Cyberpunk Music is a genre deeply rooted in cyberpunk culture and aesthetics. It’s a fascinating exploration of futuristic sounds and dystopian themes. And yet, it isn’t always clear if a beat or a tune classifies as Cyberpunk. So, what is Cyberpunk Music?

  • It’s a unique blend of various genres like synthwave, industrial, and electronic music.
  • It’s a reflection of the cyberpunk genre in literature and film.
  • It’s a sonic journey into the sounds of a dystopian future that can be both exciting and unsettling.

In essence, Cyberpunk and the music associated with it is a cultural phenomenon that continues to influence and shape the music scene of today thanks to its recent surge in popularity.

Understanding Cyberpunk

What is Cyberpunk?

Cyberpunk is a science fiction subgenre that initially appeared in the 1980s. The world of cyberpunk is dominated by advancements in science and technology but is also marked by societal breakdown, in an urban, dystopian future. High tech, low life best describes this world, where governments have all but collapsed and corporations are the new authorities.

What is Cyberpunk Music? Woman wearing cyberpunk headphones, against a neon skyline backdrop

Cyberpunk literature and films often tell stories about anti-heroes living on the fringes of society. They have to navigate a world of mega-corporations, artificial intelligence, and cybernetic enhancements. Some of the most iconic cyberpunk works are Neuromancer by William Gibson, Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, and the Matrix trilogy.

The Cyberpunk Aesthetic

The cyberpunk culture and aesthetic are deeply intertwined with the genre’s themes and narratives. A fascination with technology, bordering on addiction, and a deeply cynical view of its impact on society. It embraces a DIY ethos, valuing individualism, rebellion, and subversion of the status quo.

The few of the key elements that make up the cyberpunk aesthetic are:

ElementDescription
FuturisticIncorporates high-tech elements and imagines the possibilities of future technology.
RetroDraws on styles and trends from the past, particularly from the 1980s when the cyberpunk genre emerged.
Neon-litFeatures vibrant neon colors contrasted with dark, dingy, and often rainy atmospheres.
UrbanCenters on mega cities, depicting them as overcrowded and marked by stark social inequalities.
DystopianPresents a pessimistic vision of the future, highlighting the potential downsides of humanity embracing every technological advancement.
Neon-lit cyberpunk cityscape reflecting the futuristic and dystopian aesthetic of the cyberpunk culture

The cyberpunk aesthetic is characterized by a fusion of futuristic and retro elements. It often features neon-lit cityscapes, advanced technology contrasted with urban decay, and a pervasive sense of dystopia. This aesthetic is also reflected in the visuals of cyberpunk music, from album covers to music videos.

In terms of sound, cyberpunk music mirrors the genre’s futuristic, dystopian themes. It often incorporates analog synth sounds, which were still quite new when Cyberpunk first emerged, heavy electronic beats, and experimental elements, creating a sonic landscape that feels familiar and slightly nostalgic, but also unnerving, dark, and even hopeless.


There are two documentary playlists that you should watch if you want to learn more about the background of the cyberpunk subgenre. The first one provides a thorough history of the genre, covering its creation, expansion in the 1990s, and development in the 2000s. The second one focuses on the background of Cyberpunk 2077, which is deeply rooted in all of this history. The videos are on the lengthy side, but worth the watch:


A wet, rainy, neon-lit side alley, embodying the dystopian themes and cyberpunk aesthetic prevalent in cyberpunk culture

But the influence of cyberpunk extends beyond literature and film, shaping various aspects of popular culture, including music. This leads us to the question: What is Cyberpunk Music?

Defining Cyberpunk Music

What is Cyberpunk Music?

Cyberpunk Music is a genre that heavily borrows from other genres, resulting in a unique blend that reflects the cyberpunk ethos by combining sounds from the past with techniques from today. It’s a sonic representation of the cyberpunk world – futuristic, dystopian, and deeply atmospheric. Here are some of the key elements that define cyberpunk music:

