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Sunday, July 7, 2013

The 'Broporwave' Tract: A Vaporwave Polemic

     I had noticed a certain grumbling among some established music producers, on Facebook, friends of mine; a general deprecation of vaporwave. Ranging from 'It's nothing new, been around for years', to 'those vaporwave meme kids', to 'utter crap'.  I wasn't surprised to see this latent resentment manifested as this 'Broporwave' tract;  a text-image that originated on /mu/ , the 4Chan music forum. When the tract appeared on Facebook,  the comments positively blew-up; almost 200 within a couple of hours. Clearly it had struck a nerve. The  lamentations about 'drama' aside - 'why-can't-we-all-just-get-along-and-enjoy-the-music'  - this controversy furnishes some interesting material for the writer. Besides, how interesting would 'getting along' be?

Firstly, this thing is funny as hell, and putting aside momentarily the probably-hurt feelings of the human beings attacked here, the thing is well written and pretty fucking clever. Forgive me if I take a devilish delight in this beef. But the artists mockingly called broporwave - who are also friends - should be secretly smiling at this. The old cliches about "you know you're hitting the target when you're catching the flak", and "there's no such thing as bad publicity" come to mind. People are talking about these artists --- and that's always a good thing.

If I didn't know better, the cynic in me might imagine that this whole thing was actually a very clever publicity stunt, designed to capitalize on controversy, and arouse sympathy and interest.
But now that I've had my jollies laughing at "shits out generic trash albums like a welfare crack mother", and "eye vomit", is the thing fair? Does it ring true? Or is it simply the production of some  butt-hurt troublemaker?

The first section: Brostep? Is this a thing? Sounds like it's horrible. Anyway, the criticism about reducing the music to "a repeatable formula" seems off-base. Whatever coherence vaporwave has as a microgenre is due to this structural unity or formula. As for "chillwave part 2", what's wrong with that? Vaporwave is definitely chillwave 2.0,  breathing new life into the beast. That's a good thing. But it's also a refinement of chillwave, bringing it back to an underground level, purging some of the creeping, diluting influence of  EDM and 'serious' electronic music.

The second section talks about copycatting and
lazy chillwave imitation. Again with the chillwave -
wtf? The author considers this a derogatory term? There is a fine line between 'influenced by' and 'derived from', between imitation and homage. And the difference between "lazily chopping one or two parts and calling it a day", and deft, understated editing and sparingly deployed effects may be a matter of taste. As for "moderately obscure", I have personally been astonished at how effectively Saint Pepsi mines the past for songs and samples that are absolutely fresh, and I lived through the 80s!

The underlying, faulty assumption of this charge of  'laziness',  is that more production would be better. Screw music is inherently lazy, in both its' tempo, and in the amount of effort it takes to 'create' it.  The amount of work that went into a remix has little if any correlation to its' quality. The primary factor is the source material, and choosing beats  that will work at a reduced tempo. When it works, screw music can completely transform the most mundane rhythm and songs into magic. But it's less  post-production, than it is the choice of the right song to screw.

Check out Lustt's "Pillow Talk", below. This rather ordinary hi-energy take on  Sylvia's song is the source of  "Private Caller", which I can unhesitatingly call my favorite track of the year so far, and then listen to Saint Pepsi's version, and decide if it's 'lazy', or disco magic.

Some of this criticism sounds a little that made by 'real' musicians who play 'real instruments', putting down electronic music in general, and sampling in particular. As if it's cheating of some kind; these electronic musicians haven't 'paid their dues'. I'll never forget a Brian Eno quote from the early 80s; "I don't think you have to be a musician to make valid music." I would add that I don't believe you have to be a 'producer' to make valid tracks. I am now, and have always been, a champion of making new music out of pre-existing music. Remixing. Dub, hip-hop, house, chillwave. If it sounds good, IDGAF how much or how little work went into it.

