What Is Vaporwave?

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Sometimes touted as the first genre of music to have been born entirely on the internet, Vaporwave is a sprawling body of creative efforts that span both visual and audible media, and in spite of being only loosely connected as a body of work, is fairly well documented as a genre. The musical aspect of much of this material owes a lot to ambient work stretching back to the 1970’s, music like Brian Eno’s Music for Films  and Music for Airports, or even work by Riuchi Sakamoto. But it’s certainly not all “ambient” or “chill”; much of it is beat-based, even pop/funk informed. And even if one finds some of it simply listenable as music or atmospheric sound, it is still rather self-aware as a “style”, and highly contextual. As ppk80’s guide to vapor on Reddit puts it:

Vaporwave is characterized by appropriation, imitation and recontextualization of pop culture artifacts from the 80’s and 90’s. It has associations with the period’s retrofuturism and cyberpunk. Visually, it is related to pop art, collage, and digital art but it is not limited to these. It tends to choose and deconstruct already kitschy and/or banal source material, usually associated with mass production , though it can choose any 80’s and 90’s pop culture artifact. The appropriation and imitation are done in a style that is deconstructive, recontextualizing the material and emphasizing artificial elements.

There’s an entire subreddit and its wiki devoted to Vaporwave, if you want more description and categorization, but none of it will tell you what it sounds and feels like, so here are few selections of the more oft-referenced artists/albums. You should have no trouble at all finding more by searching YouTube  or the Vaporwave tag on SoundCloud  (those are both search result links).

Macintosh Plus – Floral Shoppe

Floral Shoppe brings you occasionally terrifying but surprisingly listenable speedshifted and manipulated pop/soul hits.

Blank Banshee – Blank Banshee 0

Blank Banshee does something similar, but with a broader pallette, and more of a feeling of being outside a nightclub that’s in an abandonded mall. They even slip in some reconstructed Beach Boys!

SAINT PEPSI – Hit Vibes

As the name sort of suggests, Hit Vibes taps into a much more “Top 40” vibe. As much as I personally liked some of this, parts of it had me feeling like I had smoked PCP at a Yacht Rock party. Which shouldn’t be a good thing, but kind of is, in this case.

ECO VIRTUAL – ATMOSPHERES

At points, Eco Virtual’s Atmospheres feels like if…if Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers were a doctor, and if…you were sitting in his waiting room?

Hong Kong Express

This is just one of their releases; this one in particular evokes some of that Riuchi Sakamoto vibe we mentioned at the top. Imagine if the band Yellow Magic Orchestra had done the soundtrack for Blade Runner…

Vaporwave: A Brief History

Still want to hear more? This “history of vaporwave” is rather comprehensive, if not (according to a lot of other sources) 100% accurate. Keep in mind this is literally dozens of sub-genres, and a rather niche culture; you could probably find Vaporwave fans and artists willing to analyze and deconstruct the broader work for the rest of eternity….

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