Take a listen to any current top 40 radio station, and it’s easy to imagine that the 1980s were extended indefinitely. The technology has improved considerably since those days, but today’s music is as sweet, shallow, and gloriously artificial as it was back then, before the eggheads and weirdos briefly took over. Perhaps no current artist understand this better than Katy Perry, who was born in 1984, back when mall-friendly acts like Wham! and Culture Club were dominating the music business. Perry paid tribute to the 1980s with her intentionally tacky, retro-themed “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” video. But YouTuber TRONICBOX, a musician and game developer from Saskatchewan, Canada, has taken the homage to its logical extreme. In a remix called “Firework - 80s Dream,” he’s actually made one of Perry’s signature hits sound like it was recorded during the era of leg warmers and Rubik’s Cubes. This effect was accomplished by taking Perry’s vocal track and slathering it with obsolete-sounding synthesizer music.
Just listen to that gloriously tinny keyboard and those echoing, rinky-dink drum hits. It’s like no time has passed since the days of De Barge or Lisa Lisa. And this is no one-time lark. TRONICBOX has a whole channel devoted to this kind of stuff. He’s given 1980s-style makeovers to tracks by Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber as well, complete with lovably cheeseball graphics that depict these current stars in the fashions and hairdos of long ago. The quasi-VHS video distortion effect helps sell the concept. The point seems to be that Grande, Bieber, and Perry would not only have survived but thrived if they’d been around three decades ago. Or maybe the point is that popular music really hasn’t advanced much in all those years, except in superficial ways.
In any event, TRONICBOX is generous enough to share his secrets with the public. In this tutorial video, he explains how to achieve that perfect 1980s sound in 2016. And, no, it’s not about going to the thrift store and actually buying a bunch of 30-year-old keyboards and drum machines.