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Does the Return of DJ Ten Mean a New Wave of Retro?

Nowadays, DJ Ten is known primarily for his role as the owner of NewRetroWave, the synthwave behemoth through which the general public is often introduced to a more comprehensive understanding of the genre.

But between 2012 and 2014, he released the albums, Retrological and Retrological 2.0, which both proved influential in bringing 1980s-retro-infused musicality with a modern bent to a growing synthwave scene in the wake of the release of Drive and The Guest. Those and other releases complemented Ten’s hustle to promote synthwave via NewRetroWave, and later NRW Records, and ultimately bring a more professional infrastructure to what had traditionally been a disparate, highly social media-focused collection of artists and smaller scenes.

In 2018 the Brooklyn-based DJ Ten has returned with the hypnotic “Viral Lust,” featuring Trevor Something, and which is the first single from his forthcoming new album, Trinity, coming March 30 via NRW Records. Here, DJ Ten discusses his career and his new music, the shifting faces of synthwave, and the allure of cyber sex.

(Editor’s Note: This email interview has been edited for concision, clarity, and to conform with house style.)

DJ Ten
On March 30, DJ Ten will release his first new album since 2014. Photo Credit: The Experience Magazine.

Vehlinggo: This is your first release since 2014. I think some of the newer members of the synthwave audience might not realize that you’ve been making synthwave under the DJ Ten name since at least 2012, if not earlier.

How do you think synthwave has changed over the years? Especially from your vantage point running NewRetroWave and NRW Records, in addition to being an artist, you must have been keeping an eye on the shifts? 

DJ Ten: Yes, this is my first release since returning back to music after four years. My first ever retro-themed release was Retrological, all the way back in April 2012, and it was the beginning of an incredible and mind awakening journey as I worked on NRW. Before the retro scene, I was making hip-hop-influenced electronic music under a different moniker. I started making music since I was 12, actually.

After the four-year break, I got back into creating and “Viral Lust” was one of the first compositions I made. I wanted to sculpt a specific sound that could resonate with different ears and musical tastes. Trevor Something was a perfect choice for me to complete the song. His song writing ability and vision is amazing. The reception to the first single has been awesome. I’m looking forward to dropping the second single soon. It will be a shocker.

In terms of how the sound of synth has changed, I have seen the sound of retrosynth evolve and it has definitely given birth to many different sub-genres and sounds. Back in 2011, there were not many different sounds as they are now. The sound back then was a lot lighter, optimistic, and very dancey — lots of French house, ’80s synthpop-influenced songs, nu-disco, and ’80s funk.

“More and more sub-genres will arise and set their own paths, as the scene continues to grow and widen the musical tastes being offered.”

Now synth is really blowing up in the dark realms of darkwave and cyberpunk, and retro-electro themed songs. The music now tells stories and evokes a lot more dark power. It feels like the idea of the future and human evolution through technology is really a driving force. It is more “retro-future” than just retro now. It is an amazing time to see how far the sound has come, and what it still has the potential to do. More and more sub-genres will arise and set their own paths, as the scene continues to grow and widen the musical tastes being offered.

What inspired your return to releasing music after four years?

After Retrological 2.0 was released in 2014, I decided to take a break to hear, see, and experience music and the art being created in the world. It is very important to do this as an artist, so that you can learn and grow. I wanted to be truly inspired before I released my next body of work. I didn’t want to rush and put out an album just for the sake of it.

During my break, I was really inspired by songs from many different decades. The two prominent ones being the ’80s and ’90s. The ’90s has a special place in my heart and I am a huge fan of how electronic music took off with Eurobeat, house, acid house, UK jungle and UK garage.

YouTube was a great tool for helping me delve in and hear hours of songs that gave me nostalgia and opened my ears to different uses of synth —and most importantly drum patterns and crafting a solid sound. I take my drums very seriously and it is a driving factor for a lot of my compositions.

I am also a fan of many of the sounds coming out from the underground scenes now. The trap, alternative house and alternative R&B sound palettes boast many interesting sonics I have an interest in using. A lot of alternative music is so bold, unapologetic, and unafraid in terms of their content (visual and audio). So many lovely uses of synth and pads are used, but the drums are so killer to me, that I get lost. It certainly reminds me of the feeling from countless decades where art was used as a tool to shock and get a message heard.

“‘Trinity,’ being the last of the ‘Retrological’ series, is probably the most experimental and dark body of work I have released. “

It was this feeling that drove me to complete the Retrological album series. I felt the need to make a project that would shock and send a specific message. Once you see and hear the album, you will understand. Trinity, being the last of the Retrological series, is probably the most experimental and dark body of work I have released. So, in all, it took four years for this single and upcoming album to finally come together — something unique and eye/ear-opening.

Was the cyber sex concept something you came up with or is that Trevor Something’s realm? What do you think of a future in which virtual sex becomes the norm?

Cyber sex is a topic Trevor has touched on in his past videos, but I wanted to make a song specifically for this topic. Delving into the fact that online sex-related material makes up 20 to 25 percent of all searches is astonishing. In other words, the world has an addiction to sex, but a lot of us choose to express/indulge in that addiction online through various mediums, rather than in real life.

This cyber sex addiction is truly powerful since it can affect and control both mind and body simultaneously — ultimately having the ability to alter one’s perception of reality. I wanted to make a song that touched on this idea of being addicted to online sex so much that it becomes your reality and one dissociated from real human interaction.

“I wanted to make a song that touched on this idea of being addicted to online sex so much that it becomes your reality and one dissociated from real human interaction.”

In the future, I can see virtual sex becoming the norm. The idea is pushed in movies — Minority Report, Blade Runner 2049, Westworld — and the media constantly. As we gear into the world of VR with advancements in AI and increases in dissociated humans, which could be coupled in cyber sex, that will be one of the first things that people will go to.

We live in a world where we get information and content faster than ever before. Thus people want to have access to sex and cyber sex faster. I feel VR sex will be that tool used when one gets tired of online dating. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but we are slowly getting to this point. I saw a news article that stated some Japanese men are already ditching women for sex robots who don’t argue — LOL!

The lines of what is considered normal are constantly being blurred. This topic of human dissociation from reality/normality is just one of the topics that I delve into for my album.

What do you hope listeners get out of your next album, Trinity, which comes out on March?

Trinity is a step in a vast, unknown, and creative direction. I have a lot of hard-hitting trap influence and synthscape sounds in this album. I paid close attention to the sonics of this project and I think the different sounds will be a refreshing and exciting journey for the listener. The concept behind the album deals with society and how it is controlled in today’s world. I want to make people think and question what they see occurring around them and their reality.

This is a “retro-future” album that takes synth into new directions.

Trinity comes out on March 30 via NRW Records. You can check out DJ Ten’s catalogue on his Bandcamp page. Ten, like Aaron of Vehlinggo, will be featured in the forthcoming synthwave documentary The Rise of the Synths.