As someone whose love of music took root in the early 1980s, I’ve always had a weakness for analogue synthesizers. Musically, they’re unlike anything that came before or after. And my goodness they’ve been put to good use. Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa, Cabaret Voltaire, Yazoo – a big part of what made them and countless others sound so new and exciting was their ability to churn out hits with analogue circuits and signals.
While it’s been around since the 1920s – and while Moog and Minimoog players made a terrific racket in the ‘60s and ‘70s – the analogue synthesizer didn’t really hit the mainstream until the first half of the ‘80s. For the first time in history, tuning into your local top-40 station meant you were just as likely to hear a Roland machine as you were a Rickenbacker.
We learned this morning that Ikutaro Kakehashi, the great Japanese engineer who founded the most important synthesizer company since the aforementioned Moog in 1972, passed away on Saturday. He was 87.
Such was the industry’s love and respect for Kakehashi’s products that his company’s distinct typographic mark graced virtually every stage throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. I can say with some confidence that I was not the only young man who tried to convince his wife to call a newborn son Roland.
In celebration of Kakehashi’s extraordinary life, a few words on a band putting analogue synths to fine use. Austin, Texas duo Survive is best known for their two-volume soundtrack for the marvellous cable TV show Stranger Things. They didn’t win a Grammy this year, but they can boast that both their discs were nominated – individually no less.
RR7349 was released last fall on Relapse Records. It is pure, electronic chunkiness. Fans of Stranger Things will recognize their dark, theatrical style. Michael Stein and Mark Donica do this as well as anyone right now. When they write the history of the analogue synth, these two deserve a chapter.