Thanks to Propaganda, The Happy Mondays, New Order and my interest, nay, obsession with Acid House music, I could only (secretly) think how badass that sequencer sound was. This is what my dad couldn’t get. For his generation, rebellion started with an electric guitar, for mine, rebellion sounded like a synth. The electric guitar was, well, corny. (Sorry, pops. I still worship you.)
At the time, electronic music enjoyed some success in the U.S. but it never really rose to the heights it reached in Europe and the rest of the world. I suppose this was a cultural thing. Rock is very American and anyone who challenged that might find themselves publicly shamed.
Researchers of a recent study at the Queen Mary University of London, analyzed some 17,000 Billboard hits between 1960 and 2010 and calculated that there was just one year where synthesized music dominated the U.S. charts: 1986.
Take a quantum leap to the recent past. Rock fatigue finally catches up with America; electronic music explodes onto the charts with names like Kaskade, David Guetta, Disclosure, Sia, and Daft Punk. The inevitable happens, producers get the memo and mainstream pop artists mutate their sound to assimilate to the new wave.
Thankfully there is now a movement back towards that early ‘80s synth scene. Not the LCD Sound System/MGMT kind of flirtation but rather a fully-fledged immersion, complete with rough edges and moody atmosphere.
Ezra Reich and Nic Johns—as ROOM8, a Los Angeles-based synth pop duo—have a reverence and small obsession with that sound. Their music is produced solely on machines manufactured during that time. Synthesizers like the Oberheim OB-8, the Arp String Ensemble, the DX7 and early samplers with analog filters, like the E-MU Emax.
“We use these the way someone would use any high quality physical instruments,” Ezra says. “The old hardware has a richness of frequency that is not replaceable with software VSTs (Virtual Studio Technology).”
They use sequencers and midi from their computers to talk to these thirty year old instruments. “We even have software for our Synclavier II, one of the first digital synths ever made back in 1980, that allows it to be opened up in a desktop application on a Macbook,” says Ezra. The end result is something that sounds completely authentic to the past yet completely modern at the same time. “We’re not interested in making music from a bygone era, but rather, in making fully modern music with these instruments that we love.”
ROOM8 have lent their sensibilities to film composition, which keeps them in step with the other electronic music outlet of the ‘80s: “Movie soundtracks embraced synth soundtracks and the idea of melody over sound design,” says Ezra. Electronic pioneers like Giorgio Moroder, Vangelis, and Hans Zimmer began to work in film and there was an open conversation between the pop and movie worlds.
ROOM8’s debut EP, Visions of You, (released through boutique dance label Win Music) has that cinematic sensibility. Featuring Electric Youth, the title track is moody and evocative. Electric Youth are no strangers to film. Their track, “A Real Hero,” was an essential part of 2011’s Drive Soundtrack)
The duo’s new EP has that same filmic influence but is a perfect balance between old school sequencing and modern electropop. The first single from the EP, No Hard Feelings featuring King Deco, debuted on Noisey and Neon Gold last week and has all the makings of being a bonafide Summer smash.
I had to ask Ezra what he thought it was about the sequencer that our generation responded to, why teenagers like me thought it was so badass. He referenced Phil Collins, whose drum machine-driven track “In the Air Tonight” was one of the most evocative electronic pop songs of the era. “He (Phil Collins) said a human could never be ‘relentless’ the way a drum machine is. It just keeps coming at you.”
by Brendan Pollecutt
"We are excited about the Flaunt story and 'What's in your fridge.' Here is our contribution for 'fridge.'" -ROOM8
We work out of two spaces. This is Ezra's studio. There are lots and lots of synthesizers around and they are our electronic friends. There is also a bunch of vinyl and some floppy discs. The record on the wall on the left is a copy of our Visions of You EP.
We both love vinyl and are always adding to our collections. Here are some standards we love. Phil Collins, Raydio, Steve Roach, and Vangelis.
Sometimes we need a snack like some rasberries, cheese, or hummus, but sometimes when we look in the fridge we find a selection of our favorite animated films like, Rock and Rule, Starchaser, Fire and Ice, and Heavy Metal.
Opening the fridge usually gets the attention of Charlie, a best friend and 10-year-old long haired Dachshund. Charlie is wise, kind, and usually down for any snack he can get. He would definitely love the cheese, probably try the hummus and reject the rasberries although he is a big fan of apples and melon and strangely, cucumbers.
Sometimes when we get hungry during a session, we like to go to Morphia's RIbs and Pies in Marina Del Rey. They have a real wood smoker which most bbq restaurants in LA don't have and their bbq and pies are exceptional. They also make one of the few fried okras in town. A+
This is our studio in DTLA, or Nic's place. This is one of the rooms but we also have a vocal booth and big warehouse rehearsal space, and more synthesizer friends. Lots of guitars live here to but they are sleeping in the other room.
This is the view from the fire escape at our downtown studio. It is off of skid row so in the corner you can see the mission where the film, The Soloist was made. This dichotomy of beach and city is an integral part of the ROOM8 creative experience.