Face to face with Danger at Retro Future Fest
A quiet introvert by day and Black Mage by night, Franck has been leading the unsuspecting double life of a masked superhero for the past fourteen years with his alter ego known as Danger. Cited as a major influence and precursor by many of the
A quiet introvert by day and Black Mage by night, Franck has been leading the unsuspecting double life of a masked superhero for the past fourteen years with his alter ego known as Danger. Cited as a major influence and precursor by many of the heavyweight acts in the Synthwave scene, the French producer stands as a monolithic figure in the retro music scene, unmatched in a league of his own making. Those who’ll have stuck around for his showstopping headlining set at this years’ Retro Future Fest can only attest to the sheer power of Danger’s frenzy, picking up after a whopping nine hours of uninterrupted live shows and DJ Sets for a worthy send-off for the night. Unsuspecting bystanders will have caught up to the stone-cold fact: Danger is a force to be reckoned with. Elusive and mysterious as ever, the synth avenger vanished as soon as the show drew to a close, though we were able to get a hold of Franck, who very generously agreed to sit down and talk about his relationship with the action hero known as Danger.
Who exactly is Danger, in relation to Franck Rivoire? Standing backstage, I noticed a pretty sudden ‘switch’ in your body language right before you came on.
Actually, this all came very naturally. I never wanted to be at the forefront of a stage. I’ve always been into drawing, and when I first started putting my music on Myspace it all started happening pretty fast. I was told I had a gig the next month and I had to figure out what to do. I’m a pretty shy guy, and there was no way I was going to simply step onstage. I don’t like drawing attention. However, I really like creating worlds. I was into drawing comics, so it made sense for me to create a character.
Like Spiderman, there were several versions of the mask. I started out with a crappy one, but now as soon as I have enough money I make new ones. I just made a new one recently. It has the same shape as the one you saw tonight, but it allows me to express myself more. When I first put on the mask, I felt really comfortable, despite the heat and the fact that I couldn’t see as well.
Unlike some people who eventually ditch them, the mask is really important to me. I completely dissociate with my character, it’s almost schizophrenic. On one hand, there’s the guy who writes music and draws comics, and on the other hand, there’s me when I put on the mask, when I’m in character. It’s a little bit like in Last Action Hero when the protagonist goes into the screen (Laughs). It’s something I love doing, but I would not want to do it without a mask, without knowing that I’m just a marionette for this character. When you’re wearing a mask, the audience can’t read my facial expressions, they can see what I express through my body movements. You become a ‘graphic’ character. That’s why I like to use live video as my backdrop. I have fun with it. It gives an anime-like aesthetic and it allows me to exaggerate my movements and do things that I wouldn’t be able to do as a little white guy. It would look ridiculous without the mask, but I can do a lot of things when in character.
And where did this character come from?
I’m a big fan of stories related to evil counterparts and the monstrous side of Man, whether that be in mangas, John Carpenter’s movies or Lovecraft’s stories. Just like with people who play metal – namely black metal – you enter a sort of trance when you step to the stage; you get in character and you unleash your evil, primal energy. You see a lot of that in Synthwave, too. It also allows me to revert back to my little quiet self, and I love this sense of duality. That’s why I tend to refer back to Death Note: there are the alter-ego and this shadow that follows you around. We’ve all wanted to become someone else at some point, and the mask allows you that. It’s sort of like in The Mask.
Masks are incredible. When I make very shy people try on a mask, they become crazy. They stop caring, they’re not judged anymore. Danger is the dark side that we all carry in us, the character I try and tap into.
Forests and jungles appear on most of your covers. What does this environment evoke for you? A lot of electronic music tends to associate with more futuristic, urban settings, after all.
That’s true, especially in Synthwave. It’s important to know that I started out at a time when Eighties-related projects weren’t as normalized as they eventually became after Hotline Miami, Stranger Things and the whole indie gaming scene started embracing this sort of music. Kung Fury also greatly contributed to normalising this image of the Eighties in the public conscience; you had Nazi dinosaurs, police cars and cyborgs…I think it’s awesome and I respect it, but my music carries a different form of nostalgia that is my own. I’m a fan of Akira and Ghost in the Shell, but I’m also a fan of Jurassic Parc and Nineties movies that, to me, form a whole with the rest.
I’m a fan of the forest because I was really in awe when I watched Jurassic Parc, it’s one of my main film references. I’ve always been a huge fan of dinosaurs. For us French people especially, the tropical Amazon Jungle feels like a whole other world. I believe that’s why Avatar was such a huge hit. Old-growth forests are very mysterious, and it’s something that really appeals to me. To me, forests and jungles are simply reminiscences to all of these things I loved: Jurassic Park, King Kong and video games like Crysis.
