The brilliant sound of the synthesizer has been making its way through musical genres for more than 5 decades. Shaping a turning point in electronic music through its tones, melodies and oscillators of the machine itself.

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The brilliant sound of the synthesizer has been making its way through musical genres for more than 5 decades. Shaping a turning point in electronic music through its tones, melodies and oscillators of the machine itself.

With an exponential growth since its beginnings in the 60s. Its experimental phase in the 70s, the sublime synth-pop of the 80s, the dance music of the 90s and the current hybrid sound of the 21st century. The synthesizer has given birth to explosive leads, atmospheric pads, sleek melodies, captivating percussion and piercing basslines behind some of the most iconic songs ever produced.

In this note we will be reviewing 7 of the best synths sounds, which created a benchmark in music. And gave origin to classics that are still in force today and that get better and better with the course of time.

1: Faithless – Insomnia

Classic Dance song, which like many tracks of this style, Insomnia did a great use of the synthesizers of that time. Even though it is not known exactly which synth was used to make the symbolic dotted melody. Most likely the Roland JP-8000 was involved. Indeed, many later synths and current production software plugins now contain an Insomnia preset in their bank of sounds.

The song, produced by Rollo, Sister Bliss and the voice of rapper Maxi Jaxx. It reached number 3 in the UK charts in 1996 and to date, has an infinite number of remixes, bootlegs and covers.

2: Vangelis – Blade Runner Main Titles

With his haunting composition for Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece, «Blade Runner». Vangelis created a cutting-edge soundscape that perfectly depicted the loneliness and alienation of the futuristic urban landscape and its inhabitants.

By the time he was assigned to score Blade Runner, the Greek musician already had a long and rewarding career. Creating some of the most memorable film scores of the 1970s and 1980s. Winning an Oscar statuette for his work on «Chariots of Fire».

For this deeply emotional composition, the Greek used the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer. It is hard to imagine this 7th state-of-the-art gem without the use of this mythical instrument. At the time, the melancholic and mournful tones of the CS80 by Vangelis had become permanently engraved in the world’s pop culture. Serving today as inspiration to many artists of the worldwide electronic scene, creating dystopian atmospheres and soundscapes. Sadly, last May 17th, the great iconic composer Vangelis passed away, leaving a legacy in music for future generations.

3: Underworld – Born Slippy

Born Slippy (NUXX Mix) by Underworld, is a song that originally belonged to the B-side of an instrumental cut of the same title. It jumped to worldwide stardom in 1995 as part of the OST of the UK cult film «Trainspotting» directed by Danny Boyle. Propelling the band to become one of the most important electronic music acts of that decade.

Combining 909 techno drums with lush pads and distorted vocals from lead singer Karl Hyde. Born Slippy was called the «heartbeat» of Trainspotting and is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive dance music records of the 90s.

For certain, there is no clear information as to which synthesizer was used for the iconic delay-infused main riff. But it seems that the guilty party for this electronic anthem was the Waldorf Microwave synthesizer from 1989. A cut that today serves as inspiration for many artists in the Rave scene. Taking us back almost immediately to the golden age of Dance music.

4: Daft Punk – Da Funk

Originally released in 1995 as a double A-side single with Rolling and Scratching on the reverse. Da Funk sold only 2,000 copies until it was reissued and re-released on Daft Punk‘s seminal 1997 album «Homework».

Even though the track has a sound with a lot of flavor and House nuances. The inspiration came from the former French duo, who had spent entire nights listening to G Funk’s Hip-Hop records. The equipment used on the track «Da Funk» and most of the album «Homework» was vintage Roland. Including a Juno-106, Roland MC-202 and MKS-80 and a TB-303 along with a Sequential Prophet-VS digital.

5: Donna Summer – I Feel Love

Released in the summer of 1977. It was a key electronic music Disco piece that could not be compared to anything that had been done before. It is well known that the musician Brian Eno was breathless after listening to Donna Summer‘s I Feel Love. So he declared that «it was going to change the sound of music for at least the next 15 years».

He couldn’t have been more spot on, as the echoes of I Feel Love have never faded. In fact, today’s producers are still trying to capture the magic of the original with an insane amount of remixes, covers and bootlegs.

Produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, they focused on creating something with a futuristic aesthetic. They opted to use the typical instrumentation of disco music, using telegraph guitars, electric basses, trumpets and to that they added the massive power of the huge Moog IIIP system that belonged to the classical musician Eberhard Schoener. A modular synthesizer that showed to the producers the scope it had to record several tracks in perfect rhythmic synchrony.

6: Kraftwerk – The Model

Kraftwerk was one of the first bands to mainstream electronic music. They are widely considered pioneers of the genre and in many of its genres such as dance, house, trance, italo-dance, eurodance, among others. When Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider formed the German band in 1970, there was not a single synth in sight. Synthesizers would make their entrance on the 3rd album «Ralf & Florian», on which both the Minimoog and the EMS Synthi AKS would appear.

Ralf & Florian, still rooted in Germanic psychedelia, introduced the Düsseldorf duo’s first steps towards electronic ambience and minimalism. By the time «The Man-Machine» was released in 1978, the transformation was complete: Kraftwerk was dedicated to creating their distinctive brand of electronic pop music.

The best example of this synth-pop sound was The Model. A slick pop production with a simple progression, spare percussion and a rather memorable melody played in octaves. In the studio for most of The Man-Machine, they used a Moog for basses, an ARP Odyssey for lead sounds and the pads & strings came from a Farfisa. They also used two custom sequencers called Synthanoramas.

7: The Prodigy – Voodoo People

Voodoo People is a classic 90’s rave vibe cut from The Prodigy. Built by Liam Howlett mainly from samples, including a guitar based on the riff of Nirvana’s Very Ape.

However, the mythical and piercing acid-inspired lead synth was taken from the Roland JD-800 keyboard synthesizer. It appeared on several of the band’s classic tracks, such as «Poison» and «Their Law».

As an honorable mention, we present some artists and bands that also ventured into electronic music, making use of synthesizers that defined the future of this genre to endless creative possibilities. Among them we can name Wendy Carlos, Tangerine Dream, Soft Cell, Brian Eno, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, New Order, Orbital, Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys, Visage, among others.

Finally, at Valetronic, we say goodbye, but not before recommending these notes that may also be of interest to you. Top 7 DJ headphones for mixing and production, MPC Switch: a prototype between Nintendo Switch and Akai MPC.

Photo and video credits : The Bass Valley, Faithless, Vangelis, Underworld, Daft Punk, Donna Summer, Kraftwerk, The Prodigy