About the 'ironic eye vomit': The sincere praise  heaped upon Pepsi in this article can afford me a little room to be critical. When I read 'ironic eye vomit', this, the cover to the Empire Building /Studio 54 cassette, came to mind. It does have a certain punky, idgaf charm tho. The graphics of vaporwave are one of the innovative aspects of the genre/meme, the detourned advertisements and re-purposed corporate emblems redefine what can be thought of as attractive. Fortune 500 has done a great job with their art, which is very representative of the style. You can view thumbnails of all the Fortune 500 album covers here. I wouldn't call them 'eye vomit'!

Part 3:  The next part gets down and dirty, calling by name the artists the author is attacking: "Saint Pepsi...shits out generic trash albums like a welfare crack mother..." The language is colorful and funny, but is it fair? He has released 7 or 8 albums in 2013, but they are far from generic trash. Each of these LPs is interesting and entertaining, and features tracks that make them indispensable. If the best tracks of these albums were put together, that set might just be album of the year. Fortune 500 has released 28 albums this year. With such a prodigious volume of music, there are certain to be ups and downs, but on the whole, it's very worthwhile.

The records released by Fortune 500 conform very closely to the vaporwave formula, with outstanding releases from 日本人 (Japanese), Luxury EliteESPRIT 空想, etc. This conformity, which the author of the tract reduces to 'copycatting', is actually stylistic purity. Fortune 500 is not the only label putting out pure vaporwave, but they may be the only label that puts out only vaporwave, as most other labels offer variation, and release some records that are outside the parameters of the style. As vaporwave is diffused and assimilated, the purity of the true vaporwave style will be diluted and, eventually lost, as the meme merges into the larger, all-consuming EDM blender, so check it out, while the style still exists in an uncorrupted state.

Then he names "artists who perform on or support SPF420", which isn't really fair because some of the artists featured have little or no connection to vaporwave, such as DJ Paypal, Blackedout and Spazzkid. The 'live' or 'URL' events SPF420 have sponsored and promoted have attracted as many as 320 participants  - apparently no mean achievement for a web-based event in this genre of music. The first of these events that I attended, the one in March, was the biggest so far. It certainly made an impression on me.

The first thing I saw was an obviously teenaged kid with a microphone, who was straight gettin' off!  It was the single most electrifying piece of video I've seen this year. Sugar C, aka Metallic Ghosts was delivering a rap in an inimitable style, that instantly established him in as a star, in my view. Over the next two hours, I witnessed a  most amazing thing, a one-of-a-kind, transformational event. A new mode of artist/audience interaction, a new medium of social exchange developing, in a non-commercial context. The chaotic, anarchic vibe of that event, with spam attacks and  periodic interruptions by a half naked fool dancing in a Guy Fawkes mask, and a lively and funny chat-board moving at lightning speed, will be hard to replicate, but it was formative.  The thing was working; this was entertaining.

SPF420 are not the first to do these type events. The group grew out of an ongoing group discussion and sharing on Turntable FM, which is a similar to Tinychat.  The Dior Nights crew had a series events called HD Ghettos, on Tinychat, which are a clear precursor to  SPF420. The lineup of the last of these HD Ghettos events was to die for; CCU, Daytime TV, Shisa, Moon Mirror, Textbeak, Ormus and Magic Fades! When I realized what I missed it was like 'damn!'  But therein lies the problem. The event was hosted and promoted by a private group. It was exclusive. An inquiry about the number of  attendees went unanswered, but judging by the reactions, it's a safe assumption it was somewhat less than the number attending the SPF420 events. 

SPF420  hasn't a trace the elitism that has infected some compartments of the DIY music scene.
Whatever happened to "Do it together"? I hasten to add that no one from Dior has ever been the least bit snobby or anything but cool to me, but it's easy to see how these young memekids might be intimidated, if not actually eaten alive, in such an environment. Dior is a deep underground hive of some of the internet's weirdest artists, a true avant-garde; not exactly entry level. I hope they will do another event, and include the wider audience.