I also wanted my project to have a ‘tribal’ feel. I’ve got a whole storyline revolving around the music, based on all of the films and manga that mean something to me.
So you do have a storyline in mind when writing the music.
Absolutely. I think a lot of Synthwave artists do the same thing. I compose music for films I visualise in my own head. I wanted my last album to carry a strong ‘jungle’ element, so I included a lot of percussions and sounds that don’t sound very ‘Synthwave’ at all, but that refers back to films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Those films had very traditional scores with taiko drums, which is a really powerful instrument used namely in warfare and during baptisms. It’s not the typical first choice of instrument in Synthwave, yet still, it’s part of the whole. It’s just that these elements weren’t ‘selected’.
It does remind us that the ‘Synthwave Eighties’ aesthetic stands as a particular ‘selection’ of references and codes. I didn’t live in the Eighties but it’s obvious that things back then weren’t how we see them today.
For sure, it’s a sort of ‘best-of compilation’ of references. Besides, I believe we always have nostalgia for things we barely knew. You’re never nostalgic for things you really lived through. I didn’t live in the Eighties either. I just remember seeing old TV shows and being scared by the synth scores. I was traumatised by all of the John Carpenter films I saw when I was little. To me, these scores were scary, even the cool ones. I recently re-watched Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, a Nineties action film with Steven Seagal (Laughs). You’ve got bad guys destroying cities with a hacked satellite and whatnot. It’s one of those cheesy films whose soundtrack I love. It has those dark sounding synth melodies that start playing when the bad guy comes on screen and everything (laughs). My music draws a lot from that. Soundtracks nowadays are more ‘Hans-Zimmer-esque’, it’s not as strange and mysterious.
Many Synthwave artists cite Danger as an influence and a precursor to the movement as a whole. Do you remember your first contact with the scene?
I don’t post much on social media, but I do keep a wide eye open on what’s going on and Synthwave immediately came on my radar. At first, I wondered if it this was something legit, but things quickly started picking up in the indie gaming community and YouTube channels like DrDisrespect. Then there’s Netflix, who reused all of these sounds and tropes with Stranger Things, which also greatly contributed. When I saw it coming, I figured that’s what I was already doing. Then again, I’m a little less of a ‘purist’. I never wanted to make pure Eighties music. When we were making music alongside Kavinsky – before NightCall – there was a touch of that but we didn’t want to replicate. To me, pure ‘Synthwave’ as we now know it has its own rules to follow.
When I’m playing, I can immediately feel when I’m standing in front of a Synthwave audience. I can see them realizing that it’s not quite Synthwave, but I don’t care. My goal is to make my own music with my own influences. If people want to put me in a certain category, that’s up to them. I think Synthwave is super awesome: Perturbator, Carpenter Brut… I really dig it, but we don’t really have the same codes. Those guys have a strong metal background and they’ve pushed the movement towards the rock and metal scenes. I’ve said it before in interviews, but I really want to say “Thank you!”. There are so many artists from my generation, namely as Sebastian and Justice, who were jamming Metallica at their shows and who had a metal edge but who only played to Dance music crowds. It’s the Synthwave guys that finally managed to break into the metal and rock market and play huge metal festivals such as Hellfest. I think it’s awesome.
There are clear similarities between both genres. I don’t necessarily want to start doing metal and borrowing its visual tropes, but I was also traumatised by certain parts of Eighties culture, which I guess makes me a somewhat of a Synthwave artist. If I were to coin a term for what I do it would be something like ‘Akira Synthwave’ or ‘Tokyo/Ghost in the Shell Synthwave’ (laughs). We don’t hear too much of it yet. I’m really into the whole ‘Cyber’ trope, which is actually more of a Nineties thing.
The score for Akira actually doesn’t have a lot of synth sounds, actually.
You’re right. There are a few touches here and there, it’s not full of flashy Keytar solos and huge Arpeggiator sounds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m also into the whole ‘windsurfing’ vibe too (laughs), but I feel closer to the Akira aesthetic. The Ghost in the Shell soundtrack also uses a mix of traditional chants and sparse synth sounds, and it’s gorgeous. The Amiga also had some games with some amazing soundtracks that really influenced me. They had this mix of ‘ethnic’ and ‘cyber’ elements. Lastly, when I was little I used to love this toy collection called Dino Riders. They were super-Nineties. It revolved around time-travellers from the future going back to the prehistoric era. The bad guys were enslaving the dinosaurs with collars and sticking rocket launchers on their backs to use them as weapons, and the good guys could communicate with the dinosaurs by touching them, like in Avatar. I used to love it. It had everything that I was into: futurism, dinosaurs and jungles (laughs).
