Author Topic: What is Vaporwave?  (Read 267 times)

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What is Vaporwave?
« on: June 01, 2018, 02:34:47 PM »
What is Vaporwave?
Vaporwave is a subculture that had started emerging at around 2010, and has become more prominent in the early 2010's. The term originates from the term vaporware. It is considered a musical genre, as well as having a visual aesthetic. The genre has since developed and expanded, and the following is an attempt to describe "classic" vaporwave.

Characteristics
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 art1 but it is not limited to these. It tends to choose and deconstruct already kitschy and/or banal source material, usually associated with mass production2 , 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.

Recontextualization is done by using elements of the source material in ways other than their original intention3 . Emphasizing the artificiality and "medium-ness" (coming from a television, radio, a memory, etc.) of the source material is form of recontexualization and is almost always employed in Vaporwave4 along with other techqniues. Another common technique for deconstruction is emphasizing kitsch, creating caricaturial or hyper-real (or hyper-fake) versions of the source material5 .

These techniques, among others, give Vaporwave its crucial "meta" quality. In other words, Vaporwave is not a direct imitation of the past, but rather it is about the past; the experience and memory of the past. It is looking at the past through a certain lens.

In summary, Vaporwave:

Appropriates, imitates and recontextualizes pop culture artifacts from the 80's and 90's, typically kitschy and/or banal material.
Utilizes audio and visual techniques and manipulation to emphasize the medium's artificiality and medium-ness.
Here is a guide introducing Vaporwave essentials and where to download them.

1 Including net art, glitch art, and pixel art.


2 Its source material ranges from elevator music, corporate music and art, infomercials, video game music and graphics, early internet graphics and MIDI, and television and radio transmissions.

3 Such as mimicking MIDI instruments and using them in different ways from the source material or warping and distorting the source material.

4 Usually done by using audio/graphic/video techniques such as MIDI instruments and heavily synthesized instruments, a lo-fi aesthetic, VHS/tape distortion, glitch, surrealism, pitched up/down samples, awkward looping and copypasting, reverb and filtering to imitate tv/mall/radio speakers.

5 Using simple melodies, lo-fi and MIDI instruments, and repetitive structures are some of the techniques used in accentuating kitsch.

History and Development
Daniel Lopatin (as Chuck Person)'s 2010 release, Chuck Person's Eccojams Vol.1 and James Ferraro's 2011 release, Far Side Virtual are regarded as a catalyst for the genre - perhaps backgrounded by the 1980's revival that started to take root in the early 00's and maturing late in the decade. The genre would later on be solidified by Ramona Andra Xavier (as Vektroid) who also goes by aliases including Macintosh Plus, New Dreams Ltd, PrismCorp, Laserdisc Visions.

In 2013, the Vaporwave label Fortune 500 popularized the term "hypnagogic pop" to describe the kind of music they were releasing, which was a more rhythmic and musical and less experimental than previous vaporwave. Even later on, around 2014, the genre diffused, with vaporwave elements being mixed with elements from other genres, spawning genres including Vaportrap, Future Funk, and Oceangrunge. This post-vaporwave phase also includes the work of proto-vaporwave and vaporwave acts who have gone on to produce other work: such as Daniel Lopatin (as Oneohtrix Point Never), James Ferraro and Saint Pepsi.

What is Vaporwave Not?
Vaporwave has its own aesthetic, but it is easily confused with other movements. While definitions and identities are fluid, we will make an attempt to differentiate them nevertheless.

Musical Cousins
Most of these genres along with Vaporwave arguably rose from the 1980's revival that matured by the late 00's. Like Vaporwave, these genres imitate the music of the 80's and are both nostalgic and campy to a degree. However, what differentiates these from Vaporwave is Vaporwave's recontextualization of the pop culture. These genres tend to be clean, direct imitations of 80's music rather than deconstructed versions with manipulations that accentuate "medium-ness" (coming from a television, radio etc.); they don't quite have characteristic #2. Additionally, Vaporwave has a stronger association with mass production, commercial, and kitschy artifacts, using elevator music as a source material, for example.