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Betamaxx Is Dead, Long Live Betamaxx

Nick Morey is done with Betamaxx and has his sights on crafting guitar-oriented Crystal Castles-style experimentations — with a new-wave twist.

I feel that I have run my course.

Betamaxx is dead. Oh sure, the rather excellent album, Plug & Play, has been swimming around for the past couple weeks. But when he released the album, Nick Morey announced it would be his last as Betamaxx.

Since he first came on the retrosynth scene a handful of years ago, the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania-based Morey quickly established himself as an important and well-respected figure with songs like “Take Me Back” and “Reel to Real.” It could seem like he’s built himself a comfortable spot to practice his art, but like any talented creator he’s realized that even the best things — maybe especially the best things? — have to come to an end.

“I feel that I have run my course, and I’m kind of over being bound to the ‘80s’ cliche,” Morey told Vehlinggo recently. “Although the synthwave scene is great, and I enjoy making this style of music, I want to progress as an artist and progress to something new. I’m looking forward to writing something more mainstream, yet experimental, if that makes sense.”

As a final offering before Morey embarks on a new adventure, Plug & Play is a great ode to the scene that helped him achieve success.

Songs like “Dreamer,” a catchy dark-disco cut featuring the angelic vocals of Rat Rios (and which I think is his best song), and “Life on the Grid,” featuring Arcade High, are the kind of cuts that make you concurrently want more from him but also never want anything else from him ever again. Now wonder he’s done. How could he ever top those songs?

His short but influential reign featured some notable highs, but also one itching disappointment.

One peak was the Betamaxx remix of Tangerine Dream’s “Love on a Real Train,” according to Morey.

“It got an incredibly great response — surprisingly — for my first attempt at remaking anything,” Morey said.

The low-point is one that has plagued many artists in the synthwave sphere.

Nick Morey, AKA Betamaxx, plays a vintage Roland synthesizer. Photo Credit: Morey.

“I was never able to make Betamaxx into a live act,” Morey said. “I could never find a good approach to doing it.”

But aside from building a successful live show, there are some more foundational and existential challenges to being a synthwaver.

“The biggest challenge of being a synthwave artist would be defining yourself as an individual in a sea of other artists,” Morey said. “I consider myself fortunate I got into the style somewhat early and had such an urge to write this type of music.”

Overall, I think he’s done quite all right in that arena. It’s not too difficult to pick a Betamaxx song out of a lineup.

Morey has a diverse musical background (for example, he was a drummer in a pop-punk band in high school), but the synthy types that informed his Betamaxx work were some fellow retrosynthers, such as pioneers Miami Nights 1984, Lazerhawk, Anoraak, and FM Attack. He also counts as influences 80s big-timers like Giorgio Moroder, John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, and Cyndi Lauper.

Going forward, Morey said he hopes for the best for aspiring artists and his colleagues, and lauded the active and supportive community of producers, DJ’s, labels, blogs, and fans working hard to get the word out about the scene.

Along those lines, Morey had some advice for those looking to join the movement: Buy a vintage synthesizer and make the most of it.

“I can’t stress the importance of hardware synths in this project, and how they have inspired the music that I make,” he said. “Virtual synths are great, but there’s nothing like the feeling of touching the knobs and sliders to create unique sounds.”

Although he doesn’t yet have a name for it, Morey’s next step will have a more experimental sonic palette — think Crystal Castles, but with more guitar and more new wave, he said.

Even though Betamaxx has entered that great gig in the sky, the project’s spirit will surely live on with every portamento slide that Morey pairs up with his red-hot guitar riffs.

“I feel that it is time for me to move towards a different genre,” but “it’s definitely a bittersweet feeling departing with this project.”