“That’s the dumbest most pretentious excuse for a music genre I’ve ever heard!!”
Vaporwave, a micro-genre which creates a dream-like sense of nostalgia through the sarcastic use of commercial imagery from the 80’s and 90’s and remixes old AOR, Jazz, and Soul music has lived and mutated solely on the internet since 2010: It sounds like some kind of surreal joke, and to begin with it was, existing only to ridicule the mainstream, however this bizarre world of slowed down mall music set to old Pepsi commercials, titled with illegible Japanese characters has become a significant genre within its own right with an established A E S T H E T I C and dedicated online following.
It is almost impossible to pinpoint Vaporwave’s exact origins.
As the perpetual stream of the Internet’s consciousness has left a plethora of overlapping material which merges together along a misty timescale however has been condensed into a recognisable and somewhat similar parameter under this umbrella term: ‘Vapo(u)r’- as in Vapourware, meaning a software advertised but never released tying into its distant digital themes….
…..and ‘wave’-derived from Chillwave, a retro themed 00’s genre that set a lot of the A E S T H E T I C and musical framework for Vaporwave.
In addition to Chillwave, obscure genres such as Noise Music, Art Pop, Lounge Music, and Plunderphonics are all recognised as sources for what has now become this strange online dwelling style of music taking particular influence from artists such as Ariel Pink, DJ Screw, Neon Indian and James Ferraro.
The retro routed sound and image of these predeceasing genres and artists protrudes through Vaporwave in its creative and appropriative use of sampling, heavy reverb setting an eerie distance between music and listener, lo-fi sound and image achieved through abusively reduced sonic bit-rates, VHS distortion and ironic glitch art and general appreciation for the analogue days of past.
These features have all bled through into Vaporwave through varying sources and become much more exaggerated within its bounds.
Thus granting the genre its commonly referred to title as ‘musical meme’ as it constantly parodies itself with its inward looking loop of pretentiousness and sarcasm soley expressed through its appropriated music and image. Its introspective lamp shading shows that whilst it has contempt for popular mainstream media and capitalism, it is also aware that its own methods of expressing these ideals are entirely bizarre, ridiculous, at times, nonsensical and overall futile.
Many cite the 2010 release Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1 by Chuck Person a.k.a Daniel Lopatin as a particularly accurate early archetype of what Vaporwave would become and for many it set the standard for Vaporwave’s intense musical nostalgia and sonic surrealism .
Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1 utilized 80’s and 90’s Pop and AOR samples, most notably Fleetwood Mac’s “Only Over You” in the track “A2” and Toto’s “Africa” the even more evocatively titled “A1” and rearranged them into unequivocal tempos and unpredictable patterns with tape jump effects, taking one small musical hook from the original song and reconstituting and expanding it into something surreal yet strangely recognisable through an eerie sense of nostalgia as if summoning the long since past ghost of 80’s and 90’s Popular Culture.
It was this central trajectory of vividly evoking the past that future Vaporwave artists would follow in.
In 2011 the elusive yet rather prolific Electronic artist Vektroid would release Floral Shoppe also known as Mactintosh Plus , A E S T H E T I C A L L Y stylised as フローラルの専門店 and progressed the musical surrealistic sense of nostalgia projected by Person in “Ecchojams” into something that would define the entire Vaporwave genre, and was semantically captured by Johnathon Dean of the prolific online music magazine as “its own meditative headspace through the careful accretion of defamiliarized memory triggers”.
Floral Shoppe’s most recognised track, “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” has become a representative and infamous synecdoche of Vaporwave and on YouTube at present has over 33 million views.
This slowed down version of the 1984 Diana Ross hit “It’s Your Move” has become the go to song for Vaporwave’s countless internet memes and inside jokes and has become impossible to bypass when discussing the genre. Much like the music of Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1, the track is selective in its sampling of the source material and focuses on specific lyrical hooks that express and intensify some of the core ideals of Vaporwave.
The main lyrical points of Diana Ross’s original song that are repeated throughout “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” are very contextually resonant; The first lyrical hook, “Do you understand its all in your head” perhaps meaning one thing to the original artist has been re-contextualised in order to contribute to the surreal and dreamy atmosphere that Vaporwave attempts to project, possibly referring to life as one big non-existant Vaporware that exists only within the compounds of our subconsciousness.
The second most notable lyrical hook “I’m giving up on trying to sell you things that you ‘ain’t buying” is a very indicative use of Vaporwave’s appropriative sampling, expressing some of the central anti-capitalist and satirical commercial references from the wider consciousness of the Vaporwave movement, very much rewriting its original meaning from a metaphor for a loss of interest in love into something a little more literal and fitting to its new context.
Vaporwave has now mutated into varying stylistic directions.
Some musical sectors taking stylistic premise from Trap music (Vapor-trap), others going in progressively more electronic routes such as Future Funk, some utilizing old Rap/Hip-Hop samples within the Vaporwave trajectory, whilst some still remain true to the genre’s origins in ironically sampling 80’s/90’s Pop, obscure elevator music and old K-Mart commercial cassettes.
Due to the many ‘deviations’ now present within the Vaporwave facility showing a significant distance from its origins circa 2010 the term:
V A P O R W A V E I S D E A D
……..became used so frequently on internet forums and comment sections that it became a meme within itself, thus only adding another ironic element to Vaporwave’s A E S T H E T I C and further fuelling its presence on its internet home plateaus such as 4Chan and Tumblr only making it now more alive than ever.
(I should probably explain at this point if you haven’t already caught on, ‘A E S T H E T I C’ is self-deprecating meme within Vaporwave, and yes, I know how dumb and pretentious it is that I keep writing like T H I S, that’s the ironic and hilarious point of it. If you can get that, then C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S you’re starting to get Vaporwave. Welcome, you’re in for quite a T R I P.)
As of present Vaporwave as a genre is hard to define musically due to these said mutations; and it is at a point now where many agree that it would more fitting to link it to an ideology reflecting a rejection and satire of commercialism rather than simply leaning on its now sparse musical features to categorise it………..