This Compilation of Synth Music Is Chilling, Dystopian, and Cool as Hell
'Holodeck Vision One' brings together Texas' best—including Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of 'Stranger Things' fame—together with a community of similarly electronics torturers from across the globe.
Photo of Troller (Justin Star-Goers, Amber Star-Goers, and Adam Jones) by Essentials
Texas isn’t the most likely exporter of dark electronic music, but since 2012 the team at Austin-based Holodeck Records has been introducing the rest of the world to sinister-sounding synth acts out of the Lone Star State. It’s given a platform to local producers who’d otherwise be relegated to their bedrooms, surrounded by fancy synths procured from electronic music storefront-cum-scene incubator Switched On. Easy access to vintage gear, plus a DIY mentality and general outsider status within Texas’s indie rock and blues context (not to mention the red politics the state is known for), has resulted in strangely unique spirit uniting the scene’s many different actors—a uniquely eerie take on our dystopian present.
Despite the gloomy vibes, the label is truly a family affair, helmed by Adam Jones, Amber Star-Goers, Justin Star-Goers, and Neil Lord (members of the bands S U R V I V E, Troller, Thousand Foot Whale Claw, and Future Museums). The original mission of the label was just to publish their friends’ music and in so doing, they established themselves as low-key exporters of some of the world’s best gnarly synth music.
From the epic synthscapes of S U R V I V E to the personal ambient wanderings of Ju4n, Holodeck’s been a home to all forms of grim electronics. But in recent years it’s also grown beyond city limits to include releases from international artists like drum machine hypnotist Marie Davidson and Texas-transplanted Parisian electropop of Lou Rebecca, and pushed their borders stylistically with techno producers like Dylan Cameron and the modular symphonies of Curved Light.
(Holodeck Records' Holodeck Vision One is streaming in full up above)
“In the past we've mostly been darkwave, synth music, and weird ambient music” Jones says over the phone. “The sound has evolved to become more inclusive of different genres, specifically with this compilation. We've got dance pieces, electronic oriented stuff, and very guitar-based music like Single Lash.”
They’re letting the depth of their roster shine on Holodeck Vision One, a massive 30-track release out this Friday, March 9. The label’s first compilation features longtime Holodeck associates like Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon (who provided the eerie synth burbles that gave Stranger Things so much color) alongside debuts from scene stalwarts like Jake Schrock, Windows1995, Virgin Pool, and Joey.
You could call it a compilation, but in a way it sounds more like a greatest hits album. There’s almost a feeling of one upmanship, like each producer is flexing both for their friends and in the mirror, pushing themselves in new directions. On “Dat Way” Kyle Dixon delivers an acid-tinged reverie that sounds like Mr. Fingers popping an Adderall or two. Bill Converse, one the community’s most popular DJs, eschews his avant eartickling techno for a more dancefloor friendly shoulder-shaker in “OK Karplus.” Dallas Acid’s “Orgy in San Felipe” unleashes the rich textures of their massive MU modular (dubbed “The Brain”). And LA-based Drab Majesty’s “Cannibal” starts as an unexpected acoustic ballad, building into a wash of arpeggio static.
Today, they’re streaming the compilation in full right here, so alongside that, we spoke to labelheads Adam Jones and Amber Star-Goers to get a sense of what went into this compilation, as well as the state of electronic music in Austin, and the links between sci-fi and synthesizers.
NOISEY: The label started with cassette releases, are tapes still an important?
Amber Star-Goers: They're still just as important as when we started. I don't think underground DIY tape culture is going anywhere, it's such an accessible way for an artist to record and have a physical format of their music. We're not going to stop making cassettes, we've been privileged to focus on more vinyl releases, but there will always be cassettes to go with them.
Cassettes are economical, but what would you do if you had unlimited resources?
Adam Jones: I'd put this compilation out in a vinyl box set for sure! But I would probably take all my favorite artists and put them on a payroll to just record a bunch of music.