  • Synthesized Sounds: Cyberpunk music heavily relies on synthesizers, creating the typical retro-futuristic feel of the genre. These sounds can range from rhythmic, arpeggiated basslines and atmospheric pads to glitchy beats and distorted noises. Vangelis, the composer behind the hugely influential soundtrack for the original Blade Runner movie, was one of the first to rely exclusively on synthesizers for their entire soundtrack.
  • Atmospheric Soundscapes: Cyberpunk music often creates immersive soundscapes that transport the listener into the rainy, run-down side alleys of cyberpunk’s megacities. These soundscapes can be dark, eerie, and unsettling, reflecting the dystopian themes of the genre.
  • Genre Fusion: Cyberpunk music is not confined to one genre. It borrows elements from synthwave, industrial, techno, and even metal music. This fusion of genres contributes to the genre’s unique sound. It uses dark melodies and harmonies, typical for industrial and metal, and fuses them with the driving beats and basslines from retro music, synthwave, and techno.
  • Dystopian Themes: The themes in cyberpunk music often mirror the dystopian narratives in cyberpunk literature and film. This can be reflected in the lyrics, sound choices, and overall mood of the music.
Hand reaching for a neon-lit DJ setup, symbolizing the music production and sound design aspects of the cyberpunk music genre

The Sound of the Future: Cyberpunk Music’s Unique Appeal

What sets cyberpunk music is its capacity to transport listeners to another time and place. The appeal of cyberpunk music lies in its unique blend of sounds and styles. As a genre it is constantly evolving, pushing the boundaries with experimental techniques and sound design.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the key elements you might find in a cyberpunk track:

ElementDescription
Synthesized BassesDeep, pulsating synth basslines, that are often arpeggiated, mixed with aggressive and distorted basslines.
Atmospheric PadsLayered, ambient sounds, usually with a lot of reverb, creating a sense of space and unease.
Glitchy BeatsRhythmic elements that incorporate glitches and digital artifacts.
Distorted NoisesHarsh, noisy elements that add a sense of chaos and dystopia.
Vocoder VocalsVocals processed through a vocoder, creating a robotic, cybernetic sound.

The Brief History of Cyberpunk Music

Tracing the Origins

The origins of cyberpunk music can be traced all the way back to the 1980s. Albums and soundtracks from this era laid the groundwork for what would much later become cyberpunk music. These pioneers experimented with synthesized sounds and futuristic themes, creating music that felt like a sonic representation of what cyberpunk felt to them.

Early works were often connected to cyberpunk movies and other media, like the previously mentioned soundtrack to Blade Runner (1982), or the movie Escape from New York (1981). Other early influences can be found in early techno and industrial music. Those artists were the first to dive head-first into synth-based music creation and shaped genres for generations to come.

Cover of the Blade Runner movie, a significant influence in the music history and evolution of the cyberpunk genre

Cyberpunk Music At The Turn Of The Millenium

As the years passed, cyberpunk music evolved, incorporating elements from various other genres and reflecting the changing themes and aesthetics of cyberpunk culture. The influence of technology became more pronounced, with artists experimenting with new production techniques and digital instruments.

The 1990s and 2000s saw the rise of genres like IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) and glitch, leaving a lasting influence on today’s cyberpunk music with their complex, experimental sounds. The soundtrack for the 1999 movie The Matrix can also be considered another key piece on the way to modern cyberpunk music. Don Davis’ work combined orchestral and electronic elements, fusing the organic with the synthetic.

The tail end of the 2000s marked a shift in music across the board. With music production gear and software becoming ever more affordable, a new generation of bedroom producers set their eyes on changing the playing field completely.

Cover of the Matrix movie soundtrack, an influential piece in the music history and evolution of the cyberpunk genre

New Possibilities And A Second Rise In Popularity

While there weren’t many direct influences for modern cyberpunk music in the 2010s, the rise of EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and its various subgenres brought with it a slew of young, experimental producers. They started pushing the boundaries, bringing with them a new, heavier, and distorted sound and a focus on experimental sound design in the spirit of the intricate sounds of some heavier Drum and Bass subgenres.

At the same time, the beginning of the 80s nostalgia movement resulted in an increase in the popularity of genres such as vaporwave and synthwave. With their distinct fusion of modern production techniques and the retro aesthetics and sound of the 80s, those genres represented a bit of a counter-movement to the heavy “banger” focussed sound of EDM.

With the recent resurgence in popularity of cyberpunk as a genre, fueled by games, movies, and TV shows, those two movements, musically, have started to merge. The analog, retro aesthetic of synthwave and the heavy, distorted sounds of EDM together form the sound we know as cyberpunk music today.

If I had to pick just one artist, who encapsulates this fusion, it would have to be Gesaffelstein. His tracks “HATE OR GLORY“, “Reset” and “PURSUIT” would fit right into a modern cyberpunk soundtrack.

Cyberpunk music DJ performing in a neon-lit room, embodying the futuristic sounds and electronic music elements of the genre

Now a new generation of artists is exploring the genre, fueled by their love of recent media and their re-discovery of sounds and stories from times past. Given how cyberpunk has evolved over the years, it will be interesting to see where these new producers take the genre!

