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I like both retrowave and synthwave, but there is no much difference between them, so I wonder why does they have different names? What is the difference?

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Wikipedia currently treats them as synonyms (redirecting "retrowave" to synthwave) and I couldn't find any authoritative sources, but according to user Zsokorad on Reddit:

Synthwave is the all-encompassing genre of "music with synthesizer sounds". Synthwave started in the late 70s and has been around ever since to some degree. But there have been two points where the popularity soared: the 80s and...well...right now. The boom period in the 80s is just known as Synthwave, as that is where it became a thing, while what is going on right now is Retrowave.

Retrowave is a sub-genre of Synthwave that is all about mimicking the styles made popular in the original 80s boom period. Retrowave has several sub-sub-genres under its umbrella, each focusing on one of those mimicked styles. The best way that I can separate them is by describing a scene and letting you imagine the soundtrack for it.

So, if we take this as definitive, synthwave is the original synthesizer-heavy music style popular in the 80s, and retrowave is the modern imitation of that music --the synthwave revival. As with any revival, the similarities are a lot of the point, but there's always a difference between how it was done originally, and how it is reinterpreted by new musicians.

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  • Are you describing the sort of music made by e.g. Tangerine Dream and its alumni, Jean-Michel Jarre, and shedloads of artists no-one seems to have heard of such as Andy Pickford, Ron Boots, Paul Lawler, Kees Aerts, Mark Shreeve, Robert Marselje, Ian Boddy, Eric van der Heijden, John Dyson, Rudolf Heimann, Lambert Ringlage, Detlef Keller…?  If so, it never went away, but never had a single name; ‘Electronic Music’ (EM) may have been the most common, before that got co-oped by electronic dance music/electronica.  If that's now called ‘synthwave’, then it's good it finally has a distinctive name!
    – gidds
    Jan 29 at 20:56
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"So, if we take this as definitive, synthwave is the original synthesizer-heavy music style popular in the 80s, and retrowave is the modern imitation of that music"

So wrong. Retrowave and synthwave are the same. Synthwave draws from 1980s new wave, synth based soundtracks mainly from the sounds of Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter, and 1980s progressive electronic music from the likes of Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre. Synthwave as a genre appeared in the mid 2010s (although some might argue even earlier from the 2012 Cliff Martinez OST for the movie Drive). The term synthwave did not exist and was never used in the 1980s. It's a purely modern interpretation based on 1980s music, it's not 1980s synth music by itself. That is just wrong.

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