Edmonton’s Symfan is here to wake you up with retro-future electro-pop.
Symfan’s latest record, Circadian Workout, features a variety of electronic instruments performing simple synthesis and sampling that could be considered antiquated when compared with contemporary pop music from the likes of Jack Antonoff, Jack Ü, or whatever J-named producers you can dredge up in L.A. or N.Y. Yet, despite all this, Symfan’s record still sounds remarkably fresh.
In a way, I think the speed of technological advancement has done a giant disservice to the sounds that were pioneered in early electronic music. Just as musicians began to fully embrace a new technology or instrument, another shiny new gadget would come along, rendering the last device obsolete. Basic subtractive synthesizers like the Minimoog were replaced with the still impossible to program Yamaha DX7 and its digital frequency modulation algorithms. Just as quickly as the basic presets of the DX7 were becoming ubiquitous, the Korg M1 came along with its sample based synthesis. Music culture at the time didn’t allow for continued exploration of these early electronic textures and tools; instead, everybody rushed forward and embraced the new. Now, with the benefit of time, Symfan is exploring more of the forgotten possibilities offered by basic processes like subtractive synthesis that the industry rushed right passed years ago.
The tendency today is to compare any non-male electronic pop producer to Grimes; ostensibly a compliment, but largely reductive of the complexities contained in their music. In the case of Symfan, there are certainly similarities between her and Grimes (up-tempo electronic rhythms; an often urgent vocal delivery) but I think that Symfan’s sound has more in common with the video game soundtrack work by Rich Vreeland, also known as Disasterpiece, where subtle modulations of basic synth sounds, rhythms, and chordal structures come together to create a vibrant, colourful final product. The directness of Symfan’s lyrics contrast with the pentatonic sing-song melodies to create an orgy of colourful, bright, jagged electro-pop plucked from the future instead of recycled from the past.