Cyberpunk Music in Media

Cyberpunk Music has had a significant influence on various forms of media, particularly in films and video games, where it is often used to create futuristic, dystopian worlds.

For instance, the already mentioned soundtracks for the films Blade Runner and The Matrix are iconic examples of cyberpunk music. Their use of synthesizers, electronic beats, and moody atmospheres create a sense of unease and tension, that perfectly complements the dystopian world of cyberpunk.

In much the same way the soundtracks for games like Deus Ex, Shadowrun, and Cyberpunk 2077 feature draw heavily from the cyberpunk sound.

How to Create Cyberpunk Music

Getting Started with Cyberpunk Music Production

Creating Cyberpunk Music is an exciting way to get into synthesized sounds, dystopian atmospheres, and retro vibes. Its unique blend of various musical styles offers an amazing playground for exploration and creativity.

Before diving in head first, it’s important to have the right tools and essential equipment ready. Our guide on the music production essentials might help you get set up if you are just starting out. But especially for cyberpunk music, it might be helpful to have access to some analog synths or VSTs and some decent drum and effect samples ready. We will do a deep dive into cyberpunk style music production at some point with way more detail on what synths and presets will get you up and running. So stay tuned!

Having a robust library of samples in general can be a great starting point when creating any music. These range from drum hits and synth loops to ambient noises and vocal snippets. They may be used as is, or manipulated and made unrecognizable, and then incorporated into your tracks. Whether you use them as a foundation or as pure set-dressing is then up to you.

Exploring Different Sounds and Themes

As said before, the essence of cyberpunk music is its unique blend of genre sounds. Here are some key elements to consider as a baseline when starting a cyberpunk beat:

  • Synthwave Style Drum Beats: Synthwave is known for its punchy, electronic drum beats. These beats often follow a four-to-the-floor pattern or a breakbeat variation with the kick on 1 and 3 and snare on 2 and 4. This provides a steady rhythm that drives the track forward.
  • Heavily Distorted Bass Sounds: Cyberpunk tracks often feature heavily distorted basslines. These sounds can be created using various synthesis techniques and distortion effects. You can start by pushing an acid bassline through a guitar cabinet, or go as far as dubstep or drum and bass sound design. Especially for heavier cyberpunk tracks, you should use notes from the Phrygian scale or even go for the metal riff approach and use the “Metallica scale”.
  • Analog Sounds: Despite its futuristic themes, cyberpunk music often incorporates sounds that have a warm, analog quality. These sounds add a retro vibe and contrast to the otherwise harsh and modern sound palette. Those sounds can be used as pads or melody synths.
  • Dystopian Themes: The themes in cyberpunk music mirror the dystopian narratives in cyberpunk literature and film. These can be reflected in the choice of sounds and melodic motifs, or the overall mood and atmosphere. You could even add some rain samples for the moody side alley at night vibe.
DJane performing on stage, highlighting elements of music production and electronic music genres

Experimentation: The Key to Unique Cyberpunk Sounds

While this can be a good baseline to start from, creating unique cyberpunk songs involves a lot of experimentation. This genre is all about pushing boundaries and exploring new sonic territories. Here are some ways you can experiment with your music:

  • Sound Design: If you can, spend time crafting your own presets and samples. This can be as simple as tweaking a preset and turning it into a new bass sound or mangling a sample to create a unique drum hit. The possibilities are endless, and the more time you spend on sound design, the more unique your music will be.
  • Arrangement: Experiment with different ways of arranging your tracks. This could involve playing with song structure. You could go for the banger formula with builds and drops, a classic verse-chorus structure, or any other approach you might fancy. You could experiment with layering different sounds, like layering foley on top of drum hits or glitchy high-end sounds on your basslines. Or could try using unusual sound effects to create tension and release. Think a leaf blower as a riser.
  • Incorporating Other Genres: Don’t be afraid to incorporate elements from other genres into your music. This could involve starting from a different drum beat, like a drum and bass break. I personally like adding my own guitar playing on my own tracks for this. You could also add production styles from completely different genres, for example Argent Metal, aka. Doom soundtrack music, or one of the various genres that had an influence on cyberpunk music. This can add an interesting twist to your tracks and make them stand out.

In the end, creating great cyberpunk music comes down to experimenting and having fun with it. It’s about mashing the elements that make up the cyberpunk essence with things that you enjoy in music to create something that’s uniquely you. So go ahead, dive in, and make some noise!

