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  • Katleho Mchalla

A Retro Retrospective

The past few years have been a boon for retro music, from being featured in hit series to viral videos on social media, the legends have had seen a comeback in a major way. April 2022 saw British 80’s pop and rock icon Kate Bush burst into the consciousness of a new generation when her 1985 hit Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) was featured in Season 4, Episode 9 of the Netflix show Stranger Things. Bush went on to become the solo artist with the longest gap between two number one singles on the UK chart.

Social media has had a similar comeback effect. Very few could have imagined the music of R&B legend Alexander O’Neil going viral in 2023. I count myself among those who spent many sleepless nights watching TikTok slideshows of AI-generated houses and apartments with 80s and 90s aesthetics, set to the instrumental version of If You Were Here Tonight – another hit from 1985.

Contemporary musicians and producers have a long history of sampling hits from their musical forebears. Most recently, rapper and singer Doja Cat sampled Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By, a song written in 1963, for her own chart-topper Paint The Town Red. It became a go-to for reels on Instagram for a while, a favourite of influencers and brands alike. Beyoncé’s Renaissance album paid tribute to the disco, ballroom, and house culture of the 1970’s, 80s and 90s in way that had critics falling over themselves with praise. Artists of online fame like Austin Mills, Yaan Hunter Jr, and RMB Justize have all sampled the greats like Bill Withers, Donnie Hathaway and Michael Jackson. Musicians, established and new, have become unafraid to layer with retro music. It’s a testament to the timelessness of some the artists that we, and our parents’ and grandparents’ have loved and enjoyed.

Contemporary music has also increasingly adopted a retro feel, from Bedroom Pop to new age R&B and Jazz. The sounds are rhythmic and smooth, replete with captivating timbre. The consequence of this fascination with retro music has even meant a consistent climb in vinyl sales since 2007. The “Vinyl Revival” has made the record player a must-have design element, with interior designers and ordinary home decorators opting to use them to create spaces where homeowners can truly be and express themselves. Nowadays, their slick designs mean that instead of being considered dull antiques, record players now fit seamlessly into the aesthetic of our homes.

But what is the reason for all this interest in retro? The answer is simple: nostalgia is on the rise. Whether it’s Motown or Classic Rock, retro is a reminder of our own past as well as a past we idealise but may not have lived. The pandemic even created a demand for retro technology like polaroid cameras and vintage game consoles. Retro TV shows like Friends and the Golden Girls have also found a new generation of fans, achieving new pop culture status with memes, GIFs, and reaction videos.

Retro music and culture are thriving now because they remind us in many ways of home, of our earliest memories, and times we spent with the people we love. Whether it’s a song that reminds us of car rides with our parents or family gatherings or a show that was a hit in a different time with values that seem less complicated. In a world that is fast changing, retro and nostalgia, have become an anchor, reminding us of the world we have strayed from, but also a world we can get back to, if we try.

Some of the biggest hits of the last three decades have been samples, so we've made you a playlist of some of the most recognisable - have a listen on our Spotify.


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