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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Verdict On Vaporwave.

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It's been about a month since I first noticed the term vaporwave, and it's has been growing in my mind ever since. You know that thing when there's something new in music or culture, and you don't know exactly what it is, but you know that it's cool? "Vaporwave" clicked when I read about it, and saw the graphics and heard the music. It really tied the room together...

Of course it had been there all along. I had seen these weird new graphics, and the music was closely tied to everything I had been following since 2010. Putting it all together, connecting the dots, I began to see this new meme, the latest in a series of so-called micro-genres emanating from the underground internet music cult, as nothing less than a new unifying aesthetic. As I digested and field-tested the music over the succeeding weeks, it became apparent that the music was  far from being just hype. Rather, it seems to be the new way, a sort of reboot on chillwave, purged of  EDM pretensions, with a renewed intent to experiment, to go deeper underground. More cut-up, more messed-up, more psychedelic. Vaporwave was real.

And then I had to deal with the fact that I missed the boat on the thing; that the scene was 'over' before I'd even become aware of it. Read the excellent "Vaporwave and the Observer Effect" article for a discussion of how a November 2012 Antony Fantano review of a 2011 album by Mackintosh Plus, and this [essential] DUMMY Magazine article "helped kill vaporwave". Great writing, both, and terribly interesting. But some of this is hipper-than-thou bullshit; "I had blue hair before you did."



It's daunting, this notion that 'it's already over'. Learning this had been right under my nose since late 2011 was a humbling experience. Damn! I missed it. But it's not that surprising when you consider that these artists are the hippest young art-punks on the internet, and that culture is evolving so fast and the web is so big. So there's no shame in having missed something. It would be a shame--nay, a crime--to ignore music this good, simply because you missed it or because it's not 'new', or because 'it's over'.

Maybe vaporwave is only perceptible in retrospect. Few beyond the community of those making the music seem to have been aware of it. Looking back, it seems obvious, but it's like  the donkey hidden in the picture; it was there all along, but I couldn't see it until someone pointed it out. 


Vaporwave has been percolating on the web since at least  summer 2011, when the stylistic markers and graphic tropes  formed into a recognizable shape, even if the name hadn't yet been invented. The music shares much with chillwave, witch house, and seapunk, but represents a new line of demarcation between EDM and authentic memepop underground, and the infusion of an anarchic element into the mix; a confusing, wtf-is-this artiness that prompted one writer to refer to 'art pop'. This was unashamed bedroom music; made in and  listened to in  bedrooms; and the geeked outer edge of meme driven music culture. Internet age bachelor pad music, or maybe internet age geek music, more like it, because many of the artists are very young--not exactly bachelors. Vaporwave has been a trending topic on 4Chan recently, and a recent video made to promote a vaporwave event appropriates the style and voicing of the hacker group anonymous.  The literary analog might be William Burroughs cut-up novels, the future-myths of JG Ballard, and most importantly, William Gibson's cyberpunk, with some Blade Runner and sci-fi anime thrown in for good measure.


I didn't know what to think when I saw this AOL emblem with the palm trees in this image. Something new was up with these graphics, a new order of imagery was opening up. The graphic component of vaporwave resonates on a deeper, more meaningful level than chillwave or seapunk imagery. There is an awareness of kitsch aesthetics, and  extensive use of Situationist  dĂ©tournment.
If it's not exactly clear what it all means, it is definitely a form of cultural critique. Vaporwave iconography centers around a set of graphic tropes depicting obsolete technologies; VHS,  CD audio and HD video, early computer graphics, and anachronistic corporate entities like AOL and Internet Explorer. The emblems of outdated technology are a reminder of the impact of technological change on daily life,  and the icons of capitalism are re-purposed to subversive effect. There was a  willingness to experiment, to use images that defy existing standards of what is attractive...

The music is a little harder to delineate than the imagery, its' characteristics being as diffuse as the music's namesake.  Like anything new, at first a lot of it will sound the same. It's a album oriented genre; no one track can define the style, but over the length of an album, the styles of the various artists are thrown into relief.  I can add little to what's been written in the two  articles referenced above; they do the essential job of putting vaporwave in context, except to note that  instinct tells me that, in spite of the pronouncements about it 'being over', the creative and viral energy of this particular meme are far from spent. The music speaks for itself. But the next time I see 20 year old video made to sell time-shares in some Miami condominium, I  will see with a different eye and listen with a different ear...

Many of these downloads are very cheap or free. The first tracks and albums posted here I consider absolutely essential listening, but I highly recommend availing yourself of all this stuff. The definitive album so far might be Vektroid's  Neo Cali. The Mediafired track deserves special notice too. Beer On The Rug is obviously key as well...

Tonight, that is March  20, at 10PM Eastern Standard Time  SPF420   host their latest live online event featuring VEKTROID, DJ PAYPAL, BLACKEDOUT, MAGIC FADES etc. at  http://tinychat.com/spf420
Just don't call it vaporwave tho haha.




1 comment:

  1. You should also add Famicom\\Fountains to the list..
    https://soundcloud.com/famicom-fountains
    Vaporwave ain't dead, It's in the same place it always was.

    ReplyDelete