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The Future, ‘80s Style

NEON celebrates the sci-fi sights and sounds of yesterday’s tomorrow

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Providence has proven to be a mecca for large, geeky gatherings – Necronomicon, Comic Con, HasCon – and has recently embraced nostalgia for old-school video games at popular arcade bars like Shelter and Freeplay. This month, the first-ever NEON Festival – happening at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick – will put a bit of the two together, putting ‘80s retrofuturism in the spotlight for three days of music, gaming, and love for a future that never was.

The term “retrofuturism” was coined in 1983, and while it can be expressed in many eras and genres, NEON co-founder and Creative Director Grant Garvin has a fondness for the ‘80s form. Garvin also believes that now is a particularly good time for a festival like NEON. “It seems like various media are making this a cultural touchstone with shows like Stranger Things,” he says.

Though it can be hard to pin down an exact definition for retrofuturism, NEON offers some handy definitions. “It’s a vision of the future looking through the eyes of the past,” Garvin explains. “It can be hard to predict the future from where you’re standing, so it can be easier to look at people’s past ideas about what the future would look like.” This theme of retrofuturism means NEON is not just an nostalgic ‘80s convention – it’s a nuanced look at how people in the past pictured the future, surrounded by the beginning of the computing revolution that now dominates our culture.

For entertainment, NEON features just about every kind of media one can think of, including art shows, classic computer and video gaming, guest panels, and a B-movie film fest. “The largest part of NEON is the music festival,” says Garvin. “We’re bringing in musicians from all over the world, from places like Serbia, Sweden, and France.” The main feature of the festival will be synthwave, a vibrant electronic genre with a soundtrack feel (think of the music from Blade Runner).

If that wasn’t enough, Garvin and the team also want to create an immersive experience. “We want people to step back in time as much as we can, so we’ll be building out parts of the event with props,” he says. “We’re going to put our classic computers and [gaming] consoles in vignettes, laid out like how you would’ve seen them in a 1985 living room.”

More than anything, Garvin is excited to see NEON bring people together. “When you talk to people who are into this aesthetic, it’s kind of an underground thing,” he says. “You have a lot of artists playing in this world, but they don’t know many people on the same wavelength, so we’re also creating a community.” August 24-26