “it’s an immersive experience.”
“You’re not just stuck in one room watching a band. We have the visuals, we have the audio, we have all the lights, we have the people dressing up, and it creates a really exciting, tangible, dynamic event.” For Brett, the music creates an atmosphere that anyone can enjoy.
“There’s something very positive and inspiring about it. For me, it’s a very healthy and productive scene – it’s not about drugs or anything like that, people aren’t misbehaving. There’s a very nostalgic, hopeful, inspiring element to it.”
“I had so many people come up to me during the first show just saying ‘thank you so much, when is the next one?’ That’s really inspiring.”
Proudly admitting he is a “visionary type of person”, he and Stuart already have a few ideas for the future, but couldn’t confirm any details currently.
“That’s the thing with Outland – Stu and I try to do new things, we’re trying to bring a freshness to everything, we’re trying to make it exciting, trying to carry it forward and promote it in a good way.”
Students can get tickets to the event for as little as £10. Brett says: “We’re also catering for the students, because we realise they don’t have a lot of cash in their pockets all the time.”