Peering Into the Strange, Sad, and Sort of Endearing World of YouTube’s Synth Obsessives

An ode to all those lonely lads out there tinkering with their Moogs in the deep, dark corners of the internet.

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30 March 2016, 11:32am

A theory: the internet is mankind's greatest failure. Think about it. We've been yomping over fertile land for thousands and thousands of years now and we've done some truly wonderful things. We lived in a world which held both Christ and underfloor heating. We've had industrial revolutions and crystal palaces. There was the renaissance and all those Carry On films but it always felt like we were building towards something, something that was universal and all-enveloping and accessible and geared towards our betterment. That something was the internet. Here we had the ultimate example of technology's power: an invisible network that allowed the whole world to hold hands, learning, laughing, loving.

And what did we do with it? Hentai, 4chan, and the brutally unstoppable infantilization of generation after generation. The internet ruined the world. It has turned us all into petulant children, hammering down doors for more lists, more relatable viral videos, more fucking 40 tweet sequences about someone doing a shit in a purse. The thing is though, you can't bury your head in the shareable sand forever. If the internet's taught us anything, aside from accepting the terrifying truth that mankind cannot be trusted to oversee his own destiny, it's that if you want to find something genuinely interesting you've got to be prepared to wade through the digital detritus, you've got to get nipple-deep in the endless fucking scree and shout of so much shite. There, at the bottom, just before the oxygen runs out and you see your online life flash before your very eyes, there it is: something interesting. Finally. You inhale it. You're breathing again. You're back. And you know what brings me back? Blokes on YouTube who film synth demos. That's my ambrosia.

Given that everyone now films absolutely everything and that you could, if you so wished, I imagine, tune into at least sixty seven Periscope streams of lads doing really long pisses, it isn't surprising that the internet's favourite visual dumping ground is home to thousands upon thousands of narrative free snapshots of blokes putzing around with big keyboards in their bedrooms. What's great about these videos is that they act as incredibly intimate insights into the inner lives of people attempting to fuse themselves with their favoured slabs of technology. In a very real sense, this is where man meets machine. And that's what fascinates me.

From blink and you'll miss them legends like the silent and stoic but still fantastic Frank Jacobs—a man who looks like he'd be more at home on the pitches of the mid-80s Bundesliga than jamming with Daniel Lopatin—to charismatic Japanese superstar Musictrackjp, YouTube is awash with vloggers dedicated to bringing us, their loyal audiences, the best synth demonstrations out there.

What they do—demonstrating synths—might not be that fascinating, because after all there's only so many times you can say "if you touch this button....here....you can hear that we have changed the sound slightly," before running out of steam, but how they do it is. Check out this masterclass in simplicity courtesy of irregular user williamenroh:

If you ever find yourself needing a sturdy, solid Korg M1 demo, then big Willy here's got you covered. Korg M1 Synthesizer - Part One is perfection: from that lingering shot of the Korg itself, to Willbo's bold opening gambit ("The Korg M1 is widely considered the first digital workstation"), through to his spellbinding run through the synth's onboard presets (Universe! Piano 16! Metal Hit! Dream Pad!) the whole thing is class in a glass. It's clean, it's elegant, it does what it says on the fucking tin, and in a time of hitherto unimaginable global turmoil, who could ask for more?

Well, you could ask for a bit of technical wizardry like Yamaha's very own promo-blatt, DGX-650 featuring Bert Smorenburg, which features, yep, Bert Smorenburg hammering away on a brand new Yamaha DGX-650. You could ask for a prime bit of high-waisted modular synth madness and be served up CZRider01's gloriously dank modern classic Moog Modular IP demo (Vintage 1969), full of the wired-up twists and turns that analogue connoisseurs have come to know and love. You could even, if you were being particularly greedy, ask for this:

Now THAT's what I call a top quality synthesizer demo!

Each of the examples above are perfect in their own minor ways. They tell the story of our obsession with the unreal, and demonstrate our unquenchable need to take control over our own creations. The synthesizer is a manifestation of the postmodern fetishization of the 'importance' of the real, and the ever-present pull of the fabricated, the artificial. And they make some really cool noises too, which is good.

The auteurs responsible for these AV delights are often quiet, men who speak through hardware, keeping their interior lives free of dialogue, preferring to tell their lives through the dulcet tones of their 88 key dream machines. They are fascinating figures, hushed totems of solitude, but also of a strangely introverted kind of deep, deep joy. These are the men who spent past lives tinkering with their grandfather's grandfather clock. Let us praise them.

They deserve that praise. They need that praise. These are the YouTube accounts that plough away for years without ever picking up anything that even nods towards traction. You'll never see stuthomson or doncolga08 or MrJOHNNYLIGHTNING on late night American chatshows. They're the anti-vloggers, the dogged souls prepared to sacrifice riches and fame and glitz and glamour in favour of staying true to themselves—and their instruments. And that's why I continue to watch pieces by Shichann731 and Thiago Gomes, day after day, night after night. I admire these strange, sad and sort of endearing men. And I think you will too.

Josh is on Twitter