Words EMILY BURKHARDT Art STEPHIE DIM
For the most hardcore of vaporwave enthusiasts, the first rule of vaporwave is don’t talk about vaporwave…
Welcome to the confusingly complex world of vaporwave music. For all you serious musicians out there, vaporwave is primarily a genre inspired by the sounds of electronic dance music (EDM), New Age music and the indie genres of chillwave and seapunk. Characterised by the use of 80s smooth jazz and everyday sound samples that have been transformed with music editing software, it’s basically an audio critique of mainstream EDM.
The artists represent a group on the cutting edge of modern music transformations, but still see themselves as so distinct from each other that the most hardcore members of this genre reject their vaporwave label… feeling it doesn’t define them or their vision. I know, I don’t get it either.
Vaporwave artists are infamous for being mysterious, nameless creators who live on the internet. They publish their work through numerous pseudo-corporate names and web personas on free music sharing websites like Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
But, it’s never just about the tracks with these underground musical trends, because vaporwave also exists to make a statement. It was created as a way for people to take a cynical aim at capitalism and present their sarcastic takes on the failings of previous decades with things like consumerism and globalisation. Often you’ll find samples of retro ad jingles surfacing throughout various tracks, popular elevator music and K-Mart announcements have made their way onto records.
Even the name itself has meaning. The term ‘vaporwave’ can refer to products that are in the works but never released, or a desire to manipulate the needs and wants of the public. It even has roots in the ideology of Communist overlord Karl Marx and his waves of vapor.
Bottom line, it’s complicated.
So, with all of its self-righteous rhetoric and generally deep thought, it never wanted to be famous. It never wanted mainstream success or attention. If anything, that would have weakened its claim to legitimate authenticity. See, still complicated.
According to the experts, Vaporwave is loosely based on the experimental environment of the mid 2000s hypnagogic pop scene. Think dream sequence, loose conscience, kinda sleepy.
It slowly developed by a circle of online producers; including James Ferraro, Daniel Lopatin and Vektroid. In particular, Vektroid was involved in the first album release considered to be legitimately vaporwave. The album titled Floral Shoppe was released in late 2011 under the alias Macintosh Plus. In typical vaporwave fashion, Macintosh Plus and Vektroid were two of countless names credited to the graphic artist and producer Ramona Xavier.
Her previous albums had scatterings of vaporwave techniques, but Floral Shoppe was the first one to be credited with having the complete package.
After this, Vaporwave quickly spread to wider appeal through its circulation on underground sites like Last.fm, Reddit and 4chan. But the most experienced of vaporwave enthusiasts claim that the genre peaked in 2013, before quickly dying in the depths of the dark web over the next couple of years.
But not before the success of 2 8 1 4 – a collaboration between known vaporwave artists Hong Kong Express and Telepath on their second album Birth of a New Day. Described as the first vaporwave project to include samples from original instruments outside the electronic realm, this earnt 2 8 1 4 rave reviews and a place in Rolling Stone’s “10 New Artists You Need To Know” list for November 2015.
Maybe that was the final nail in the coffin for vaporwave. Too much exposure….
But, if vaporwave is really dead, then its ghost is still haunting the internet through a plethora of subgenres and offshoots. Seriously, they are everywhere – if you know where to look.
Some might say that vaporwave was just mixed up in the circus of short-lived ideological microgenres that popped up over the 2010s. Others see it as an iconic musical movement that sounds kinda groovy.
Long story short, vaporwave is complicated – just close your eyes and feel the colours.