WORDS BY TAYLOR CARIK
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It’s 1983. The full moon hangs low in the sky. A top-down convertible cruises past palm trees, neon lights blanket the night, the car stereo blasts out synthwave sounds made from pieces of the musical past—thick synthesizer bass lines, drum machine beats, and hair metal guitar leads.
Inspired by the arcade sounds and film soundtracks of the 1980s, presenting a pixelated dream of a past that wasn’t entirely there, the (mostly) real musicians of Minneapolis-St.Paul synthwave are creating their own takes on the retro-future genre. The electronic music outlet The Paradise Arcade has been cultivating many of these artists through the retro-themed electronic music community NitroWaveTC with evenings full of music that’s as much avant garde as nostalgic. One of those artists is Sean Hogan, aka Night Audit, who has a new single, ‘Phantoms,’ that will be released at the upcoming NitroWaveTC showcase.
How did your synthwave alter-ego Night Audit begin?
Night Audit began while I was still performing in the local group Astronomique. In that band, I had made a deliberate choice to focus solely on playing guitar as well as writing music for the group and not song lyrics. This was a huge change from the group I had played in for a long time prior (The New Monarchs) where I was the lead singer and rhythm guitar.
So Astronomique is doing their thing and at the same I am really getting into a few things: The soundtrack to the 2011 movie Drive, the video game Hotline Miami, and really digging into John Carpenter’s movie scores (had always been a huge fan of his films, but had some blind spots in his filmography so I was really going all out on his movies and scores). All of these hit at once and I am starting to really love artists like Mitch Murder, FM-84, VHS Dreams, The Midnight, Power Glove, Lazerhawk, Perturbator, Scattle, Com Truise, Timecop1983…etc.
Enough time goes by listening to this genre that I start thinking…”I can probably do this!” So, I put my best foot forward and decided to write one song just to see. That song ended up becoming ‘OCP,’ which became the lead track of my first album Alpha. It was a departure from my normal songwriting as I intentionally chose to not play guitar on the first album—leaving it all with synthesizers and drum machines. Along with that, I had always been a HUGE fan of movie/film and wanted to find a way to blend the love with this project, so the songs often feature audio clips from some of my favorite films of the ’80s/early ’90s era of over-the-top action/sci-fi/horror films.
I played my first Night Audit show in
July of 2018 and released the first LP. Alpha, in October of 2018. Astronomique as a band ended right around the fall of 2018, so Night Audit has been my main musical focus since.
What can you tell us about playing alongside other synthwave/retrowave bands in MSP? Is there a scene here? Where should folks start if they want to get into this scene?
I was lucky enough to get connected with a group of extremely dedicated and talented musicians, artists, and individuals, sort of by accident, during the summer of 2019. That group ended up becoming what we now refer to as NitroWaveTC, which is a Twin Cities Retro-Themed Electronic Music Community, focusing on live music.
At the time of its inception, there absolutely were a large number of artists in the metro area who were writing and recording music in this genre (or synthwave adjacent genres), but weren’t necessarily getting exposure or getting bigger gigs at local venues. NitroWaveTC was great because as a collective of artists it allowed us to support each other in finding shows, building and connecting the community, getting people to listen to playlists we were on, and support in social media. A lot of this was spearheaded by podcasters The Paradise Arcade, Frogtown Radio DJ Mike Rez, and of course Minneapolis synthwave artists North Innsbruck, of which I continue to give so much praise and thanks to, as they have really helped boost and amplify my music locally and online, here in the states as well as overseas.
Now that this community has been around for a few years, it has been incredible to see the number of live events and shows they put on. Being able to share the stage with the artists that are part of the collective means, for me, that each gig is like showing up and hanging out with your friends and just having fun! There’s always a great turn out and each time I am at a NitroWaveTC event I always end up meeting new artists too, which helps expand the network to do it all over again.
For local gigs, venues to keep an eye on: there have been a number of shows at Amsterdam Bar and Hall and White Squirrel in St. Paul, 7th Street Entry downtown, and The 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis. Barely Brothers records has held several NitroWaveTC events in the past and I know there has been a lot of activity at local conventions (VGM Con, 2DCon, etc.). Definitely check out NitroWaveTC and The Paradise Arcade on Twitter or Instagram for more details.
The new Night Audit track fits in the genre’s tension between the darkness of a driving low end, but with escalating melodies that hint at major scales and popping electronic drum fills. When you make a track are you trying to stay within the style or just see what happens, or…?
First off, thank you! I really appreciate it. It always feels great when the music you write connects with people. To answer the question, not necessarily—there are a number of elements I try to keep that are in tune with what is considered basic “synthwave”—usually a 4/4 kick with the snare on 2 and 4 and an arpeggiated bass line hitting 1/8 notes. This is usually where my songwriting will start, but as I continue to figure out melodies and chord progressions, I don’t try to confine them within the expectations of what synthwave should sound like. The writing process has been a lot more exciting recently as I have allowed more of these bits and pieces to shape the song as opposed to being confined within the expected “sound” of a genre. So, there is absolutely a “let’s see where this goes element.”
I would say where Night Audit separates itself from a lot of other synthwave music is in its structure. With my history of playing in “traditional” rock bands I have very often approached songwriting with the verse/chorus/verse type structure, and I think it has lent itself nicely to Night Audit music, even if it is mostly instrumental. It also is great in the instance I ever work with a vocalist to do songs with lyrics (the title track off High Score, for example).
Your live show includes a lot of electronic playback on beats and rhythm lines, but you also shred some solos. How do you approach your live shows?
When I began writing music for Night Audit, I wasn’t certain at first if I would ever play live. With a one-man group, there’s only so much that can be done in a live setting and I wasn’t sure how well that would work for me personally. It took some time, but I had come up with an idea—with the music being instrumental and incorporating audio from movie clips, what if the experience was more immersive?
I had created videos for every song and when performing live found a way to both control the music and the videos live while they were projected on a screen behind me as well as a DJ façade with white panels in front
of me. I have tweaked this setup since 2018, but all of the elements still remain today.
Now for the guitar part of the question: When I began writing my second album, High Score, I wanted to both stick to what worked in the last album, but also try to incorporate some new elements. With guitar being my main instrument, I thought it would lend itself nicely to this new sound I was looking for. It probably wasn’t until writing the song ‘Dangerous Nights’ (off High Score) that I knew I had really found that blend of the music I had been writing in alt-rock/synth-pop bands and the synthwave sound I had success with on Alpha. The addition of guitar has really helped shape what Night Audit sounds like today as well as adding a really exciting live element to see and hear at shows.
How much music have you put out as Night Audit?
I have released two LPs: Alpha from 2018 and High Score from 2021, an A-side/B-side single from 2019 titled Dream Sequence, and an EP from 2021 titled The Neighborhood Watch, which was my attempt to make a scary sounding film-like synth score for the Halloween season. Outside of my own albums, I have worked with local comedian and musician Andrew Cahak on a remix for his album, Dracula, as well as a remix for the song ‘Pain Don’t Hurt’ for local band Parishes. Which comes to current day and I dropped a new single, Phantoms, on March 10, 2023.
WHEN YOU GO
The Paradise Arcade presents NitroWAVE
With Night Audit, Plastik Boxes, The Electric Touch (DJ set)
March 10, 10 PM – FREE
331 Club, Mpls