Ghosthustler Resurrects '80s Synth Beats

Ghosthustler's sound leaves you nostalgic for the future

"It's still surprising," Pitchfork says in its "On Repeat" section, where the song was highlighted, "how quickly aggressive synth-disco has moved from decadent Parisian clubs to, say, Denton, Texas, where you'll find MySpace sensations Ghosthustler...the band carries on in a...woozy, pop-oriented electronic tradition."

The final four words of that assessment may seem simple at first, but Ghosthustler represents the most recent example of a rich electronic pop legacy. Most critics and fans agree that the genre began in the late '70s, with the simultaneous drop in prices of previously expensive synthesizers and the rise in electronic-based music created by Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder, both of whom Palomo cites as influences. Kraftwerk and Moroder begat a second generation: '80s groups such as Depeche Mode, Human League, New Order and even Prince, whose late '70s and early '80s work indulged more in off-kilter, streamlined, synth-laden songs rather than the funkiness for which he is better known. These in turn begat yet another generation, the likes of current electronic pop favorites Daft Punk, Chromeo and Justice. "I love Prince," Palomo says. "I love a lot of electrofunk stuff, Yello. There's a lot of early '80s pop that I really enjoy. There's sort of a science to ['80s pop] that a lot of people discredit, but there's really an aesthetic to it. It's really well-contemplated."

"You get a lot of new bands like Chromeo, who pretty much wear their influences on their sleeves," he adds. "They definitely understand that their sounds are spot-on from that era, and they have the record collection to back it up."

Palomo also cites Daft Punk, Chromeo and Justice as influences.
Palomo also cites Daft Punk, Chromeo and Justice as influences.

The short Pitchfork mention was a jackpot. Pitchforkmedia today is like the Rolling Stone of old; if you get the endorsement of those praise-stingy hipsters, you are officially a player. Everyone from those in the know to the casual fan religiously checks the site many times a day, and many a great band—or at least, a successful band—has kicked its hype into high gear via Pitchforkian attention.

It was no different with Ghosthustler. Ohs heard the song and sent the band a MySpace message asking to work with them. "I told them the concept, and they were like 'OMFG, let's do it,'" he says. Ohs then set about filming the Power Glove/parking lot scenes in Cincinnati, where he lives, while the Ghosthustlers taped themselves for the TV scenes and e-mailed the footage to Ohs. Ohs and the band have never physically met.

Almost immediately, Spin magazine, in its September issue, chose "Parking Lot Nights" as a "Must-See Video." "These Denton, Texas, electropoppers hearken back to a simpler time, when goofing around in a convenience store parking lot was the only thing to do on a Saturday night," says the blurb, "and it was perfectly normal to indiscriminately zap and/or punch hipsters in the face with your Nintendo Power Glove." It's true: The "simpler time" air of nostalgia weighs heavy in the thing, both visually and musically, as both the Power Glove and the synth-pop tradition from whence "Parking Lot Nights" comes maintain that odd futuristic clumsiness. Just as the Power Glove represents what folks in the past thought the future might look like, the innovators from whom Ghosthustler's sound derives also thought their music was what the future might sound like.

"Synthesizers in pop go back further than you might think," says Simon Reynolds in his essay, "Synth Pop: Depeche Mode, The Human League and the Soul of the Machine," published in Spin in the mid-'90s. Synth has long been known as a streamlined, futuristic genre, but Reynolds points out that it actually began with, of all things, that bastion of bloatedness, prog rock. "Still," he says, "the synth-pop era as commonly understood—the early '80s Britwave of Human League, Gary Numan, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode—really started in 1977 with two epochal singles: Kraftwerk's 'Trans-Europe Express' and Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love.'" Both of these songs make their legacy known in "Parking Lot Nights."

Kraftwerk are one of the few bands in history who genuinely bear comparison to the Beatles. Not because of their sound or their image, but because, like the Beatles, it is impossible to overstate their influence on modern music...In their clipped, weirdly funky rhythms, simple melodies and futuristic technology, you can hear whole new areas of popular music being mapped out. Kraftwerk were so far ahead of their time that the rest of the world has spent 25 years inventing new musical genres in an attempt to catch up. House, techno, hip-hop, trip-hop, synth-pop, trance, electroclash: Kraftwerk's influence looms over all of them.

—Alexis Petridis, "Desperately Seeking Kraftwerk," The Guardian, July 2003

"Clipped, weird, funky rhythms, simple melodies and futuristic technology" could just as easily apply to "Parking Lot Nights." The odd thing is, the futuristic technology used by Ghosthustler is layered with history and, in fact, is not futuristic at all. That technology, as represented by synthesized music, is again a throwback to what people once thought the future would sound like. The crazy thing is, that future is now, and we know what it sounds like. By now, it's almost impossible to be surprised by any sound made by a synthesizer. Unlike in 1977, we all know what the machines are capable of. In fact, many bands today, from Madonna to Daft Punk (a band to which Ghosthustler is often compared), spend a lot of time, creativity and money trying to re-create that old Kraftwerkian sound. So what does the future sound like? Yesterday.

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