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Not to be confused with Electroclash.
Sample of The Screamers "The Scream" (Rene Daalder, David Campbell demo) (1978).

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Sample of The Units song "i-night", written by Scott Ryser, from The Units' self-released single "Units" in 1979.

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Sample of Nervous Gender "Miscarriage", from Live at Target compilation (1980).

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Electropunk,[1] also known as synthpunk,[2] is a music genre[3] combining elements of electronic music and punk rock.


A rehearsal tape by Suicide in 1975, The Units 4-song 7" on 9 August 1979, Pere Ubu's "My Dark Ages" (October 1979) with Alan Ravenstine on EML synthesizer (re-released on Rough Trade 049 on a 7" in 1980) and the first demo session by The Screamers with Pat Garrett on 7 July 1977 are candidates for the earliest synthpunk recording.[citation needed] The Units were referred to as "Punks playing keyboards" in an article in the "The San Francisco Examiner" in 1979,[4] The Screamers were referred to as "techno-punk" in an article in the Los Angeles Times in 1978,[5] but this did not become established as a genre name. However, in the USA, while a number of art bands moved more towards ambient, or art gallery collage sounds (Ant Farm, Ralph Records) The Units nailed it with ferocious singles like "i-night" which foreshadows The Prodigy and the more intense early work of the Chemical Brothers's "Block Rockin' Beats" for its intensity. The following year saw releases such as Minimal Man's live at The Deaf Club, "She Was A Visitor", and from (Seattle) Enstruction's 1982 "Keep Out Of My Body Bag" with its scattered and unsettling instructions. In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Billy Synth and the Janitors (1978-1982) and later the Turn Ups took an ARP Odyssey synthesizer directly to punk.[6] (Billy Synth found some wider acceptance on Sordide Sentimental, a cult label in Paris, that issued the single with Half Japanese called "Hartzdale Drive Destruction" (SS 33 003) in 1980.)

In the UK the influences came primarily through the labels Mute Records and Rough Trade Records with the release of The Normal's "T.V.O.D."/"Warm Leatherette" single as Mute 001 in 1978 to tremendous influence across genres including punk. There were also odd trans-Atalantic cross-overs, like the Brian Eno-produced "Come Back Jonee" (Virgin 15 815 AT) single by Devo. Found in many a punk collection they were a nexus that was and was not what we today call synthpunk, that LA-constructed term favoured by Ameri-centric music critics, and the LA rooted world view of Keyboard magazine. It could be said that the biggest influence on synth punk might have been from the textures of metal guitars, not synthesis, i.e. the search for a similar wall of sonic thrash, which set it against synth orchestral works.

Considering synthpunk globally the UK and German and French influences did have far more influence. In 1979 Rough Trade issued what were a blend of punk/metal and synth, the notorious Dr. Mix and the Remix album of synth covers of the Iggy and the Stooges and the Troggs, and work from Paris by Métal Urbain, and from Sheffield, Geoff Leigh's EP Chemical Bank. The digression to synth pop at Rough Trade began at this point with the Silicon Teens among others. Punk influence retreated into Cabaret Voltaire and the not quite punk nor pop work of Fad Gadget (aka Frank Tovey), see "Lady Shave". From Germany contributions were at first hidden within the larger wave of Berlin school TD Dream and prog rock, but included Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (D.A.F.), followed in 1981 by the room clearing intensity of Conrad Schnitzler's works like Control.

In the US, 1981 marked a major event in synthpunk history, Alan (Alien) Jorgenson's founding of Ministry in Chicago. The back-linkage to Suicide is found in his guest appearance, barely noted by critics, on Alan Vega's uneven 1983 Saturn Strip, one of the Suicide duo's individual projects.

Recent usage[edit]

Recent use of the term techno-punk usually refers to music sequencer dance or techno that has punk fashion or performance influences, rather than synthpunk's identification as punk rock being played live on synthesizer keyboards. 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.[7] 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 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.

