Human Music 2 Festival Recap
Vivid neon lights dance over burnt clay brick walls, studded leather, and an array of sunglasses that gleam like mirrors catching the sun. Body heat steam rises to mix with an artificial fog, the warm fervor falling like a hush over the crowd. The music
Vivid neon lights dance over burnt clay brick walls, studded leather, and an array of sunglasses that gleam like mirrors catching the sun. Body heat steam rises to mix with an artificial fog, the warm fervor falling like a hush over the crowd. The music slows a bit, and the audience’s dancing shifts to an enraptured sway.
Written for his daughter, “Little Angel ” is the final passionate track of FM Attack’s set – and the final track of the Human Music 2 synth festival.
It’s an odd feeling – being nostalgic for a moment happening in the present. The melancholic realization that something beautiful is about to end.
Three days earlier I awoke with a start.
A quick, cold shower – the flurry of clothes flying into unpacked bags – a gag of artificial stimulation and a final pat of the pockets – and I’m ready for my nine hour drive. I have to make up for lost time or I’m likely to catch rush hour near Philly, a special kind of hell. Peeling away I remember some things I’ve forgotten – but there’s no time to turn back now.
It’s not until I’m a hundred miles away that I begin to feel truly awake. Running on empty, I make a quick stop for gas and splash of water on my face. I’m jittery – perhaps a bit too much of the stimulants. I shrug my shoulders. Better to be too awake than tired.
Soon again I’m back on the road, screaming down I-70, with Gost’s “They” pumping through the speakers as loud as they’ll go without clipping. Just as I settle into my seat, I realize the car in front of me is nearly stopped. I slam on my breaks a second too late and have to squirm into the burm to make sure I don’t rear-end the poor fucker in front of me. Suddenly I’m thankful for my jitters.
Deer. At Noon. In the middle of an eight-lane highway.
Quickly the hooved rats pass and traffic starts up again. It’s rare to see them out this late in the day – and on a highway this size. A glance at my rear mirror reveals they’re heading back towards the road. As the minute mark nears on “They” and the high pitched horror synths begin to peal, I watch as a ruby red semi slams full speed into the creature – which in turn explodes into a literal mist of gore and viscera. As the darksynth swells I wonder if this is a bad omen – or a good one. Then I remember I don’t believe in omens.
The rest of the drive is relatively uneventful – though as I hit New Jersey I’m reminded that everyone here drives like they want to die. Soon I pull into my friends garage. I’m late, but I’ve made it.
The next day I arrive to the venue a bit late as well. QXT’s sits on edge of the industrial Ironbound neighborhood and on the corner of the street – the perfect spot for a venue dedicated to “Alternative, EBM, New Wave, Industrial, Darkwave, Goth, and Punk.” The outside walls are made of ribbed concrete and painted a dutiful shade of black – save for a large set of double doors which are braced open and manned by a well-built bouncer. I give him a nod as I make my way inside, were brick and mortar walls exude a gothy industrial vibe which plays well off of cyberpunk transhumanist art which has been prepared for Human Music 2. The venue staff are extremely caring – and the only thing more marvelous than them seems to be their liquor prices.
The artist meet and greet is winding down as I don my various wristbands and grab a drink. I decide to make the most of the leftover time and dive in. It’s always fantastic to put a face to a name. In a scene where much of the correspondence happens online, I had already spoken with probably half of the artists in attendance – but never met in person. Being able to communicate face to face instantly changes my perspective as for the first time I feel a real sense of community.
For now though there’s only time for brief introductions before the lights dim and and portent plumes from the fog machines signal the show is about to begin.
When the lights come back up, a wash of soft technicolor illuminates the stage and the stunning artist GlitBiter from Los Angeles along with it. Her beautiful blend of dreamwave and synth begins, the intro followed with lush soaring vocals – the perfect start to the festival. I have little time to dawdle and soon I’m snapping photos with an older DSLR which I borrowed surreptitiously from my dayjob.
“It was so much fun and such an honor to play with so many incredible Synthwave artists. Human Music brought together so many people (both fans and artists) from around the world, and I’m so grateful I was able to be apart of it.”– GlitBiter
Her set ends with a great applause, and it’s only a few minutes before the next artist – just enough time to step outside for a cancer stick. The first thing I’ve noticed is that the sound in Q’s is absolutely pristine – somehow even sounding better than if I were listening through a pair of headphones. Before long I hear the next act announced and scurry back inside.
Next on stage is Korine – a duo from Philly that specializes in a solid mix of energetic synthpop and gloomy new wave. I haven’t heard them before and I’m instantly a fan. This set is filled with a palpable emotion that fills the venue and really gets the audience moving.
