Synthpunk: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Stylistic origins Punk rock
Cultural origins Late 1970s–Mid 1980s, United States
Typical instruments Drums/Drum machine - Synthesizer - Sequencer - Sampler
Mainstream popularity Minor
Derivative forms EBM
Regional scenes
Other topics
Dance-punk - Digital hardcore - Electro-industrial - Industrial rock
Problems listening to this file? See media help.
Problems listening to this file? See media help.

Synthpunk (also known as electropunk) is a music genre[1] combining elements of electronic rock and punk rock. The term invented by Damian Ramsey in 1999[2] as an attempt to retroactively identify a small sub-genre of punk music from 1977–1984 that involved musicians playing synthesizers in place of electric guitars.



The Screamers were once referred to as "techno-punk" in an article in the Los Angeles Times in 1978[3] but this didn't seem to become established as a genre name. Recent use of the term techno-punk usually refers to Music sequencer dance music or techno music that has punk fashion or performance influences, rather than synthpunk's identification as punk rock being played live on synthesizer keyboards. The difference being that over the passage of time in popular culture, the word "techno" itself has become independently imbued with its own music genre and alternative subculture meanings, which are not linked to the same roots of punk rock, but are instead rooted in electronic music and disco. Prior to the techno music genre, use of the word "techno-" was usually as prefix modifier to simple words (techno-lighting, techno-furnished) in order to suggesting heavy involvement or embracing use of technology.[4] For this reason, "techno-punk" used in the Los Angeles Times' 1978 article can not logically mean what most post-techno music usage of the word "techno-punk" refers to, thus "synthpunk" has a distinct purpose in describing this pre-techno keyboard-playing, punk music, as well as those later influenced specifically by it. It also ties in well with the genre name "synthpop", another pre-techno genre, where (logically) pop music influences are the central instead of punk. Several of the original synthpunk artists of the late 1970s would later record synthpop in the 1980s. (See Characteristics)

The term "synthpunk" (without hyphenation) is first documented as Damian Ramsey's web domain name hosting record[5] for the Synthysteria![6] web pages that he authored in 1999 at[6].

The web pages document his selected focus on the American synthpunk groups Nervous Gender[7], The Units,[8] The Screamers,[9] Tone Set, Our Daughters Wedding, and Voice Farm under one curatorial umbrella. The site gathered text and images of discographies, flyers, interviews, anecdotes, and listed sources from research Damian conducted between 1999 and 2005.[6] The sources Damian sites (articles, interviews, event lists, anecdotes) are from his personal contact with many members of the original bands,[2] implying some acceptance of the term with these original musicians. Some later (post-2004) print media uses the genre word to describe most any band who were combining a vaguely punk style with synthesizer use, where guitars are not largely replaced by synths (for instance, The Stranglers[10].) More appropriately, "synthpunk" is used describe Suicide and Devo, who were not originally covered on the web site (because they were so well documented on the web already)[11], but were described as synthpunk later in print media[12] and generally included at the core of the genre on the Synthpunk Yahoo! Group. [13]

The term is used in retroactive reference to these early bands, such as when Mark Jenkins of the Washington Post describes late early 1980s Devo, "...the band's sci-fi synthpunk is revealed as the missing link between the Ramones and Depeche Mode."[14]. But the term is increasingly used in print media for loosely describing new bands that have a punk guitar sound with a synthesizer sound added to the mix, such as Le Tigre[15] or The Epoxies[16], Blowoff/Bob Mould[17], Ima Robot[18], or Full Minute of Mercury [19]


Due to the predominant use of guitars in punk's rock music roots, the use of synthesizers was controversial within the punk scene even though the punk music culture collectively embraced an anti-establishment political stance. It was very rare, particularly in America, for punk musicians to use synthesizers or keyboards at all to make punk music, let alone replacing the guitars with them. While the rejection of using guitars was an extension of the logic of punk music's anti-establishment politics[20][21], synthpunk bands went farther than many fans were willing to extend that principle, and synthesizer-based punk rock groups had small following as a whole. It is probably due to this issue that the identification of a synthesizer-based, sub-genre of punk rock took so many years to become identified as a collective genre.

Synthesizers playing the role of lead and rhythm guitars meant that much of the technique of synthesis relied on making full, harmonic lead timbres, similar to the synthesizer lead roles in some 1970's progressive rock and jazz fusion genres. [20]

As yet, there is no information on the technique of synthpunk musicians aside from an article in Keyboard Magazine from 1982 in which the Units are interviewed.[22]


  1. ^ BBC - Nottingham Music - The Killers / Surferosa /The Departure live
  2. ^ a b - note the language "It's been about three years since I started this project.", Also note that his list of contacts include surviving original members of every featured band.
  3. ^ Los Angeles Times, 2-27-1978, "L.A. Punk Rockers - Six New Wave Bands Showcased"
  4. ^ _Lexical Change in Present-Day English: a corpus-based study of the motivation, institutionalization, and productivity of creative neologisms_ By Fischer, Roswitha, Tübingen : G. Narr, ©1998, pgs 104-105 (,M1)
  5. ^ "" WHOIS lookup Record Start date: 04-Nov-2000 22:54:14
  6. ^ a b c Synthysteria!
  7. ^ The Nervous Gender Experience
  8. ^ Internet Archive Search: subject:"Synthpunk"
  9. ^ "Los Angeles synth-punk legends ..." Aaron Burgess, "The Screamers", "Blood Runs Deep", Alternative Press #240, July 2008, p. 116.
  10. ^ Boston Globe, October 24, 1998, Author: Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, Edition: Third Section: Arts and Film, Page: A14
  11. ^ Interview with Damian Ramsey made for Squeaking Whale zine #19
  12. ^ Washington Post, The (DC) August 15, 2005, Performing Arts Section, Edition: F, Section: Style, Page: C5, paragraph about Devo re-forming and performing
  13. ^ synthpunk : synthpunk
  14. ^ Washington Post, The (DC) August 15, 2005, Performing Arts Section, Edition: F, Section: Style, Page: C5
  15. ^ RECORDINGS : Quick Spins Washington Post, The (DC), February 20, 2007, Edition: F, Section: Style, Page: C5
  16. ^ Statesman Journal (Salem, OR), December 29, 2005, Staff Writer Angela Yeager, Section: Weekend, Page: 10O"
  17. ^ BLOWOFF "Blowoff" Full Fre ... Washington Post, The (DC), December 15, 2006, Edition: F, Section: Weekend, Page: T6
  18. ^ The Oregonian, (Portland, OR), January 9, 2004, ROB KELLEY, Special writer,
  19. ^ Washington Post, The (DC), May 18, 2006, Edition: F, Section: Weekly - VA - Fairfax, Page: T25
  20. ^ a b "The New Synthesizer Rock" by Bob Doerschuk, Keyboard Magazine, June 1982 - esp Units and Our Daughter's Wedding interviews
  21. ^ Units History CD, Community Library CL16, booklet: Units Training Manual, Pg 2-10
  22. ^ The New Synthesizer Rock" by Bob Doerschuk, Keyboard Magazine, June 1982

External links

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address