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Catching Up With Mitch Murder, King of the 80s Revival

Photo Credit: Mitch Murder and Laser Unicorns.
Photo Credit: Mitch Murder.

“The very first Mitch Murder album… was a 15-­track instrumental 90s hip-hop/G-­Funk album.”

A couple months have passed since the release of the retro-kitsch short film Kung Fury, featuring heavily the music of Mitch Murder, and most notably the popular, viral Murder and David Hasselhoff pairing, “True Survivor.” I decided to do a quick check-in with Johan “Mitch Murder” Bengtsson to see how things have been going as those videos have reached millions worldwide.

The fury over the two videos started out strong, and though it has tapered off, both the film and Hasselhoff’s music video have still been pulling in the numbers: When I wrote this, Kung Fury had about 19 million views and “Survivor” had 17 million.

Although Bengtsson has been among the most well-known retrosynthers out there for a while, this project has opened some doors for him, the Swede recently told Vehlinggo.

“I’ve probably gained a new fan or two since Kung Fury, sure,” Bengtsson says. As for other licensing and soundtrack opportunities, there have been “a couple things, but not really anything I can talk about.”

Those top secret projects will likely excite Bengtsson’s fans, but there’s a bit of a catch. Those looking for a followup to the great Interceptor album, released last year on Mad Decent, will have to wait.

“Well, I’ve been working pretty much full-time on several soundtracks for the past 3­-4 months, so my ‘regular’ content has been suffering a bit, I suppose,” Bengtsson said. “The output of new tracks on my SoundCloud isn’t quite as frequent as it used to be.”

As soon as he gets more time on his hands, though, things will “probably return to normal. The ‘problem’ is I’m really bad at saying ‘no,’ and so I have a tendency to take on too much at times.”

Such is life in the big time.

‘Clean Pads, Complex Bass Lines, Clever Chord Progressions’

Photo Credit: Mitch Murder.
Photo Credit: Mitch Murder.

As part of the Rosso Corsa Collective — along with Miami Nights 1984, Lazerhawk, fellow Swede and Kung Fury class member Lost Years, and others — Bengtsson was among the generation of pioneering 80s-inspired retro artists. These people, along with the Tonite Records crew, the Valerie Collective, and the Italians Do It Better family, are part of the pre-Drive class of the genre’s artists who came into focus for a larger audience after the film’s 2011 release.

According to Rosso Corsa, it was Bengtsson’s “clean pads, complex bass lines, and clever chord progressions” that got their attention.

But Mitch Murder actually started out as a hip-hop project.

“Unbeknownst to most, the very first Mitch Murder album, a year or so prior to my After Hours EP, is a 15-­track instrumental 90s hip-hop/G-Funk album,” Bengtsson said. “It’s never been released though, and will most likely stay that way.”

By the time Ryan Gosling was choosing Nicolas Winding Refn to direct Drive, Bengtsson already had a couple years of Murder singles and the Rosso Corsa-released Burning Chrome under his belt.

A couple years later, Diplo’s Mad Decent label came calling. It was a notable move: It was the first label of that size or cachet to have thrown its weight behind Murder’s brand of synthwave. The deal has so far resulted in a handful of releases, including Interceptor.

“… Releasing 80s synth on a bigger label… It’s been fun,” Bengtsson said. “Right from the start I sort of looked at it as an experiment of sorts.”

“At this point,” he continued, “I pretty much know what to expect in terms of feedback, etc., when releasing something on a more synth-oriented label, but with Mad Decent having a completely different crowd and fanbase, I had no idea what to expect.”

Between Two Worlds

Photo Credit: Mitch Murder and Mad Decent.
Photo Credit: Mitch Murder and Mad Decent.

Although Bengtsson lauded Mad Decent, his partnership with the label has had its share of detractors from both the Mad Decent crowd and the traditional synthwave/retrowave scene — a particularly sensitive group. The haters haven’t taken the reins, though, and I would venture to say that most synthwavers are fond of having Murder as ambassador to those outside the gates.

“I definitely got my share of hate — from both the [Mad Decent] crowd and the synthwave community,” he said, “but the majority of the feedback has been positive, and it’s fun to have introduced this type of music to people who previously had no idea it even existed.”

It’s noteworthy that Mad Decent hasn’t forced Bengtsson to change Mitch Murder’s sound, and Bengtsson likewise hasn’t felt compelled to do so.

“I would never conform or change my style to appeal to the trap­ crowd, after all, and [have] kept the whole thing as cheesy as always,” he said.

‘It’s All Relative’

Amid all of this, Bengtsson was quick to note that regardless of the label releasing his stuff, none of them have had the control of a traditional record company contract.

“I’ll always have a special bond with Rosso Corsa, since that was my first ‘home,’ but the Mitch Murder name isn’t signed with them, nor with Mad Decent or any other label,” Bengtsson said.

Bengtsson has had some great successes since he started releasing Mitch Murder 80s cuts barely five years ago, but the biggest highlight isn’t probably what you think it is.

“… It’s all relative. The first time someone actually paid for my music — someone took their hard-earned money and gave $7 of it to me in exchange for a few of my tracks. That was huge, and I continue to be grateful for stuff like that every day,” he said.

“But yeah, having David Hasselhoff sing on one of your tracks is of course a pretty damn surreal experience as well,” he said.

As Bengtsson takes advantage of all the opportunities that have arisen from playing up the 80s cheese, he’s not worried about everyone giving up on that era and latching on to some new form of retromindedness.

“… It’s not a concern for me. I’m not at all resistant to change,” he said. “If I feel like putting out a 90s ‘Stakker Humanoid’-­like acid-house album, that’s what I’ll do.”

“The Mitch Murder project will most likely always stay retro to some degree, but the biggest reason I’ve kept it 80s for so long now is because it’s a decade that keeps inspiring me, and there’s seemingly no end to it,” he said.

“That wouldn’t stop me from taking on other styles in the future, though,” he added, “as long as it makes sense to me and I find it inspiring.”