When Music Goes Electronic

Vaporwave is making a new comeback for todays listeners


Abby Perez

Vaporwave, a style of music invented in the 80's electronic sound, is still relevent

Jonathan Kelly, writer

A certain music genre exists only on the Internet, called vaporwave. The main component of this obscure genre, born on the internet, consists of old music samples chopped and distorted, warped and changed with computer programs. This strange sound both savors the sweet noises and trends of the past while simultaneously critiquing the trap of nostalgia. With the advent of the internet, possibilities for reliving the past abound–old friends found with a simple search; old moments captured in uploaded photos, immortal by way of the cloud; and old sounds played again and again for free all over the web. But is this a good thing?  Vaporwave answers with a staunch “no.” This ability seems to allow the world to be blissfully haunted by its past cultural forms, caught in a glass box of limitless nostalgia, wherein new technological development is subordinated to the revival of past icons, and creators of today seem expected to call back to a past that they could have only experienced through the cubical confines of a screen.

Vaporwave expresses its birth on the Internet through its obscurity, its multifaceted nature and the anonymity of its creators. Vaporwave stratifies itself into various sub-genres, which all go under equally hip names. Among others, there is: future funk, vaportrap, hypnagogic pop, utopian virtual, and mallsoft, a subgenre that tries to recreate the atmosphere of a mall in the 1980s, or a grocery store, ghostly and distant noise that quickly penetrates into the subconscious as it eerily fabricates the everyday cornerstones of capitalism, all falling away–replaced by their counterparts on the internet: the virtual plaza. Its creators, too, are equally interesting, going under various strange pseudonyms such as: Blank Banshee, Saint Pepsi, Telepath, Disconscious, and 2814. What’s more: many of the same individuals masquerade under multiple names, creating a false bloat to the genre that could only occur with the anonymity the internet offers. 

But more than a music genre, vaporwave also exists as an art movement. The visual component of the genre, called “aesthetics,” has grown larger than the music itself, and yet will always exist inextricably tied to the music, its rudiment. Vaporwave sees the dawning of the Internet as a sort of apocalyptic event, and so the art centers around the early, awkward days of Netscape and Geocity websites, and all that immediately preceded it in naive anticipation. It all seems to hearken back to a world of true materialism, one which peaked in the late 80s and early 90s–true materialism in the sense that things were bought for the sensations they provided: the taste of a syrupy soda or the look of a neon jacket, rather than the social status they bestowed. Advertising had to blatantly sell things, rather than the shifty and liquid techniques it often employs now, wherein one can’t tell reality from a simulation of it, the signified from the signifiers: hyperreality, to use a postmodern term. Vaporwave approaches this time with a sense of misty-eyed nostalgia when juxtaposed with today’s consumerism: characterized by the dissolution of reality in exchange for online shopping: the so-called “virtual plaza;” monolithic brands that derive their power from the vaporous status their products seem magically endowed with rather than the quality of the products themselves; and a music industry that, instead of exploiting artists into making art like it used to, now soullessly seems to churn out the same stuff, the stuff that “worked before.” The name itself, “vaporwave,” refers to vaporware: a product posed for hype from a company, most often a concept, that will never come into fruition.

And yet, simultaneously, vaporwave also critiques this small slice of time, the 80s and 90s, for not being oracular–for not predicting the ultimate end to its bubbly consumerist game, when technology could finally satiate humanity’s full lusts, and nipping it at the bud. Vapowave takes the sound of this time and warps it, so as to sound almost unrecognizable, out of anger–out of anger and frustration and hopelessness, hopelessness about the passage of time and the way it perverts the old. On one hand, it sees the rise of the Internet as the growing-up act, an end to the honeymoon, and the final frontier–wherein humanity’s hell, purgatory, and heaven all meet and coalesce into one great electronic beast at the end of the world. But, on the other hand, it sees it as a means of liberation from the world, liberation from deception–the only true liberation that modernity provides. In all of vaporwave, the question oozes: “Have we done it?”–has humanity finally achieved its liberation from the past, or has it only produced the worst tool yet for exploiting, abusing, and being hopelessly enamored with it?