On May 18, 1980, Joy Division’s Ian Curtis tragically took his own life, putting an abrupt end to the meteoric rise of the brooding post punk band. Upon formation, Joy Division vowed to change names should one of the original four members depart, so Curtis’ passing prompted a crucial crossroads. After recruiting Gillian Gilibert as a keyboardist and evolving their sound into a more progressive, optimistic space, the group came back newly and appropriately named New Order. New Order’s bright, sparkling soundscapes were of stark contrast to the dark chaos of Joy Division, as the refreshed band was transformed with the help of one critical instrument, the synthesizer.
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Synth Pop began to reach the mainstream in the late 70s with pioneers like Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, and the legendary Giorgio Moroder. The movement was a fitting next step after prog rock and a polarizing counterpart to punk rock, providing an electronic altruism that other genres lacked. Moving into the new decade that would surely reward something new, the shameless bold approach to pop was a ticking time bomb. The turning point that launched the ambitious synth aesthetic to superstardom was in 1980 with Paul McCartney’s daring McCartney II; he was the biggest artist to experiment with synthesizers at the time.
By 1983, Synth Pop was a full on sensation, as the warm, indulgent jams were dominating the charts and giving future dads everywhere a run for their money. The year included classic records from Tears for Fears, Talking Heads, and New Order, along with mega hit earworm singles like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” from Eurythmics. The powerful footprint of synthpop would of course lead to to a ripple effect into the nineties, directly influencing the dream pop vibes of Cocteau Twins in the 90s along with the hazy reverb of Shoegaze with bands like My Bloody Valentine.
The influence of synth legends is alive and thriving today, as the 80’s aesthetics have made their way back around through modern heavyweights like MGMT, Animal Collective, and M83. It’s even prominent in today’s mega hits, with Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, and Justin Beiber using the 80s pop as a point of reference too. The synth, much like the spirit of Ian Curtis, can truly never die. It can only evolve and be reborn into something new.