So it's natural that this success would arouse some resentment on the part of established elites, who may be feeling the sting of displacement. It might be butt-hurt people who are having a hard time selling their album, while all this 'broporwave' stuff is free, or almost free. A certain amount of the 'hate' may also be generational,  envy of  the New Generation. This prolific group - the SPF420/Fortune 500 nexus of young vaporwave artists, has dominated the new music scene in 2013 in a way in a way no one could have predicted, releasing dozens of albums and generally hovering over the internet DIY music scene like a huge vapor-cloud. It's no surprise that it has attracted haters.

Saint Pepsi effectively countered the attack by tagging his most recent Soundcloud uploads with 'broporwave'. And the grumbling might not matter much anyway: they have XXYYXX for the next event, Monday, July 8 at 10pm EDT, along with Bo en, Saint Pepsi and Avec Avec. It promises to be the biggest one yet. And Saint Pepsi is getting play on BBC Radio One. This looks pretty much like WINNING.

And you know, after reconsideration, maybe they are clever enough to have created and published this thing. Just maybe. 

Get Saint Pepsi
Get Fortune 500 releases (see 'mirror' for downloads)
Follow SPF420

POSTscript:   Artists attacking other art is an important thread in the history of 20th century avant-garde. Dada, that hive of anarchic and revolutionary artistic activity emanating from the post-WW1 chaos of Western Europe, the influence of which is still relevant to every stream of art current today, was conceived almost entirely as an attack on the established modes of art and creation. When Marcel Duchamp painted a moustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, he was announcing a battle cry, a call to subversion of the existing order and everything that great masterpiece of painting represents.

The KLF  in 1994  began a series of situationist inspired publicity stunts, which were attacks on the art establishment,  the best of which was the 'K-Foundation art award'.  Full page ads were placed in major major media outlets like The Guardian, naming Sean Scully, Hannah Collins, Vong Phaophanit, and Rachel Whiteread, asking "Who is  the worst of them all?" A prize of £40,000 was announced for the winner. The nominees for the K Foundation award were the very same artists nominated that year for the prestigious Turner Prize,  named after painter J. M. W. Turner,  supposed to recognize the best in British fine visual art. Rachel Whiteread won the £20,000 Turner prize, and at the same time, it was announced that she had also won the K Foundation award.  K Foundation announced that if Whiteread failed to accept the money, the notes would be burned. She condescended to accept the £40,000, saying she would give it charity.

The most relevant example though may come from France, which was the unquestioned center of the fine art world in the late-19th century. The Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and its' Salon, an annual exhibition of the 'best' in fine art, constituted a sort of monopoly of taste, and held public firmly within its' sway. The works of artists like Picasso and Van Gogh, Monet and Cezanne were denied a place of exhibition at the shows because they did not conform to the "academic" style. Van Gogh died in poverty, unable to sell his paintings, while the Salon artists work sold well to contemporary buyers. Ingres, the painter who headed The Académie, very vocally and publicly attacked the artists he excluded, calling the work of Van Gogh "moronic", etc. Yet today, almost no one remembers Ingres, or the dozens of undistinguished Salon painters who dominated the late 19th century art market, while everyone knows of Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet.

anothercountyheard is a Youtube Channel, and this blog.
Scott Baldwin rakes muck in northeast Georgia.


  1. Nearly every electronic genre goes through this phase; when DnB/Techno/House/Dubstep reached saturation point (ie, you couldn't tell the tracks/albums apart because the formula had been so distilled and formalised) they evolved, people rebelled and either rejected the formula or fucked with it, bending it into new shapes. Electronic music is, by its nature, forward moving and develops quickly, rarely tolerating immobility for long.

    This is just another example. Vaporwave was/is great. If you don't like it, don't buy or download the latest Saint Pepsi album. If you really want it to change, make that change with organisation: set up another festival, take a radical and original spin on the tired template and remember the golden rule: if it pisses people off, you're doing something right.