Music History

Is Music Paralysis Why We Love Retro Nights So Much?

People love nostalgia.
Roderick Pulllum
People love nostalgia.
In contemporary music, it’s not rare to hear sounds echoing those of a previous generation. Some acts like the nostalgia behind the sounds; others want to further the genre. This, perhaps, is why many revival bands emerged in the early 2000s and continue to pop up today (see post-punk and garage rock revival movements).

But a band isn’t the main factor in deciding whether to revive a sound. If a band resurrecting an older sound gathers a large following, the sound becomes reinvigorated because more than a few listeners like it.

After surveying 1,000 Americans participants, the French music streaming service Deezer found that music listeners may possibly enjoy anachronistic music because of "musical paralysis," which is less severe than it sounds. The phenomenon is described as the period when a person stops searching for new music and starts listening to the same songs over and over until the process turns to nostalgia.

The survey suggests that, on average, Americans discover new music the most at age 24 and six months—and gradually disengage until they hit musical paralysis by age 29 and ten months. The results also show that this disinterest in keeping up to date is related to work, child responsibilities and being overwhelmed by the amount of music released.

Although roughly 60 percent of the survey participants say they "have felt in a musical rut," the same percentage of participants also "wish they could spend more time discovering new music."

While 56 percent of the participants say they will try to search for new music in the future, it's fair to say some people stuck in musical paralysis are comfortable listening to the music they already know.

These people can be seen getting their fix of music from their heyday at Dallas' many retro-themed club nights.

People stuck in musical paralysis can get their fix of music from their heyday at Dallas' many retro-themed club nights.

The Nines nightclub in Deep Ellum hosts Neon Chrome DTX synthwave nights every first Wednesday of the month. Adrian Solis, who started the theme night in November, deejays for the club and spins songs that were either made in the '80s or made to sound like they’re from the '80s. He's older than 30 and says he’s slowed down in finding new music but hopes that it doesn’t apply to most others. Solis knows his retro theme nights have a nostalgic element, but he notes that there’s more to the synthwave genre than mere nostalgia.

“Synthwave is a genre BORN from nostalgia,” Solis says via email. “I jokingly refer to it as '80s-perfect. The sole basis of Outrun/Retrowave/Synthwave/Darkwave/Dreamwave/Cyberwave is taking that '80s nostalgia direct from the media of the time and using modern production techniques. Being that I was born in ‘84, I didn't exactly experience much of the '80s firsthand, but I certainly know the feelings associated with the media of the time. In short, nostalgia is powerful, but retro themes are popular for other reasons than just nostalgia. The media was just that good at the time.”

Solis began his synthwave nights after seeing how few Dallas clubs regularly play this kind of music. When he drove to San Francisco in early 2017 to see Perturbator perform in a synthwave monthly called Turbo Drive SF, he witnessed a crowd full of people dressed in '80s outfits, apparel akin to Ryan Gosling’s Drive character, electroluminescent wires, cyberpunks and a myriad of neon colors. At that moment, Solis knew there was a demand for this nostalgic sound — from both the old and young — so he brought those '80s vibes to the Nines months later.

“Surprisingly, synthwave has a huge appeal to the Xennials/Millenials,” he continues. “While I do have older people that are drawn to my synthwave monthly, I'd say that the majority of the attendees are between 25-35, but it really skews more towards people in their 20s. A guest DJ that I have sometimes is only 24 and plenty of folks in their early 20s are coming through.”

Another venue that attracts a mix of 20-somethings and older people is the Church, a gothic nightclub on the western end of Deep Ellum. The locale has a main room, where DJ Virus plays modern industrial and dark electronic music, and another lounge dubbed the Video Bar, where Wild Bill Stanley has been deejaying for more than a decade.

At almost 62 years old, Stanley has moved from club to club in Dallas since he was 18. He's seen many changes in the alternative scene and seems to agree with the Deezer survey results in that the older a person gets, the more the person wants to listen to a past musical era — or music that sounds like it. He explains how older goths might choose the Video Bar over other sections of the Church because, through the music, they can reminisce about days behind them.

“The way I always put it is that people are reliving when they were young, wild and free, their salad days — however you want to put it,” Stanley says. “If you’ve ever been out [to the Church] on a Sunday before Labor Day or Memorial Day, we get all of the people that used to be able to come out there. Whether they had a job on Monday or not, they were there 'til 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. Now, they got families, maybe even grandkids. So they all come out of the woodwork. They’re reliving the days when they were living out their wild life.”

In the early 2000s, Stanley worked at the now-defunct Red Jacket nightclub, where one of the most popular nights was Red Square Retro Sundays (broadcasted on the Edge when it was 94.5-FM). He saw the interest in retro music growing there. Stanley says slower tempos in contemporary music might be boosting the retro trend.

“Everything comes back around." – Wild Bill Stanley

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“Everything comes back around,” he says. “Just in the past several years, the BPM and tempos in popular music have dropped significantly. We used to commonly play songs in the 120 beats per minute range. Anything like 100 beats per minute would be slow. Nowadays, you have a lot of these songs that are trap music-based with 70-75 beats per minute. I think people are looking for something different from that sound they’re hearing all over the radio and in every pop song.”

Joey Seeman, who deejays Hair Metal Mondays every second Monday of the month at Double Wide, believes people might like retro music for another reason.

“I think the various retro nights attract people for the same reason that cover bands do,” Seeman explains via email. “It's familiar, it's easy to digest and you can enjoy the music. You've already been programmed to know how to feel about it. With new music, you still have to actively think about it and process how it makes you feel. Sometimes that can be challenging.”

Arguably the most common theme used in retro nights is the '80s, whether it’s the synth-based music, pop ballads or metal hits. People have relived that culture in recent years in every medium from film to music. Seeman thinks the reason why the decade has become so popular with this generation is because of a chain reaction caused by media.

“Whether it's new wave favorites like Madonna and Prince or hair metal, this stuff just keeps attracting new fans,” he says. “I think due to media oversaturation, MTV, current films, ironic soundtracks and a whole host of other factors, '80s has become the norm, a common language we all relate to. It's already had several comebacks in the past 30-plus years, just like bellbottoms.”

Online services like Deezer have helped many listeners find music they wouldn’t have found by listening to the radio. Before the internet, access to new music was only available through specific television channels, record stores and live shows. Now, people have all of that, plus the advantage of discovering every obscure band out there through YouTube or Bandcamp. The appeal to retro sounds may have grown out of this exposure to bands from an earlier time, but Seeman says this also pertains to new music.

“I think the internet has become to this generation what MTV was to my generation,” Seeman says. “It's a central source of information, quickly accessed and people can use it to quickly tell their friends about new music. So I think if anything, new music has become easier to discover."