Person standing at a neon-lit gas station, encapsulating the dystopian themes and cyberpunk aesthetic

Conclusion

Cyberpunk Music stands as a testament to the power of creativity and innovation. It’s a genre that pushes boundaries, fuses opposing elements, and creates a sonic landscape that’s as rich and diverse as the cyberpunk culture itself.

From its roots in the 1980s to its modern-day incarnations, cyberpunk music has evolved and adapted. The one constant at its core is retro-futurism and dystopia. It’s a genre that’s not just about the music but about its broader culture at the intersection of humanity and technology, the analog and the digital.

There is a wealth of exploration and discovery to be had, whether you’re a listener enjoying moody soundscapes of cyberpunk music or a music producer looking to delve into the genre. The only restriction on what you can do in the world of cyberpunk music is your own imagination.

So, what are you waiting for, choom?


We hope this exploration into Cyberpunk Music has sparked your interest. If you found it valuable, please share it with others who might also enjoy it.

And if you’re eager to dive deeper, we’ve got plenty more to offer. Subscribe to our newsletter and stay tuned to our blog for more insights, tips, and guides. We might even come out with a step-by-step series on creating your own cyberpunk tracks!

In the meantime, check out our other articles on all things music production.

Remember, the world of music production is vast and constantly evolving. Stay curious, keep learning, and keep making music!

References and Further Reading

To delve deeper into the world of Cyberpunk Music, here are some resources that provide further insights into the genre’s history, characteristics, and influence:

  • “Neuromancer” by William Gibson: This seminal cyberpunk novel is a must-read for anyone interested in the genre. It’s not about music, but it is one of the novels that started it all.
  • “Synthwave Music: A Guide To Synthwave” on Music Gateway: This article provides a comprehensive overview of the synthwave genre.
  • “Cyberpunk Cinema: Valuing The Virtual” on The Artifice: This article traces the evolution of the cyberpunk genre in movies.

Remember, the journey into cyberpunk music is one of exploration and discovery. These resources are just a starting point, so feel free to dive deeper and explore the genre on your own terms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Cyberpunk Music is a genre that heavily borrows from other genres, resulting in a unique blend that reflects the cyberpunk ethos by combining sounds from the past with techniques from today. It’s a sonic representation of the cyberpunk world – futuristic, dystopian, and deeply atmospheric.

Cyberpunk Music is characterized by synthesized sounds, atmospheric soundscapes, genre fusion, and dystopian themes. It often incorporates analog synth sounds, heavy electronic beats, and experimental elements, creating a sonic landscape that feels familiar and slightly nostalgic, but also unnerving, dark, and even hopeless.

Cyberpunk has had a significant influence on various forms of media, particularly in films and video games, where it is often used to create futuristic, dystopian worlds. Iconic examples of cyberpunk music can be found in the soundtracks for the films Blade Runner and The Matrix, and games like Deus Ex, Shadowrun, and Cyberpunk 2077.

As with any genre, this is not a cut-and-dry answer. But as a general guideline, you can start with a synthwave-style drum beat, create a heavily distorted bassline with a dark melody, add some warm, analog synth sounds playing melodies, and experiment with sound design and arrangement. If you want to get creative, you can incorporate elements and sounds from other genres. It’s about mashing these key elements with what you enjoy in music and creating something that is uniquely you.

The appeal of cyberpunk music lies in its unique blend of sounds and styles. As a genre, it is constantly evolving, pushing the boundaries with experimental techniques and sound design. Its capacity to transport listeners to another time and place, and its unique blend of sounds and styles, make it a fascinating genre to explore.

Yes, the music in cyberpunk is real, and it plays a significant role in creating the immersive, futuristic world of the genre. A prime example of this is the game “Cyberpunk 2077”. The game features an extensive soundtrack with original music created specifically for the game. The soundtrack includes a wide range of music styles, from synth-heavy tracks that echo the cyberpunk aesthetic to more traditional rock and pop songs. Many of these tracks were created by real-world artists who were brought in to contribute to the game’s soundtrack, further blurring the line between the fictional world of the game and reality.

The cyberpunk genre is intriguing because of its unique blend of high-tech future and dystopian society themes. It presents a captivating aesthetic and explores philosophical questions about technology’s impact on society. In music, cyberpunk combines various genres to create a futuristic soundscape, encouraging experimentation and innovation. This fusion of elements makes it a fascinating genre to explore for both musicians and listeners.

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