This is kind of apropos of nothing but I think one thing that holds true about retro-anything (but especially in retro-soul) is an implicit – and in many cases, explicit – hostility towards its equivalent in the contemporary moment. I mean, that’s not some brilliant insight – it should be rather obvious – but one of the things I find most interesting in how retro-minded artists speak about their motivations, whether the Poets of Rhythm back 20 years ago or Aloe Blacc today, is how it’s always framed as a confrontation of sorts.
For the early “deep funk” artists back in the 1990s, they were pushing back against acid jazz and p-funk. Today’s retro-soulsters feel alienated from contemporary R&B aesthetics (which is, in my opinion,is also a reaction against how hip-hop production has changed too).
I think retro-minded music-making would happen in ANY era; that’s not surprising or unusual. But the idea of a *movement* built around a particular resurrection of the past is always going to be tied into some kind of dissatisfaction with the present. It’s not mutually exclusive – you don’t have to hate everything about the present just because you like styles of yore – but just the same, you don’t build an audience and community of artists without a strong enough shared set of interests and shared dissatisfaction/hostility makes for an awfully good kind of social glue.
Therefore, if you want to really get at the motivations for why there’s been a growth in retro-soul, it comes back to figuring out, at least partially, “what do people dislike about contemporary music?” And those opinions may certainly conform to things like age, race, class, geography, etc. but you have to begin with the attitudes and values that people place on not just the styles being resurrected but the styles of the moment that people take issue with.