(Editor’s Update, March 18, 2018: Please do read the excellent interview below from 2015, but also keep in mind that Timecop1983 and Vehlinggo did a new interview in March 2018 for the Vehlinggo Podcast.)
I want to accomplish a melancholic and romantic feeling with my music.
Before Timecop1983 was one of the most highly respected synthwavers out there, he was a kid on vacation in France who happened to stumble onto something extraordinary: the music-making program Scream Tracker.
The Dutch musician, otherwise known as Jordy Leenaerts, had been making music since he was 12, but this DOS-based software his friend had showed him was a whole new way of doing things.
“Because I had no musical background whatsoever I didn’t have a clue in the beginning what I was doing,” Leenaerts told Vehlinggo in an email interview. “But I kept playing with the program and started to recreate the songs that came with it, and that made me more familiar with it. So after years of practice I could make the music I wanted to make.”
On July 3 Leenaerts is releasing Reflections, his first album on NewRetroWave’s new record label and his highly anticipated followup to last year’s Childhood Memories. Momentum has been pretty strong, especially since the release a few weeks ago of the kickoff single, “Don’t Let Go,” with Dana Jean Phoenix.
But before he got to this point, he was just a kid who had snagged a copy of Scream Tracker from that friend, and dove head-first into the bizarre and rewarding world of module tracking, and electronic music in general.
“I… made all kinds of music — from gabberhouse [AKA Rotterdam techno AKA hardcore] to metal, and from hip-hop to breakbeat, but I never finished anything,” Leenaerts said.
That was fun for a while, but after amassing 10,000 loops and half-formed song bits, he was ready to rein it in and focus on creating full compositions in one style. That’s when his ear caught the inimitable work of Mitch Murder, and the supremely influential Drive soundtrack.
“I knew I wanted to make that kind of 80s-inspired music,” Leenaerts said. “So I did, and Timecop1983 was born.”
The Internet Loves Timecop1983
Three years ago, with his first SoundCloud post, Leenaerts found love in the very place where many 80s-inspired synth artists cultivate a following: the synthwave/retrowave scene.
“The synthwave scene is great and I am glad I am a part of it,” Leenaerts said.
The scene isn’t huge — most of the artists don’t or haven’t reached the Kung Fury platform that Murder, Lost Years, Highway Superstar and Betamaxx have. But that size fosters one of the things Leenaerts loves about the scene: It’s possible to contact fans and other musicians fairly easily, he said.
But scene has been growing, especially in the past couple years. Films like Fury, an increasing number of video games with synthwave soundtracks, and intensified media exposure have all contributed to more people catching on to the retro-minded movement.
“Before I could keep up with the latest releases from other producers, but nowadays there are so many new releases I can’t keep up anymore,” Leenaerts said.
The scene’s growth can at least in part be attributed to Timecop1983 himself — as the scene’s biggest artists become more popular, so too does the scene itself. As his star has risen, Leenaerts has teamed up with the likes of Futurecop!, Dead Astronauts, synthwave siren Phoenix, and Phaserland, among others.
But in a demonstrably modest way, Leenaerts doesn’t treat it with an air of inevitability.
“I can honestly say I never expected that Timecop1983 would grow so big,” Leenaerts said.
But the internet has a way of elevating those it believes are worth it, and after he posted some initial songs to SoundCloud people noticed. He wasn’t familiar with the synthwave community in those early days, but over time that changed, he said. Once he released the hit song “Childhood Memories” and the album of the same name in early 2014, more people began listening to his work and “things got going really fast.”
When Seville, Spain-based video game developer Fourattic asked Leenaerts to contribute some Timecop1983 music to its forthcoming game Crossing Souls, expected to be released in March 2016, he was completely surprised, he said.
“At first I thought it was going to be a small game which was done by a few friends, but when I saw the game was going to be published by Devolver Digital [publisher of Hotline Miami] and I saw how serious the team is, I was really really proud to be part of it,” Leenaerts said.
In November, he released “Mercury,” one of the songs that will feature on the Crossing Souls soundtrack. It was a step in a different direction from his usual dreamlike fare. It sounds more like outrun, which he said is what his contributions to the soundtrack will sound like in general.
Reflections on Reflections
Fast-forward the VHS to more recent times: Leenaerts was busy laying the groundwork for his much-hyped Reflections album.
Sitting in his home in Eindhoven, Netherlands, an 80-minute train ride south from Amsterdam, Leenaerts started the creative process the way he almost always does: With various little pieces that evolve over time.
“The basis is always a short loop — 6-7 seconds — that has all the sounds that are played in the middle of the track, and from there I start working on the build-up and break-down of the track,” Leenaerts said.
“So normally I don’t have a melody in my head when I start working on a track,” he said. “They just evolve when I work on it. I think I have about two or three songs I made that started with the melody.”
The thing you need to know about Timecop1983 is that he’s a particular fellow. He could amass an entire album, but before he finalizes everything and hits that “submit” button, everything has to be right.
“… Before pressing the publish button when I release something, everything goes through my mind — Are the names right? Is the spelling right? Should I rename the songs? Is this the right name for the album? What will people think of it? Should I wait with the release? Should I change the mix of that song? Maybe change that other song, too? Is this the right tracklist? Maybe put that track on a different position?” Leenaerts said. “I can go on and on forever.”
But he has suffered through all of those thoughts and hit the publish button plenty, most recently with “Don’t Let Go,” the lead single off Reflections and his latest collaboration with Phoenix. The response has been positive, and there’s a chance people are getting from it what Leenaerts is hoping they do: an antidote to the darkness in the world.
“I want to accomplish a melancholic/romantic feeling with my music and want to take people back to experiences in the past, so the can (day)dream about it,” he said. “There is a lot of aggressiveness in the world and in music these days, so I want people to be able to take a break from that and reminisce about the past, and especially their first love in their teen years.”
A Darker Future?
That doesn’t mean he’s against the dark side of synthwave — the likes of Perturbator and Carpenter Brut. He just knows where he likes to hang his hat.
“I kind of specialized in the more dream/romantic side of 80s-inspired music,” he said.
But you never know. Perhaps enough of a focus on melancholy and long-lost first loves will translate to something more aggressive. Longing is often sweet at first, but after a while it becomes obsession. The lazy hazy dream-state can give way to something more frenetic when we feel we need to make up for lost time.
“For the last [few] weeks, after I finished Reflections, I have been experimenting a bit with more aggressive music,”Leenaerts said. “So who knows…”