Feature Image: Vaporwave Aesthetic by Rafaël De Jongh www.RafaelDeJongh.com
I was introduced to vaporwave via a friend who was producing it in his shed. It sounded odd and I didn’t get it, but I was willing to give it a chance. “What’s it like live?” I asked. He replied, “there is no live vaporwave. It doesn’t exist off the internet.” So, unlike other music styles, its origin cannot be traced to any particular city or artistic movement. How can a genre appeal to any one if it wasn’t derived from a tangible cultural shift?
Getting into vaporwave can be confusing at first, but it helps if you ignore the pretentious fan interpretations – ‘anti-capitalist Marxist sample based music.’ Huh? – and instead try to understand what you’re hearing. Traditionally, a vaporwave track is created by feeding a retro pop song through music editing software. The song is slowed down to the point where it’s almost unrecognisable, then cut up, looped and embellished with samples from other sources. It sounds like the sort of thing that might play in the background of an infomercial unwittingly taped to VHS 25 years ago – music that’s not only dated, but obsolete. Any sort of vaporwave-induced feeling is jokingly referred to as the ‘aesthetic’ and is represented in online imagery as 90’s-style computer graphics.
It’s worth pointing out that vaporwave was never really meant to take the internet by storm and inspire any sort of artwork. The earliest album to showcase the vaporwave production formula, 2010’s Eccojams Vol. 1, was designed by musician Oneohtrix Point Never as not much more than an ironic remix of 80s tunes. By coincidence, two albums similar to Eccojams appeared on the net roughly within a year of its release; Holograms by 骨架的 and Far Side Virtual by James Ferraro. Even if they were only intended as a parody of old music, these three albums influenced the work of countless artists across the web. The most notable of these is perhaps Vektroid, aka Macintosh Plus, whose 2011 album Floral Shoppe is widely considered to be the benchmark of the genre.
So why are we still talking about a style of music that peaked six years ago? Can a genre even really ‘peak’ if it doesn’t exist off the internet? The answer is not really, and that’s precisely why any one is into it. There’ll never be a vaporwave version of Oasis at Knebworth or the Sex Pistols at The Lesser Free Trade Hall. Nobody could ever possibly say, in relation to the vaporwave movement, ‘you just had to be there’. It’s not really the sort of music that unites, rather, it isolates. Linked across space and time by nothing more than their appreciation of the genre, fans remain completely anonymous to one another. The absence of a real-life ‘scene’ and all the rules that go along with it allows the listener, wherever they may be, to focus solely on how the music makes them feel and interpret it however they please.
An internet-based music genre – it may still seem like an odd concept. But in an age of home-delivered McDonalds it’s fitting that a new music movement should emerge without anyone having to leave their house. It’s music none the less– as I’m sure my shed-dwelling friend will attest – music adapting itself to this very mad modern world of ours.