How do you approach putting together a live set?
It all depends. I pretty much have three different approaches. In venues such as this one, I knew that there wasn’t going to be a massive lighting setup, so I went for a more ‘energetic’ type of set. The goal is to go all in, have fun and move pretty quickly from one section to the next. It’s more of an ‘entertainment’ type of thing, more rock n’ roll.
For shows like the one I played last night in Poland – where I’m playing big festivals and big venues where I have access to synchronised light setups – I use my new mask, which interacts a little more with its environment. The show is a little less heavy and it’s more narrative. I make use of the video backdrop and I let things settle for a little longer. It’s more cinematic.
Thirdly, there are more ‘intimate’ shows where I’m more into experimentation. I make the songs last longer and it’s a little more progressive. The goal isn’t to go hard but to have a nice sync-up between image and sound, between the video, the music and the character. It’s something I’m really into, especially since I started handling all of my visuals. Almost everything you see on my Instagram is by me.
So you need to learn about the type of venue you’re playing beforehand.
Right. I usually do my own research and my managers are there to let me know how many people will be there and what kind of gear I’ll have at my disposal. I was aware of tonight’s setup and running order, so I brought out the heavy-hitting set. It may sound dumb, but I came to realize that you can’t exactly kick the audience’s teeth in when it’s 8 pm and they just finished eating. When you go on at 2:30 am, it’s a different story. People have a smaller attention span, you’re following things up and the audience has already had a few beers so you need to hit hard.
Have you noticed a difference in your audience since the Synthwave movement came along?
Absolutely, it’s incredible… and it’s so cool! I’m not trying to be the overly positive guy, but the Synthwave crowds are made up of people like you and me, they’re an awesome audience who share the same references. It’s not like the audience I used to have before the Synthwave boom, where people were more into House music and didn’t necessarily fit into these ‘codes’. The Synthwave audience will immediately get it all of my references. A lot of the fans also work in technical fields, video game developing, graphic design… and it’s awesome. I’ve also noticed that the Synthwave crowd is generally a little bit older. It’s more of a wide-ranging demographic, actually.
More so than before.
Yes. Again, I started a while back so these guys are actually from my generation. I’m 35 and I started when I was 22, back when people were into Justice and the whole French scene, where it was more about the partying. It was little more rock n’ roll, it wasn’t nearly as ‘synthetic’ and melodic. I have a strong feel for these ‘scenes’ now, but it’s all good because I can adapt a little. I’m not necessarily trying to ‘fit in’ either, but I know that Synthwave audiences don’t necessarily want to have their face kicked in for two consecutive hours. It’s nice to have some melodies and some more cinematic stuff, and I can do that with them. I can tell within 2 seconds if my audience isn’t a Synthwave crowd. For example, almost all of my shows in the US are for Synthwave crowds. It’s funny because you’ve got this mix of Synthwave fans and old fans who’ve been following me from back in the day. You also have people from other musical styles. It’s a weird mix. But the Synthwave scene certainly brought people to my music.
I think there were also people who were ‘Synthwave’ before there was such a thing, who eventually embraced the movement as it came along.
I actually wanted to ask you a question on the subject: what do you think of the scene’s evolution? Online, it appears as though it keeps growing and we’re seeing a lot of “mainstream” media using Eighties-styled Soundtracks and Synthwave, yet there doesn’t seem to be any huge mainstream Synthwave artist with heavy radio play, to my knowledge. It’s still a “niche”.
We’re not there yet, but I actually read an article recently that ranked Carpenter Brut as the biggest musical French export of 2018.
I can believe that I read about this as well. It’s crazy. Then again, I don’t know on what criteria they made that claim. I still find it somewhat strange. He doesn’t get any radio airplay, for instance. But of course, I feel the influence of Carpenter Brut. He managed to bring electro and metal music in Synthwave. He’s huge, but not ‘mainstream huge’. Dance music has artists like Martin Garrix, David Guetta, DJ Snake… artists I don’t listen to but that are undeniably big. Synthwave, as a movement is a little more ‘quiet’. I don’t think it’s necessarily aiming to become a dominant culture, but I was wondering whether you thought it could further develop and separate itself from metal to create big Synthwave festivals that could host as many people as a dance or metal events. I have high hopes for both Synthwave and Vaporwave, because they’re two nostalgia-heavy movements that have strong visual components to them.
