SynthWaves host Noah Kaufmann talks about his popular radio show, why he loves the synthwave/retrowave scene and where he plans to take his show in the future.
In the heart of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the hometown of Prince and famed producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (The Time, Janet Jackson, Human League), Noah Kaufmann sits behind a desk in the comfortable quarters of radio station KFAI, cueing up on his show SynthWaves a legion of genre greats such as SelloRekT /LA Dreams, Highway Superstar, Futurecop! and Robots With Rayguns for local and global fans.
Minneapolis is probably known nowadays more for Poliça or alternative hip-hop collective Doomtree, but in the 80s it was a hotbed for a particularly potent blend of funk, R&B, synth-pop and rock, personified in “Purple Rain” and which served as precursors to New Jack Swing and an inspiration for a string of artists that stretches 30 years later to any number of artists mining synth-driven fair to great effect.
Even Italians Do It Better powerhouse Chromatics can trace its roots, in some form, to guitarist Adam Miller’s and drummer Nat Walker’s hometown. (Full Disclosure: It’s also my hometown. Hi folks!)
While Minneapolis might not have a retrosynth community to rival the scene of that first wave of artists in the 80s, Kaufmann is putting in the work to ensure that the descendants of that scene are known in the Midwest and beyond.
“When it comes down to it, whether [on] live radio or [a] webcast, I love doing the show and having the opportunity to give these great artists the exposure they deserve,” Kauffman told Vehlinggo recently. “I hope maybe someone listening will find as much inspiration in the music as I do.”
Kaufmann doesn’t only play synthwave artists, he’s friends with some of them and interviews most of them. Close pal SelloRekT/LA Dreams even designed the SynthWaves logos.
“With LA Dreams — mark my words — anything is possible for both the listener and this artist,” he said. “His music makes you feel like you can accomplish anything.”
Kaufmann first heard LA Dreams in 2012 and contacted him to tell him how much his cut “Lost in You” inspired him.
“LA Dreams, being the most appreciative dude you’ll meet, responded to me right away and was very humble…,” Kaufmann said. “We have kept in touch and a great friend has followed since then.”
Kaufmann regularly conducts interviews with the likes of Phaserland, Sunglasses Kid and Miami Nights 1984. He’s a pivotal part of the scene, introducing it to not only the lucrative Twin Cities market but to a global audience craving the expert curation of a DJ like Minneapolis native Kaufmann.
“I love the 80s as much as anyone, but so many of these artists for me make great music first and ’80s’ or ‘synthwave’ second,” he said.
Kaufmann started the show in 2012 after listening solidly to retro artists for a good three years. He said he remembers coming across all of the artists I’ve already named, but also the likes of Power Glove, Mitch Murder, Fear of Tigers, PaulforYou, Diamond Cut, 80s Stallone and MPM.
He worked his way into the radio station through a community outreach program the station provides to allow listeners to bring their own content. He ended up digging it so much he became an active volunteer and by 2013 he obtained a U.S. Federal Communications Commission certification so he could start doing it all live.
Kaufmann’s first interview was with the Nashville, Tennessee-based Patrick Baker, a lauded member of the movement who has collaborated with Kiez Beats labelmate Futurecop!, Robots With Rayguns and others.
He used the interview in his demo pitch to KFAI, and along with the LA Dreams-crafted logo SynthWaves gained unanimous approval from station heads. Since then, it’s been a barrage of interviews, great songs and some laudatory words from other DJs who messaged Kaufmann to say that they, too, have played Rosso Corsa Records flagship MN84.
Kaufmann was careful to not name any single favorite artist — “I have way too many to name” — but instead listed off a bunch he enjoyed, including LA Dreams, Spanish duo Cougar Synth, Photosynthesi and Detroit-based Phaserland, whose 80s working-class pop/funk concoctions bring back some particular memories.
“I printed the newspaper on the night shift for 10 years at the StarTribune [the biggest newspaper in Minnesota], so I really connect with his music in a personal way,” Kaufmann said. “It brings back a lot of memories of working in the shop.”
Halloween Fun and Future Plans
Kaufmann has more or less interviewed a good four dozen synthwave artists, and has several favorite guests.
Among his noteworthy exchanges occurred as part of a four-hour live special he did on KFAI’s Across The Board show on Halloween night from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Half the show featured LA Dreams and Synthetix.FM founder Rick Shithouse as co-hosts.
“It was commentary on all the Halloween synth releases that had just came out… the new Lazerhawk album.. the Miami Massacre compilation… LA Dreams [was] doing a great Lando Calrissian impression… [we talked about] zombies and everything wrong with modern pop music,” Kaufmann said. “It was very amazing.”
Kaufmann has grand designs for SynthWaves, if he can jockey for a coveted spot on KFAI’s permanent live roster. After all, there are only so many hours in a day.
“I will continue the webcasts — looks like monthly at this point — and guest DJ spots on live radio as well,” he said. “I have some really great interviews lined up, including Russian artist Quasars, Professor Zonic Zynth, as well some older on-air interviews I want to reboot for the web show, including a great one with FutureCop! and Dance with the Dead. I am kicking around the idea of doing a live DJ set around town, so perhaps that could be coming as well.”
You can catch the web streams on KFAI’s website. When Kaufmann DJs live shows it’s usually from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., when he takes over Across The Board.