“Human Music was an amazing experience. So much unique talent in one room. It was great to meet fans and artists alike in a truly humbling and exciting atmosphere.”- Korine
Next up is New Jersey based The Encounter – the first act that is more traditional synthwave. He has a wealth of material to choose from with various influences, and he chooses his tracks well. Each piece flows into the next perfectly, bringing an unbridled energy to the dancefloor. He announces halfway through that his set that his mother is actually in the audience – to great applause and whoops from the crowd. In a genre that capitalizes on nostalgia, I can think of no greater challenge than playing for family. He absolutely kills it.
Aeon Rings takes the stage. Hailing from Brooklyn, this is the first taste we get of the darker side of synth. This sound is a deft blend of synthpop, new wave and darkwave that really gets the crowd amped. They’re dressed to kill and bleed cool. The animated duo are no strangers to performance and consistently strike fluid, engaging poses, stoking the spectators to a fever pitch.
“Human music is a great festival that Damian Hrunka has worked very hard to organize and give synth wave fans and dark electronic music fans alike the opportunity to see some of the best bands in the scene all come together for a 2 day fun in the sun Memorial Day weekend. The comradery amongst the fans and bands is incredible and I haven’t seen that much support in a long time. It gives a chance for lesser known acts to get the boost they need to expose themselves to a proper audience that is open to their art. Would love to see it keep going and growing for sure. They work hard on it and the curation is top notch.” – Aeon Rings
Next on stage is the bombastic Belgium based Neoslave. His set is unbridled energy and the first to really delve into pure darksynth territory – though there are elements of outrun and disco interlaced. Veins bulge in his face, threatening to burst as the synth grows deeper and more intense. His arms swing back and his form exudes pure energy. His sound is fantastic, and the crowd is electrified as his set draws to its conclusion. The audience releases an amped applause.
“Human Music 2 was a BLAST to the past, retro-futuristic goodness wrapped up in the perfect setting that is QXT’s. I was thrilled to be a part of this sick fest that embraces both darksynth and synthwave and hope to be back soon! Shout out to all involved.” -Neoslave
The marvelous Cali based Protector 101 is on next – and he dons the stage wearing his eponymous mask based on the horror film “Chopping Mall.” Twin red beams stream from his mask, targeting the audience for dance this time instead of destruction – and he succeeds greatly in this prime directive. At times the venue is so filled with fog you could only see his mask and the beams emanating from it – a radical sight to behold.
Cooling things down a bit with a return to OG retrowave is Pittsburgh based Betamaxx – and boy is he fucking thrashed. Full disclosure – it’s probably my fault – I’d bought him more than a few drinks. Any worry is quickly dispelled though as he rocks out an astounding set that connects deeply and emotionally with the crowd. For many of us Betamaxx is some of the first synth we heard, and his fingers seem fueled by our nostalgia, racing across the keyboard and never missing a note. His newer sounds are just as good as his classics – and the end of his set is marked by emphatic shouts of joy from the audience.
“My experience at human music was a blast, as it was my first year playing. I got to meet some really amazing artists for the first time, and catch up with some old friends from last year. My highlight was getting to meet and hangout with Shawn, from FM Attack. He’s always been one of my ultimate favorites in the scene, and he was a super awesome guy as well. I really enjoyed all the performances, and the fans were all really into it. Needless to say, I will be back again for Human Music 3.” – Betamaxx
The final act of the first night is Timecop1983 – who hails from the Netherlands. Filled with romance and a truly cinematic feel, the audience reaches a fervor-peak during his set. The vibe is overwhelming, and for a time I forget I’m supposed to be taking photos. Swinging from sentimental to groovy and everything in between, he rocks the house. The applause echoes in our ears as the first night of Human Music 2 winds down.
But the fun isn’t finished yet – it continues late into the morning with NIGHT.WAV afterparty – a monthly synthwave dance party usually held at Saint Vitus Bar – but exported to QXT’s especially for the Human Music 2 festival. These folks absolutely kill it, showing off some expert mixing and production skills. As I slink deeper into my drinks, I find myself wishing there was a monthly like this in Ohio.
I wake up the next day facedown on a cold wood floor, back stiff but surprisingly not hungover in the least. I’d made it back to my friends apartment. Picking myself up, I start to go through the photos I’d gotten the night before. The day is a warm fumble of Indian food and street vendors in China Town and it eventually ends in a quick nap before I’m back at QXT’s.
Everyone seems a bit worse for wear after the late night that ended just over 12 hours ago. The conversations are a bit sluggish but you can tell there isn’t a soul there who would rather be sleeping. The best cure for a hangover is more booze – and the bar is serving up hair of the dog like cucumber sandwiches in a fat camp.
As everyone settles in, Shredder 1984 takes the stage – guitar strapped to his back. If anyone was drowsy before they certainly aren’t after his music starts. A mash of cyberpunk, darksynth and metal, this Frenchman rocks the stage with some fantastic guitar work – truly expert riffs. Halfway through his set he pulls back his hood revealing a large mane of righteous black hair which he windmills in proper metal fashion. Brutal is an understatement.
