🔖 3 min read

Squeeze the play button on your cassette player and let the beats start flowing; vaporwave is the retro glamour of the ’80s chopped, screwed, and warped through purple-tinted VHS shades.  Independent record labels, YouTube channels, and artists of all senses are embracing this discombobulation of the past and employing contemporary techniques to create a fresh, experimental sound.

DJ Seinfeld Season 1 EP

Since vaporwave’s purple, pixelated crest was originally surfed by pioneers like Ramona Andra Xavier (aka Macintosh Plus, Lazerdisc Dreams, and more), Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never and more), and James Ferraro, the sound has continued to expand. Growing out of “chopped and screwed” soundbites of corporate elevator music, day-spa advertisements, and teleshopping jingles, fans and musicians alike have extended the microgenre’s umbrella to include a wide variety of aesthetics. Whereas the musical cornerstone of vaporwave is undoubtedly its corporate jazz-bending rhythms; experimental ambience, lo-fi psych-pop, and 80’s Japanese City Pop have all been converging under its tree since it germinated in 2010 and blossomed wildly mid-2012.

It’s great to see the microgenre diversify, making room for an audience that equally appreciates Eno-Esque explorations of environmental music like Quantum Fazer’s recent album, 私は勝者ではない, as well as groove-driven beats from the likes of Yung Bae and SAINT PEPSI. A long way from inaugural albums like Macintosh Plus’ glitch-heavy Floral Shoppe (Beer on the Rug, 2011), Vaporwave connoisseur, Macros 82-99’s most recent album, “SAILORWAVE II”, is a hyper-speed journey through obscure, yet dancefloor-driven disco-edits from both the East and West. The 11-track album was released on his personal Bandcamp for only $2 on 12th December 2017 and has since been bought by 600+ Bandcamp users, as well as amassing 73k+ views on YouTube.

Yung Bae

Vaporwave doesn’t just exist in the computer-based, sample-chopping realm of music production; artists like Connan Mockasin and Mac DeMarco take the hypnogogic style into their live music. The floating, fuzzy rhythms and displaced retro elements in his music videos tie Connan Mockasin to the scene.

In tandem with the sample-heavy sound, musicians and record labels package their music as though relics of the past. Marketing methods that appear to stem from the devoted appreciation of an analogue era bring the vaporwave aesthetic into reality by packaging releases in wax-stamped cassettes (Vapour Club – Coffee With Council), and limited-run, ornately parcelled vinyl. Chuck Person’s seminal Eccojams Vol. 1 is currently available in a limited edition blue glitter cassette via VaporTapes Inc. Beer on the Rug sells all their releases in both digital and cassette form, complete with artwork and vibes.

Vaporwave circulates heavily through its communities on YouTube, Reddit, Bandcamp, 4Chan, and Soundcloud, where opinions, classic tunes, and new artists are shared. Channels like Artzie Music, E m o t i o n a l T o k y o and Axian are great places to discover new music; you’ll find a huge range of quality content looking into the “suggested” of their videos as well. You might even end up in the nearby realms of the lo-fi house or lo-fi hip hop (check out The Bootleg Boy), which experienced a boost in popularity parallel to Vaporwave. Lobster Theramin, a crucial lo-fi house record label, share similar nuances of the past in their referencing of pre-2000’s pop culture. In their DJ roster are names like Ross From Friends and DJ Seinfeld, the latter of which has an EP cover simply dripping with vaporwave aesthetic, Greek bust, and all.

The underground movement of dreamlike corporate irony, vaporwave, is coming to mean more to us than just a musical micro-genre. Originally stemming from sonic critiques of a media-saturated, technology-laden, money-silenced society laid down by the wave-surfing pioneers mentioned previously, vaporwave has since become self-aware and is beginning to stand as a nostalgic form of rebelliousness that continues to experiment with the trends before it in ever-unpredictable ways.

Vaporwave Club Coffee With Council Tape

About Cleary Mallard

My Katamari is always rolling, picking up new underground music and videogames from Japan. I DJ and produce as Kamer, vibrating dubstep, noise, ambient and videogame soundtracks.