It’s also interesting to note that Vaporwave is still evolving as a parallel genre. You’ve got new subgenres like ‘Hardvapor’. It’s pretty out there.
Yeah I’ve noticed. I think it’s really awesome. It’s a real subculture based on images from the internet.
To me, Synthwave and the whole Eighties trend came along with a certain generation having grown up in the Eighties reaching the prime ‘market demographic’ age.
Naturally, this means we’re gradually shifting towards a similar Nineties nostalgia trend. With that being said, Synthwave has been holding up a lot better than a lot of us first anticipated. The big question, to me, is what will happen once we move on to the following “Nostalgia Decade”, and the next one after that. Will Eighties stick with its Eighties references or will they start to follow the shifts in ‘generational nostalgia’? We can’t yet tell for sure.
I think it’s also hard to sum up an era you’re currently living in because time hasn’t filtered things out. The Eighties now seem like simpler times where people were dressed in purple, took cocaine and listened to Synth music, but it was a lot more than that. Hip Hop music has now completely embraced Nineties pop-culture; everyone’s now wearing Fila clothes and Nineties style sportswear. I don’t know if Synthwave is still going to have the same name in ten years, but I think the fans who are into the movement like all things dark and mysterious. The Synth music they’re into isn’t Swedish Dance music from the Nineties. To me, they’re people that bond with images, with film.
Then again, there are several conceptions of Synthwave. Perturbator is more into genre films and dark Carpenter-style Synth sounds, but you’ve got artists that played tonight that only borrow from the scintillating, pink side of Eighties pop-culture. There’s also a more ‘innocent’ side to Synthwave.
Actually, you’re right. The ‘Windsurf’ Synthwave aesthetic, as I like to call it – with all of it’s Baywatch-like imagery – also has a strong relationship with imagery. They remind you of Eighties ads and whatnot. It’s not necessarily dark, but it’s cinematic, it reminds you of things. Then again, maybe music is always like that. There might be people listening to dubstep in ten years who will be reminiscing about the whole era and pop-culture of the time. It might very well become its own form of ‘Synthwave’. I think there’s a type of people that tie childhood images and memories with a certain type of music, and I believe there are a lot of them in Synthwave’s fanbase. That’s what I’ve noticed.
You’ve also got music fans that don’t care at all about the imagery and who’re just there to go to shows and get messed up. But in Synthwave, you have these people with this form of sensibility, a sort of ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’… in a good way. They want to return to more innocent things, whether they’re mysterious or dreamy.
Beyond the generational aspect, I also think the Eighties revival is also linked to the fact that many people are struggling to picture a bright future nowadays. Going back to the Eighties allows us to dive back into an era where you’re a kid and everything is great. It was a time where, as College once brilliantly explained to me: “People were driving around in huge 4x4s’ with two bikini models on each side, with a machine gun in each hand.”
It was a time of excess, where we didn’t have to consider the consequences. Synthwave is a return to a time where the future still seemed exciting, full of promise.
This is just my perspective, but I think there’s always been this sort of alternation. We’ve always had eras where people would do enjoy themselves and go crazy without thinking too much, followed by times of questioning and self-reflection, like the one we’re currently in. That’s my theory. It’s like puberty, it’s a time where you’ve got pimples and itches, you don’t quite know what do do, where you’re going…
I think the Eighties glorified a lifestyle that wasn’t very eco-friendly, but people didn’t care too much; there was no guilt. You could be completely unreasonable.
You can also read things from the viewpoint of drug culture too. The Eighties was the golden age of cocaine, the ‘speedy’ drug. It was everywhere: Coppola, Scorsese and all the great directors were doing lines every other second, and you can feel it in the films of the time. The same went for Sigmund Freud and Edison back when you could buy cocaine at the chemist shop. These were times of frenzy where there were loads of inventions. People felt a need to inject fuel into their veins, there were no limits and everything was being pushed to the max. Then, Hip Hop culture came along in the Nineties and switched things over, with ‘weed culture’ slowing things down. It lasted quite a while and it’s coming back now. In the Seventies, you had Hippie culture; people were smoking weed and taking shrooms and it was an era of ‘deceleration’ leading up to the Eighties. If you look at History, you’ll find this alternation, which is very human, after all. I don’t take any drugs, but I’m really interested in drug culture.
Going back to what we were saying earlier: you were saying that you felt more free with Synthwave crowds, am I right?