Star-Goers: And maybe have a festival, but mostly investment in artists. We'd use that to expedite the production process and throw a bunch of raging shows.
What are some artists on this compilation that people might not know?
Star-Goers: It's hard to pick, but we're all excited about Jake Schrock out of Dallas.
Jones: His music is tropical, easy going, like old Air from the Moon Safari period. It's refreshing because most people in the synth scene are trying to do something that's really cosmic or psychedelic or tough or scary. I've been guilty of that. But Jake is kind of too cool for that, he's just playing jams that are fun to hear. It's also very purely made, it's fun to hear someone dive into vintage boards and work within physical limitations of the gear.
Are there any other artists making their debuts that you'd like to highlight?
Jones: There's Windows 1995, which is a side project of me and Amber's bandmade Justin from Troller and Thousand Foot Whale Claw. Then there's a singer songwriter called Virgin Pool out of LA, which is Christine Aprile who played in Silent Diane. And there's Joey, he's been tearing it up in the warehouse scene in Austin, his recorded material will be more composed and ambient, but he also does dance-oriented stuff. There's a lot of fresh faces, from Dallas Acid to Omni Garden to Dust Witch, too many to name.
The best known act associated with the label is probably S U R V I V E. Adam, you’re one of the four members, what are y’all up to?
Jones: We just got done with a crazy tour in Australia, which was our favorite as a band. Then we spent a couple weeks in LA recording, our bandmate Michael Stein recently moved there. In a way that's good, it makes us get together for specific periods of recording. We're working on a new record, but it will still be awhile before it's finished.
What's the Austin scene like right now?
Jones: There's only a handful of places doing good shows. That evolves and morphs, right now it's all about Kinda Tropical and Las Cruxes. They don't make you stop playing music at 2am, but they don't have the best sound system because it's not a real club, that's the tradeoff. There's a lot of crossover between experimental stuff, noise, really hard dance music, but everybody still likes pop jams too.
Star-Goers: I wish there were more places to play shows. There's been an exodus from downtown and everyone thought more DIY spots would open, but that really hasn't been the case. A decade ago there wasn't a weekend that went by without some house show with the craziest shit I've ever seen.
Science fiction seems so linked with synthesizers, and I can hear it in some of the stuff on this compilation why do you think that is?
Star-Goers: A lot of the sounds and moods that you can create with synthesizers are so varied and unique that they almost sound like a language you're creating, or some otherworldly sound. I've always felt like a lot of these sounds could be alien sounds.
Jones: As soon as you hear a synth now, people think sci-fi movie. For better or worse it's a cultural archetype, like if you hear like a wah pedal on a guitar, you think of porno. It's cool that it's like that, I love those kind of movies. If you play this music, you probably like Blade Runner. S U R V I V E would love to score a Black Mirror episode.
Star-Goers: All the artists we work with would be thrilled to work in film, we're trying to find ways to discover those opportunities. We want to make the label Holodeck synonymous with film scoring.
Last year at SXSW, artists from the label performed a live rescore to Kwaidan , are there any other live scores in the works?
Jones: We've started partnering with the Alamo Drafthouse and have ambitions to take Kwaidan on the road and spend the next year or so touring the country. The line-up may change depending on who's available, but Troller will probably do it every time because we like to host it.
Speaking of SXSW, it's next week! What are your plans for this year?
Jones: There's a showcase at the Central Presbyterian Church, our friend Steve Hauschildt formerly of the band Emeralds is headlining. Then a bunch of Holodeck artists, it'll be a really special intimate electronic performance.
Star-Goers: And our second showcase is definitely the most exciting bill we've ever put together. We teamed with Levitation Festival again this year, we'll be at the Hotel Vegas compound. There's an insane amount of talent and all of these artists we've become deeply personally connected to over the years, it's this giant family affair.
Dan Gentile is an Austin-based writer and DJ. He's on Twitter.