After the last guitar chords fade, Tokyo Rose rises to the stage. Wearing a mask with his eyes marked as two big X’s, he performs his first ever live set and absolutely destroys it. His themes range from darksynth to outrun and dreamwave and nearly everything inbetween, but somehow he retains his own fantastic sound. The melodies he deploys swirl into one another with seemingly effortless ease – infusing the audience with adrenaline. He dismounts the stage to a cheering crowd.
“Human Music 2 was definitely a fun experience. It was an honor to have performed my first live show at HM2. The love and support from my fans and artist was out of this world and I would love to do it all over again!” – Tokyo Rose
Soon after Virginia based The Rain Within takes the stage. Their sound is a heavy synth pop deliciously drenched in new wave vocals – really groovy stuff. Partway through their set their mohawked frontman activates a laser gauntlet which streaks neon through the dancing onlookers. If looks could kill we’d all be dead.
Teeel is next to bat at the synth extravaganza – and their setup is truly an amazing thing to behold. Numerous synths old and new line the duo in a semi-circle, backlit by their own light setup. Donning the stage in sunglasses and cool, their guitarist rips licks for the crowd like he’s breathing – his bandmate beside him belts out some fantastic retro vocals as he rips up the keyboards like only a professional could.
“I’ve waited in anticipation all year since the first Human Music Fest to rock out again. Where else can you hear so many amazing Synthwave artists under one roof? I had an absolute blast playing and watching all of the other artists and hope they continue this fest into the future. QXT nightclub sounded fantastic and the staff rocked. The highlight to the weekend for me was seeing FM Attack. We’ve been digital friends for years but it was amazing hanging in person and his set was phenomenal. I can’t wait for next year.” – Teeel
Arcade High, another duo this time from Pittsburgh, takes the stage side by side with an array of radical controllers. The light show for this one is truly spectacular, blowing beams of colored cool through their concentrating faces. The lights are nothing though – compared to the their signature arcade chiptune dreamwave sound and the clear fervor the artist have for their music. This set is fills the room with passion and draws a clamor of ecstatic shouts from the crowd.
“We absolutely adore Human Music. Its currently the largest US synthwave show, two years running, but yet it’s a very humble affair. Artists are expected to rub shoulders with guests and get up close and personal throughout the whole event. You can’t go five feet without meeting somebody who’s supportive of you, or that you’ve known online for years and never met in person, whether it’s a fan or an artist.” – Arcade High
Before Human Music 2, I hadn’t listened to much Mr. Kitty. I found myself photographic a particularly interesting looking person dressed in all white – with no idea he was about to play a set. His white attire seemingly absorbing the lightshow, Texas based Mr. Kitty is hardly still during the set – his particular blend of blend of electronic synthpop exhilarating the audience and even himself beyond belief. As he leaves the stage sweat drips from his brow – but not a bit shows through his inhuman jumpsuit. The energy in the room is almost crackling.
The second to last set is Makeup and Vanity Set – hailing from Tennessee. This synth titan has been quiet and reserved for the past day or so – until he dons his signature balaclava mask. Anyone familiar with MAVS will know that his sound quite eclectic – so much so it’s hard to pin down a description. The set he plays is intricately complex and engaging – all while juxtaposed against Weebls Stuff’s Badger Badger Badger animation. It’s a special kind of nostalgia only accessible to those exposed early internet. These visuals are mixed with a nearly unmatched virtuosity and make for a set I will forget anytime soon.
The final set of Human Music 2 is performed by FM Attack. As he takes the stage everyone gathers closer. He’s wearing a simple white button down a black tie, standing in the center of the stage. Neon lights dance over his form – but he doesn’t move, completely absorbed in mixing together and playing his tracks. The set is powerful – for a moment everyone in the room feels connected, not by some superficial high but by a sense of shared memories and emotions only the expert tones FM Attack could produce. The final beautiful track he plays, “Little Angel,” was written for his daughter. The speakers bleed their last warm nostalgic tones as the festival draws to a lachrymose close.
“Human Music 2 was a truly special event for those in the scene. Personally, it was great to see old friends, meet new ones, and meet those in person — finally — whom I’ve been chatting with on Skype or facebook messenger or text since 2014. In that way it was a bit like a family reunion. That alone made it memorable for a lifetime.
But if we’re getting down to the music — which is the most important part, right? — the music was just top-notch quality. Each of the artists put on amazing performances that would defy the stereotype that synthwave live is just a boring person behind a laptop. When you attend Human, it’s pretty clear it goes way beyond a laptop and some Ableton sessions. These were engaging and captivating performances that variously involved dancing, synths, v-drums, guitars, and yes, computers; often paired with laser-wear and theatrics. It was a blast.” -VEHLINGGO
Co-sponsored by Plague Productions and NewRetroWave