From the start of the new millennium until the early 2010s, the synthpop scene had been in a perpetual state of stagnation, particularly in regards to the German scene. Perhaps this could be attributed to changing tastes as electronic music fans turned toward EDM and dubstep music. The vanguard of artists during this period all but disappeared. The seminal band Wolfsheim disbanded as smaller projects like Merge simply vanished. Camouflage had a short-lived return to form with Sensor back in 2003. There had been a significant reduction in quality for high-profile bands such as And One and DE/Vision. Flagship labels such as A Different Drum and Bloodline closed shop. The scene was definitely in dire straits.
Recently though, there has been a glimmer of hope towards resurrecting the genre. In 2015, the unthinkable happened: The German synthpop group Beborn Beton, having not released an album of new material since Fake in 1999, released a brand new album, A Worthy Compensation, which, to put it succinctly, was jaw-dropping amazing. It was as if the band had not missed a single step in their sixteen-year hiatus as they successfully demonstrated the viability of the old synthpop sound but updated with the modern audience in consideration.
For 2016, it looks as if Beborn Beton’s success is being replicated by an unlikely project: the long-dormant synthpop outfit Syntec. This year bears witness to a barrage of output from the project, all released on the prolific German Infacted Recordings label: a new best-of compilation in Puppets & Angels, a limited-edition single for “Catch My Fall,” and of course, The Beginning, Syntec’s first album of original material in twenty-one years since 1995’s Upper World.
Syntec comes from an old-school era of industrial music where the internet was still in its infancy, Napster had not yet happened, and fans were reliant on compilations and mail-orders to discover and purchase underground music. Syntec’s home was the legendary industrial label Machinery Records, which was also the launching pad for other important acts such as And One, OOMPH!, and Dance or Die. The creative climate among these bands must have been spectacular, as not only did these projects remix and produce each other, but they laid the groundwork for new genres as well. While OOMPH! was perfecting the sound that would later become the “Neue Deutsche Härte” genre made famous by Rammstein, Syntec was flirting with a proto-version of futurepop, years before Covenant and VNV Nation perfected it.
In some ways, Syntec’s The Beginning acts as a time capsule, preserving some of the nineties industrial-dance aesthetics. During this period, Syntec had their focus on being club friendly, so their music was weighted toward danceability while their lyrics leaned closer to the repetitive side. The formula was simple, but it created memorable and catchy music. On The Beginning, songs such as “Devil in Heaven” and “Leave Me – Love Me” recapture this feeling from a bygone era. In fact, structurally, “Devil in Heaven” sounds like an updated version of their song “Talk to the Upper World”—so close, in fact, that it could almost be considered a reworking of the original.
Nostalgia is only a small component of The Beginning though, as the album showcases Syntec in top form even after two decades. The majority of the songs on The Beginning eschew the simplicity of repetitive lyrics that was the band’s hallmark and instead embraces complex and verbose poetry while remaining catchy and danceable. The album’s single, “Catch My Fall,” represents the new Syntec succinctly. There’s a trace amount of futurepop in this song, and the guest appearance of Nik Page from Blind Passenger is a welcome addition as his vocals harmonize with Tobias Hartwig’s perfectly. Uwe Kallenbach’s composing capabilities are given emphasis with the brooding instrumental “January” and the Subkutan-era-of-De/Vision-sounding “Liberté.” Syntec’s cover of Real Life’s eighties hit “Send Me an Angel” is a respectful updating of the original—a fusion of new-wave with moodier synthpop. The ballad “When I Call Your Name” shows Syntec at their most emotive. All these excursions into different flavors of synthpop are pulled off proficiently by Syntec: This old outfit certainly knows new tricks.
The Beginning has been released in two versions: a physical CD and a digital download via Infacted’s Bandcamp shop. The associated single for “Catch My Fall” is also available in both formats as well, though it is limited to three hundred copies. There’s something strangely poetic yet fitting for a band that existed in a time before digital downloads making their triumphant return and embracing the format. That truly is what The Beginning is: a triumph. It perfectly captures the old-school industrial-dance sound of the nineties while at the same time adapting to the current state of electronic music. The juxtaposition of both eras are pulled off seamlessly in The Beginning, and hopefully there is no end in sight.
01) Back to the Beginning
02) Catch My Fall
03) Devil in Heaven
04) I Don’t Want to Lie Anymore
05) When I Call Your Name
06) The End of the World
08) Leave Me – Love Me
09) She’s Gone
10) Send Me an Angel