Pop superstar The Weeknd is the halftime performer at this year’s Super Bowl. He will most likely perform his massive hit, “Blinding Lights.”
I don’t normally write about mainstream acts like The Weeknd, but “Blinding Lights” is all ’80s shimmering synthpop. I love it. I included it on my countdown of the 100 best synthpop songs of 2019.
Several months after “Blinding Lights” came out, I discovered how it got that authentic synthpop sound and rich, melancholic vibe that I love so much. It was co-written and co-produced by Oscar Holter, who was in the electro-industrial band Necro Facility. More about him below.
“The Depeche Mode of R&B”
The Weeknd is an interesting artist. He’s a mysterious, brooding figure from Toronto whose real name is Abel Tesfaye. His music blends a bunch of disparate musical influences into a unique style that’s been called alternative R&B, synth-funk, nu-disco, and lots of other mixed-up genre names.
He also has a bit of a dark edge. His songs frequently cover topics like sex, drugs, loneliness, shame. That difficult subject matter has led some to describe him as “the Depeche Mode of R&B.”
The Weeknd’s earlier music had a definitive goth angle. In 2011, he released his debut mixtape, House of Balloons. The gauzy title track heavily samples Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 1980 single “Happy House,” while the song “The Knowing” samples Cocteau Twin’s 1990 track “Cherry-Coloured Funk.” A few years later, he interpolated The Smiths on an unreleased song called “Enemy.”
Who is Oscar Holter?
Oscar Holter is a Swedish record producer who co-wrote and co-produced “Blinding Lights” along with pop mastermind Max Martin and The Weeknd. He’s also written and produced tons of other pop songs for mainstream artists:
- Katy Perry – “Bon Appetit”
- Justin Timberlake – “Hair Up”
- Pink – “Just Like Fire”
- Taylor Swift – “Dancing With Our Hands Tied”
- Charlie XCX and Troye Sivan – “1999”
In the early 2000s, Holter formed Necro Facility with Henrik Bäckström. They had a pretty solid three-album run that saw them evolve from a Skinny Puppy clone into a fairly innovative hybrid of industrial and electropop.
Necro Facility’s final album, Wintermute, was one of my favorite releases of 2011. It contained their biggest underground hit, “Do You Feel the Same.” I’m not sure if Necro Facility will ever produce another album, but it seems unlikely. Holter began writing mainstream pop songs the same year they released their last album.
Oddly enough, Necro Facility is probably best known for co-writing and featuring on the excellent Covenant track, “Lightbringer.” So there you have it: One man stands between Covenant and Katy Perry.