The term "synthpunk" (without hyphenation) is first documented as Damian Ramsey's web domain name hosting record[8] for the Synthysteria![9] web pages that he authored in 1999 at http://www.synthpunk.org.[9]

The web pages document his selected focus on the American synthpunk groups Nervous Gender,[10] The Units,[11] The Screamers,[12] Tone Set, Our Daughters Wedding, and Voice Farm under one curatorial umbrella. 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[13]). More appropriately, "synthpunk" is used to describe Suicide, who were not originally covered on the web site (because they were so well documented on the web already),[14] but were described as synthpunk later in print media.[15]

The term is used in retroactive reference to these early bands, such as when Mark Jenkins of The Washington Post describes early 1980s Devo, "...the band's sci-fi synthpunk is revealed as the missing link between the Ramones and Depeche Mode."[16] 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,[17] or The Epoxies,[18] Blowoff/Bob Mould,[19] Ima Robot,[20] or Full Minute of Mercury,[21] as well as a description of re-discovered and re-released artists such as Futurisk [22][23] from the original pre-midi period of the late 1970s through early 1980s. Modern bands like New Jersey's "Parenting", or New York's Mindless Self Indulgence continue to expand on punk/rock based ideas using only synthesizer, drums, and vocal.


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,[24][25] 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, subgenre 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 1970s progressive rock and jazz fusion genres.[24]

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.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Last.FM: electropunk tag page". Retrieved 1 September 2013. 
  2. ^ "Last.FM: synthpunk tag page". Retrieved 1 September 2013. 
  3. ^ BBC – Nottingham Music – The Killers / Surferosa /The Departure live
  4. ^ Jeff Jarvis, San Francisco Examiner, 1-25-79, "Punk Under Glass"
  5. ^ McKenna, Kristine; Los Angeles Times, 2-27-1978, "L.A. Punk Rockers – Six New Wave Bands Showcased"
  6. ^ "Billy Synth on Outsight Radio Hours 9-Dec-2012". Archive.org. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  7. ^ _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 (http://books.google.com/books?id=H93nAVbwZwwC&pg=PA106&lpg=PA106&dq=techno+oed+before+music&source=web&ots=JW8aL8A0rx&sig=W2ys5Z16gubfG2OZ1ZjnX--D5_E#PPA105,M1)
  8. ^ "synthpunk.org" WHOIS lookup Record Start date: 04-Nov-2000 22:54:14
  9. ^ a b Synthysteria!
  10. ^ The Nervous Gender Experience
  11. ^ Internet Archive Search: subject:"Synthpunk"
  12. ^ "Los Angeles synth-punk legends ..." Aaron Burgess, "The Screamers", "Blood Runs Deep", Alternative Press #240, July 2008, p. 116.
  13. ^ Boston Globe, October 24, 1998, Author: Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, Edition: Third Section: Arts and Film, Page: A14
  14. ^ Interview with Damian Ramsey made for Squeaking Whale zine #19
  15. ^ Washington Post, The (DC), August 15, 2005, Performing Arts Section, Edition: F, Section: Style, Page: C5, paragraph about Devo re-forming and performing
  16. ^ Washington Post, The (DC). August 15, 2005, Performing Arts Section, Edition: F, Section: Style, Page: C5
  17. ^ RECORDINGS : Quick Spins Washington Post, The (DC), February 20, 2007, Edition: F, Section: Style, Page: C5
  18. ^ Statesman Journal (Salem, OR), December 29, 2005, Staff Writer Angela Yeager, Section: Weekend, Page: 10O"
  19. ^ BLOWOFF "Blowoff" Full Fre ... The Washington Post, The (DC), December 15, 2006, Edition: F, Section: Weekend, Page: T6
  20. ^ The Oregonian, (Portland, OR), January 9, 2004, ROB KELLEY, Special writer,
  21. ^ Washington Post, The (DC), May 18, 2006, Edition: F, Section: Weekly – VA – Fairfax, Page: T25
  22. ^ Dangerous Minds: More pioneering synthpunk from Futurisk. Retrieved September 20, 2011
  23. ^ The Quietus: A Minimal Wave Interview: Futurisk's Jeremy Kolosine . Retrieved September 20,2011
  24. ^ a b "The New Synthesizer Rock" by Bob Doerschuk, Keyboard Magazine, June 1982 – esp Units and Our Daughter's Wedding interviews
  25. ^ [1] Units History CD, Community Library CL16, booklet: Units Training Manual, Pg 2–10]
  26. ^ "The New Synthesizer Rock" by Bob Doerschuk, Keyboard Magazine, June 1982

External links[edit]