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All Genres Weird & Wonderful: Vaporwave


In the first installment of a new feature, All Genres Weird & Wonderful, Kelly Doherty scours the worlds sub-genres so that you can sound informed at hipster dinner parties with minimal effort.

Name: Vaporwave

Origins: Unsurprisingly, the internet. Stemming a little bit from the Seapunk movement but very much with its own identity.

How to use it in a sentence: “My kid brother asked mom to get the old Windows 95 computer out of the garage because it’s on point with his aesthetic. I think he’s turning vaporwave…”

Sounds like: Oneohtrix Point Never, Washed Out, Animal Collective

Vaporwave is many things to many different people. A musical genre, an art movement and a fashion aesthetic; it’s proliferation is built off the same model as mid-2000s emo but rather than congregate in corners of shopping malls, fans chose generally to congregate within the dashboard of their Tumblr accounts. The musical genre, originating in 2011, is somewhat undefinable. Stemming from the indie dance world, Vaporware combines electronic pop with other sounds – Muzak, jazz, chillwave, hip-hop, soft R&B touches, retro commercial sampling – to make a wonderfully chilled out, dreamy product. It’s like sexed up 80s Muzak and is inexplicably irresistible. The most successful export from the genre is Swedish rapper, Yung Lean, whose debut song ‘Kyoto’ racked him up over 2million YouTube hits. Yung Lean combines the chilled out Vaporwave style backing with his extremely slack brand of rapping – his lyrics mostly concerning drugs and Arizona Iced Tea. Its aimless slacker vibe is the perfect anti-dote to the high speed consumerist lifestyle that the genre both idolises and mocks.

Whilst it’s very easy to take vaporwave’s entire aesthetic as an OTT online fad, aside from being aesthetically appeasing, the imagery has a greater meaning. Visually combining 80s neon colours with retro branding such as the old Windows 95 logo with Renaissance sculptures, it’s an absolute sensory overload. However, in a generation for whom most of our daily visual stimulation comes from rapidfire capitalist iconography, the simultaneous criticism and fascination that Vaporwave imagery holds for commercialism is a pretty good synopsis for today’s rebellious youth – we want independence and to live outside the boxes of society but at the same time we can’t help but to submit to the ‘alternative’ lifestyles that are so cleverly sold to us by consumerism.

A Dummy Mag article referred to Vaporwave as the ‘pop -art of the virtual plaza’ and that’s wholly accurate; it criticises the mainstream by embracing it and by showing that there’s something that’s a little bit off. It turns up the tacky to 11 and shows us how ridiculous the consumerist society we choose to buy into really is. Universal culture and the fact that its as easy for me to share this article with someone in Japan as it is Cork, whilst positive for many reasons, has had a watering down impact upon counter-culture. We’re no longer mobilised to unify in our outsider statuses in the way that punk rock did in London in 77 or NY Hardcore did throughout the 80s because there are people halfway around the world that we can contact and we identify with moreso than the indie kids that live up the road. Vaporwave utilises this to create a movement that is critical of universal traits and has no geographical base and has no identifiable demographic – just kids fed up with commercialisation who need a fucking break.

Essential Records:

Yung Lean – Unknown Death
James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual
Macintosh Plus – Floral Shoppe
PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises – Home™ (for a true elevator music experience)