Minimal wave is a contentiously named genre of electronic music which focuses on electronic, pre-MIDI (1982, but not pre-sequencer) instrumentation and themes of sincere, rather than ironic, detachment. It comprises obscure, atypical examples of genres such as new wave, so-called "minimal" electronic or synthesizer music, synthpunk, synthpop, post-punk, coldwave, electroclash and electropop. Although much Minimal Wave music was created in the late 1970s and early 1980s and subsequently appeared on bootleg and one-off compilations, the genre didn't have a name until a record label of the same name began releasing compilations and reissues in the mid-2000s.
The genre's hallmarks include minimal musical structures, relatively unpolished production, and the use of analog synthesizers and drum machines manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s. The instrumental arrangements featured "mechanical beats" and "short repetitive patterns", plus "noticeably synthesized drum programming and trebly, thin melodies" which emphasized the artificiality of synthesized sound. Vocal arrangements "acted as a counterpoint to that artificiality."
The music and its original releases generally has a D.I.Y. aesthetic; in the genre's original production era, most artists recorded in their home studios and released music in small quantities, on cassette or vinyl, with artwork they created themselves.
In its heyday, the genre had subcultures all over the world, but was most notable in Europe (particularly the UK) and the US, where the machines used to create this type of music were readily available.
The fanzine CLEM (Contact List Of Electronic Musicians) helped create a worldwide community of musicians in the genre, prior to the use of the Internet. Many of the musicians in the genre collaborated via mail.
Veronica Vasicka, founder of the Minimal Wave record label, claims to have coined the genre name. She said in a 2009 interview, "I had this collection of Dutch magazines from the early ’80s, and they kept using the terms "minimal electronics", "new wave", "coldwave" and a bunch of others. I kind of thought there should be a term that covers all this music, and I thought "minimal wave" could be it. When I registered the website, I was able to register the name.".
One author, reviewing one of the label's compilations, wrote "Minimal Wave as a synecdoche of a broader scene has been a term of contention for many. The phrase stems from Veronica Vasicka’s restoration project/record label of the same name, but has become something of a stand-in for the entire spectrum of music Vasicka championed."
Vasicka acknowledges the music is also included in other genres; in a 2009 publicity piece for the same compilation, she wrote "The Minimal Wave genre actually formed only several years ago, as a result of a resurgence of interest in the roots of pre-MIDI electronic new wave (1978-1985), mainly from North America, Europe and Japan. This music is sometimes referred to as minimal electronic, minimal synth, coldwave, new wave, technopop, or synthpop, depending on the particular style, year, and location of the band."
- Gabriele, Timothy (11 June 2010). "Various Artists: The Minimal Wave Tapes Volume One [review]". PopMatters.com. Retrieved 2010-06-18.
- Vasicka, Veronica (26 January 2010), "20 best: Minimal Wave", FACT magazine, retrieved 2010-06-18
- Tantum, Bruce (2009-12-01). "A synth-obsessed label turns four". Time Out. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
- Minimal Wave Records
- Minimal Wave Records on Myspace
- Minimal Wave, Crate-digging For Obscure Gems To Reissue" Tiny Mix Tapes, September, 2008.
- Eye On '09: Minimal Wave, by Nik Mercer, January 16, 2009.
- Review of V/A The Found Tapes: A Compilation of Minimal Wave From North America '81-'87, by Franklin Bruno of the Boston Phoenix, April 1, 2008.
- Ripping Vinyl, Part 2, by Jeff Klingman, April 28, 2008.
- Review of Stereo - Somewhere In The Night, Intergalactic FM, February 12, 2009.
- Minimal Wave And The Great Treasures From The Golden 80s, MTN: The Innervisions Dossier, September 30, 2009.
- A Synth Obsessed Label Turns Four, by Bruce Tantum for Time Out New York December 1, 2009.
- Veronica Vasicka / Minimal Wave, Revel In New York, January, 2010.
- 20 Best : Minimal Wave, Fact Magazine, January, 2010.
- Minimal Wave's Big Splash, by Colleen Nika for Interview Magazine September 28, 2010.