Weird Music Wednesdays #5: What the hell is Vaporwave?

Do you remember the early days of digital? The Windows 95 era? The time of GeoCities, low-quality Casio synthesizers and hyper-technological visions of the future? Right now there’s an Internet subculture that’s obsessed with reshaping and repurposing these digital artifacts of our internet past, and it’s called Vaporwave.

The best way to get a feel for vaporwave aesthetics is to do a Google image search for “Vaporwave,” or to look at this music video for Yung Lean’s “Hurt.” It seems to be based upon heavily modified and exaggerated versions of late 80s/early 90s Internet culture, and the music of Vaporwave accompanies this fittingly.

Artists within the genre chop up bits of smooth jazz, lobby music, and other sickeningly glossy and soulless corporate music and slow them down, add reverb, or otherwise mangle them until they are far beyond recognition. Electronic auteur Oneotrix Point Never — producer of “R Plus Seven,” one of last year’s best albums — is a good example of a Vaporwave-inspired sound-palettes. But don’t stop there; check out artists like Vektroid, James Ferraro and Fatima al Qadiri if you want other weird and wild examples of Vaporwave.

What ties all these artists together, besides sonic influences from the early age of computers?
A recent article in Vice categorized Vaporwave as a subversive culture whose goal is “undermining the iron grip of global capitalism,” and given the movement’s constant mocking of early corporate web pages, this interpretation makes sense.

Regardless of any underlying social or political doctrine, Vaporwave surely seems more concerned with making us think about our collective history. Through the re-use of the futuristic imaginings of yesteryear, Vaporwave is getting us to reflect on where we are today, how far we have come from the days of “you’ve got mail!” and where we’ll be in another decade.

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