Yeah. It’s crazy, but if the Synthwave had been around when I first started out, I probably would not have made the same kind of music. I’m guessing my music would have been less ‘hybrid’. I’ve always tried to mix completely different elements, like trap and Eighties music. I’m the kind of guy that wanders around supermarkets listening to things that sink into my brain and influence me. I’ve always been a fan of the ‘retrofuturistic’ element, as in futuristic sounds that convey emotions about stuff from twenty years ago. I think you can sense that in my music, whether it be in the production or in the actual sounds.
I’m freer because the Synthwave crowd are into imagery and they don’t have any problems with more melodic passages. Most of the time, when you’re playing a big festival for a House, Techno or Electro crowd, they just don’t ‘get it’: they need buildups, drops and more physical elements. The idea that you can do Synthwave, Techno and House is a pretty new development. It’s not so long ago that it used to be only Techno and House, it was only music meant to get your body moving at parties. It was more ‘tribal’. You didn’t have the ‘Western’ melodic and compositional aspect. That’s why Synthwave owes a lot to Justice, Daft Punk and Jean-Michel Jarre. Discovery had some real Eighties references, and Justice must’ve bathed in these sounds and ended up with this straightforward strain of electronic music, geared towards melodies and a stronger rock and metal edge. It opened up doors for people, who figured that they didn’t necessarily need to do Techno or House music. That was the whole market back then, and it’s still very present. My question is whether there’s room or whether the blueprint for Synthwave is too restrictive for Synthwave to fit in there. I think the movement needs to open up a little and take in some new elements. That’s how it will grow.
The big question is also how the movement will evolve, considering it’s a genre that relies so heavily on past codes and references.
I don’t think we should be looking at it with specific imagery in mind. We shouldn’t be thinking as Synthwave in terms of neon purple images but rather looking at the fans who love the music. I make music for people like me. I just wanted to listen to music like mine and no one was making it. There will always be people like me, people who’re into geek culture, who go to the cinema all the time, who create visuals… There’s always going to be a form of ‘Synthwave’. The artists need to try out some new things. It could kill the movement but it also prevents it from becoming a parody of itself and ending up as a dying trend.
A lot of its biggest names tend to want to distance themselves from the term, naturally.
The labelling always comes after the fact, anyway. You’ve always got the type of artist who’s great at understanding tropes and replicating them to perfection, and I think there are a lot of Synthwave artists that do an amazing job at it. Then, there’s the kind of artist that adds some odd touch to their sound that might not please the purists but that will breathe some fresh air into the formula and allow people to think differently and ultimately change things. I think the movement has the potential of becoming the new Rock n’ Roll, of sorts. That’s the very positive take on it. The metal genre can very well make a resurgence through it.
Bands like Ghost are very similar to Synthwave in their relation to imagery. You can sense that it’s part of their ‘culture’. Their live scenography is very slick, it’s modern yet retro at the same time. The more people there are with this sort of ‘culture’, the more likely these worlds will merge together.
After this Hip Hop wave, there could very well be a resurgence of Rock n’ Roll and Metal through some type of ‘Metallic Synthwave’ with proper instrument setups. It’s just a fantasy, but the possibility is not too far off. The metal audience is the Synthwave audience, which is why there are so many physical similarities. Whenever I play San Francisco, everyone’s got long hair and a beard. The metal scene loves strong imagery, and all metal bands are living cartoons. The fans love mysterious bands; they don’t really want to see bands who’re always filming themselves in their bathroom mirror.
It’s very geeky, actually.
It’s extremely geeky, and it’s obvious that something is going to happen between these two scenes. It’s already started, but I’m sure it’ll eventually grow a lot bigger. I love this audience and I would love to embrace all of that. Then again, I may be a little odd and might be in-between too many different influences.
What if you were offered to play a metal festival?
I would absolutely be down! The only issue is that I like blending things that aren’t always meant to be mixed together. If you start whooping out taikos at a metal festival, you might not be able to win everyone over. Then again, I’m absolutely sure some of my tracks would work great at metal festivals. I’d need to put out a more ‘metal’ release. But I’d be thrilled to do it! I’d totally be down for it.
Finishing off: can you name one of your favourite albums, movies and books?
I’m going to go with the score to Ghost in the Shell by Kenji Kawai.
Book-wise, I’m going to name The Inverted World by Christopher Priest, which is a mix of philosophy and Sci-Fi. It’s completely bizarre but I love it.
Film-wise I’m going to name a really old film: The Lost World. It’s a dinosaur movie in black and white. I rewatched it recently and I think it’s absolutely killer.
Massive thanks go out to Anthony, everyone at Retro Future Fest, Franck and his management team for making this interview possible!
Be sure to keep an eye out for Danger via his social media pages