Synthwave, more than almost any other subgenre in recent memory – yes, that includes you, rockabilly – is immutably rooted in a specific sense of aesthetic place and time. A neon color palette, a widescreen analog sound, a fashion sense steeped in Miami Vice, Members Only and London Fog ... synthwave is awash in the futuristic leanings of 1980s popular culture. There is still room for innovation, though, as U.K. solo project Nina and Toronto-based trio Parallels are proving on their co-headlining North American tour.
Both eschew the prevailing synthwave trends toward masks and shadowy non-image and place their voices front and center in contrast to the unspoken rules of the synthwave boys' club. And though the soundscapes, say, of Perturbator and Gost are impressive on their own, the addition of vocals takes these two projects' music into alternately more yearning and anthemic realms.
"I personally like listening to music with vocals," says Nina. "And following the story and different sections of a song, taking you on a journey." To Holly Dodson, frontperson of Parallels, vocals are a crucial piece of her band's musical formula: "Lyrics and vocal melodies are probably my favorite piece of the puzzle. Coming from more of a synth-pop background, I was always really inspired by it."
The sounds of Nina and Parallels are redolent of the best of '80s pop radio instead of the end credits of an '80s thriller, feeling like lost tracks from a mixtape that also included Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" (whom Dodson counts as an early epiphany), Yaz, Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero," and Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back" – a very future- forward way of looking back.
Nina cops to the nostalgia inherent in synthwave. "I feel connected with '80s music and aesthetics ... brings beautiful memories; that sweet nostalgia you feel when listening to a record from Depeche Mode or Duran Duran."
"It's so vibrant and colorful, which I love," adds Dodson. "Neon escapism at its best."
This won't be either performer's first Florida show – Nina opened for Erasure (!) in 2011 and Parallels have played the state a handful of times – but the popular tastes in 2018 have caught up with their sounds, and it really feels like now is their time. For the night, Nina promises "songs taking you back in time." To which Dodson adds, without missing a beat, "We'd love to see you dancing."